Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Complete Series Streaming
Yuki is a third year in high school living every day to the fullest! She's a member of the special School Living Club, and she and three other girls, their dog, and their advisor Megu-nee all live at school and follow the club rule never to go home. Yuki still goes to all of her classes and is just as happy as she can be...so why aren't the other girls? What is Yuki not seeing?
Spoiler Warning for the major plot point at the end of episode one!
It's so easy to be taken in by appearances. School-Live!, based on the manga of the same title by Norimitsu Kaihō and Sadoru Chiba, starts out looking like every other moe slice-of-life show in the last five or so years. Yuki is a high school senior who acts like a fifth grader, bopping around her school with her pink hair partially under an adorable hat with points like cat ears. She's part of the School Living Club, a group of four girls and a teacher who live at the school and aren't allowed to leave school grounds for anything. This is something the other club members at first have to remind Yuki of, because silly her, she's always forgetting that rule! For three-quarters of the series' first episode, we watch Yuki bounce around, her perky voice (provided by Inori Minase, Hestia from Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?) just shy of ear piercing, so lulled into a false sense of cuteness that it's easy to miss the signs that something is very off about Yuki's world...and that in fact, she is delusional and one of the few survivors of a zombie apocalypse that has left she and her fellow club members the only surviving humans at school.
Once you know, you can pick out the little details that have been seeded throughout the first episode – a barricade of desks in the hall, the way other girls just burst into a class in full session – but if you aren't looking for it, it's easy to ignore, which is what makes this episode, and show, so successful: the answers are always in plain sight...which is the best place to hide anything. Over the course of the series it is easy to become complacent about other slightly off details multiple times, most notably concerning teacher Megu-nee, and that false sense of security that we as viewers are consistently lulled into and jarred out of parallels the girls' experiences in the school. Sure they've barricaded themselves into a falsely safe section of the school, but they are still surrounded by the lurching dead, all of whom appear to retain some memories of when they were alive. That they are animated corpses is driven home by the fact that they are described as feeling “cold,” along with a final episode development that indicates that infection leads to a slow, gradual decline into a state from which there can be no return. Thus the dead (referred to as Them in the show) can only carry out their vague memories of routine, coming to school, chasing a wind-driven soccer ball, or struggling to continue whatever they were doing when true consciousness faded forever.
One of School-Live!'s strengths is that it keeps that pinprick of sorrow even as it utilizes zombie horror tropes (one of the girls, Miki, is found in a zombie-infested shopping mall, a staple of the genre) and a real feeling of fear. It also maintains a modicum of hope, even as it dashes it repeatedly - a scene at the very end of the last episode is heartbreaking, even though we really did know it was coming. But that doesn't stop us from feeling hopeful again as the credits roll...no matter how foolish that may be. This is part of what really makes School-Live! work; it's an emotional roller coaster in a very real sense – you can see that next loop coming, but that doesn't stop you from screaming as you go around it.
All of the main characters have real personalities under their moe stereotype exteriors: Yuki isn't just childish, she's delusional, Kurumi doesn't love her shovel as a cute quirk, it's her weapon, and Megu-nee isn't just the classic incompetent teacher, she's the emotional core of the show. (It's worth noting that her full name, Megumi, means “blessing,” and her last name speaks of ephemeralness.) It is through her character that we see Yuki grow and it is she who truly enables the girls to survive in a variety of ways. This really elevates the character above her stereotype while avoiding the cheap emotions afforded by Taromaru, the dog the girls adopt – the way his character is used is very much in line with stock tricks used by authors to invoke emotion in this kind of literature. That he is used this way is unsurprising – that Megu-nee isn't is impressive.
From its perky opening theme (which does change slightly over the course of the show – pay attention to the pictures) to the contrast of bright and dark within the school itself, School-Live!'s artistry works with its plot in order to keep the viewers on their toes. While the animation isn't spectacular, it almost doesn't need to be, since the zombies' lurch is intentionally ragged and jerky. Not to say that it doesn't look good, because in general it does, with some lovely moments when the girls are just taking a break from the sudden harshness of their world. The zombies themselves are frightening, especially when you recognize characters from flashbacks or Yuki's delusions in their rotting, bloody forms (lipless mouths are especially creepy), and although we know at least two ways in which they can be killed by the end, that doesn't detract from their menace...perhaps even more so since by the end of the series we know just how long the transformation takes to fully manifest.
The show does offer an explanation for the epidemic, although not much is done with it. The manga, as of this writing, is currently at six volumes, so presumably this is gone into in more depth there; with only twelve episodes, there really wasn't space to create a show this impressive and resolve everything. But having that kernel of information, along with a few others discovered by the end, gives us a sense that the story goes on even after the last scene fades...and certainly serves to whet our appetite for the manga. Luckily it has been licensed in English, so this is one time an anime as a manga advertisement works for anglophone viewers as well as Japanese.
School-Live! is a much more effective, and affecting, show than it at first appears to be. The characters grow and change with the story, with Yuki getting stronger even as Yuuri seems to weaken emotionally, and each episode provides new and important information into the story and their world. It successfully transforms one genre into another while still acknowledging both, and even if zombie stories aren't your thing (they aren't mine), this is absolutely a show worth watching. Over these twelve episodes we go on a journey with the School Living Club...and even as it ends, it lingers, somewhere, in the recesses of our minds.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Good combination of genres with plenty of surprises to keep you on your toes. Characters all really grow, no episode is a throw-away.
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