School Live Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray/3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running Time: 309 minutes approx.
It’s no secret that I never enjoyed school, so I am unable to relate to Yuki Takeya and friends who love it so much that they live there. Every morning Yuki wakes up, usually with assistance from a small dog named Taromaru, having slept in an empty classroom, makes her way to the School Living Club meeting room and enjoys breakfast with the others before heading off to her lessons.
As ever Yuki arrives late and is scolded for falling asleep during class, amusing her classmates but not so much her teachers. Occasionally a fellow club member will halt proceedings to inform Yuki that Taromaru has run off, giving her reason to leave class on a whim. It’s all good fun no matter how exasperated the teachers are, and the other club members are also often a little bemused by Yuki’s lack of maturity.
But something doesn’t seem right. Surely there are rules about kids living on school premises? What about the parents? Would they sanction such an arrangement? Well, we may never find out as Yuki and the School Living Club – three other girls, one teacher and Taromura – are the sole survivors of a zombie epidemic that has hit the area.
Possibly one the greatest twists you’ll see in anime and it occurs in the dying moments of the opening episode, having been preceded by twenty minutes of moe blob comedy antics. Ordinarily I would avoid spoiling such a revelation but it is the key to the entire plot thus keeping it a secret is nigh on impossible.
However that doesn’t take away from the fact director Masaomi Ando plays an absolute blinder in keeping up the pretence of Yuki’s hallucinations for the entire duration, and if it doesn’t hook you in and keep you seated for the remainder of the series, then perhaps you’ve become a zombie too.
School Live is a strange beast however, that will divide opinion based purely on the prominence of the comedic content, replete with every cliché and affectation you can think of – blank expressions, chibi-faces, sweat drops, slapstick humour, surreal asides. To say there is a huge tonal clash is an understatement that will likely prove difficult to reconcile once the drama sets in.
Yet this is where the show is at its strongest and most effective in detailing the daily struggle of survival for the group against the odds. They are not at school because they want to be but because they have nowhere else to go. The streets are crowded with the shuffling, slow-witted, flesh eating undead and with most pupils and teachers having already succumbed to this fate, the lower half of the school is infested too.
Making up this determined group of survivors is club president Yūri Wakasa, outwardly strong but internally shattered; shovel wielding Kurumi Ebisuzawa, the resident muscle of the team; Miki Naoki, the shy newcomer the girls rescued from a shopping mall; and Megumi “Megu-nee” Sakura, the last surviving teacher for whom Yuki has a particular affection for.
Having barricaded the stairs and afforded themselves plenty of rations, the girls spend their time trying to keep their spirits up by maintaining the school’s roof top garden as well as amusing themselves in whatever creative ways they can. Through flashbacks, we learn that tragedy is never far away for them and neither is their guaranteed safety as the zombies continue to work their way up the floors of the school.
To address the elephant in the room, this isn’t a rip-off of High School Of The Dead even with the obvious similarities – if anything it has more in common with Angel Beats thematically and emotionally. School Live is considerably less graphic in its violence than HOTD and uses the horror sparingly. There is also the noticeable absence of gratuitous fan service (aside from the obligatory bikini episode because anime) and absurdly oversized mammaries.
With the humour often lacking in subtlety and the characters coming straight out of the moe schoolgirl catalogue the danger of this undermining the gravity of their predicament is as omnipotent as the undead peril that awaits behind the locked doors. So it is to writer Norimitsu Kaihō, adapting her own manga, that we doff our caps for being able to switch moods on the turn of a heel and not lose a beat in her narrative.
Yuki may be older than Miki but is the more immature and ditzy of the pair, and indeed the group, but it is her unwavering cheerfulness and resilience in ensuring that the camaraderie and club spirit remains unbroken that is the major anchor of the tale. As unpredictable, capricious and often thoughtless and she can be, Yuki is keen to see the group as a whole survive this ordeal and leave together.
Everything is seen through her eyes and when the tragedies hits, Yuki’s default mode of pretending it didn’t happen is both a defence mechanism and a key strength of her character. Because of this, the darkness takes on a deeper potency and we know that if it breaks Yuki the whole group is broken. The others know this but are more realistic in facing the truth of the situation and better equipped to handle it yet inside they are as brittle and scared as Yuki.
Naturally the comedic side is favoured in the presentation handled by studio Lerche, so expect bright colours, cheerful musical interludes, loose animation plenty of still frame usage to denote the passing of time and helium voices emanating from the girls’ mouths. The zombies are bathed mostly in dark light with a miasmic aura about them which adds an eeriness to them that would be lost were they fully exposed.
Against all odds, School Live delivers more poignant, gut wrenching drama from behind its bubblegum aesthetic than any straight up gore fest, a brave and subversive risk that pays dividend if you keep an open mind about it.
English Language 2.0 DTS-HD MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS-HD MA
Disc 2 Only (Blu-ray):
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Ending Animation
Limited Collector’s Edition
5 disc Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack
Rigid Collectors Box
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black