The Horror Honeys: Horror Anime ~ School's out for "School - Live!"

Horror Anime ~ School's out for "School - Live!"

A Monster Honey Out of Genre Review 
by Sarah @sarahjosmiley 

Despite initial appearances, this is a horror anime. It’s even possible that by simply telling you this fact I might have said too much. However the experience of watching School-Live!, or to use it it’s Japanese title Gakkou Gurashi, “Living at School,” is such that doing so is worth it if it convinces someone who might not otherwise have seen the show to check it out.

Yuki Takeya loves her school. She even belongs to a unique club; The School Living Club, who stay at the school full-time and make use of all of its great resources. The club also consists of the responsible and big sisterly Club President Yurii Wakasa, the spunky and determined Kurumi Ebisuzawa, quiet reader Miki Naoki, and their pet dog Taromaru, all watched by the careful eye of their faculty advisor the sweet and slightly timid Megumi Sakura, AKA “Megu-nee”. So far it all sounds very cutesy school anime in the vein of K-on!, Azumanga Daioh, or Lucky Star; full of club shenanigans and fun life lessons and friendship as the girls go through their school lives until graduation, and it is that. However it is also something so much more in a very surprising way.

That is the extent of what I want to reveal without you having seen the show. To get the fullest experience, stop reading, go watch at least the first episode, and then come back for fuller thoughts. This is an anime that is at times sweet and funny and others dark and harrowing, but throughout it is an engaging and unique watch. The show won’t be completely ruined for you if you do read on, as there are plenty of elements to the show that will not be discussed, but you might miss out on a part of the experience that you would have preferred to have. Consider yourselves warned.

Appearances can be deceiving.


Throughout the first episode we follow Yuki in her normal school day, surrounded by classmates and being scolded by teachers. Then we begin to notice little things that indicate that things are not quite right. In the end it is revealed that the normal world that we have been seeing exists only in Yuki’s mind. The reality is that the zombie apocalypse has broken out and the members of the School Living Club are the only ones in the school alive and attempting to get by in a hostile world, indulging Yuki’s delusions as a means of helping her cope.

They were so worried about zombies that they didn't suspect the true enemy:
PIDGEONS!!!!
It’s a fascinating set-up and one that greatly differs from the similarly school-set zombie show Highschool of the Dead. Where that series is brilliantly trashy with plenty of underwear shots and fountains of blood, not to mention the infamous bullet through the jiggling boobs scene, School-Live! has a constantly shifting tone which means you can never be utterly sure how to feel at any time, and it puts you on edge. It still has a lot of the cute and funny elements of the typical schoolgirl anime, not only through Yuki’s delusions making her insist they take part in club activities such as camping, a sports festival, and even a “beach episode” (of course they find an excuse to put highschool girls in bikinis during the zombie apocalypse) which are all staples of that subgenre, but also because the series focuses so much on the strength of the girls being based in their friendship and love for each other.

All this being said, the horror is just as genuinely done as those elements, and if anything is heightened when you know the horror that is lurking just a few feet away whilst the sweet stuff is going on. There is some great creepy imagery and moments where the atmosphere and the oppressive environment that the girls are living in really gets to you. The zombies are threatening; something not helped by the fact that there are hints that they have a kind of intelligence to them. Killing them is also an act which has a lot of weight to it which is another nice difference to Highschool of the Dead where zombies are just mown through with little thought. It all builds to the final three episodes that would already be horrifying, but because we’ve spent the previous nine episodes really getting to know the girls, it drives the stakes up even more.

The power of cute compels you!
The central drama about how the girls are dealing with the apocalypse and in particular Yuki’s hallucinations that things are fine is a fascinating one. It seems strange and even dangerous to let someone in your survival group wallow in those kinds of delusions, but the others play along with Yuki’s fantasy because to them if she can be happy and normal then maybe things will ultimately be okay. Each member of the group has their role and for Yuki it is raising morale and giving the group things to live for rather than simply surviving. In strange ways Yuki’s broken mind actually helps, and it all develops as the series progresses. At 12 episodes, School-Live! it is a little on the short side and it would have been nice if we could have gotten more detail into the lives of some of the girls, Yurii in particular is quite underdeveloped, but what we do get is always really well done. Each episode builds onto the story in such a way that you want to watch all the previous episodes after you watch the next one.
Can you dig it?
The animation is wonderful. You would think that the cute style wouldn’t be able to convey horror the way it does, but studio Lerche makes it work through colour and use of angles in an effective way. Gore is used sparingly, but always to great effect, and the use of CGI for the zombie hoard makes them stand out as unnatural. An interesting element is Kurumi, the main fighter of the group, seeing the zombies as being covered in a dark cloud because otherwise she would see them as the people they used to be and have trouble killing them. The show is rich in little details like that and also clues if you know where to look for them; like the show’s bright and cheery opening credits which become darker and more sinister as the show goes on. It really adds something special to the show, and will definitely keep me coming back not only to enjoy the characters and story again, but also to hunt down little details I might have missed previously.

Well shit.
Unfortunately the very end of School-Live! isn’t as strong as everything that happens before and won’t satisfy people hoping for the darkest possible ending. It works as a conclusion, but some story elements feel too neatly resolved while others don’t feel resolved at all. This was probably done to leave it in a place to continue, however this is a rare case where a second season would actually be a mistake. Any continuation, especially one closer to the original manga which the series is based on, would mean taking away a lot of what makes School-Live! special and it would become just another zombie apocalypse story which would be a shame. It would be better to just leave the anime the unique experience it is rather than risk drawing it out and making it something lesser as a result. The last episode also lays on the emotion really thick and that may annoy some, but personally I feel like after everything we and the characters have gone through they’ve earned some cheesy feelings.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD
WOULD SOMEBODY HELP THESE POOR GIRLS??

School-Live!
is a great anime that manages to be sweet and funny, heart-wrenching, and also truly horrific. Not since Madoka Magika has there been an anime that takes our expectations and the worn tropes of a subgenre only to use them to such a great effect.

Verdict: School-Live! gets 4 happy and totally not blood covered teddy bears out of 5