Review/discussion about: Gakkou Gurashi!
Gakkou Gurashi has this adorable little doggy named Taroumaru. A doggy that reminded me of my own. Her name is Mollie – with an “ie,” not a “y” – and she is the strongest pooch I have ever known.
Born the runt of the litter, when Mollie was a few weeks old, she was no bigger than the palm of your hand. She did not walk around so much as she skipped, her unbelievably tiny legs allowing her to jump from one spot to the next. I remember thinking that a dog who was as small as she was could not possibly exist. But her being there, daintily moving on the grass in front of us, was impossible to doubt. My mother, to this day, believes that we had saved Mollie, her miniature stature enough of a reason for her original owners to euthanize her.
Her fur was pure white, her tail was stubby, and she had the slightest lazy eye that made her even cuter. Early on, she became scared of thunderstorms and fireworks, crying and shaking uncontrollably until someone in our family sat with her. She hated her cage (still hates it), incessantly complaining until she was set free once more. She loves to stretch her body as far as she can while getting belly rubs. And strangest of all, she simply has to run around in circles when playing, as if the rotations would boost her energy further.
Mollie was in our life for little more than five months before she got very sick during her first December. She was admitted to the veterinary clinic; the diagnosis was kidney failure. The doctors thought she had no chance to live and actually had us bring her home. I can still see Mollie in the golden cage, her blissfully unaware of her condition. She was skipping and jumping on her favorite blanket, her tugging on her toys and barking playfully. My family and I were looking on, weeping.
And then, like light snow drifting softly on Christmas Day, a miracle occurred. She survived. The medicine started to work and Mollie became healthy once more. At least, for a time: she would later have intestinal issues, tooth decay, and loss of hearing. But she has never given up. After years of difficulties, she is still trudging on. Sure, her hair has yellowed, her tail is longer, and her lazy eye is lazier than ever, but her tenacity has never wavered.
Mollie is an amazing puppy, a trooper through and through. She is our Taroumaru. And as both showcase, sometimes when the situation is looking down, the best thing to do is smile.
Gakkou Gurashi is an anime that cannot be taken at face value. Its exterior is purposefully misleading, the contents within contrasting how it presents itself both to those in and out of the loop. The anime understands that it occupies the area where the sunshine and the shadows cross, leveraging these two halves to the best of its ability, ultimately leading to positive results.
The first episode sets the stage. Cute characters have fun hanging out together. A couple are normal, one wields a shovel, and the last is a big ball of energy. The playground is a typical school, with quirky classmates, loving teachers, and lax rules. It is fun for everyone involved, the time filled with silly antics and huge smiles, making it out to be like “any other slice-of-life show.” Then the plot twist occurs. This bait and switch, from boundless joy to horrifying truth, works on multiple levels. First, the actual point in time: rather than having it go from one extreme to the other, the calamity has already occurred. This places the focus on the characters and their current situation rather than on the turning point itself, strengthening these respective areas. Second, it forces the audience to reevaluate. Since what was given was portrayed one way, the twist causes the viewer to rethink what was actually going on, increasing investment in the show itself. Third and last, it pushes itself away from the norm. It is not all laughs, fun, and happiness; it is death, darkness, and despair. The anime is not a typical slice-of-life offering, but instead a twisted take on “cute girls doing cute things.”
Atypical directions are common for narratives, as are dichotomies. In Gakkou Gurashi’s case, the dichotomy it creates – cute versus psychological – helps itself, each side accentuating the other. The characters having fun at the “pool” or holding a variety of relay events is adorable to watch, the bleak atmosphere furthering this feeling since it stands out so much from the gore and harshness that surrounds them. The opposite goes through the same effects: watching as the cast tries to block the rooftop door with boxes to protect themselves or seeing Yuki hiding in a maze of convenience store aisles to hide from a pursuer feels more dramatic and tense since the cuteness and the silly jokes gives way to these direr scenarios. Better yet, the show is not afraid to go completely one way or the other. One moment has Yuki imagining a wedding between Kurumi and “Shovel-kun” while the next has Yuuri contemplating putting the newly betrothed out of her misery. These instances are fine on their own but because they are coupled together, and because they are so contrasting, they are amplified and thus have a larger impact than they otherwise would.
The instances are also not constructed using a linear timeline. Instead, the anime adopts a semi-non-chronological order. First it starts in the middle with the four main girls, goes forward slightly, then jumps back in time, then forward again, and eventually to a point beyond where the adventure began. Convoluted to an extent, but purposeful. This roundabout progression generates mystery and confusion, both caused through the jumbling of the events. The former because the out-of-order scenes hide information whereas the latter because it is harder to tell what is happening when. Together, and like the dichotomy the show so heavily leans on, the haphazard ordering heightens the drama.
Gakkou Gurashi also covers its writing bases. Having the girls literally live in a school seems impossible. Without electricity, clean water, and attainable food, the likelihood that they would survive for more than a week or so is slim. But as the anime details, solar panels, water filters, and fresh crops turn the normal school into a sustainable mini-village. This happening is not convenient; the show explains how the building was specifically designed with the outbreak in mind. The zombies also follow the school-centric theme. Throughout the season, those infected were shown to remember their past lives. Some students would lounge around on the soccer field while others crowded the mall. Megumi’s diary clearly proves she is, to some degree, aware of who she was before. Therefore, the final solution to save the gang – Yuki broadcasting that the school-day was over (cleverly and metaphorically ending her, Yuuri’s, Kurumi’s, and Miki’s stay at the school as well) – was already gradually established, making the action again not a convenience but rather an inspired move.
Oddly enough, the school and the zombies also reveal a glaring issue: a distinct lack of the past, specifically not showing more of before the outbreak. Outside of Megumi’s episode, little is given of the school, its students, and the relationships these two entities generated while they were still pure. The audience does not get to learn about the girl with a collar or see the jubilation of the various clubs. So when Yuki’s emotional farewell is given, it is not that emotional because the viewer was rarely given the opportunity to connect with the same aspects that Yuki had come to love. As such the moment, while sincere, loses power because the audience essentially does not – cannot – care for these parts.
“Care” is a vital motif of the show. A teacher caring for her students. A regretful child caring for her dog. So Gakkou Gurashi begs the question: what should be cared about? In a situation where the past is gone, the present is harrowing, and the future is grim, the anime imparts a contextually not-so-simple message: “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Life is hard. Often obstacles of the physical and mental variety hamper people on an everyday basis. So sometimes life can seem impossible to handle, unfair in the cards it deals. The girls of the anime obviously find themselves in a markedly more dangerous situation, but the same rule applies. They do not resign to pessimism. They do not believe that what remains of the world is hopeless. Even when they do – as is seen with Miki’s original predicament – they learn to take it one step at time, finding joy where presumably none exists. It might be trying on some bikinis for fun. It might be holding a graduation ceremony to commemorate a job well-done. It might be pitching a tent for a makeshift campfire outing. Or it might be something simpler, like reading an engaging novel or eating a favorite snack. Regardless of what is done, it is important to find the light in the darkness, to view the brighter side of life whenever possible, because then, and only then, will more goodness follow. For the girls of Gakkou Gurashi, their ability to always make that lemonade allowed them to find this goodness: lives worth living.
The rest of the anime is filled with other ups – Miki’s near-death in the basement mirroring her time in the mall – and other downs – Kei’s supposed zombie self as a way to wrap up her plotline is somewhat sloppy – but considering how the anime keeps its focus almost entirely on the dualities it creates, the narrative concludes opposite to how it started: filled with positivity. That is to say, the girls of the school live…for now.
Gakkou Gurashi continues its misleading tendencies through its visuals. In other words, the anime’s art and animation are stronger than “just another slice-of-life” would lead one to believe.
Once again, the first episode alone is almost enough evidence to make a case for how powerful the anime is in its presentation. Drawing the other students devoid of features makes them there but distant. The small Easter-eggs scattered throughout are telling of the reality without outright talking. And the seemingly inconsequential details like the stacked desks and the broken windows are weird but not weird enough to make them standout. All of the signs exist for something being not-quite-right but are constructed in such a way as to not reveal the plot twist before the opportune moment.
Many of the show’s moments also include other subtle artistic decisions that sum together to create intricate scenes. Tactics like having Megumi slide in from off-screen to conceal her status and refusing to reveal the eyes of the zombies to heighten their scariness are noteworthy for their simultaneous simplicity and execution.
The camera direction also sees elevated execution, incorporating skewed shots to increase tension, up-close shots to capture the manic faces of the characters, and top-down ones to provide a perspective that showcases the cute girls in their broken environment. One shot in particular involves a sort of fish-eye lens, where Yuki’s head bends as the camera moves away from her to quickly relay her collapsing sanity. While used only once, it goes to show how inventive the anime gets with its cinematography.
Inventiveness continues when the characters and their character designs are investigated. Yuuri is specifically crafted as older: her larger bust, her beauty mole near her right eye, and her beige sweater paint her as the more mature person that she is. Kurumi goes wacky. Besides wielding a shovel, her black-and-white sleeves, her purple twin-tails, and her kneepads act as a silly exterior that harbors a more distraught interior. Both girls are certainly interesting, since the personalities they maintain can easily be surmised through the designs they hold.
The designs get even more interesting when it comes to Miki and Yuki. For Miki, she is rather plain, wearing the regular school uniform. Her short hair, blue eyes, and small frame give her a gender-neutral design for a reason: she is designed to be the most relatable. Her character goes through emotions that many people in this kind of situation could relate to, so having her appear slightly androgynous makes her more neutral gender-wise and thus more relatable. Yuki, though, takes the cake. Her pink hair, her lavender-and-white outfit, and her white wings on her backpack heavily contrast with not just the environment but also the other girls, making her completely standout. But it is her black hat that encapsulates all that she is. The hat’s little ears are cute yet the colors clearly contrast with her own design, matching the split her mind has undergone. Simultaneously, hats hide heads, concealing what lies beneath them. Yuki “places a hat” on reality through her mental blocking, hiding the truth of the situation to keep herself going. In other words, Yuki’s hat symbolizes her insanity. A hat should be a trivial item for any character, but in Yuki’s case, it provides a profound revelation on her character without having to know much about her. In short, her design is genius.
While the actual animation does not reach the same level as Yuki’s character design, it still manages to remain above average throughout the season. Kurumi and Yuki often have the most movement of the bunch, due to the former’s fighting and the latter’s energy. Gakkou Gurashi also likes to employ comical and comic-like bubbles to add cuteness and to stock up on resources for more intensive scenes like those that adopt a grainy filter or when the characters are simply having fun together. Combined with hair ruffling, eye moving, and tail wagging, the anime’s attention to its animation never falters, thereby increasing its total execution.
In a slice-of-life anime like Gakkou Gurashi, it is arguably the characters that have the most importance since the story being told is not necessarily captivating. Putting it differently, the cast have more weight to carry since the narrative surrounding them is more a setting than a driving force. The weight, though, is not equally distributed in the show, with Kurumi, Yuuri, Yuki, and Miki demonstrating various levels of strength and therefore execution.
Kurumi receives a lot of her characterization early on. Before the outbreak, she had a crush, wanting nothing more than to form a romantic relationship with him. But he succumbed to the legion and, worse still, Kurumi was the one to take him down. This changes her: she alone fights and kills other zombies, distancing herself from them when she enters her battle-trance mode. She does not view the zombies as people. At least, she does not want to, since when she is met with the picture on a girl’s phone or she encounters Megumi, she wavers, losing her composure. At one point she makes a promise with Yuuri about putting each other out of their misery should either fail to protect themselves. How fitting, then, that she gets infected later on in the series, turning her into the kind of person that she came to despise. It turns into a battle of the mind rather than one of the body, the latter the type she had grown accustomed to.
Kurumi’s character is the least interesting of the group (despite her wacky design) because the anime does not spend enough time exploring her traits. After learning about her connection to the situation and hatred of the zombies, she more or less gets pushed to the side, taking the spotlight on occasion to swing her shovel or to make an aforementioned promise. Otherwise, she is relegated to quips here and there without having too much impact until the end where her condition worsens. In a way, it is logical: Kurumi knows how to drive, fight, and scout. She is a utility, capable of completing a lot of the hard labor that the rest of the girls cannot. So when she is well, it is smooth sailing, but when she is literally couch-ridden, the group almost falls apart. What does not make sense, however, is the decision to forego showing more of her mental battle. The audience receives a clip of this during the early stages of her infection, but afterwards kicking and screaming is all that is seen, meaning in terms of development Kurumi receives very little. By the end, it is unclear whether or not she has gotten over her crush, how she feels towards the zombies now, and if her near-death experience affected her, leaving her character in an awkward position.
Yuuri’s character fairs slightly better, if only because she has another – Megumi – to play off. Yuuri is the leader of the girls, motherly in her nature. She is strict yet caring, she knows how to cook, and she usually makes the more authoritative decisions. Interestingly, this is not a mantle that she necessarily wanted to uphold. Technically Megumi was the overseer, but following the teacher’s death, Yuuri took the reins, making sure she, Kurumi, Yuki, and Miki were kept safe within their makeshift club. She is not the strongest or the smartest or the silliest, but this is precisely why she best fits the leadership role since, more so than anyone, she knows what has to be done and can use those who are the strongest, smartest, and silliest to accomplish these goals.
Yuuri looked up to Megumi, seeing the teacher as someone to emulate or at least follow, Megumi’s pure kindness a rare trait for anyone to have. So Yuuri takes the same path: she plays along with Yuki’s antics, she advises Kurumi to not overexert herself, and she talks privately with Miki to ease Miki’s conscious. She wants to be there for the girls in their time of need as best as she can, and therefore what she has more so than the others is a sense of calm. Yuuri’s strength is the ability to keep the group stable through her loving watch. This is why when she breaks down, she breaks down hard. She does not know how to handle the hectic final set of events because nobody is there to keep her calm. Seeing her in such a state is noticeable to the viewer; if Yuuri of all people cannot keep it together, it must truly be a dire situation. Similar to Kurumi, though, it is unclear how these events and their time at the school has changed her. At the minimum, she is thankful to Megumi for imprinting on her the same set of values, allowing her to keep her and the group from losing all hope.
Hopeful is all that Yuki is. She is always smiling, her affable personality cute, fun, and kind. She has a deep affinity for the school, the teachers, and the students, loving life and all that it has to offer. Yuki seems almost too perfect on paper, which is exactly the case. Her persona is not really a ruse but a mental block. She is insane, to put it lightly. She has imaginary friends. She is capable of seeing and talking to her deceased teacher. She refuses to acknowledge that their current predicament is what it is, instead forcing her own reality at every turn. She is technically an older student but she is without a doubt the most childish out of the four of them, a dichotomy that aligns itself perfectly with her contrasting nature.
Yuki’s behavior is intriguing because of how she and the others view it. Whether or not she is fully aware of her personality disorder is difficult to pinpoint; clearly she knew that what she was doing was wrong for her psyche – she says as much on the final rooftop scene – but throughout the season she seems blissfully unaware of the troubles surrounding them, solving chalkboard problems in a disheveled room. Kurumi, Yuuri, and Miki understand Yuki’s strangeness, but rather than forcing her to realize the truth they leverage her positivity. The other girls abuse Yuki’s ability to always keep things fresh and fun in order to keep themselves sane. In way, the three of them using Yuki as a motivational booster is demented and likewise insane. To an extent, she is nothing more than a tool, a convenient entity to get them through the day. It is messed up because they know they can help her but they do not. Luckily, Yuki is forced to come to terms with the real reality, saving the others and consequently growing up. To confirm this notion, she lays her symbolically psychological hat to rest, signifying that she has, in fact, graduated.
Arguably though it is Miki, not Yuki, who is the strongest character of the anime. She garners a surprisingly large amount of screen-time, mostly because she has a completely separate plotline before it merges with the main one. During her subplot, she and her best friend Kei survived in a mall, with nothing but each other, Taroumaru, and a CD player. Miki was content with their hidey-hole, believing that surviving was enough. When Kei abandons her to pursue better prospects, she does not know what to do. Loneliness piles on, the CD player quickly becoming a symbol for the daily repetition she confined herself to and the repetitive feeling of being alone.
Miki is eventually saved, but having lost Kei and having been away from people for so long, she does not immediately connect with the others. She saw Yuki as weird, and Kurumi and Yuuri as manipulative for keeping Yuki in said weird condition. Rather than goofing around, she felt that their time could be better utilized to continue what she had relegated herself to: surviving and nothing more. But after sending letters on balloons (and pigeons) and reconciling with Taroumaru, she slowly opens up, doing away with her reserved self and establishing relationships with the rest of the cast. Miki comes to follow the story’s main theme of finding the fun in life where none is had. As such, she develops from a lonely, critical young girl into a confident, lively woman, appreciating and understanding that there is more to life than simply surviving. Or as Miki puts it, “I lived, and it was all worthwhile.”
At the center of the girls is Megumi. Megumi helped Kurumi, she mentored Yuuri, and she taught Yuki. Also, if it was not for her and keeping the original group together, Miki would never have had the opportunity to become more than she was. Megumi is the rock that connects them all, and through her, the characters’ theme comes to light: not being afraid to rely on others. While Megumi silently watches over them when she does move on, her absence highlights the importance of how nothing can be done alone. Each girl has their strengths and their weaknesses, each girl doing what she can to keep the group going. The group is a circular chain, each loop linked to the next, a missing link deforming the structure. They would not be as successful without each other; Kurumi’s slaying, Yuuri’s aiding, Yuki’s laughing, and Miki’s rationalizing work in tandem to keep their group thriving. They have Megumi to thank for bringing them together but only each other for continuing what she started. And as the conclusion depicts, the girls might have graduated, but they will continue to support and rely on one another no matter what may come.
The opening theme is fantastic, encompassing all of the cuteness and adorableness that the anime contains. The fun little beat, the fast lyrics, and the switching vocalists make the piece pleasant to listen to both in and out of the anime. The piece builds up in the beginning, to give way to a catchy and back-and-forth tone that captures the same tempo that the anime also follows.
The first ending theme is a mixture of happiness and sadness. The track itself is mellow, with background choirs and ambient sound effects that makes it a simple piece, and therefore a nice way to transition out of most of the episodes. The second ending goes decidedly darker, the chimes and clacking scary-sounding to match the anime’s atmosphere. As the piece proceeds the singer heavily carries the track until the instruments finally appear. Still, the vocalist nails her notes, achieving a finish with range and emotion that coincides with the saddened feel of the show itself. While the second ED does not trump the OP, it easily defeats the first ED, making one wonder why it was not used for the entirety of the season to begin with.
The rest of the soundtrack is filled with exactly the types of pieces needed to fit the slice-of-life and horror aspects. The former is filled with xylophones and party tunes that lift the spirits whereas the latter is filled with melancholic piano pieces that lower the mood considerably. Nothing immediately stands out, but the OST performs at the necessary level to make the scenes it is used vibrant and depressing when needed.
Voice acting reaches the same level, with solid performances for the cast but nothing downright noteworthy. Inori Minase as Yuki has quite the cute voice to expound her cute nature ten-fold. Mao Ichimichi as Yuuri speaks in a tone that only a mature woman could, fitting her personality well. And a special shout-out to Emiri Katou as Taroumaru for puppy barks and cries that could make anyone say “D’aww.”
I sound like a monster for saying this, but I sort of wish all of the girls died, or at least all of them but Yuki. A tragic ending would have been poignant, a visceral and harsh reality that would be difficult to stomach after seeing the girls go through so much and have so much fun together. I was robbed of this – “robbed” because I honestly believed going in to the final episode that the anime was going to end on a heart-shattering note – leaving me a bit bitter.
I think this is why Taroumaru’s death hit me harder than it should have because they tricked me once more. It seemed like he was hurt, sure, but he was eating and drinking. Then he passed away. At first, I was shaking my head, saddened that he died after everything that had happened. But the real kicker was on the roof. Yuki’s words, “He looked at you and said…’Thank you!’” while the screen flashbacked to Taroumaru’s tiny smile, made me cry right alongside Miki. It was a powerful moment not just because I was attached to the dog but because I could see and hear the pain in Miki’s face and voice. I hate goodbyes (something that frequenters of my material might know), so watching such a heartfelt goodbye escalated how much of a chord this struck with me.
The rest of the show was still lovable even if my evil ending never came to fruition. Yuki was an extremely fun character, her undeniable cuteness and her never-ending smile giving her a charm that meshed nicely with her insanity. Again, I sound crazy, but part of the reason why I liked her so much was because she was insane, but now that that has technically been overcome, she loses a quirk to her that made her unique, something I am strangely not okay with. Still, Miki teasing Yuki in the shower about being her “senpai” and Yuki’s expressions matching Taromaru’s always put a smile on my face, so I suppose Yuki accomplished what she set out to do.
Yuuri, Kurumi, and Miki were likewise hilarious. Yuuri’s gag with getting overly furious, Kurumi wanting to use “just the blunt end” for catching purposes, and Miki acting adorable whenever Yuki got too close for her comfort almost always gave me some kind of chuckle. Megumi, too, since the group ignoring her made her feel not wanted or respected, leading to some funny reactions on her part. The whole season was a lot of fun – despite all of the despair it contained – with the only other gripe besides the optimistic ending being that I have to patiently wait to see where the School Living Club goes next.
Gakkou Gurashi is simultaneously a cutesy and thrilling ride. The narrative’s dichotomous nature, the art’s stellar direction, and the cast’s interesting characterizations create an anime that does reasonably well all around. The opening and ending themes, as well as the emotional moments – of the comedic and dramatic variety – further buffer the show. Life can certainly get one down. But this anime, like Mollie, makes it that much easier to smile.
Story: Good, dualities throughout keep the narrative focused and purposeful but a lack of the past tampers the audience’s ability to emotionally connect
Animation: Great, intricate artistic direction keeps the art stunning, character designs are well-done, with Yuki’s being fantastic, and above average actual animation
Characters: Fine, Kurumi is bad, Yuuri is okay, Yuki is good, and Miki is great, with Megumi highlighting the theme of relying on others
Sound: Fine, great OP, okay first ED, good second ED, okay OST, solid VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, cute, hilarious, and emotional, but I preferred a more tragic conclusion
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3