School Live! (Gakkou Gurashi!) crept up on me, almost like a zombie epidemic creeping up on an unsuspecting populace.
Oddly enough, this series sits in two categories I normally don’t watch – high school/slice of life and zombies. But I’d heard it had been well received when it originally released in Japan so, hoping to be surprised, I gave it a watch.
Takeya Yuki is one of four members of the School Living Club, which is dedicated to living inside the school by making use of its impressive facilities – from a rooftop garden to a water filtration tank. Overseeing the club is their teacher Megu and adorable dog Taromaru. Yuki is carefree and clumsy, as per many of your high school girl leads, and is seemingly oblivious to the fact that their group is in fact a rag-tag cluster of survivors of a horrific zombie epidemic. The School Living Club is about more than just living within the school grounds – it’s about staying alive.
Judging from the DVD cover, there’s very little to suggest School Live! is anything but a cute slice of life-type series. But the build up to the survival aspect and zombies is satisfyingly slow, meaning those who are watching can sense there is something very wrong but can’t immediately put their finger on it. School Live! executes shock tactics very well – not over-the-top or rushed – although the last few episodes are certainly nail-biting.
The cast is small, given how you can’t have too many survivors in a zombie apocalypse, and this reinforces how trapped and claustrophobic our characters feel. Yuki initially appears very two dimensional but, as the story progresses, the reason for her behaviour becomes more pitiable. The spade-wielding Ebisuzawa Kurumi adds a more energetic and ‘zombie fighting’ element, Wakasa Yuuri acts as the mature mother of the group, and Naoki Miki is a serious junior carrying a dark secret. The softly-spoken teacher, Megumi Sakura, or Megu-nee, doesn’t appear to be any older than the students but is forced to play the role of the responsible adult and protector. And, of course, Taromaru is an adorable dog, which this show definitely needs.
At just twelve episodes, School Live!‘s pace gets the balance right between building tension, executing action and tugging at the heart strings. There is definitely room for and talk about a second season, but if the ending leaves you wanting more there is thankfully a manga to follow as well – although that went on extended hiatus at the beginning of this year.
Overall, I enjoyed School Live! more than I expected. It’s an original take on the zombie survivor genre and relies more on subtlety and human emotion than over-the-top blood and gore. The Blu-Ray/DVD combo is currently on sale at MangaUK, so pick up your copy now!