Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Yuki, Yuuri (Rii), and Kurumi are all members of the School Living Club at Megurigaoka Academy! That means that they get to live everyday inside the school, camping and growing their own food in the rooftop gardens. Yuki still goes to her classes and extra tutoring everyday with Megu-nee, the club advisor, but Rii and Kurumi spend their time doing other things...could there be something going on here that Yuki is unaware of?
Warning: Spoilers for the Major Plot Twist
It does feel a little foolish to put that warning here, because Yen Press, the English publisher of Norimitsu Kaihō and Sadoru Chiba's School-Live! manga, puts it right there on the back of the book. Given that the anime made its English-language debut well ahead of the manga and that the cover of the volume certainly indicates that there's something off about this seemingly sweet school story, perhaps secrecy is no longer necessary. But the fact remains that one of the best parts of School-Live!'s beginning is the revelation that the girls are the sole survivors of a zombie apocalypse at their school, I kind of wish that the manga had handled things more like its animated adaptation.
Be that as it may, School-Live!'s first volume is still an interesting take on both the zombie and moe genres. While the covers may give things away, the first chapter still takes its time letting us know what's really going on: Yuki handles the narration as she skips through the school, bookending her narration with mirrored comments about how well the school functions as its own little country. Only in the last two pages of chapter one do we see how she's deluding herself into believing that the world still exists outside, and even though we know it's coming, the image of Yuki bursting into a ruined classroom as if it were full of students and closing a broken window to keep the cold out is powerful.
That remains the strength of the art throughout the book – the contrast between Yuki's vision of the world and the truth of it. Therefore when she “sees” the baseball team running in to get out of the rain, we know that the other girls have to be worried and can picture what's really going on all too clearly in our imaginations. While we aren't always presented with “Yuki Vision” in the images, just understanding the contrast in the girls' views of the school is a powerful consideration, and it gives the story an edge that works bizarrely well with the soft, rounded character designs, perky personalities, and other staples of the moe genre. It's a highly effective meshing of opposites, and even for someone not fond of either moe or zombies, it makes for a mesmerizing read.
Viewers of the anime will notice that the pacing is significantly different from the show, and both work for their respective formats. This volume ends before the trip to the mall, which means that Miki is not present except for in the first chapter's splash page. She's therefore left out of a few incidents in which she participates in the anime, but it does not hamper the story flow and in fact gives Kurumi more time to show us that she's the most proactive of the group, along with a very good scene of foreshadowing. Likewise the hints about Megu-nee are laid on a bit thicker, although nothing conclusive has been said thus far. Rii is also a little more take-charge here; she still feels like the big sister/mother of the group, but we see her making more suggestions and taking a slightly more active role, possibly just because Miki is not yet part of the gang.
One of the most interesting features of the manga is the way the zombies themselves are treated. It is clear that they retain memories of their previous lives, from the way they come in during the rain to the way they are made to leave towards the end of the book. This adds a distinct sadness to the story that might not otherwise be there – these aren't just dead, flesh-eating beasts, they're people who have been robbed of their humanity but still hold onto the shreds of who they used to be, which implies that in some dim corner of their ruined minds, they do know who the living are...but are unable to be humans themselves.
The series' title itself can be read to say a lot about the approach the creators are taking: “live” can be pronounced with either a long or a short “i,” meaning that it could imply that the girls live at school or that they are alive. It's a small nuance, but it seems worth thinking about as the story follows them through their new reality, with Yuki showing us what the world once was, Rii thinking about what it might become, and Kurumi actively dealing with what it is now. School-Live! is a mix of sweetness and sorrow, cute and grim. Whether you've seen the anime or not, it's worth checking out for its unusual take on two genres, and it's well done enough that it is likely to keep you reading once you start.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Good combination of seemingly disparate genres, the contrast of the cute girls and the gruesome zombies works well in the art and the story. Good foreshadowing.
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