From the moment I watched the first episode of School-Live I was hooked. I also immediately told my fellow anime-loving friends to immediately watch that first episode. “Don’t look it up. Don’t ask questions. Just watch it.” Even if you are not one for cutesy anime, (which, admittedly, I am a sucker for), just watch the adorableness of Yuki and her antics for a time. Enjoy the darling theme song (it IS catchy) and the gentle plot of our little Yuki chasing sweet little Taroumaru, the School-Live Club’s puppy, through the hallways of their school. Oh, how she loves school!
And above all else…
Pay… Attention…. To everything!
It has been a long time since I have gone through this kind of mind job in an anime, or any series of this ilk. School-Live is, without a doubt, one of the most unique animes I have seen. It is one of those animes that even if you don’t watch the rest of the series, the execution of the first episode is absolutely worth it.
Spoilers from the first episode are necessary to continue with the rest of the review, fair warning.
The main plot is about a group of girls who are the lone survivors of a zombie apocalypse, locked up in their school. The first episode starts through the eyes of Yuki, who has been so traumatized by zombies killing everyone around her, that she has convinced herself that nothing happened. For all she knows, she and her friends live at the school because they love it so much. She attends class, talks to her friends (both real and imaginary), and sleeps in one of the classrooms all as per the rules of her beloved School-Live Club.
The other girls who have survived with her, also trapped in the school, do everything they can to protect Yuki from the truth. Initially, it seemed too cruel to let Yuki go through life thinking everything is fine when in fact danger lurks just outside the school. Yet after an episode or two, I found myself desperately wanting to protect Yuki, too. She is the one piece of sunshine in this dark anime. It keeps the rest of the characters’ spirits high and it raised mine as well. Seeing as it’s a zombie apocalypse our brave girls are facing, there isn’t a whole lot of hope to go around–and as you progress deeper into the first season, their situation gets steadily worse. And what else gets steadily worse? The beginning and ending credits.
The credits are almost as important as the show at times. They’re full of hints and foreshadowing and occasionally change in subtle ways episode to episode. You never know when or what will change, and it’s worth sitting through them just to scream at the TV, yelling, “What?! What does that mean?!” The best shift is the comparison of the first episode’s beginning credits to the second episode after you realize that what Yuki sees isn’t in fact the reality around them. To be frank, this show likes to mess with you…a lot.
Even if you already know the plot for this anime, there are plenty of opportunities to laugh, enjoy tender moments, and then promptly get punched in the gut. I’ll admit I’ve giggled openly and then immediately teared up more than once throughout this series…ok fine, I flat out cried at the season finale.
Yuki tends to steal the show with her innocence and sunny disposition, but the rest of the characters are all endearing in their own way. Kurumi is the group’s token badass. She carries a shovel, which she expertly uses against zombies, and she is fiercely protective of her comrades. Her backstory includes why she carries the shovel, and as the series progresses you appreciate her skills with it more and more (especially when one of the other girls tries to wield it). Miki is the youngest member of the group and has by far my favorite backstory. It’s executed in a two-part episode flashback that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Megumi is their kind-hearted school advisor, and though she insists on being called Sakura Sensei, the girls lovingly call her Megu-nee. She is quiet and gentle, but will always look after Yuki no matter what.
My only complaint is the lack of character development for Yuri, the eldest student and president of the School-Live Club. She acts as the big sister of the group, but is the one character we do not get a backstory for just yet in the anime. She is entirely essential as she tends to the fundamentals of survival for the girls and knows the most about the school, but we know almost nothing about her. The season is definitely set up for a season 2 and hopefully more will be revealed of her then. Taroumaru can’t be left out, the School-Live Club’s puppy who, despite being another welcome comic relief in the series, also happens to have a surprisingly complex story of his own.
As far as the zombie aspect of the show it would be easy to make this series the typical ultra-gratuitous zombie show, but it is surprisingly tasteful with very little gore. That being said, the suggested gore, shadowing, and perception of the zombies (you see very little other than haunting white eyes and frothing mouths encased in shadow), and harmonized groans gives it a properly creepy vibe without being overtly disgusting.
There are so many layers to the show. Even that cheery theme song that welcomes you into the series becomes a chilling reminder that those slivers of happiness you’re allowed to feel throughout the series are temporary and so very precious. Be prepared to have your heart stomped, then dusted off and hugged…then stomped again. And maybe eaten. It is a very worthwhile rollercoaster.