Episodes 1-2

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
School-Live! ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
School-Live! ?

School-Live! is a series predicated on a massive, game-changing twist at the end of the first episode. Discussing the second episode, and what makes this series distinctive, while still avoiding that twist is impossible, so reading this preview without seeing the first episode through to its end (or otherwise being aware of the twist) is not advised.

The first episode of the series is essentially a little game that director Masaomi Ando (White Album 2, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse) and creator/writer Norimitsu Kaiho are playing with the audience. It looks for all of the world like just another cloying “cute girls do cute things” show, albeit with the odd twist that in this case the school club at its center – aptly called the School Living Club – involves actually living at school. The club consists of four members: the airheaded Yuki, presence-less Miki, responsible leader Yuri, and twin-tailed Kurumi, who perpetually carries around a sharp shovel. The latter detail is a little weird, too, but given that anime girls can carry around all kinds of strange things, it's not a big red flag. About 95% of the episode involves Yuki merrily bouncing around, attending classes and occasionally having to chase down her dog Toramaru.

This content would be a complete yawner for anyone not deeply invested in the cute factor if it wasn't for the fact that numerous little details mixed in with the drivel don't add up. At the end of the episode viewers finally learn the truth: most of what we seeing until that point is a delusion that Yuki has made for herself – and which the other girls are fully playing along with – because she is unable to accept that the world around her has turned into a zombie apocalypse scenario. The classrooms are actually wrecked, the windows are all shattered, and the classmates she imagined herself talking to are either dead or (more likely) amongst the zombies who roam aimlessly outside and beyond the barricaded halls. The restriction against club members never going home is in place to assure that she does not wander into danger as part of her delusion.

Making Yuki's delusion a key part of the story's beginning and (apparently) continuing it going forward is the brilliant masterstroke which turns what might have otherwise just been a gimmicky turn-about into something special. Watching her happily pretend like nothing is wrong – even though viewers can clearly see in episode 2 that nothing is right – is heartbreaking, especially the parts where she is interacting with the teacher Megumi, who also almost certainly is a figment of Yuki's imagination; she does seem to appear and disappear at will, after all, and the rest of the girls only react to her when Yuki takes the lead in acknowledging her presence. That means that some side of Yuki does accept what's happened, and perhaps manifests Megumi to keep her out of the worst trouble. In a strategic sense, Yuki's delusions also give the series a convenient way to avoid being entirely grimdark; a scene showing the girls following Yuki's lead in merrily gnawing on candy sticks during their “test of courage” (read: supply run) is a prime example.

The second episode focuses about as much on Kurumi and gives some insight into her backstory. Figuring that she is the one who actually kills zombies with that sharpened shovel is not hard, and her backstory shows that, tragically, she had to do that to the zombified version of the boy she liked when whatever calamity caused the zombification first happened. Interestingly, she sees the zombies as being surrounded by hazes of dark energy, but whether that is just her personal interpretation or actually means something is unclear at this point. The horror aspect of that scenario is heightened further during a sojourn that the girls make to the school store and library for supplies, with the latter case resulting in a harrowing close encounter. The real treat there is the peculiar (and possibly unprecedented?) scene where we actually get to see through the zombie's eyes.

Appreciating the story so far requires accepting a few things at face value, such as how the girls just happened to be at a school which has a rooftop garden and convenience store-like school store and gets some of its power from solar panels. (Since at least one of the girls is indicated in episode 2 to have come there from elsewhere, that the girls might have specifically gathered there for that reason is also possible.) Some patience will apparently also be required, as by the end of episode 2 we have no indication yet about how this all got started or how only those four girls ended up there. Really, though, those details are not important yet; the situation that the girls are currently in is. Besides, the series has plenty of time to delve into that.

Episode 1 may still be a stumbling block for some viewers, but it comes off much better when taken in context of how the series is setting up and what it seems to be doing. Anime has proven before that infusing moe elements into apocalyptic scenarios can work (see Sound of the Sky), and so far the carefully calculated moves and surprisingly well-crafted storytelling is working. This has the potential to be the season's hidden gem.

Rating: A-

School-Live! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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