Warning: Be aware that this review contains spoilers. I don’t like giving too much away in my posts, but it’s impossible to discuss this series without spoilers given how episode one concludes with a “twist” that is bigger than Godzilla dancing to a Chubby Checker tune.
At first glance School-Live appears to be another “cute girls doing cute things” anime, albeit one about an unusual club. Rather than dance Yosakoi, perform music or hunt espers the members of the School Life Club spend all their time at Megurigaoka High. Even when classes have ended for the day Yuki, Kurumi, Yuri and Miki stay inside the academy building. They even sleep there! Are they a rare breed of student who can’t get enough of school? Nah. The group is barricaded in there because the surrounding area is infested with carnivorous zombies! Oh man, why can’t shambling corpses switch over to a more peaceful vegan diet? Grains are tastier than brains after all.
The first episode of School-Live is both terrible and brilliant. I wasn’t too impressed watching protagonist Yuki Takeya attend lessons and chase after a cute puppy for almost twenty minutes. Not too original and more Moe than a Simpsons bartender. The payoff was however worth the tedium. Just before the end credits roll it is revealed that viewers have been watching events through the perspective of a distressed girl, who is deluding herself to cope with the trauma of living in a zombie apocalypse. The classrooms she sits in are vacant, aside from the imaginary pupils in her head. Megurigaoka’s pristine looking halls are in reality blood stained corridors.
Now I was invested. A sweet story transforming into a complete nightmare is one sure fire way of grabbing my attention… reminds me of the time I lost my head over what occurred in Madoka Magica. The series never abandons the lighthearted elements found in the inaugural episode though. Instead the script bounces between comedy and horror, which should be tonally jarring but somehow works. Given how heart wrenching School-Live’s narrative can be I welcomed the respite afforded by Yuki’s hijinks. Her friends seem to be of the same opinion. Rather than finding Yuki’s behaviour odd, they appreciate how her carefree spirit wards off the doom and gloom.
Speaking of friends, let’s segue into talking about Yuki’s chums. First up is the buxom club president Yuri Wakasa. She gives the air of unflappable leader, although deep down is suffering from stress. If Yuri is the brains (watch out dear, zombies love brainssss) then Kurumi Ebisuzawa is the brawn. She is always seen gripping her trusty shovel, which Kurumi uses to crack undead skulls. The newest member of the School Life Club is a Stephen King reader named Miki Naoki, who the group rescued from a zombie-ridden mall. Last on the list is club advisor Megumi Sakura. Despite being a teacher no one gives her much respect. The girls refer to her as Megu-ne, instead of Miss Sakura, much to her chagrin. Even worse, everyone always ignores her suggestions.
My rating for School-Live is five stars. I’m probably overrating the series slightly, but bear in mind that I am a cowardly wuss who normally avoids scary movies. As a result zombie yarns still feel fresh to me, which may explain why Walking Dead was my favourite game of 2012. I think School-Live was at its strongest during its flashback episodes. Miki under siege at the mall, how Kurumi became proficient with a shovel and the origin of Yuki’s fantasies will make anyone root for their survival. The comical present day tales weren’t as good, but still enjoyable. After witnessing their tragic backstories, it was nice seeing the girls enjoy life for a change.
I seldom mention OPs/EDs in my reviews, but will make an exception for School-Live. The ending theme titled Harmonize Clover is a beautiful ditty, whilst the opening’s animation was cleverly put together. Episode one’s overly saccharin opener gets darker with each passing instalment; mirroring Yuki’s state of mind, as she begins to question the make believe world she has hidden herself in. Other highlights include Taromaru, the pup that Yuki pursued in episode one. Said doggie is my new favourite anime mascot (sorry Pen Pen.)
Viewers seeking an alternative to Highschool of the Dead may want to give School-Live a try. They both tick the girls versus zombies box, even if stylistically they are very different. HOTS is mostly action and eye candy whilst School-Live is psychological yet humorous. That’s not to say that School-Live is free from fan service though. Shower scenes, posterior close ups and swimsuits are all present. Even when characters are trapped in a decrepit building, anime finds a way to shoehorn a bikini episode. I wish I was kidding about that, but like a zombie I am dead serious.