CAUTION: The following contains spoilers for the first two episodes of School-Live!/Gakkou Gurashi. If you have not seen the anime, please do not read unless you don’t mind spoilers.
The concept of the ‘zombie apocalypse’ is one that a lot media has gotten into, from books to television. Sometimes they give the concept justice and breathe new life into it, and sometimes it fails.
As far as I’ve seen so far (I will warn you all reading this that I have only seen the first two episodes of this anime so everything I say about the anime may not necessarily be 100% accurate), the anime School-Live!/Gakkou Gurashi definitely does the ‘zombie apocalypse’ concept justice.
For a quick summary of what School-Live!/Gakkou Gurashi is about, it centers around four friends—Yuki Takeya, Kurumi Ebisuzawa, Yūri Wakasa, and Miki Naoki. All four girls are in the Megurigaoka Private High School’s School Living Club, where they literally live at the school they attend. However, shown much later in the first episode, Yuki is actually living out a delusion where everything at school is okay and normal. Kurumi, Yuri, and Miki know the real situation though, and it’s this:
The four girls are actually the lone survivors of a zombie apocalypse that has swept through their school and are desperately trying to survive, with Yuri, Kurumi and Miki taking care of Yuki and making sure she doesn’t get into danger.
Two good reasons I think the anime works with the zombie apocalypse concept well is in terms of how the characters handle the situation and how the animation shows the contrast between Yuki’s delusion and reality. In the beginning of the first episode we initially see everything going on in the school from Yuki’s point of view. Everything is so peaceful, and it looks like your typical slice-of-life/comedy anime taking place at a highschool. Yuki’s shown as someone clumsy, laidback but ultimately one of the most positive members of the School Living Club, almost always having a smile on her face as she goes to her classes and participates in school activities. Meanwhile, Kurumi, Yuri and Miki are doing their best to make sure Yuki’s paying attention in class, doing her homework and hang out with her since they all live together.
Much later in the episode, the ambient, happy school becomes dark, desolate and ruined. Windows are broken, barricades are created with jump rope and desks piled up together to keep the zombies out, and the classrooms are completely barren, devoid of students and teachers. One can even see zombies lingering outside the school building through the windows and the sky outside looks bleak. The fellow students Yuki talks to in class are not actually there, making it completely obvious that Yuki’s the one living in an illusion while the rest of the girls in the School Living Club are trying to keep an eye on her and make sure she’s okay. In one scene, Kurumi, Miki and Yuri debate a little bit over whether they should try to tell Yuki of what’s really going on but ultimately they play along with her delusion, knowing that even though it’s a lie it’s better to keep Yuki happy and hopeful and give her as normal a life as possible while they’re hoping to get help from outside forces. They’re unsure as of whether help will actually come to them, but until then they’ll need to survive as long as they can.
Kurumi, Miki and Yuri playing along with Yuki’s delusions are further explored in episode two of the anime, where they make a scavenging quest for supplies turn into a ‘test of courage’ where all the girls, while ‘shopping’ for supplies in the store and in the library of the school, have to act brave and such. Yuki ends up on her own while in the library, with a teacher, Megumi Sakura, but the teacher is actually another delusion and therefore doesn’t exist (or at least I think she is, since I didn’t really catch sight of her in the first episode and as far as I know from the first episode only Kurumi, MIki, Yuki and Yuri are the survivors of the zombie apocalypse at their school). The ‘teacher’ in Yuki’s delusion calms her down from panicking when a zombie passes their way, and while Yuki successfully hides from the zombie by staying quiet and hidden behind a shelf, Miki, Kurumi and Yuri lure the zombie away only for Miki to kill the zombie with a shovel so that Yuki doesn’t have to see the reality of existing zombies.
“But wait,” you might say, “What about the zombie aspect? Isn’t the zombie apocalypse about, well, zombies and killing them unless they end up killing everybody first in fictional media?”
Well…to some extent, the zombie apocalypse is about the zombies. However, it’s not completely about the zombies either.
I’d like to think that anything that has the word ‘apocalypse’ is mainly about the human survivors involved in that apocalypse, struggling to survive and how it affects them. Too often we see things in zombie apocalypse media like “we’re going to bash every single zombie because we miraculously have machine guns and all that stuff” and there is always some kind of “safe haven” that the survivors have established in the beginning of the show where they have nearly neverending amounts of supplies to stay alive, which makes the apocalypse seem less realistic than it actually is.
School-Live!/Gakkou Gurashi, in contrast, makes it obvious through character dialogue and the scenes where parts of the school are shown that supplies are limited, but it’s always risky to go get more supplies. The girls made up the barricades to keep zombies out of the area they reside in, but even then there are zombies that are possibly still present in the school and pose a danger to them, as shown in episode two when they had a zombie encounter in the library. The closest thing they have to a weapon is a shovel, not a machete or machine gun, and they don’t have gourmet food or comfy beds to sleep in at night—instead, they have packaged meat sauce and crackers to eat and sleeping bags to use for sleeping. I feel that School-Live!/Gakkou Gurashi took the realism of trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse into account when first putting it together, and I like how they paid attention to these details to make the apocalypse more tuned towards real survival than just bashing zombies every day.
Since I have only watched the first two episodes of School-Live!/Gakkou Gurashi, I can’t necessarily say that the entire anime embodies it. These are only my first impressions of the anime, so how I view the anime as a whole later on in terms of depicting the zombie apocalypse might change. Despite this though, I’d like to think that for anyone who’s interested in the zombie apocalypse genre without seeing extreme amounts of gore and blood (at least as far as I have seen so far) but including the need for survival in the apocalypse, this anime might be something you consider watching.