Sometimes, a show winds up doing something unforgettable. It might not have been the best show you’ve seen, but that one moment, that narrative whammy that it pulled on you just once, is something you take away from you. It’s the sort of thing that, when it happens, makes you scoot a bit closer, because the show suddenly shows some incredible promise, raising the stakes both physically and narratively. So, believe me when I say that School-Live! is more than it seems. It’s ostensibly a 12-episode high school slice-of-life show, but it manages to hit home with something that winds up being a lot stronger.
Naturally, some spoilers follow, but they’re only spoilers that matter for the first episode. Which you can watch right now on the official streaming site. If you have a half-hour to spare, and trust my taste in shows sufficiently, give it a watch and then come back here. If not, you can go on, and it’s not a major spoiler (I knew things before I watched the first episode). But, just in case you wanted to get the full effect.
What School-Live! Is
So, the show has a really upbeat, sweet, over-the-top cutesy tone from the get-go. Our main character, Yuki, loves her high school, etc., etc. She’s part of a rather unusual school club: the School Living Club, which seems to basically spend all of their time at school, enriching themselves and supporting school life by helping out all the other clubs. Also, they have sleepovers at school. A lot of sleepovers. Which, yeah, is definitely weird. But hey, they have their teacher’s permission to do it! Hijinks ensue, introducing you to the supporting cast and all. I mean, if you want an idea of what the show is like, all you have to do is check out the opening.
The characters of the School Living Club are, admittedly, a bit offbeat at times, which helps to offset the super-cutesy tone and add some variety. One of them has a beloved shovel that she takes everywhere. One of them likes reading, and apparently has a penchant for Stephen King. The show takes that mix of characters, and does a pretty good job building up chemistry between them, playing off of their interactions as the major portion of its gags, instead of relying heavily on comic situations. And, like a good show, it reinforces the humor by showing you some of the pathos that each character holds, particularly when you come to appreciate how big of a heart the main protagonist Yuki has.
Of course, it helps that the School Living Club is holed up in the school as a zombie apocalypse rages outside.
Where School-Live! Shines
The most brilliant part of School-Live! is not necessarily this twist, although the twist is a cheeky subversion of the high school comedy genre. Rather, it’s that you find out in the first episode that Yuki’s operating under the delusion that nothing has changed–and the setup of the first episode brilliantly reveals that by giving the viewer ample subtle hints that something’s wrong. All this stuff that you thought was weird actually makes sense within the context of reality.
It’s that reality which underscores the real draw of the show (for me): the psychological element. The main characters all need to find ways to cope with the horrifying reality of things, and protecting Yuki is a key part of that, for them. They don’t know what to do, or how to help her, but they’re willing to do what they can to keep her safe. Of course, it’s obvious that they can’t keep things up forever, but what can a bunch of high schoolers (and their club advisor) do in a situation like this?
Like a good zombie apocalypse story, the show takes time to show us the human side of everyone, and to give us a sense of what they’ve lost. It’s ultimately about the bonds that have formed between this unlikely group of survivors, and how that powers them through an absolutely horrifying time. It’s a show about the psychology of survival, and about what it takes to hold out hope even in the face of a situation where the most likely outcome is honestly pretty grim and dire.
This is where the dual genres of School-Live! kick in, because it doesn’t actually act as a subversion of slice-of-life. Instead, it uses it as a contrast with the survival side of the show, and Yuki’s delusion is the most prominent way that this happens. Her suggestions of fun club activities take on a deeper purpose, even though they seem like frivolous entertainment: you see, time and time again, how her positivity benefits the group as a whole, and those activities are what give it life.
Less Shiny Bits
I honestly liked this show quite a lot. That said, it’s not perfect. The narrative flow of the story becomes a bit weird after the first couple of episodes, because it takes steps backwards in chronology to showcase the backstory of the group, and I had trouble following when the story synced back up with current events. The visual elements of the show are okay (although at times they do an amazing job of underscoring the horror of the situation), and I feel like the energy of the show lets up a bit around the middle, although the ending does satisfy.
It’s also a bit unfortunate that the show can’t just have high schoolers being high schoolers without giving one of them a shower scene (with strategic steam clouds), although it’s honestly pretty mild in the medium of anime. Well, and there’s the random swimsuit episode, but I guess it dovetails logically enough into the story. It’s definitely frustrating, though, seeing that unnecessary sexualization in the story, no matter how mild it is.
Despite the negative elements, School-Live! is a show that I definitely recommend. It builds to its point with grace and style, and ratchets tension like nobody’s business when the chips are down. Ultimately, it reminds us why we write stories: to know what it means to be human. (Well, I mean, there’s secondary reasons like seeing sick action sequences and stuff, but.)
I watched School-Live! at Crunchyroll.com
I just watched the first episode. It’s rather wonderful. Thanks.
That first episode was easily what sold me on the show. I already knew about the “twist”, but I didn’t know anything about how it was pulled off or how it fit into the story. So in a way, it still caught me off-guard, and it was a doozy.
Wow, I was NOT expecting all that! I am very, very intrigued to see where this goes. Not that I was going to watch an anime right now, but there’s no way I can continue after that first episode without watching more!
The first episode is very reminiscent of a Twilight Zone-ish short story, isn’t it? That’s the definite impression I got, anyhow. It’s a very good introduction to the show. (Also, check out the opening from episode to episode.)
Yes, I hadn’t thought about that, but it does feel a bit Twilight Zone! I honestly wasn’t sure of the show at first, because I didn’t entirely see what the point of it all was-it just felt like a bunch of random high school antics initially. But, I do think it does a good job introducing characters and getting the viewer interested before we all see and realize, “Oh, that’s how this is all going to be a lot deeper and more intense!” Thanks for the tip about openings, I’ll be sure to be attentive to that!
I reviewed this show when it started airing myself, and my comments were pretty much in line with yours. However, I had read a decent chunk of the manga version of the story (beyond the length of the material covered in a one-cour animé), and in the end put that down because it was just so dark and getting darker by the chapter. I don’t mean that as an indictment of the story, which is quite good, rather that it just got too oppressively grim for my tastes. That said, my threshold for “too dark, next please” is pretty shallow. All in all, for people who like this kind of thing it seemed like an excellent show.
I could see that coming, given the wrap-up of the first cour (which is kinda open-ended). From what I understand, The Walking Dead went through a similar sort of thing. The show does end on a really nice note, though, so as a self-contained story I think it works pretty well. From what I understand, it also diverges from the manga in a couple of details.