I finished “Gakkou Gurashi!” or “School Live!” about a week ago and, let me tell you, I was not expecting to ever be able to type that sentence truthfully. To be honest, this show looks nothing like something I’d enjoy (I say, very hypocritically, as I realize that it resembles “Love Live”, an anime I adore, even down to its name… but whatever.) This show is… definitely surprising to say the least.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Since this is my first review, I thought I’d speak a minute on how reviews are going to work on this blog. Since I think reviews are great ways to recommend good stuff to people, I want to make sure to give readers an easy way to avoid spoilers. For that reason, each of my reviews will be two parts. The first part will be a general recommendation with no spoilers, and the second will be a more in-depth review of what I thought, spoilers included.
For this anime, that means the spoiler-free part is going to be very vague, just because about 90% of what I can say about it is a spoiler. So, uh… sorry in advance?
General Overview [Spoiler Free]
“Gakkou Gurashi!” is an anime about Megurigaoka Private High School’s School Life club, and its members Yuki Takeya, Yuuri Wakasa, Kurumi Ebisuzawa, and Miki Naoki as they go about their daily routine and club activities. Along with their teacher and advisor Megumi Sakura and high-spirited dog Taroumaru, the girls of the School Life club live at their beloved school and take part in all of its activities. And… that’s really all I can tell you. Anything more, and the completely fascinating first episode of this anime is spoiled, and I would hate to do that.
What I can tell you is that this anime is certainly worth you time. It has its flaws – namely a cliche main cast, some really hyper-stereotypical character interactions, and cheap fanservice – but I was honestly able to overlook this just on the strength of its storyline alone. If you’re thinking you might want to check this show out, though, DO NOT, I repeat, DO. NOT. google search it. Do not look up anything about it. Just go to whatever anime streaming website you prefer, put on your blinders and click the first episode without reading anything else.
Even if you’re not too interested by the synopsis alone, I highly recommend you at least check out the first episode. Wait until you’ve seen the entire first episode to judge this one – I promise you won’t regret it. Honestly, the experience of going in blind to this anime’s first episode was enough for me to justify watching the rest of it, even if it never quite ventured into any genres I particularly enjoy.
… And really, that’s all I can say without giving too much away. This anime really does wait to show its hand, so give it a chance, at least. I recommend it.
More in-depth, spoilery review under the read more!
Okay, now I can put aside the vagueness and start talking frankly about this anime.
As I mentioned before, a lot of my problems with this anime stem from my problems with the moe genre it falls into. I’m really super picky about anime most of the time, and slice-of-life moe anime usually falls into all of my bad categories. Trite, useless character interactions, blatant, stupid fanservice, and no interesting plot to tie it together. “Gakkou Gurashi!” is all of the bad moe anime things, but with an interesting plot.
However, it’s that moe genre that leads, in my opinion, to the biggest problem with this anime. The characters are super uninteresting.
They left so little an impression on me that I had to look up all of their names for the synopsis above. I didn’t remember a single one. This anime has very few characters, so there’s no excuse for their complete lack of depth. These characters exist only to be cute, and the anime makes no effort to hide that.
And yes, I know that that’s because it’s a moe anime, and moe animes have to have characters that fulfill certain archetypes in order to draw in viewers. That’s just how it works. But I actually thought a lot of the characters had really great potential for depth that was just never realized, despite their blatant archetypes. I think the greatest example is Yuki.
The concept of Yuki’s character is the backbone of this anime. A stereotypical cutesy ditz of a senpai. Of course, the twist being that she is completely delusional and lives in a make-believe world where her classmates never died and school continues, paradise-like, 24 hours a day. This is a really neat concept – it explains a lot of the annoying aspects of Yuki’s archetype. The fact that she lives in a delusion explains her ditziness, her unwavering optimism, and her naivete. It’s great! It just… never really went anywhere.
There were a lot of scenes where I thought the anime was for sure suggesting that one day Yuki would realize the truth of her surroundings and would be rudely forced to cope with the deaths of her friends and mentors. I thought for sure she might have to struggle to remain the optimistic go-getter of the team. I thought she might even feel some resentment to her still-living friends for never telling her the truth about her situation. I was prepared to watch Yuki struggle to keep her optimism, but eventually use it to win out in the end.
And… that just never happened. Sure, Yuki did eventually realize the truth of the situation. But she never really seemed all that upset? And while she did eventually use her optimism to save the day I still felt like there was a lot of wasted potential there. It didn’t feel like her victory was won… just kind of, received, I guess. I will say that the way she manages to “defeat” the zombies is pretty clever and surprisingly heartwarming, but it still didn’t really satisfy my wish to see her overcome her delusions.
I did find a lot of interest in the characters’ backstories. This anime is rather non-chronological in its story telling, which opened it up to a lot of fascinating character reveals, but I felt like most of the time these backstories didn’t really amount to much but some fleeting interest.
For example, Kurumi’s backstory with her senpai was actually pretty emotional and interesting for a few episodes, but after it was introduced it seemed like it was immediately forgotten. Nothing about Kurumi’s personality or anything she does in any other episode besides her backstory episode coincides with the trauma of having to kill her crush. Instead, we see her eagerly killing zombies left and right without a hint of hesitation. She could, technically, exist just as she is without the backstory which, for me, means its a failure.
I’m a little mixed about the other major backstory we got, that of Miki. I think it was nice that it did seem like losing her friend really affected her in the present, but the way they expressed this was super cliche. No real game-changers here, just your run of the mill “You look just like someone I used to know…” at Yuki. But it was certainly better than Kurumi and Yuuri, the latter of whom didn’t even really have a backstory, which is a shame because she was kind of my favorite character.
Plus, the girls’ relationships left something to be desired. I was sort of hoping for a stronger focus on these girls’ friendships and how they use it to survive their harrowing situation… what I got instead was cookie-cutter moe interactions and lots of food. The relationship I found most interesting was Kurumi and Yuuri’s… I think the scene where Yuuri debates whether or not to kill Kurumi after being infected was probably one of the most emotionally deep scenes in the whole anime. But there isn’t much focus on it besides at the most surface level.
I guess, overall, I wish this anime had gone more in depth with the characters. I think there was a lot of wasted potential.
That being said, while I disliked the characters, the plot of this anime is really something. Despite being, at its core, a trashy zombie series,”Gakkou Gurashi!” doesn’t really fall into any of the pitfalls that commonly ruin horror series for me. There were never any needless deaths, and what plot twists there are (Namely, the one in the first episode, the revelation about Megu-nee, and the truth about the origins of the zombies) are legitimately surprising if you’re not spoiled already, but can be justified by the events of the story. This anime doesn’t sacrifice believability for shock factor, which is something I really appreciate. It kept me engrossed in finding out what happens next, even if I didn’t particularly care about the characters. Plus, I liked that these zombies still retained a semblance of their old life. It really added some weight to their existence and made each fight with one ten times more freaky.
And I mean, despite my many problems with the characters, the fact I can still say overall that I liked this anime is kind of a miracle. The plot’s that interesting, guys. I suppose, for that reason, the anime’s a success.
(But god… that pool episode. I changed my mind. Anime was a mistake.)