I’ve always loved zombies. Even though I haven’t watched too many zombie-related shows or films, there is a thrilling, morbid appeal to the thought of a zombie outbreak. More than anything though, I like interesting characters and plots – not just mindless action. A story can successfully use zombies as a backdrop and still tell a compelling tale of characters as they try to navigate life in a dangerous world. The anime, School Live, attempts to do just that. However, before I go any further anime-niacs, I will warn of mild spoilers.
The friend who recommended this show to me knows that I love psychological horror, but she warned that I would likely find it difficult to sit through the first episode because of its absurdity. I feel compelled to pass this warning along for those who have not watched School Live and have an aversion to overly cute themes – the first episode does not reflect how the rest of the show progresses. Although much of the show is genuinely silly, this anime is nonetheless an interesting and effective look at the struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies…as told through the experiences of Japanese high school girls (and if there are life experiences I can relate to, it’s those of Japanese high school girls).
The reason why this show is titled School Live is that the characters are all members of the “School Living Club,” so they literally live in their high school. (Have a truancy problem? Force all the students to move in!) That may sound ridiculous, but considering the post-apocalyptic premise of the show, it quickly makes sense. The club members each have very distinct personalities, not all of which are silly: Kurumi is the tough character, Yuuri is typically mature and level headed, Miki is shy and very serious, Taromaru, an adorable Shiba Inu, is the club mascot and accompanies the main characters on their adventures, and Megumi, the sole adult, is the club’s advisor. Lastly, there is Yuki, who is the overly cutesy foil to the show’s otherwise dark subject matter. The other characters all have the capacity to be silly, but Yuki is absolutely the embodiment of absurdity throughout the show.
The majority of the first episode focuses on Yuki and her incredibly outrageous behavior, so it is easy to overlook clues that something is very wrong with the world in which this anime takes place. A broken window and a barricade are quickly forgotten and supplanted by her and Taromaru’s ridiculous actions. While I won’t spoil the reason for Yuki’s upbeat personality in the face of a terrifying situation, it will be explained in detail roughly halfway through the series (I know it sounds like drugs, but it’s not drugs). The show effectively takes its time to explore the characters, their unfortunate situation, and past events. There is certainly action early in the series, but School Live initially delves into the characters’ behaviors, and I truly began to care about them and feel invested in their plight. There are many fun moments, and funny, humanizing scenes along the way, but much of the suspenseful action occurs in the second half of the series, once the characters personalities have been established. However, this show does not progress in exact chronological order.
Events that occurred before the zombie outbreak are not revealed immediately, and one revelation, that I will not spoil here, did not occur until nearly halfway through the series. It was devastating and disturbing, and clearly, I missed clues that alluded to the shocking revelation. The show very naturally, but deceptively, caused me to accept something as a fact, and in doing so, allowed the reality to be even more uncomfortable and saddening. The way in which School Live progresses the story causes the twists along the way virtually unforeseeable, but completely believable, and nonetheless astounding. Furthermore, there is only a modest explanation for the zombie outbreak. There is just enough detail to make it interesting without giving an entire exposition at the end of the series, which can cause the viewer to feel fooled by the writers instead of entertained (I’m looking at you, Vanilla Sky).
At its core, School Live is about friendship and keeping hope against seemingly impossible odds. While that may sound corny, the threat of death constantly lurks throughout this show, and spoilers – not every character you may come to care for is alive at the end of the 12 episodes. There were a few extremely sad situations interspersed between the cute and the suspenseful moments which really allowed this anime to feel like a roller-coaster of emotion. Unfortunately, although School Live seems to have a natural conclusion, it left the story open for more, and because I enjoyed this show so much, I wish I could see what happens to these girls as their adventures unfold. I like a certain amount of cute in an anime, but the fact that that was contrasted with such dark themes, really helped me enjoy School Live. Also, this anime introduced an idea that I had never contemplated before, so beware of even more spoilers.
Sure, zombies exist to eat people and barely resemble their former selves, but I believe that it is plausible for zombies to retain a certain amount of muscle-memory. Not all of the zombies in School Live constantly try to infiltrate the school – many begin to walk home when the final school bell rings (high school turned me into a zombie too, and I still haven’t fully recovered). Early in the series, the girls question whether the zombies are actually attempting to play soccer, or merely bumping into the ball accidentally. As a fan of zombies, but certainly not an expert in zombie-related media, this is an interesting idea that I have never considered before. At least one of the zombies definitely retains some memories from the time this particular character was living. Pay attention to what happens in the final minute of the show, and who notices a particular zombie walking toward the school. Although the identity was not explicitly revealed, it can be assumed, and adds a layer of mystery just before the series ends.
I thought that this was a wonderful, well-paced show that contrasted joyful, funny, and scary themes in a very satisfying way. Shaun of the Dead, while an excellent film, is almost solely comedic, while School Live, although adorable and silly, still effectively utilizes horror. I would definitely recommend this show to anyone who likes zombies but wants to see horror used differently.