School-Live Series Review: Does a Zombie/Cute-Girl Mash Up Actually Work?

Overview – Spoilers if you haven’t seen the show:

The School Live club are a club that live at school. They sleep there, they eat there, they attend classes there, and they check the barricades to make sure they are alone there. Yes, this is another zombie story however School-Live decides to combine the cute girl genre in anime with zombie horror and the results are kind of interesting.

I started watching this after reading D’s initial impressions when they watched the show about two months ago. I’ve also posted my episodic thoughts previously so if you are interested check them out, but be aware of spoilers if you read beyond the first post.

Review:

As I said above, I initially started this anime after reading about it on D’s blog. I’d heard about it before but never paid a lot of attention. The art for it with the cute girls in school uniforms (even if they were hanging around a decrepit school room) just didn’t really leap out and say it was a must watch.

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I mean, you’ve got all your cliché’s in one. The pink haired and bubbly girl. The tough girl who is actually really sweet and loyal. The conservative girl that ends up being used for fan-service way too often. And then the serious leader type girl who acts like everyone’s big sister. Throw in a cute puppy and there you go.

Then again, it is also a zombie anime. I don’t know about you, but if I were taking bets on who would survive a zombie apocalypse, group of cute girls in a high school with a puppy wouldn’t be my first pick. Even after watching the anime I’m still not convinced on this point. Given only one of them actually ever even carries any kind of weapon for defense (until the very end), and one of the characters seem perpetually stuck in her own fantasy land where normal classes are continuing and all her friends are still alive, you kind of  have to just accept the basic premise that these girls through a series of coincidences did survive and for some sort of reason the school seemed prepared to house survivors in the case of a zombie outbreak. They never really get back to that point though so if you are after a full explanation of the reason why you will walk away disappointed.

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My overall thoughts after watching this anime are that I absolutely loved it until the half-way point. The first six episodes were brilliant. The direction, the way the reveals were handled, the characterisation, everything just worked. There were some really clever choices made and there was suspense, laughter, and enough creepy horror to keep you completely engaged even during the more mundane meal sequences and playing around the girls got up to.

Then we went into the second half. Three of these episodes kind of just focussed on the cute girl aspects and they kind of lost the suspense and mystery. The show that had balanced its elements nicely (or at least in a way that was highly entertaining) suddenly seemed to throw itself far too far toward the cute girls hanging around a school mode. These episodes dragged and just didn’t hold my interest. Even the direction, which had been exceptional earlier on, kind of became fairly ordinary during this sequence of episodes.

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Then the final three episodes switched again and went into full blown zombie horror. Admittedly, as a bigger fan of horror than slice of life and cute girls, I liked these episodes much more but that unique feeling where these two aspects were working together that had been so prominent during the first half of the series was gone.

I mentioned earlier that there are plenty of mysteries about the school and about the zombie outbreak that will never be solved. That isn’t a deal breaker for this show. This show isn’t looking at a government response to the outbreak or following a group of scientists or someone involved in the release of the virus. This show follows four high school girls just trying to live (not just survive). The distinction between living and survival comes up a number of times throughout the series. Sometimes it is addressed carefully and subtly and other times it just kind of smacks you in the face (Kei leaving Miki behind in the mall being one of them).

Because of the characters we are watching and their limited knowledge and limited access to knowledge there’s a lot we’ll never know about this world, and that’s okay. This story is built on tropes. Audiences know what cute girls in high school should get up to. These girls take a field trip, visit the library, do some gardening, have a sports festival, and camp out, a pool party, and more or less anything else you would expect from that sort of story. Audiences know what to expect from zombie horror. There’s been an outbreak. Does it actually matter why? Unless the story is focussed on finding a cure, I’d say probably not.

Yet, that reliance on the audience knowing the genres is also a weakness in the story.

And we’re plunging headlong into final episode spoilers so please bail out now if that’s an issue.

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Toward the end the girls learn that the highschool was prepared for a zombie outbreak, including the possibility of a cure for the recently infected being hidden in a sub-basement. This essentially tips the hand of the remaining plot (what little there is) as one of the four receives a bite  from a zombie. Not because she was overwhelmed but because of who the zombie had previously been and her inability to bash the brains out of a former friend (another issue the story touches on that I’ll get back to). Admittedly, this character getting bitten had been foreshadowed far earlier when she’d made the leader of the group promise to kill her in an instant if she got infected. Seriously, raise a death flag much.

Rather than actually follow through on the promise, the girls work together to get the antidote that essentially serves as the most convenient deus ex machina ever given why does this exist? Why is it in the school? Why isn’t there more of it already made if people were expecting and preparing for a zombie outbreak? It kind of kills any tension or suspense for this final sequence of events.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t something there though.

Delusional girl has finally snapped to reality and realises her friends are in big trouble because there are zombies. Turns out though that even when she’s in the real world, she has some interesting ways of viewing things. Instead of going gung-ho zombie killer, she makes her way to the school announcement room (or whatever it was called) and essentially tells the zombies she knows they love school but it is time to go home. And they leave.

This is probably the best thing School-Live does in the second half of the series. Even in the first half the girls had observed that the zombies seemed to be repeating events from their life, drawn to things they liked or did, and certain zombies in particular seem to act to protect things. This idea of zombies not being entirely brain-dead and having some part of their original personality isn’t new, but it is kind of interesting and throws a whole moral spanner in the works of shows where zombies exist only to be mowed down in interesting and violent ways. I’m going to touch on this later in an actual feature post rather than getting into that discussion now.

Alright, I’m done with spoilers.

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Basically, this anime works incredibly well. The first half is superior to the second in terms of cohesion, tone and suspense, but the second half isn’t exactly a train wreck. In fact, it manages to pull out some great character moments, asks some interesting questions, and while the ultimate resolution isn’t perfect there really wasn’t any other way for the show to end given the initial premise.

I’m glad I spent some time at school with these girls. I’m glad I watched it all the way through. I’ll probably do a rewatch someday and I think that despite my issues with the second half that this is an anime worth checking out.


Thanks for reading.

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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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5 thoughts on “School-Live Series Review: Does a Zombie/Cute-Girl Mash Up Actually Work?

  1. Before seeing this series, I’d never have thought that ‘cute girls club’ and ‘zombie epidemic’ would go together well but I’m glad to be proven wrong. The first episodes that mixed the two elements were admittedly better but I loved the last three as well.

    I do wish we knew more about why the school was so prepared though. I wonder if there will ever be a second season. Then again, the girls leaving the school is an excellent ending for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Their mock graduation and departure reminded me a little of Angel Beats, but given I loved that show I didn’t really mind. Yeah, it is a conclusion and while there are plenty of questions, the show’s focus was never on answering them so it doesn’t really matter. I just wish they hadn’t wasted those couple of episodes making us so aware of everything we didn’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. School Live! is definitely a pretty good series. I think the first episode alone just drew me into watching the show and I ended up sticking with it until the end. The first half, as you said, is definitely pretty stellar in terms of some of its twists and plot points that it throws at the viewer, lots of them are pretty subtly worked into the show as well. The second half kind of changes the tone into a more horrific sort of thing, but I think that’s sort of the point of it.

    I think the second half works better if you look at it from a Madoka (at least the first few episodes of it) sort of standpoint where just the fact that there’s a bunch of these really adorable moments with these lovable characters and then you get these super horrific scenarios which greatly contrasts that. It’s sort of jarring in that regard, but I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, even paired against the first half of the show. This sort of method does bring its own issues to the table, but as you said, it’s definitely a pretty enjoyable show nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this anime a lot as well. Sure it had it’s flaws, and I agree with you about the second part being not as impressive as the first part. Overall though I loved this series. It was a very unique blend of two genres that could not be any more different, but in the end it just worked very well 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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