Saturday, 26 September 2015

Anime REVIEW: School-Live!

School-Live!

School-Live! is quite possibly the hardest review I've written so far. The fact that so much of my initial enjoyment of the series stemmed from going in there completely blind makes me hesitant to want to talk about it, as I genuinely believe the best way to experience the show is in exactly the same way. So if you've never heard of this 12-episode series (also commonly by it's Japanese name, Gakkō Gurashi!) from Nitroplus writer Norimitsu Kaihō and illustrator Sadoru Chiba, I advise you stop reading right now and go check it out before reading on. I'm quite happy to turn the concept of a review upside down and say in the very introduction that it's one of the best shows I've watched in years. However if you're already familiar with this manga-turned-anime and are just interested in my thoughts - please continue on...

Yuri, Kurumi, Yuki and Miki
The cast react to the end of the first episode

Yuki Takeya loves her school. Together with her friends Kurumi Ebisuzawa, Yūri Wakasa and Miki Naoki she's part of the School Living Club - a club so dedicated to their school that they spend every minute of their lives there. They eat there, they sleep there and of course they happily attend classes. Yuki especially loves both the school and her club, and every day is a brand new adventure for both her and her schoolmates.

Except what Yuki's actually seeing is a delusion. The School Living Club are actually possibly the only survivors of a zombie apocalypse - surviving in a barricaded area of their derelict school as the undead roam the city. As Yuki continues to live in her delusion that everyone is still alive and well, the rest of club try to keep her safe while they work out their next steps in this apocalypse.

Zombies
Ah...

So yes, the sunny disposition of the first episode slowly gives way to this nightmare where four schoolgirls are essentially trapped in a school while zombies swarm around outside. While admittedly there are plenty of clues littered around beforehand to indicate you that all is not what it seems (check out the writing on the board in the classroom, or watch for the flashes of broken windows for example) but if you're blissfully unaware of what's going on before then it's a twist that completely changes how you perceive the story. What were once eye-rolling cliches of high-school anime are now the results of some pretty severe trauma, which at sometimes feels more disturbing that the zombies themselves. This is only the tip of the iceberg though, as other elements that you think are there turn out to not be as they seem and are played out to gut-wrenching effect. And if the contents of the actual show aren't enough to convince you of that, the frequent alteration of the opening credits will illustrate just how dire the girls' situation is.

Megu-nee
The teacher, Megu-nee, is one to watch for

Yuki's delusions are what's really at the heart of School-Live!, and perhaps the most interesting element for discussion. Are the rest of the cast wrong to keep her in her delusions because in fact they're the very thing keeping them sane? It's an interesting question that there isn't really a clear answer to, which can often paint the girls in different lights depending on which viewpoint they take. Similarly some might be a fan of the slice-of-life hijinks and comedy Yuki's mental state lead to (despite being almost entirely set in a school it's impressive how many tropes School-Live! manages to tick off), but the fact they're happening in such a bleak environment makes them all the more poignant. They're the last remnants of normality the characters are able to hold onto, and in the case of some (the "pool" episode for example) they're also doubling as essential practices to survive. School-Live! has a really engaging story line that deals out plenty of emotion, but the fact the characters' actions can be analysed in such a way really makes the show such a great talking point.

Which is exactly why sometimes the zombies themselves feel almost secondary to the whole thing. They're an ever-involved presence that becomes more and more central as the series reaches its climax, but on the whole the audience knows just as little about them as the cast. A lot of their horror comes from seeing as little of them as possible, as they're almost always blurred or never shown up closely. Likewise the gore of them biting and infecting others is kept to something of a minimum. With the girls antics often portrayed in bright colours, when the show begins to take on shadows and a blood red palette you know the serious stuff is about to go down.

Taroumaru
The best dog

Like I suggested in the introduction to this review, I really cannot recommend School-Live! enough. Even after that bomb drop of a first episode the show just goes from strength to strength - weaving what would otherwise be another run-of-the-mill moe schoolgirl anime series with one of the most well presented zombie backdrops perhaps this medium has ever seen. As the story continues to unfold you'll laugh and you'll most certainly cry as well. There's every chance School-Live! could just be yet another "one and done" anime series, but with an ongoing manga to still draw from and an ending that leaves things open for more to leave it at that would be a huge waste. But even if more never comes this will be a season to revisit again and again - the twists may not longer be a surprise, but chances are you'll still pick up on things you didn't notice the first time around.

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