‘Duty After School’ Review: Teen Apocalypse Drama Lacks Enchantment

duty after school review

Edited by Young Jun Yang
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

duty after school review
Credit: TVING

Recently, dramas based on webtoons and web novels have been receiving not-so-favorable reviews, regardless of their popularity. With Duty After School, released on March 31st, adapted from a popular webtoon, the show garnered a blend of apprehension and eager anticipation prior to its debut. Did this production manage to dispel concerns and meet viewers’ expectations?

One day, unidentified spheres suddenly cover the skies worldwide. A year later, the senior students of Sungjin High School are handed out military training consent forms along with the promise of “extra points for the college entrance exam.” The reason for drafting all senior students nationwide is simple: the spheres that had been dormant begin attacking as if their recon had ended. Oblivious to reality, the students naively start their training with a carefree attitude. Only after witnessing their friends and homeroom teacher bloodied and fallen due to the spheres’ attack do they realize that they have been thrown into hell, not a simple “military experience.”

At first glance, the plot doesn’t seem very different from a typical apocalypse story. The protagonists, facing a disaster threatening humanity, struggle to survive and eventually find a way to end the catastrophe. Though an “end of humanity” twist could be attempted, this too can be seen as a familiar scenario with nothing innovative.

The drama adds a fresh element to the familiar story by making the protagonists minors, specifically “South Korean high school seniors.” Offering the alluring condition of extra points for college entrance exams to motivate them for training is a reflection of reality for the Koreans and a shocking novelty for international viewers. If executed well, it could establish itself as a new genre called “K-Teen Apocalypse.”

However, judging by Part 1 alone, it’s difficult to give it a passing grade. Although the high-quality graphics rendering of extraterrestrial creatures, thrilling action, and R-rated gore stand out, the story structure and character development – the most important factors of a drama – are lacking.

First of all, the overall probability is inadequate. This doesn’t mean the alien invasion is unrealistic, but rather that the story has many flaws. The impulsive commander who initiates a preemptive strike, becoming the root cause of all problems; the scientists who don’t properly utilize the aliens’ clear weakness of “low temperature”; and the disorganized settings of aliens – too many aspects in the production fail to add up, therefore the disappointment.

However, the most regrettable aspect is the characterization. Teenagers in apocalypse stories are usually depicted as somewhat immature. Although it can be frustrating, if the narrative spotlights the growth of inexperienced youngsters who depend on and bond with each other during life-and-death crises, we can accept their behavior because “they’re still young.”

duty after school review
Credit: TVING

Of course, it’s not like Duty After School has no noticeable growth narratives. In the beginning, the characters act selfishly, bringing trouble, but as time goes on, they build bonds with other students and prioritize others’ well-being over their own, which can be quite touching. The chemistry between characters in the process is an enjoyable aspect of the show.

However, aside from a few scenes, the characters’ attitudes are so frustrating that they seem more like “preschool children” than teenagers, overshadowing the drama’s strengths. Even if their actions are intended to heighten tension, if illogical events are repeatedly shown, it’s difficult for viewers to immerse themselves in the story and empathize with the characters.

The cringy, adolescent-like dialogue, nonstop swearing, ill-fitting humor, and drawn-out melodrama are also a letdown. Duty After School undeniably exhibits a peculiar sense of dissonance often felt in works featuring relatively young protagonists, and one cannot help but feel uncomfortable, as if this is the image of “today’s kids” as seen through the eyes of adults.

In the final episode of Part 1, the students of Class 3-2 lose Platoon Leader Lee Chun Ho, one of the few dependable “grown-ups” they could rely on. Will the remaining students be able to survive by trusting and relying on each other, as Lee said in his dying wish? No, the bigger question is will the viewers be able to stay engaged and follow their journey to the end? We’re still excited and worried. (5/10)


Editor Yang Young Jun: There is at least one good part in every movie or TV series. A media geek who isn’t picky with genres.

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