Even though the first episode revealed what is truly going on, I was still curious about what exactly the show was going to be. Would it now lean towards full survival horror or would it retain some of the moe it initially started off with? So far, it looks like School-Live! is doing a mix of both. Episode 2 contains three close encounters with a zombie, one of which is a flashback scene, but placed in between them are slice of life moments where the characters either reflect on their current predicament or are just doing a bunch of cute stuff.
While this approach does come with the risk of tonal clashing, I actually think it helps with School-Live‘s ability to create tension. Like Yuki, you’re put in a false sense of security. You know something bad might happen but you just never know when. For example, at the halfway point of the episode, Yuki takes everyone on a “test of courage” where they explore the school at night. At some point, a zombie is going to show up but in the meantime, you have Yuki frolicking through the dark hallways, even taunting her friends’ bravery and creating false flags. Thus, when a zombie does show up and Yuki is actually at the risk of danger, you’re thrown off and the atmosphere feels heavier and more ominous as a result. It kind of reminds me of Girls’ Last Tour (which technically aired years later but let’s just roll with it). Both shows are CGDCT anime at heart but the darker setting really has you thinking that any fleeting moment these girls have could be their last.
My only disappointment with the approach School-Live! is taking is that it has de-emphasized Yuki’s point of view. That was bound to happen as the the show begins to explore other characters and the shock of its hook begins to dissipate. And yet, I kind of miss having Yuki as an unreliable narrator; her perception obscuring reality with only glimmers of the truth spoon fed to the viewer. In the case of this episode, I would’ve liked to see how Megu-nee’s one on one tutoring session or the test of courage or the zombie in the library looked like to Yuki. Horror can be psychological after all and I think it’s a missed opportunity that you’re not left to figure out if a certain scene is played straight or with Yuki’s mental filter. Then again, maybe the next few episodes will do exactly that.
To be fair, School-Live! appears to still make use of Yuki’s condition, framing it as an ongoing problem for which none of her friends have a clear cut answer for. Miki understandably has her concerns but Yuuri is right in that they’re not psychiatrists and they could end up doing more harm than good if they tried counseling Yuki. And even if they were professionals, could any of them really bring themselves to tell their friend the truth, thereby shattering the happiness that she’s created for herself? The best they can do then is work with whatever Yuki throws at them, such as using her proposed test of courage as an excuse to scavenge the school campus for supplies.
There is also the matter of getting to know the other characters which School-Live! immediately gets going, starting with Kurumi. I really enjoy the backstory they provided her. It’s not a grand origin or anything but it doesn’t need to be grand. Just learning that Kurumi saw an upperclassman she crushed on become a zombie before her very eyes, forcing her to make her first kill in this zombie apocalypse, is enough to convey the trauma and stress that she’s dealing with. Even better is how the memory comes back to haunt her in present. While patrolling, she encounters a stray zombie and before landing the final blow, she recognizes it. During her narration, Kurumi says she joined the track and field club to get closer to her crush, calling her motivation impure. Put two and two together and it’s implied that the stray is the upperclassman’s girlfriend and Kurumi got forced to kill it. Goodness, this show isn’t just cruel to Yuki, is it?
Part of me does remains unconvinced that the thread ends here. I mean, there isn’t much of a resolution to begin with. Kurumi kills the stray, gets all sad about it, and that’s kind of it. She keeps the ordeal to herself, even hiding the stray’s body behind a classroom door so that Yuuri and Miki won’t see it (I don’t even want to think about how Yuki would perceive it). Surely there’s more to this. Maybe Kurumi’s friends will find out and help her cope with the pain?
Speaking of friends, this episode begins and ends with Kurumi looking over Yuki after waking up from her flashback/nightmare. That kind of cycling is so intentional that it makes me wonder if Kurumi envies how her friend can live in complete, ignorant bliss. There’s a couple of shots that show her looking glumly at Yuki and considering what she went through, envying doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Whatever the case may be, the episode does reassure that Kurumi cherishes Yuki’s company. Even if she does wish she could forget the cruel world around her, she seems to at least be glad that there’s still some comfort to be found.
OP: “Friend Shitai” by Gakuen Seikatsubu
Well, at least it’s a little more honest now.
Thanks for reading!
This post was originally published on June 22, 2019