Review of School-Live! (2015)

Moving picture, 5.0 hours

Seen in 2018.

When the zombie apocalypse hits, a handful of students survive in their own high school. It’s surprisingly easy: The main building has solar panels, a huge battery array, a rainwater pool and filtration system, and the gardening club’s miniature farm, all on the roof. It turns out the equipment is there to sustain an emergency shelter in the basement, specifically stocked for the risk of zombification as biological warfare.

A fusion of horror and “cute girls doing cute things”. The title “School-Live” is a direct, bad, word-by-word translation of “がっこうぐらし”, literally “living in the school”. The Japanese word for living here does not suggest a double meaning like The Walking Dead (2010), nor should it be confused with the adjective, as in “live show”. There are, thankfully, no teen idols present.

It was clearly a mistake to do the English release under this title. It is an effort to conceal a major plot point: Living in the school is falsely described as a club activity. The sane survivors only pretend it’s a club, and that zombies don’t exist, to accommodate an insane member of the group. They either assume she cannot handle the truth, or they appreciate her good mood so much that they aren’t willing to cure her. The reveal comes in the first episode, and the first chapter of the comic. It’s pretty well executed, as these things go, but it is the interface between two wildly different genres. The obvious comparison is High School of the Dead (2010), which had some tonal contrasts, but nothing on this level and no comparable gimmick to solder it all together.

There is no assertion that Yuki truly benefits from her delusions (she doesn’t stay depressed for long when she is finally cured), nor is the school shown to be a locus of societal ills, as is the mall in Dawn of the Dead (1978). Granted, the shelter does imply that school management was shady in some generic conspiracist fashion, and student zombies do congregate in the school as if to honour the Romero diagnosis that “they’re us”, but the final crisis is resolved by Yuki making a sentimental speech to the zombies about how much they all love school. Rather, the point of “living in the school” as a premise is to excuse a lapse of the imagination, allowing easily recognized character archetypes to do cute stuff in a generic school setting in the apocalypse. The best example is episode 9, where the need to clean the clogged pool for drinking water motivates bikinis and beach games. The musical score simply alternates between sincere cutesiness, ironic cutesiness in an effort to be creepy, and straight slasher pieces. That’s the real horror here: Industry script writers will go to extreme lengths to avoid breaking new ground.

The denouément, practically a commercial for the unfinished comic, suggests that the zombies had something to do with a sinister Randall Corporation. This is apparently named after Randall Flagg in Stephen King’s original for The Stand (one character reads and reviews a book by “Steppen King”). However, the zombies themselves are stock issue, animated in ugly 3D CGI with stupid-looking black masks and swirling auras à la manga screentone hiding their decay to maintain a low age rating. Unexpectedly, there is a cure for the disease, but it only works in the first few hours after an infection. Dogs can be zombiefied but other non-human animals seem to have disappeared. There is also a bit of Bub intelligence, but it isn’t handled well. More annoyingly, the entire city looks as if it’s been left to decay for about three to fifteen years. There is a huge amount of dirt and almost all the windows of the school are broken, which doesn’t make sense except as an art-direction convenience for flipping unambiguously between Yuki’s fantasy and reality. The school uniforms are a more fitting signal of escapism: Quasi-military influences alongside frills and stockings with short skirt and suspender belt. This is clearly absurd and appropriate for the subject matter, with Shovel-kun to match. Ultimately, the show is functional in its two genres, but only just barely.

References here: Asobi Asobase: Workshop of Fun (2018), Daybreak (2019).

moving picture zombie animation Japanese production fiction series