Rule of Three Review: SCHOOL-LIVE – Episodes 2-3

Surviving high school just got a whole lot messier.

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Normally I try to keep these posts free of major spoilers, but there’s no real way to discuss this show without mentioning The Reveal that happens at the end of the first episode. If you have no clue what I’m talking about and don’t want to have it spoiled for you, then go sit through the first episode (available on Crunchyroll) and come back. Otherwise hit the jump for a story I sure didn’t see coming.

As dull and rote as the first 20-odd minutes of SCHOOL-LIVE were, it pulled off its first-episode twist with panache, dropping enough hints to keep you on your toes before at last pulling back the curtain to reveal that our idyllic cute-girl story is anything but. Rather, our four main girls (and one young teacher?) are the last survivors in their school, holed up behind self-made barricades after a zombie outbreak tore through their city, leaving them stranded and isolated from the rest of the world.

Uncertain how far into the world the chaos extends, the girls struggle to survive by cultivating the school’s rooftop garden and making forays into the downstairs school store for supplies. In between tilling fields and killing zombies, they work through their individual traumas, relive the memories of the world before the outbreak, and hope that someone will find them soon.

All the girls, that is, except Yuki, who’s so deeply in denial that she exists entirely in a fantasy world, even crafting other imaginary students to talk to. To keep Yuki safe, her friends help her maintain the illusion, pretending they’re the “School Living Club” whose members voluntarily never leave the school. It’s this sharp rift between Yuki’s perspective and the rest of the world that forms the crux of SCHOOL-LIVE, as it generates tension and danger, leaves the audience uncertain and off-balance (I’m still not convinced their teacher friend actually exists), and dyes even the cutest of scenes in a strong shade of just-plain-creepy.

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There’s some analyzing and metaphor-making here if you want to take the time to do it—maybe SCHOOL-LIVE is a cynical look at the willful ignorance or forced innocence some cling to during adolescence, or even a critique of the cute-girl genre itself—and I wouldn’t mind at all if the series decided to push on that in any direction at some point. Honestly, though, I’m mostly still here because SCHOOL-LIVE is very good at unnerving its audience in a way that’s difficult to do and even harder to maintain, and it’s fascinating to watch. I’m both taking notes and waiting to see if it can keep it up over an entire cour.

SCHOOL-LIVE‘s staying power will, I think, hinge largely on where it decides to take its unsettling premise. Will it devolve into gloom, doom, and torture porn, or build into a story about survival and hope? Will it tear down Yuki’s world or maintain it; criticize her for keeping it or laud her for using it as a coping mechanism, for finding her own way to stay alive? It seems like we’re spending these early episodes fleshing out each character’s past, but eventually the series will have to turn its eye to the future. That’s when the real test begins.

I didn’t really expect this one to stay on my watch list, and at this point it’s still very much a touch-and-go, episode-to-episode kind of situation. But if it can keep developing its cast and (most importantly) maintaining that tone of off-kilter tension and wrongness, I could see this shaping up to be an unexpectedly creepy little horror story.

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8 thoughts on “Rule of Three Review: SCHOOL-LIVE – Episodes 2-3

  1. I am, shockingly!, Living this one. I know, right, me loving something is rare. ;) but this one hit many sweet spots. I’m one of the people the zombie fad is aimed at, and for me it never gets old. And this is a fun take on out.i love shovel-san! I hope they do interesting non grommet, non torture prom things with it,i like these girls and like the struggle they have with one member who just broke, but not in the goes psycho and kills everyone way zombie things prefer. And I love that they aren’t judging her. Frustrated at times due, but loving and accepting.

    The little nods and hints of possible yuri don’t hurt! Yuri AND zombies? Be still my heart!

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    • The odd thing is I don’t particularly care for the zombie OR cute-girl genre, but apparently when you combine them and throw in some psychological suspense, it turns into a compelling series. (It also helps that the director is doing an excellent job maintaining the style/tone.)

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  2. I just finished writing up my recap of Episode Three, which I’ll have up tomorrow, but so far, they continue to balance the horror and cute girl styles fairly effectively, while working to spend time filling in the background of the gang.

    I’m invested enough to hang with it through the character backgrounds part, and waiting to see what comes of it after, as all the potential you mentioned really is there. Time will tell how it plays out, but if they go where it looks like they are, I think they’ll have a memorable one on their hands.

    Mostly, though, I’m just glad you see what I do. Makes me feel special that I’m on the same wavelength.

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    • The aniblog-o-sphere seems to be fairly divided on this one; either they gave up on it after the first episode or find it as oddly compelling as we do. It strikes me as the kind of show that, depending on how the rest of the story goes, I could see it developing a very loyal little cult following. So don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone in liking it!

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      • Those loyal cult followings are where I usually find myself fitting in best. Kind of like with Ga-Rei Zero. It never makes any top lists, but those who love it, boy do we love it!

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  3. “maybe SCHOOL-LIVE is a cynical look at the willful ignorance or forced innocence some cling to during adolescence, or even a critique of the cute-girl genre itself”

    I’m confident in saying that this is exactly what happens in the manga- it’s made very, very apparent how unhealthy Yuki’s cutesy “cute-girl” demeanor is in their situation and how important it is for all of them to grow into maturity to survive. Whether or not this happens in the anime is to be seen but from how it looks so far (even with the changes made), I have faith!

    Also, the girls are in high school. Anime aging, am I right?

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    • Oh, shoot, they are, huh? I felt like, given the way they’d handled their situation, maturity-wise it made way more sense for them to be 17/18 instead of 13/14, but when I checked the Wikipedia page it said they were middle schoolers so I just figured that “third year” they kept talking about was junior high (i.e., 9th graders). But the Gakkou-specific Wiki has their school as a “high school,” so I regular Wiki must’ve made a mistake.

      Thanks for pointing that out! I’ll correct it in the post.

      Looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here, for sure! That second episode (where Yuki’s carefree demeanor nearly got them all killed in the library) certainly seemed to be pointing toward a critique of that “forced innocence” mindset, so we’ll see if they keep pushing on that.

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