Anime: Gakkougurashi! | School-Live!
Original Run: Jul 9, 2015 to Sep 24, 2015
Genres: Horror, Slice of Life, Psychological
Takeya Yuki loves her school. In fact, she loves it so much that she’s quite content living inside of it as part of the School Living Club, a group committed towards living in the school as if it’s their own home, building relationships with various departments and fostering independence to set an example worth following. Other club members are the president Wakasa Yuuri, another third year Ebisuzawa Kurumi, the lone junior Naoki Miki, the supervising teacher Sakura Megumi and finally, the club mascot Taroumaru.
Yuki thinks of her beloved school as akin to a small, self-sufficient country, and is quite proud of her club and its activities. And if this dreamy paradise of a school sports a broken window or ten and desk barricades in the middle of corridors, then surely there’s a perfectly logical explanation for that.
I’m one of those anime viewers who religiously avoid cute girls do cute thing in cute clubs kinda shows because frankly, I find them mind-numbingly dull. At first glance, Gakkougurashi is one such show with extremely cute art style and an opening theme that’s saturated with sugary sweetness. But I still watched it. Why? Because I’d already been spoiled on the big twist of the story.
Gakkougurashi isn’t a story of four cute girls and their supervising teacher managing a club. It’s zombie survival horror that neatly explains how a club that facilitates living within the school is even possible. Even going in knowing of this eventual reveal, Gakkougurashi was a pleasant surprise from beginning to end.
Cutesy club antics and man-eating zombies may sound like an incongruous mix but this anime combines the two elements brilliantly. The protagonist Yuki is who makes this possible as her trauma-induced delusion causes her to reject reality and perceive her school as the harmless place it had been before the zombie apocalypse rather than the battered and bloodied shelter it has become. Since Yuki’s perpetual cheer and optimism are important to the other girls, they play along with her illusionary world, thus making possible for Gakkougurashi to be a cute girls show and a zombie show simultaneously.
Rather than detract from the horror angle, Yuki’s delusion actually adds to it as we only need our imaginations to envision the kind of terror that fractured her mind so severely. Even as we see the girls have hearty breakfasts and organize events, we’re never allowed to forget the danger that lurks outside the safe space they’ve carved for themselves. They’re survivors making the best out of an extremely grim situation – they’re trapped with limited supplies, one of them is delusional, no help is coming and they don’t even know if the whole world has become like this. There are more overt horror elements as well, especially as the story goes on.
While most of Gakkougurashi’s recent viewers would be spoiled about its big twist, that doesn’t mean that the show won’t shock you later on. There are a number of twists littering the second half of this anime, most of which are expertly foreshadowed from early on.
However, not everything about this anime is palatable. There’s an episode towards the end that’s absolutely unnecessary. It’s presumably intended to be a breather episode between the serious episodes preceding and succeeding it but in this case, that breather is very much not needed. Also, Gakkougurashi and doesn’t always manage to keep a balance between the cute aesthetic and the zombie aspect, and people leaning towards just one of these elements might find themselves disappointed at times.
All the same, it’s an excellent, unique anime that takes its time exploring the psychology of its characters in a way that comes across as nuanced and genuine.
Gakkougurashi’s characters are a little odd for me. I can’t say I like any of them. They’re perfectly serviceable people who all have their distinct personalities but nowhere during the course of the anime did I feel any attachment to them. They’re excellent vehicles for an excellent story and that’s it. But while this would usually affect my enjoyment of a show adversely, in this case, the story in question was remarkable enough that I found it thoroughly entertaining in spite of it. Even without caring for Yuki, Miki, Kurumi, Yuuri and Megumi (well maybe I care for Megumi), it was easy to care about their situation and survival.
Looking more deeply at the characters themselves, we have the protagonist Yuki, a pink-haired ball of frantic energy who’s full of optimism and rainbows and sparkles. It helps that she’s so lost in her own mind that she’s completely blocked out the zombies and deaths and everything unpleasant about her current reality. It’s not a healthy coping mechanism but it allows her to maintain a cheerful persona that brings some life to her fellow survivors’ existence. Yuki herself is fascinating because her condition keeps you perpetually curious about how she’s going to react to dire situations and also about what will happen once the delusion inevitably shatters. Personality-wise, she gets grating fast because even in a non-horror anime, this level of concentrated air-headed cutesyness isn’t tolerable for long. She does have some great character moments later on though.
Then there’s Kurumi, the resident tough chick and probably the main reason the girls aren’t zombie-chow. She’s the only one who can fight among the group – and even then, her sole weapon is a shovel – but she’s got the strength and the guts to face the undead legion and come out on top. Kurumi’s main flaw is that her bravely borders on recklessness and this, combined with her lone wolf tendencies, lands her in situations that are nothing short of deadly. That said, her being the only competent fighter also lends a dose of realism to the show since typical high school girls aren’t likely to be ruthless zombie vanquishers.
Yuuri and Miki round out the main quartet. Yuuri is the reliable big sister type who can be either dependable or intimidating as the situation demands. However, there are hints scattered through the story that Yuuri’s composure is only paper thin and the stress of the situation affects her more than she is able to show. Miki is the only second-year of the group but acts quite mature for her age. Her reaction to the zombies falls in the middle between Yuki’s denial and Kurumi’s active annihilation. She shows fear most of the time but is also capable of bucking up and taking action when she needs to.
Finally, there’s Megumi, the sole teacher to survive the outbreak in the girls’ school. A teacher who has some insecurities about being her chosen profession, Megumi unfortunately ends up showcasing just how good an authority figure she is only after everything has gone to hell. Though mild-mannered and soft-spoken, Megumi protects the girls under her care fiercely and is shown to be willing to sacrifice anything for their sake.
Art and Music:
Gakkougurashi’s art is very, very cute. It’s got classic moe character designs that make high school girls look like middle schoolers, plenty of bright and cheery colors and practically oozes adorableness. Then the zombies show up and everything is either amorphous dark auras or rotting flesh and blood splatters. The contrast is striking and characteristic of this story. It works perfectly too as the cuteness makes the horror elements all the more unsettling.
The opening theme, Friend Shitai, sung by the main cast is almost insufferably peppy and likely to get stuck in your head but what’s really impressive about it is the visuals that change throughout the course of the show to reflect the increasingly grim reality the girls have to endure. There are a number of ending themes, all of which are more subdued than the OP and rather pleasant to listen to.