What They Say:
Four girls decide to stay over at school: the energetic Yuki Takeya, the shovel-loving Kurumi, the center of the group Yuri who brings everyone together, and the spacey school adviser Megu. However, through mysterious circumstances, the girls find themselves the final survivors in a zombie attack, and continue to live at the school.
This is a dual release so for this review as a change of pace will be reviewing the DVD variation. The sound quality has options of 2.0 English and Japanese Stereo option, which as always is a little disappointing considering in today’s market even most DVD releases does a 5.1 for their anime releases. That said, there were were no complications of the audio throughout the release and whilst I had to adjust the volume with the speakers it wasn’t to the point it was problematic and there were no problems with the video synching in with subtitles so definitely acceptable as a DVD release.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format – with DVD releases nowadays the effect definitely seems grainier which is a shame as the colour is vibrant but it does suffer a little due to the slight blurring when pausing the show. That said, the animation was great and with a lot of bright colours and outfits, and the way the animation changes from bright & colourful to gritty and dark transfers well onto the screen makes it a very unique and still pleasant watch on DVD format.
There was no packaging for this test release, however if you get the collector’s edition you do get deluxe packaging in the form of a 14 mm Blu-ray Case, Plastic O-card and Rigid Collector s Box.
The menu on the three discs is very standard, with each one having all the members of the School Living club (the 4 main girls) in various silliness (again, brace yourself for that mood whiplash) with the episode selection on the left hand side (no Play All so you select the episode and it then continues thereafter) and then languages/special features as other options. All are easily selectable and transfer quickly to the next menu, and can return easily to the main menu with no delay but is quite basic in presentation.
The only extras are all the clean endings and the clean opening (the endings change on certain episodes, for example, the big spoiler about Megu-nee) and some trailers from Sentai (again, strange as Sentai doesn’t tell in the UK so is a straight transfer from the US release) of RE-KAN! Punch Line, Softenni! Rozen Maiden.
School-Live was one of those anime that surprises you with the design of the show and what it is actually about. Based on a manga in 2012, the anime was released in July of 2015 which I did see on Crunchyroll and like many others, went into it a bit blind expecting a slice-of-life and got…something else.
The first episode is basically a huge twist alone. We get introduced to our main character, a cheerful young girl named Yuki who is part of the School Living Club, which strangely, is about simply living at the school. That should raise a few questions immediately but it goes into slice-of-life territory – we have the other members of the club Kurumi, a girl who is an expert with a shovel, Yuri the kind oldest sister character (who you don’t cross) and their young kohai Miki, who definitely seems more capable than the ever enthusiastic Yuki, along with her teacher Megumi, and their pet dog Taromaru. We see her going through school, with her friends, meeting up for club activities, which including helping out with gardening on the roof…
…and also patrolling the school…
…and then you get hit with the climax. The school…is actually the safe(ish) haven of a zombie apocalypse.
The story is basically that Yuki is dreaming a fantasy world, whilst the rest of the girls are trying to make sure they can survive – Kurumi being the fighter whilst the others plan – Yuki’s delusions serve as a way to not go nuts during this time and this clash between cutesy art style and school girl silliness with trying to go out and get supplies or bar the classrooms as they are the only survivors…this is quite deep.
We get episodes all intertwining as more and more reveals come out – like Kurumi being forced to kill an upperclassman and his girlfriend that she used to crush on, they turn Yuki’s ‘test of courage’ into a supply run, and the big thing of Megumi, their teacher, actually being a figment of Yuki’s imagination and she has also been zombified (which become a big plot point later) – seeing the flashback of what actually happened to Megumi is the first of many heartbreaking moments the show has in store for us…
The next one involves a flashback with Miki, as she got caught in the zombie outbreak with her friend Kei in a shopping mall with the other girls at the school, which is where the dog Taromaru also is introduced. When they are trapped and alone, Kei risks going outside (which goes about as well as most likely you can expect) whilst the other girls are heading to the mall for supplies, where Kurumi comes across Taromaru which she takes with, and as they are about to leave, Yuki actually hears Miki’s screams as you can see her delusions are not 100% full and she snaps into reality but then denies it (again, a plot point closer to the end as she slowly begins to snap out of it) and save her. Miki then begins to be part of the group, and discovering Yuki’s delusions – she is asked to play along with it as Miki is clear she is a bit uncomfortable by this, but later understands that Yuki’s way of being happy manages to make the other girls more comfortable and less likely to break, leading to Miki becoming a member of the team. I like how this is done quite realistically as you would be scared after going through an experience like that, and seeing one of your new friends pretty much trying to ignore it all, but how even that can be a blessing in an atmosphere such as this one.
With Yuki starting to slowly unravel, we do get a few ‘filler’ episodes which return to the slice-of-life part, but even those have some importance. We get one where they keep sane by writing letters to the outside world, but Miki finds a key which proves to be of some significance, talking about graduation which leads to finding what the key is for…which turns out to be a manual which confirms the school was actually involved in creating a biological weapon and this was the safe house. Which also explains why the school is so well equipped (solar panels, garden on the roof, water cooling, etc)….this revelation is probably more for the future as sadly the show is only 12 episodes with the manga ongoing after this arc, but it does make the viewer very intrigued in why and how…
We get a mild fan service episode with the girls in swimsuits to take their minds of things but even that leads to the finale as Taromaru, who as a running gag seems to hate Miki is finally bonding with her, so you know something bad is going to happen…and sure enough the dog wanders down to the basement and a zombie with a familiar looking shape approaches…
This is where things get dark and rather heartbreaking. Despite a few episodes and the zombie outbreak, a lot of the show is still slice-and-life, but does remind you of the potential terror out there. Here, it hits full throttle. Taromaru gets infected, Kurumi the badass of the group and my favourite character, can’t kill him so manages to look him up and goes to find the zombies, but it turns out he was bit by Megumi, which Kurumi hesitates to kill…and becomes infected. This then gets a flashback of Kurumi telling Yuri that if anything happens to her, to do the right thing and a quandary if Yuri will actually kill Kurumi first or if Miki can find the cure that was in the manual they discovered…add to that, Yuki is starting to remember things, and now proves herself useful in aiding Miki and finally realising Megumi is dead, she looks to be cornered but is saved by an instinctive Taromaru, and able to realise the zombies still have their original memories, Yuki manages to send them away allowing Miki to get the antidote, just in time to save Kurumi…but sadly not to save Taromaru who sadly dies. The finale sets up most likely the next arc in the manga as the girls heading to another university (marked by Megumi) as they bid their farewells to Taromaru, Megumi and the school as we await a potential sequel…
School-Live is definitely one of those series that the initial idea and quick twist catches you off guard, and you appreciate how smart the series is. Yuki’s delusions all make sense and when you rewatch it, everything is there to prove it (the fact Megumi is ignored by everything bar Yuki for example) – the cast of characters is very relatable, the three other girls sees Yuki’s delusions but not breaking it to her as it helps them out as well but the fact that she is slowly unravelling is always there and see how she copes with it, because Yuki to be fair is easily the most useless character of the girls because of this, but in her own way she is helping, and when she finally snaps out of it, she is a big part in saving Miki – which is good as she was easily the most annoying character at first, but then you can understand it when you look at it from a zombie survivors point of view.
Granted, I would say both Kurumi and Miki win in terms of the characters (Yuri doesn’t actually do that much outside of her big problem of whether she should kill infected Kurumi) – Kurumi is pretty much attached to her shovel, used as comedy threatening at times but when things get serious, she is the only one brave and strong enough to fight off the zombies – she doesn’t like it and has to make upsetting decisions (which nearly cost her when she hesitates against Megumi-zombie), and Miki’s back-story when she joins them is the perfect example of how a hopeless situation can come about but try to make what you can (also giving Yuki her first moment of ‘she can be useful’ here as well). Miki is the most serious of the girls and she initially doesn’t understand Yuki’s delusions and why the other girls accept them, she grows to accept it and her own skills to make the most of it, and of course, survive.
The story itself is very smart (from what I understand, a few things are different from the manga, like Taromaru’s role and if Kurumi is actually ‘cured’) and sets up nicely for a sequel – with the show knowing how to change from cutesy to clever, from dainty to dark in a matter of seconds. The fact the school was a cause of the zombie break out is something that probably needs to be explored in the future, as we don’t know what is going to wait for the girls at their new location that Megumi pointed out (the illusion of Megumi is surprisingly one of the most important characters as we see her sacrifice and how Yuki’s delusions were spot on, allowing Miki to tell the trapped Megumi that everything she did was fine for them) – hence why this screams for a sequel. The only really negative thing I have bar Yuki’s initial character and Yuri not being that important in the long run is that sometimes the comedy doesn’t mesh as well once you know the story it is set in. It feels it could have worked as a darker survival story but the creators needs to bring in some cute girls and a bit of fan service just as a point for selling.
However, it still works as a story well, and just the right amount of comedy in this dark world is pretty much the same thing as Yuki’s delusions helping out the rest of the girls. It gets you out of the crapsack world they are in just for a moment, and when things get tough, you are right there hoping for the best. And yes, a tear or two was shed when Taromaru recovered, but sadly died after – it definitely made you attached to the group and you want to cheer for them. A surprisingly well crafted series which you want more of.
School-Live is a real surprise of a series. Gaining notoriety as a ‘healing anime’ because of it’s cute art, it lures you in before hitting that end of episode 1 spoiler. After that, everything is scrutinzed as rewatches show how Yuki’s character and delusions come to be, and the series basically is a way of making her accept reality. Whilst her character can be initially annoying to the audience, it is necessary for the rest of the girls which in turn, makes their characters more important (especially Kurumi) as they range from fighter, to healer, to intelligence, and when more and more things are revealed, you are surprisingly on the edge of your seat. A hidden gem.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: July 24th, 2017
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.