Boo! The day has come to review more horror anime. Remember that until Halloween night this blog will feature a bi-weekly review of a horror show and hopefully find something that is worth recommending. Although first a word about this article: Given the narrative of this show it would be almost impossible to not spoil something about it. If you don’t like spoilers, you have been warned. Moving on, today I’ll be talking about Gakkou Gurashi!, a cute show about school life and death.
About the show
Gakkou Gurashi! (がっこうぐらし!) is an adaptation of a manga with the same name. The show aired during the 2015 Summer season, consisting of 12 episodes of 24 minutes each.
Yuki Takeya is a cheerful school girl who, along with her friends Kurumi Ebisuzawa, Yūri Wakasa, and Miki Naoki, is a member of the Megurigaoka Private High School’s School Living Club. As Yuki seeks out fun school activities every day while living at school, the other girls work to keep her safe, because in reality, they are the sole survivors of their school after a zombie outbreak overruns the city.
Zombie stories made a comeback in recent years, from movies to TV shows there was a point in time where you could not escape from the swarm of zombie mania. One of many downsides of the revival of popularity of this genre is that most of these stories became stale and easy to predict. Either you got boring “Humans are the real monster” type of shows or movies that filled your screen of zombies crawling the walls of cities. With the recent death of George Romero it is worth remembering that the movies that created and established this genre did not fall for these traps and used zombies as vehicle to tell a story. The humans that live before, during and after the outbreak are those who will drive the show, and this one of the strongest points of Gakkou Gurashi!.
The show presents itself as another SoL with the twist of zombies, and if it was done poorly you will get a mere mediocre horror show but not here. This group of survivors have strong personalities and weaknesses from which the audience could relate to. Yuki is the kind girl who suffers from a kind of PTSD from several events during the outbreak. Through here eyes we see the contrast between the life before the downfall of the school, although behind her cheerful personality it does show that she knows that something is wrong with the world. Even after the reveal of Yuki living in a fantasy, we are along for the ride of her delusions and the struggles of the others to preserve her “happiness” even during excruciating moments like zombies breaking the barriers or having to endanger their lives for food. Miki also carries part of the show by having a more tragic story than Yuki, she is only alive by a fluke of destiny and during an emotional flashback we are told how she became part of the group.
Gakkou Gurashi! is a great example of a self-contained show that works in an isolated setting. The first time I saw this show it reminded me of “Dawn of the Dead”, characters trapped in a place where they are free from the outside menace and yet they have all the means to survive there. The show even features a scene on a mall that resembles the movie. But more than that, it uses its environment to create a compelling feeling of dreadfulness without being too gritty. The scenes of the vacant classrooms filled with blood are shocking but it does not deviate the lightheartedness of the interaction between the characters. I am a fan of stories where people are trapped in a place and they need to work together to overcome this situation, which is done great in this show. One of my favorites parts of the show was the episode where they do an “endurance” test to reach the cafeteria shop and bring more food. It combines what we know about these tropes in anime with the suspense of being surrounded by zombies.
There’s something to be said about how Gakkou Gurashi! handles the horror elements and it’s fine. When it comes to zombies and another types of outbreak you don’t need to explain every detail that led to the horrible reality our characters are living. There are some hints in the show that the school knew that something very bad could happen and it was prepared for that “bad” situation. When the girls find out about it, they do feel betrayed but they don’t dwell about it because at the end what matters is to survive and be alive together. The ending of the show is ambiguous which can frustrating to some but as a personal preference I think it fits the overall mood of the show. It is not quite a happy ending but a hopeful one that these girls will continue to fight for their lives.
I have some minor nitpicks with the show that became more apparent after a second watching. The show takes its time to conclude some setups during the last third arc but it feels clumsy, maybe the director ran out of time and had to come up with a quick ending. Something I forgot to mention is that the show takes a different route from the source material and maybe it was because I read it before watching that the last three episodes felt rushed. Another thing is that the CGI zombies look bad, not really a problem but it is a sharp contrast with the great art style of the characters and the school. Although they are not features as much in the show, and the scenes with them just vaguely shows them.
At the end of the day, Gakkou Gurashi! is a tale of endurance, friendship and survival more than horror and zombies. I recommend watching this show, even if you are not a horror fan. As mentioned before, the manga is completely different, so expect to be surprised if you picked up after the ending of the show. The anime is available where anime is.