The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Miki Naoki

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Gakkō Gurashi, Finding the Courage to Graduate and Reflections on an Understated Survival Series

“There are days when nothing goes right. There are days when you stumble and fall. There are days when you just want to cry. To cry a lot. To sleep a lot. Or even eat a lot. It’s alright, as long as you pick yourself up again.” –Yuki Takeya

After a biological weapon is accidentally released, Yokohama’s citizens succumb to an infection that renders them as the living dead. Yuki Takeya, Kurumi Ebisuzawa, Yūri Wakasa and Miki Naoki are a part of the School Living club, where they carry out normal, everyday activities to ensure their survival, whether it be going out to fetch supplies or cleaning the reserve water tank on the school rooftops. When Yuki begins making a scrapbook for graduation, Miki recalls how’d she had first met the School Living club, and the unusual condition Yuki is afflicted with. While securing provisions, Yūri and Miki encounter a manual that their former instructor, Megumi Sakura, had been holding onto; the manual detailed survival measures and protocol for dealing with localised infections. Kurumi later sustains a bite from the remains of Megumi while exploring their school’s basement, and while Miki searches for the vaccine in the school’s basement, she also becomes overrun. A thunderstorm disables their school’s power supplies, as well. Yuki manages to summon up the courage to save her friends, and after eluding hordes of the undead, manages to activate her school’s PA system. She encourages the students to head home, now that the day’s done. In the aftermath, Kurumi is saved, and following a graduation ceremony, Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki leave their school, headed for a point that Megumi had previously marked as a potential safe zone. During its original run in 2015, Gakkō Gurashi aired to general surprise, combining the undead apocalypse genre with moé aesthetic; I myself came upon the series a few months after its airing and was haunted by the efficacy of the first episode’s ability to betray very little about how extensive the undead infestation had become. In fact, after the unexpected turn of events at the first episode’s conclusions, I became convinced that I was seeing ghosts out of the corner of my eye. Upon finishing Gakkō Gurashi, my immediate impressions were that this anime had done a superb job of conveying how group survival conferred numerous advantages, specifically how despite Yuki believing herself to lack any skills for helping out, what she’d brought to the table had been raising everyone’s morale, and how her phantasmagorical view of the world actually helped to allow Kurumi and Yūri a sense of normalcy, giving them something to focus on in the short term so that they can maintain perspective on a longer term goal.

However, when one of my best friends crossed the finish line for Gakkō Gurashi a few weeks earlier, the series’ emotional impact had evidently been considerable. The anime had left numerous questions which needed answering, and in our discussion, I came to realise that during my first watch-through some six years earlier, I’d missed a key message in Gakkō Gurashi that my friend had spotted immediately. Gakkō Gurashi is about developing the bravery to move on, and graduation was the metaphor for this route. This was hinted at early in Gakkō Gurashi, when Miki and her best friend, Kei Shidō, became trapped at a mall the day the outbreak began. While they were able to evade the undead and barricaded themselves into a small room, Kei eventually became anxious to leave and see if she could get rescue herself, feeling it preferable to waste away in that room forever. Eventually, the School Living Club are forced into a similar scenario, too: supplies begin dwindling, and their school’s power generator fails. Gakkō Gurashi thus indicates that one cannot remain trapped at one location forever, and that for better or worse, one will eventually need to move on. Survival situations and life events are no different in this regard; while moving on will always entail a certain amount of risk, staying put at one location or milestone results in stagnation and death. Through the use of graduation as a metaphor, Gakkō Gurashi suggests that while moving on can be intimidating, it also opens up people to the possibility of new discoveries and better survival. For Yuki’s sake, Gakkō Gurashi puts on a small graduation ceremony for Yuki and her friends, reminding them of the time they’ve spent together but also congratulating them on having made it thus far, which is no trivial milestone. While perhaps a bit more dramatic in presentation, the underlying themes in Gakkō Gurashi are quite forward; undergoing any first steps on a new journey can be troublesome, especially since one won’t know where the path leads, but together, any challenges encountered can be faced down and overcome where everyone contributes their skill set and perspectives. Similarly, it is together when the excitement from each triumph is amplified. While graduation as a metaphor for possessing the resolve to take those next steps is at the heart of Gakkō Gurashi, I’d missed that in my original discussions despite the fact it was out in the open; this is a consequence of how much Gakkō Gurashi does during its twelve episode run.

What made Gakkō Gurashi so captivating was the fact that the premise and world-building had opened the series up to a myriad of directions. Gakkō Gurashi shows how busying oneself and attempting to make life as normal as possible is integral to survival, whether it be camping in the clubroom or hosting a sports festival. Watching Megumi interact with her students prior to the outbreak shows her as being someone who was utterly devoted to her duties and central to Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri’s initial survival. Her final actions help the three to save Miki later, as well, by instilling in them the desire to survive and move on. Yuki’s hullicinations, a product of her mind attempting to cope with extraordinary conditions dull her sense of safety, but also give her friends a constant reminder that there’s still things in life to enjoy, even though the world has completely shifted from what would be considered normal. The entire catastrophe is unknown in origin, but mention of the shadowy Randall Corporation and their preparedness for such an outcome speaks to both the questionable ethics large corporations take, as well as how certain projects can backfire on those who would conduct them. Each of these directions in Gakkō Gurashi opens the floor up for considering humanity’s innate resilience and ability for survival, as well as how immoral intentions can create unintended, but unprecedented destruction. However, despite having so many elements incorporated into its story, Gakkō Gurashi never once falters; the central theme is as clear as day, and instead, the topics touched upon briefly become things for the viewer to consider as they watch each of Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki survive. There is, in short, something for everyone in Gakkō Gurashi: folks looking for a coherent life lesson will find it as easily as someone who is fond of considering corporate conspiracies, and psychology is just as integral to the story as disaster engineering. While the breadth of topics in Gakkō Gurashi is large, what is impressive is that each topic is given satisfactory depth, as well. Yuki’s hallucinations and mental state is a double-edged sword, while investigation of the school’s facilities shows that thought was given towards designing a plausible, yet low-profile installation for riding out a calamity. As such, it is therefore unsurprising that on my first run, I was swept up by the survival aspects in Gakkō Gurashi, which does a phenomenal job of covering all of its elements in such a short time while simultaneously leaving the door open for exploration.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime incarnation was predestined to be endlessly compared with the original manga from the first day that it aired, and those who picked up the anime with a priori knowledge of the manga were oftentimes disappointed by how the former completely altered the pacing and character focus. Since my experience in Gakkō Gurashi was with the anime first, I cannot speak to this experience, but what I can speak to is the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this series upon watching it for the first time, back when I was still a graduate student.

  • In those days, C# and C++ were my programming languages of choice, being the respective languages for Unity and Unreal Engine. I’m not sure how I came upon Gakkō Gurashi (my original post never covered that particular detail), but what I do remember was that the first episode proved to be much more than I expected. I had started Gakkō Gurashi a ways into December; when Gakkō Gurashi was airing during the summer, I’d focused all of my efforts into my research project and had just enough time to follow Non Non Biyori Repeat, so I’d not even glanced at Gakkō Gurashi.

  • While how I came to pick up Gakkō Gurashi is lost to time, I do vividly remember that the first episode had an impact on me quite unlike anything I’d seen before. Since I’d come in knowing nothing about the series besides the pre-airing synopsis, I was not prepared for the big reveal at the first episode’s conclusions, which sent a chill down my spine. Out my peripheral vision, I saw a filmy figure. I left my desk and headed out into the corridor, where I ran into my supervisor. It turns out he’d been interested in presenting a new inclusion into one of the conference papers I’d been working on, but was waiting for me to finish lunch first.

  • I promptly apologised, shook thoughts of Gakkō Gurashi out of my head, and focused my attention on the suggested additions to my paper, which would go on to win Best Paper at Laval Virtual 2016. However, that day, thoughts of Gakkō Gurashi lingered on my mind, and I immediately knew that this was no ordinary series. My enjoyment of this anime came precisely from having no prior knowledge of what was going to happen, and while episodes would subsequently swing between slice-of-life and survival, they remained very engaging despite progressing at a very slow pace.

  • Upon finishing, I found the survival piece to be the strongest component in Gakkō Gurashi: while having the right gear, fitness level and knowledge is important, per Survivorman‘s Les Stroud, the will to survive is the most vital piece of all. Gakkō Gurashi successfully delivered this message in spades: while Yuki is presented as lacking the physical strength that Kurumi has, or the leadership skills Yūri brings to the table, her upbeat and positive attitude forces Yūri and Kurumi to take a step back and accommodate her, which encompasses doing club activities like outings and sleepovers.

  • By creating this sense of normalcy for Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri also find comfort in doing the sorts of things they’d done prior to the outbreak. Here, Miki accompanies the School Living Club as they prepare for a short excursion to resupply and pick up textbooks from the library. Miki’s being around much earlier than she’d been in the manga threw manga-readers off completely; the original simply had Yūri, Kurumi and Yuki on this excursion, which is presented as a test of courage for Yuki. Having taken a look at the manga up to where the anime wraps up, I conclude that the manga’s story is much more focused and has a quicker pace than the anime.

  • However, the anime itself is successful with its messages, and by drawing out moments that otherwise took a few panels within the manga, Gakkō Gurashi is able to really emphasise the importance of being able to live in the moment. In this way, I count the anime as actually being more effective than the manga at telling a story about moving onwards in life by means of graduation. Of course, this isn’t to say that Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime is outright superior than the manga (or vice versa): both presentations of Gakkō Gurashi have their own merits, and it is only going through both where one can have a complete experience.

  • While the apocalypse is serious business, the charm in Gakkō Gurashi lies squarely with how the School Living Club do their best to live a normal and happy life. The anime especially excels at this: even munching on hardtack is something to be savoured. Thanks to their school’s solar powers and internal generators, plus water purification equipment, the School Living Club are assured of the minimum necessities, allowing their story to focus on the psychological aspect of survival. While Yuki laments that she brings nothing to the table, her naïveté is actually vital to keeping the others focused, and here, after their power supply suffers an interruption, Yuki figures it’s a good idea to pitch a tent and act as though they were camping.

  • The manga’s story is told in a linear fashion, but in the anime, Gakkō Gurashi has Miki already present at the series’ beginning. She originally was out shopping with Kei, her best friend, when the outbreak occurred, and while the two managed to escape the infected, they found themselves barricaded in at the mall. Although their necessities were taken care of, over time, Kei grows restless and desires to leave, believing that proactive survival would be better than being trapped in that small room for the rest of their days.

  • Gakkō Gurashi placed its characters under a great deal of stress, and this was conveyed in virtually every aspect of the characters’ actions. Something as simple as holding hands while falling asleep really drives home the idea that survivors from the outbreak had little more than one another early on. When Kei leaves Miki in search of rescue, Miki very nearly succumbs to despair. This was more apparent in the manga: while she tried to maintain a routine in her day, the combination of loneliness, worry about Miki’s well being and a future that was very much uncertain drove her to despair.

  • Kei’s words to Miki ultimately convinced me that Gakkō Gurashi was indeed a story about moving on; my revisitation of this series actually comes at the behest of my best friend, who similarly was moved by the series and wanted to hear my thoughts on it. Our conversations led me to realise that on my original run, I’d been so focused on the survival piece that I failed to consider the broader themes at play. To this end, I ended up rewatching Gakkō Gurashi front to back, and this time around, was able to gain a different perspective on what the series had aimed to accomplish. Kei is intended to represent the consequences of rushing out to face the future without consideration of the risks involved, as well as the limitations of what one person can do.

  • This was sharply contrasted with the School Living Club’s way of doing things: together, Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri keep one another going. When provisions dwindle, they decide to hit the local mall, and Kurumi figures she can take the wheel. Without any additional traffic on the road, Kurumi is able to arrive at their destination quite handily. During its airing, I’ve heard that Gakkō Gurashi generated quite the bit of speculation owing to the sheer amount of unknowns the series had presented, but unfortunately, in those days, almost all discourse around Manga Time Kirara series was dictated by a handful of individuals, leading discussions to suffer from tunnel vision.

  • One example that stood out was a question from Victor-Tango-Victor’s very own “local Kirara person”, which asserted that the broken windows should be impossible. The resulting speculation was wild, with each theory becoming more implausible than the last, but said “local Kirara person” didn’t even bother adding their thoughts to things. To answer this individual, per Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, after the power goes out, birds would begin colliding with windows on buildings, forming cracks. Since the buildings aren’t heated, extremities of weather would soon cause the cracks to expand and result in the windows shattering within the space of a few months. The shattered lower floor windows could be explained as a consequence of the infected walking into them, since they’re shown as possessing only limited awareness.

  • A little bit of rational thinking is enough to justify the aesthetics seen within Gakkō Gurashi: it certainly wasn’t the JASDF doing low-level bombing runs (presence of explosives damage is completely absent, and there’s no evidence of fire damage either). This sort of thing is why I’m glad to have watched Gakkō Gurashi at my own pace, and here, the School Living Club take a breather after their outing. Megumi “Megu-nee” Sakura can be seen here, and while she was once a well-liked instructor who did her utmost to look after her students, it turned out that she’d died sometime before the series started, after the School Living Club was created to keep Yuki happy. She lives in on Yuki’s memories and offers strength to her when all other lights go out, but her limited presence (a running joke in the series’ lighter moments) continues to confuse viewers until Miki joins the School Living Club.

  • After hearing Yuki and the others, Miki attempts to hail them but finds herself surrounded by the infected. A team effort allows for Miki to be rescued; this is how she’d come to be a part of the School Living Club. Initially, Miki had a hard time accepting that Yuki’s hallucinations were legitimate, and came to clash with Yūri, who believes that Yuki should be looked after rather than scorned. Miki had been completely taken aback when she finds Yuki chattering away to someone who wasn’t there in the music room, and the scene had been quite haunting for it.

  • A longstanding question that anime viewers and manga readers alike wondered about was why Yuki’s uniform colour was different from the others. One Japanese viewer, going by the Twitter handle @mikko367, claimed that the blue and green were perfect inversions of one another, meant to indicate the different mental states between Yuki and the others. Inverting a triple T(r, g, b) representing the colour produces the results I(255-r, 255-g, 255-b). Yuki’s uniform is originally T(133, 128, 184), whereas the green on the others’ uniform is T(121, 135, 70). Inverting Yuki’s uniform yields a green of I(121,135,70), and inverting the green uniforms give a blue of I(133, 128, 184): even without an algorithm doing the work, it should be plain that the inverted colours don’t match.

  • As such, @mikko367 had completely missed the mark in their theory: the colours may appear “close enough” to the naked eye, but it won’t fool a function that compares RGB values. With this being said, “close enough” means that I could go the route of colour symbolism and note that blue is a colour for peace, calm and depression, while green represents health and service. However, I won’t go this route because that’s not what the creators had intended. In an interview with illustrator Sadoru Chiba, it turns out the colours were simply chosen so Yuki would stand out visually from the others because her personality is not consistent with the chaotic and apocalyptic state of their world. The widespread popularity that @mikko367’s theory enjoyed despite being wrong, however, would not last: in a bit of comeuppance, @mikko367 was suspended from Twitter.

  • Conversely, the interview I refer to is factual because it is retrieved from the Gakkō Gurashi official TV guidebook, which offers unparalleled insight into the design elements and production choices behind the anime. Being able to see the concept art for the characters and setting, as well as cast and producer interviews makes it clear that, while Gakkō Gurashi had been intended to promote the manga, a great deal of effort went into making the series stand on its own merits. This accounts for why so many changes were made to the series: in order to maximise the voice roles that Ai Kayano (GochiUsa‘s Mocha, Saori from Girls und Panzer) and Rie Takahashi (KonoSuba‘s Megumin and Yuru Camp△‘s Ena) had within the series, both were written to have more prominent roles, which is why Gakkō Gurashi proceeds in a non-linear fashion.

  • In spite of the dramatic changes to the progression of events, Gakkō Gurashi nonetheless manages to smoothly tell its story in a manner distinct from the manga’s, and this contributed to my enjoyment of the series. The anime lacks the manga’s sense of urgency and proceeds more slowly, so in order to space things out, a greater emphasis is placed on everyday moments like sharing a meal together. This in turn really shows how a sense of normalcy is vital in surviving trying times, and how simple things like looking forwards to breakfast can provide a major boost in morale. The effect of emphasising everyday moments also provides juxtaposition for when things do hit the fan: when Yuki wonders how on earth they were able to fit everyone into Megumi’s car, which is a four-seater, the illusionary world she crafted begins falling apart. Whenever this happens, Yuki loses her happy-go-lucky demeanor and becomes panicked, requiring some time to regroup.

  • While seemingly frivolous, the act of sending letters serves an important purpose and represents hope: if someone else out there were to find the letters, it would be a sign that other groups of people had survived. While helium-filled latex balloons look fragile, the average party balloon can reach altitudes of around nine kilometres, and moreover, can be blown great distances by high-altitude currents. Assuming they don’t burst from the low air pressure, it is thought that helium balloons can travel upwards of two thousand kilometres from their point of origin, and so, it’s not inconceivable that somewhere else in Japan, survivors might be able to pick up the letters from Yuki and her friends.

  • Of everyone in the School Living Club, Kurumi’s character was the most familiar: she’s a carbon copy of GochiUsa‘s Rize, from hair colour and a preference to wear her hair in twintails, to a boisterous personality, love of physical activity and being in above average condition compared to her peers. Unlike Rize, who was voiced by Risa Taneda, however, Kurumi is voiced by Ari Ozawa, who had played in Hai-Furi as Runa Suruga and YU-NO‘s Yuno. In spite of these differences, Ozawa captures Taneda’s style very well. One wonders if the choice of casting is intentional, since Gakkō Gurashi has an all-star cast: Inori Minase is Yuki, and MAO plays Yūri.

  • Of the girls, Yūri is the most mature and level-headed, acting as a big sister figure for those around her, even when the situation is grim. Despite not getting along with Miki initially, they quickly reconcile after Miki comes to understand what sort of role that Yuki has within the School Living Club. As Gakkō Gurashi continued, hints of a much larger mystery began unfolding after Miki finds a key that doesn’t go to anything Megumi was previously known to have. The thought that their teachers were concealing something from them weighs heavily on Yūri and Miki’s minds, and one evening, unable to sleep, they head off to do a thorough search of the staff office.

  • Yuki ends up joining the party, and while she initially seems to be an impediment rather than an asset, drawing Yūri and Miki’s attention to unrelated materials constantly, she’s ultimately the one who locates a hidden compartment in one of the wall cabinets, which contains a lockbox that holds a special manual detailing the school’s facilities and contingency protocols for the eventuality of an outbreak. This manual ends up being a game-changer in Gakkō Gurashi: had the outbreak remained unexplained, the series’ focus would’ve remained purely on the girls’ everyday adventures.

  • The revelation that the outbreak was the consequence of a freak accident (or carelessness) completely changed the stakes in Gakkō Gurashi, and it was here that, anime or manga, things became much more compelling. It is mentioned that the Randall Corporation was responsible for researching the pathogen that introduces undead-like traits in humans, and moreover, ahead of their research, they’d spent decades and hundreds of millions constructing designated shelters around Yokohama as a contingency against an unintended release of the pathogen. Gakkō Gurashi‘s authors had intended the Randall Corporation to be a reference to Steven King’s Randall Flagg, who appears after a deadly plague eliminates most of the world’s population and plunges the remnants of the world into further chaos.

  • Because Steven King is referenced elsewhere in Gakkō Gurashi, it stands to reason that the Randall Corporation are still very much up and running despite the outbreak; per Randall’s namesake, the Randall Corporation may reappear and cause future havoc at some point in the future. It’s a clever bit of foreshadowing, especially for Steven King fans, although for me, the first thing that came to mind was the RAND Corporation, which was founded in 1948 to drive scientific innovation for the armed forces and said to be a contributor to the rise of the military-industrial complex, which heavily impacts US policy-making in the present.

  • It is not inconceivable that, behind closed doors, there is a fervent desire to manufacture genetic bioweapons designed to only target specific groups of people; Gakkō Gurashi would therefore suggest that under-the-table agreements between governments and corporations may potentially escape and create catastrophe of unprecedented scale. I’ve always been drawn towards the idea that the Randall Corporation’s, dubbed “Omega” in Gakkō Gurashi, was the result of joint Western-Japanese research designed as an ace-in-the-hole for a potential Sino-Pacific war of sorts, but thanks to carelessness or other factors, was released into Japan before it was completed.

  • The serious adverse effects it has in Japan therefore becomes a cautionary tale about how malicious intent will always have consequences and backfire on those who intend. However, this is well outside the scope of what Gakkō Gurashi actually covers; the anime and manga don’t concern themselves with the political or techno-thriller elements of the genre because this isn’t the story’s theme, but the fact that it opens up the floor for discussions of this sort contributes strongly to why I’ve had such a good time with the series. Of course, period discussions were less interested in these elements, and by the time the infamous pool cleaning episode rolled around, all eyes were on how hot Yūri and Kurumi are.

  • The pool episode, for all of the fun times it allows Yuki and the others to share, serves a critical role in Gakkō Gurashi: it provides a distraction for Miki, Yūri and Kurumi. Having found the emergency manual the previous evening, thoughts of their next move occupy their every waking moment, so when Yuki and Taromaru become covered in green shit (algae) from the pond, Yūri figures it’d be a good idea to take a step back and do something else to clear their heads. This is a powerful problem-solving technique in reality, where particularly vexing problems are handled by giving them some time. This is where the expression “sleep on it” comes from; in practise, I’ve found that doing this allows me to return with a fresh set of eyes.

  • Kurumi and Yūri end up having an epic water fight, only to be interrupted by an irate Miki. I suppose now is a good time as any to mention that Gakkō Gurashi‘s soundtrack is an enjoyable one: the opening song is fun, the ending songs are heartfelt, and the incidental music captures both the tenour of everyday life along with the abject terror accompanying encounters with the infected. In particular, the slice-of-life tracks sound like they come out of a fantasy RPG game, and the best songs have a very wistful feel to them. 優しいめぐねえありがとう (Hepburn Yasashī megu nē arigatō, “Thank you for your kindness, Megu-nee”) and 言いたかった言葉 (Hepburn Iitakatta kotoba, “The Words I Want To Say”) are my two favourite songs on the soundtrack, which released as a part of the BDs in the autumn of 2015.

  • The last quarter in Gakkō Gurashi is all business: when Taromaru disappears one rainy day, Kurumi sets off to look for him. Rainy days present the School Living Club with problems, since the infected still retain enough of their neurological functions to evade the rain and take cover inside the school. Moreover, it was during a rainy day where Megumi was lost to the infected: she became infected trying to keep Yuki and the others safe, and after she was lost, Yuki’s mental state deteriorated to the point where she fabricated a reality where Megumi was still alive. This is why Megumi continued to show up early on in Gakkō Gurashi: she’s a part of Yuki’s imagination, although Kurumi and Yūri continue to play along for Yuki’s sake.

  • In the school’s bowels, Kurumi finds Taromaru, who is now infected and much more aggressive than he’d previously been. While she’s able to lock him in one of the storerooms, coming face-to-face with what’s left of Megumi causes Kurumi to hesitate for a second, resulting in her sustaining a bite. Gakkō Gurashi really amps things up, and as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. With Kurumi infected and locked down, Yūri begins losing her composure, as well. The School Living Club is down to two operational members now, and the infected are making their way to the school in hitherto unseen numbers.

  • From what supplementary materials have suggested, the Omega pathogen is a bloodborne disease and is transmitted by means of infected blood. Once contact is made, the afflicted individual has about twenty four hours before their body undergoes a complete and irreversible change. Knowing this, Miki heads off into the school’s basement to secure a vial of the theriac, which halts infection if administered early enough. Unlike Kurumi, Miki lacks the same combat prowess and instead, uses strategy instead. She’s the brains to Kurumi’s brawn, and of the School Living Club, is the most likely to count on solving problems through reasoning.

  • While Yūri might act as the team leader and keeps everyone in line on a good day, her endurance is tested after Kurumi is infected; Kurumi had asked her to finish her off in the event of an infection, and while Yūri does her best to oblige, her heart wins out over her promise. I hear discussions surrounding Yūri’s final choice to not kill Kurumi were particularly fierce: on one hand, killing Kurumi would’ve been necessary to stop the infection from spreading to the School Living Club and outright eliminating their chances of survival, but on the other, Miki had gone off to secure a counteragent which could still save her yet. In Yūri’s position, seeing Kurumi suffer leads her to prepare for the worst.

  • Folks with more years under their belt would exercise longer-term decision making and act based on the information available: if they were past a certain deadline, then euthanising Kurumi would be appropriate, but until then, one would wait. Of course, Miki runs into trouble of her own in the basement as hordes of infected approach her position. She’s backed into a corner and wonders if this is how her time comes. However, right as all hope appears to fade, a familiar voice comes over the PA system, asking the students to head home now that the day’s over. Miki is shocked to see the infected retreat and wastes no time returning to Yuki and the others.

  • Yuki had managed to overcome her fears to save her friends, and by capitalising on the fact that the infected still retain some of their memories, decides to make an announcement to send everyone home. The hordes thus begin receding, allowing Miki to return to Kurumi and administer the drugs she’d located. Yuki might possess the least practical skillset of the School Living Club’s members, but when the moment calls for it, she can come through in a big way. The idea that everyone in a group brings something unique and valuable to the table is a common theme in survival anime, especially if the anime’s themes are more optimistic. Yuki’s courage here is what gives this discussion its quote: as Yuki says, in the face of adversity, one’s worth is judged not by how often they fail, but by how often one picks themselves back up afterwards.

  • It is to general relief that Kurumi survived, but despite the girls’ efforts, Taromaru succumbs to exhaustion and dies shortly after. While Taromaru may not have directly helped in the girls’ survival, his presence similarly lightens up the atmosphere and provides joy in an otherwise challenging situation. Yuki and Miki look after Taromaru the most, and especially for Yuki, this responsibility helps to keep her mind busy. Thus, when Taromaru dies, Yuki offers to leave her old hat with him, symbolising a willingness to let go of the past and potentially, the illusionary world she’d created following Megumi’s death.

  • There’s a catharsis as the girls give Taromaru a burial and make peace with the fallen; once Kurumi has recovered, Gakkō Gurashi enters its denouement. The peaceful weather mirrors this and also brings to mind the weather we had yesterday. Since my vaccine’s now been given the two weeks it needed, I spent yesterday at a local mall to pick up some stuff ahead of returning to the office, before swinging by an A & W to enjoy their grass-fed beef burgers, Yukon potato fries and sugar-cane root beer. We ended up picking up roast duck and crispy roast pig for dinner, which we enjoyed under clearer skies than had been present for the past while – forest fires in the province over have filled our skies with smoke, and the extent of the devastation was such that I ended up donating to help with recovery efforts there.

  • Back in Gakkō Gurashi, after studying a map Megumi had left behind, Yūri decides that St. Isidore University is their next best bet for survival: during the storm, a lightning strike had damaged their school’s generators, and while the backup batteries are still online, their power won’t last forever. The manga presented this as a helicopter crash, but the outcomes are identical – the School Living Club’s runway is running out, and it’s time to move on to improve their survival. However, beyond this, Yuki had also wanted to see themselves off in style via a graduation ceremony. It was this act that led my best friend to request that I revisit Gakkō Gurashi – after finishing the series off, said friend noted that the series’ themes of graduation and resilience were particularly moving.

  • After learning that I’d previously seen this anime, our conversations indicated that there were numerous small details that would make it worthwhile to revisit. I also ended up picking up the Gakkō Gurashi TV Anime Official Guidebook: our conversations led me to realise that this anime had done a great deal more than people give it credit for. Upon finishing my revisit and looking through the guidebook, the amount of effort that went into making the anime a compelling experience became apparent. The reason why I count Gakkō Gurashi a masterpiece is because of how the series is because of how the series was able to tell a clear story while at the same time, open the floor to so much potential discussion. Further to this, the anime did succeed in giving viewers to root for the characters and their survival – my best friend and I ended up spending a few weeks exchanging thoughts on the series and its depths.

  • Coupled with the world-building, Gakkō Gurashi demonstrates that the moé genre can continue to be full of surprises. However, it was a little surprising to learn that Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime was designed to be a standalone experience from the start – the series had been intended to promote the manga and as such, the ending where a girl picks up the letters Yuki and the others had written was meant to be a hint to check out the manga, which continues the story. As of 2019, the manga is complete, so folks interested in seeing what happens next have an avenue to do so. It was disappointing to learn that there won’t be a continuation of Gakkō Gurashi in anime form, but in retrospect, given how the anime presented its themes, the ending was more than satisfactory; Gakkō Gurashi told a very coherent, meaningful story despite deviating so dramatically from the manga, allowing the adaptation to define its own identity and distinguish itself from the manga.

In addition to the breadth and depth of topics covered, Gakkō Gurashi ultimately became an anime of note because of its portrayal of the emotional components of survival; dealing with secondary school aged young women, Gakkō Gurashi portrays each of the characters faithfully. The characters have moments where fear and doubt set in completely; this is most noticeable when Kurumi is forced to kill her crush with a shovel, the psychological scarring this has on Yuki, and later, Yūri’s becoming backed into a corner when weighing whether or not to mercy-kill an infected Kurumi. However, these moments of abject terror and despair are offset by the fact that there remains something worth protecting, and at their best, the dynamics among the School Living Club’s members allow them to not only survive, but thrive in such a hostile environment. The act of collecting helium for balloons (or Kurumi’s successful attempt at capturing a pigeon) and cleaning the aquaponics tank in their swimsuits does much to lift the girls’ morale, keeping them from ruminating on their losses or becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of a difficult journey forwards. The sharp contrast between the happiness that everyone experiences together on good days, and the horrors they face at their lowest was very tangible, to the point where several moments had me thinking that, had I been present with a good rifle, I might’ve been able to help the School Living Club sort things out. For this, Gakkō Gurashi captures the full spectrum of emotions one might reasonably expect to see in such an apocalypse, bringing each of Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki to life. This in turn creates a powerful connection to the characters, and viewers thus become invested in their survival, hoping that everyone remains safe regardless of what their next steps are. As such, Gakkō Gurashi is a powerful milestone in the realm of moé anime, demonstrating that the genre is robust enough to cover stories beyond the usual CGDCT genre if the producers so desired. For breaking out of a mold that characterises the genre, Gakkō Gurashi was full of surprises, and while the series remains quite unknown today, it would be unfair to consign it to the set of forgotten anime: anime such as these really demonstrate what is possible within moé, and to dismiss anime on virtue that their aesthetics are not to one’s liking entails the risk of missing out on series that are much more than they outwardly appear to be. Gakkō Gurashi thus earns its place as a masterpiece in my books, being a significant (and oft-overlooked) anime by showing what is possible within a genre largely defined by comedy.

Gakko Gurashi: Whole-series review and reflection

“There’s a few components to survival. The will to live is obviously one of the most important ones; the physical conditioning, what kind of state of health you’re in when you start survival, sometimes, just even dumb luck matters a lot, whether or not you’re going to survive. But one element I always add, is your kit; if you got something in your kit to help you, it can make a huge difference as to whether or not you survive.” —Les Stroud, Survivorman

Prima facie appearing to be about the Yuki Takeya’s quest for fun and adventures in her everyday life at school, Gakko Gurashi (School-Live!, IPA: “lɪv” rather than “laɪv”, denoting “living at school”) in fact depicts the lives of four students in the immediate aftermath of a major pandemic, as they struggle to survive and come to terms with the disaster that’s unfolded around them. With Kurumi Ebisuzawa, Yūri Wakasa and newcomer Miki Naoki keeping an eye on her, Yuki spends her days with the School Living Club, keeping everyone in good spirits. Though Miki is initially unaccommodating and cold towards Yuki, she learns the truth from Kurumi and Yūri: after their instructor, Megumi Sakura (affectionately known as “Megu-nee”) succumbed to infection, Yuki lost her hold on reality and crafted an idealised world for herself, imagining things to be normal and appearing to be unaware of the situation. As Miki gets to know the members of the School Living Club better, this distance narrows, and together with the others, they discover the truth about their high school’s involvement in a government WMD project. For the artwork and initial tone, Gakko Gurashi is remarkably dark: in fact, this anime shares quite a bit of similarities with Puella Magi Madoka Magica with respect to the tone. Themes about mental health, survival, regret and promises are explored with each character: Yuki is grappling with the truth of her reality, Miki regrets the rift that led her and Kei to part ways and is initially unaccepting of Yuki, Kurumi struggles with the knowledge that she’s killed numerous of her old classmates following the outbreak, including her own crush, and despite doing her best to hold everyone together, Yūri suffers from her own doubts. In spite of all these issues (enough to require the DSM-V to properly explain), the girls nonetheless find ways to survive, day-by-day.

At its core, Gakko Gurashi is predominantly about the significance of togetherness in a survival situation. That Kurumi and Yūri continue to accommodate Yuki’s situation to keep her happy ensures one fewer difficulty to keep track of, allowing the others to scavenge for supplies and maintain their school’s defenses. When Miki joins the School Living Club, she is exasperated at Yuki’s machinations, but as they spend more time together, she comes to understand what led to Yuki’s condition. Later, when their school’s power supply is damaged during an electrical storm, the girls decide to move to a better location. These are survival topics that were explored in Les Stroud’s Survivorman: while the setting might be different, the techniques still apply. Stroud continuously mentions the importance of keeping calm and collected to ensure rational decision making, and to act such that one minimises their problems (in other words, sacrificing local optima for global optima), reflected in the girls’ acceptance of Yuki’s condition. Similarly, the girls’ decision to move to a different area is a gamble between risk and reward; Stroud calls this “proactive survival”, where one moves on to better areas to improve their odds of survival. While I doubt that Gakko Gurashi‘s author, Norimitsu Kaihō, watches Survivorman, that he’s able to have his characters follow reasonable survival decisions (for the most part) is an indicator that thought has gone into writing the manga (which is largely reflected in the anime), and in creating characters whose actions are consistent with those expected from pandemic survivors, Gakko Gurashi is remarkably effective at evoking emotional response from the viewers as they gradually learn more about what’s happening.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There is quite a bit I can say about Gakko Gurashi!, far more than can be reasonably condensed into the space of twenty images, but for brevity’s sake, this post will maintain the same formatting as all of the others. I realise that this won’t allow me to cover all of the moments in Gakko Gurashi, but it will be sufficient for a reasonable discusson. Following in Madoka Magica‘s footsteps, the first episode initially appeared to be quite ordinary, revealing only just what’d happened in the world at the episode’s end.

  • When the illusions fell away and audiences see things through Miki’s eyes for the first time, rather than Yuki’s eyes, Gakko Gurashi suddenly took on a chilling feeling: there is something intrinsically discomforting about the notion of schoolgirls in haikyo, and the disjoint between Yuki’s environment and her attitudes show how far gone she is. A part of the anime is peeling away these illusions to illustrate what the world is like, and gradually, both viewers and Yuki see more of the truth.

  • So powerful was the illusions and contrasts that, when I finished watching the first few episodes, I thought I’d seen a specter at my lab. After I’d taken my headphones off, I thought I saw a black shadow out of the corner of my eye and went to investigate, and almost immediately, ran into my supervisor. Granted, I’ve been quite tired as of late, and over the last few days, begun work on a conference publication.

  • For the duration of this discussion, I’ve avoided making use of the term “zombie”; a zombie is a form of undead being, reanimated by mystical means and exhibits violent tendencies. Popular culture has reinforced the notion of a thirst for brain matter. However, in Gakko Gurashi, the infection arises from an unknown biological weapon whose destructiveness allows it to be classified as a WMD. Through unknown means and motivations, it is released in this region of Japan, resulting in widespread chaos.

  • Kurumi kills her classmate with a shovel after he becomes infected, and since then, she’s wielded a shovel as her primary weapon. Each of Miki, Kurumi and Yūri struggle to raise a weapon against those who were formerly their classmates, and this becomes more poignant when it’s revealed that despite their infection, each victim still retains a vague consciousness not unlike that of Flood victims from Halo.

  • The more serious moments are offset by more lighthearted ones that would not seem out of place in more conventional slice-of-life anime. One of the trickiest aspects to account for is Megu-nee’s presence (or lack thereof): the anime presents her as an actual character, challenging the audience’s notions of what is reality once it’s revealed that the real Megu-nee succumbed to infection in a last bid to protect Yuki and the others.

  • Miki is saved by the others during their first meeting at a mall. It turns out that Miki had been at a local mall when the disaster began, and lived with a friend for a short period before the latter’s impatience led her to leave. When she realised that others were in the mall, Miki left her saferoom and encounters the others. Here, it is shown that the infected are susceptible to distraction by patterned audio, acting as the first clue that the infected are at least partially aware of their surroundings.

  • Yuki’s suggestion to hold a sports meet is granted, and after a day of giving their all, the girls find themselves exhausted but reasonably pleased. While Yuki is not initially aware of it, her carefree, easy-go-lucky persona actually acted as a safeguard for the other girls; when they accept her requests for fun and adventure, they find that the small bit of happiness they gain is enough to sustain them and let them work out their next step.

  • While the other girls are writing letters with the aim of sending them to the outside world, Kurumi decides to catch a pigeon for use to deliver said letters, going on a hunting quest using all of her cunning. Yuki expresses amazement that the feelings of a letter’s author are timeless and can be conveyed long after the original author’s passed on, which leads the girls to write down some of their hopes in letters.

  • A lucky find allows the girls to fill the balloons with helium, making it possible to send their letters off. Apparently, the zombie apocalypse has motivated several research papers concerning the spread of diseases: assuming that an agent (bacterial or viral) capable of inducing zombie-like symptoms in individuals, and furthermore, is not a self-limiting agent, it’s speculated that such a disease would simply spread because of the difficulties associated with eliminating hosts for containment.

  • Miki later discovers a key belonging to Megu-nee, and together with Yūri, decides to go hunt down what the key opens. While Miki and Yūri anticipated a dreary, long search, Yuki’s arrival lightens up the mood and leads to the discovery of a secret safe containing documents that confirm the girls’ suspicions about their school’s unnaturally complete collection of self-sustaining utilities.

  • While the exact cause of the pandemic is not specified, that the girls’ school is prepared for such an eventuality suggests that the WMD was manufactured in Japan and intended for deployment elsewhere. The lack of external news in-universe does not specify whether or not the weapon was intended for a future or present war, and the probability of a modern nation intentionally using a WMD against its own populace is low, so my best guess is that the Japanese military was developing a WMD in haste for a current war, and an accident in processing or development led to the outbreak.

  • Of course, such insinuations could lead to discussions well outside of the anime’s intended scope, so I’ll return the discussion to the following day in-anime, where Yuki catches a filthy Taromaru and decides that everyone should help clean out an artificial biotope being used to cultivate fish. Lacking maintainence, it’s absolutely filthy and overgrown with “green crap” (i.e. algae), but the girls’ efforts pay off, and everyone hops in for a dip.

  • Kurumi and Rize are, for all intents and purposes the same character, merely in a different setting. Despite being voiced by different voice actors (Ari Ozawa provides Kurumi’s voice, while Rize is voiced by Risa Taneda), both characters have a very similar presence within their respective anime, being more versed in combat than their peers and sporting a boisterous personality.

  • Gakko Gurashi‘s rising action begins formulating in the tenth episode: after Taromaru goes missing and encounters the infected Megu-nee, Kurumi goes looking for him and is herself infected after hesitating to cut down Megu-nee. With the symptoms worsening, Yūri recalls Kurumi’s request to put the latter out of her misery should she ever become infected, and readies a knife, but finds herself unable to comply, dissolving into tears. While it’s easy for viewers to rest in their comfortable chairs and make armchair evaluations on doing what’s necessary, such situations are always more difficult in reality.

  • Kurumi is on the verge of full infection and Yūri is stuck at a crossroads, while Miki is trapped in the basement, cornered by the zombies. With Yuki regaining her sense of reality and becoming incapacitated, the Force Ghosts of Megu-nee appear to remind her that far from being a burden, she’s thus far successfully kept everyone in reasonable spirits. Spurred on, Yuki manages to reach the broadcasting room.

  • In delivering a heartfelt speech about her love for school, her words appear to resonate with the infected’s subconscious and cause them to disperse, buying enough time for Miki to return to the clubroom with the treatment. The basement scenes strongly reminded me of the final missions in Metro 2033: Redux, sections of the game where I had picked the wrong loadout and was therefore forced to play carefully to ensure survival. The lone figure of Megu-nee suffering eternally alone is simultaneously saddening and frightening: the horror in Gakko Gurashi comes not from jump scares or scary faces, but rather, is implied through scenarios and outcomes of events.

  • Kurumi makes a full recovery in the anime, to everyone’s relief. However, exhausted from his efforts and infection, Taromaru dies. The execution is remarkable, and the emotions the girls are feeling becomes quite tangible as they watch Taromaru struggle to his food dish, before dying in Miki’s lap. Numerous viewers who had read the manga first were quite dissatisfied with the anime’s depiction of Taromaru and Megu-nee, feeling that both had been given far larger roles than they’d merited.

  • I finished Gakko Gurashi today with Waffle and Chix’s succulent and rich fried chicken poutine in hand. The last time I had a fried chicken poutine while watching an anime was Tamayura: More Aggressive, and it’s quite striking as to how much time’s passed since then, although the crunchy and juicy fried chicken remains as delicious as I can remember. Returning to Gakko Gurashi, I am satisfied with how the anime executed things; with only the anime to go on, I experienced a rather moving story, which means Gakko Gurashi was able to convey the feelings in the manga sufficiently despite its shorter length.

  • Graduation with a small number of people always make me tear up because of the scale, which seems to confer a sense of melancholy: Angel Beats! demonstrated that quite nicely, and as with Angel Beats!, graduation symbolically represents taking a look back before taking a step into the future, which is filled with uncertainty. In Angel Beats!, it was the step that allowed the SSS’ members to move on, and in Gakko Gurashi, it symbolises the girls’ resolve to make it outside of their school. This is a fitting ending to Gakko Gurashi, and it represents a rather neat ending to the series, which lessens the possibility of a continuation. With that being said, Gakko Gurashi was an enjoyable anime that explored matters atypical of most anime in its class, and I would recommend it.

Another theme that’s present in Gakko Gurashi is the notion of what is reality: Yuki’s trauma results in her rejecting reality, and the other characters sometimes comment that their entire situation feels surreal. To exacerbate things, viewers are not initially given the full picture: this is especially apparent with Megu-nee, whose limited presence is viewed as a running-joke until the truth is revealed. In choosing to represent some things rather than others, Gakko Gurashi aims to capture the confusion that Yuki is experiencing and convey it to the audience. By the end, though, Yuki is able to come to terms with Megu-nee’s passing and accepts her reality when an epiphany leads her to understand what her role in the group is. While the anime has been said to take some creative liberties when compared to the manga’s resolution for things like how Yuki recovers (apparently, it’s explored in more detail and therefore, is more plausible in the manga), overall, Gakko Gurashi proved to be quite moving and provocative with its depiction of life in the aftermath of a pandemic. Like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Gakko Gurashi creates scenarios that push the characters’ mental health to their limits, but rather than yielding to Nihilism, the anime presents a more optimistic ending, as the girls employ proactive survival to see where it will take them. So, Gakko Gurashi is something that can be recommended for all zombie-apocalypse fans, as well as those looking for an interesting take-down of the rose-coloured anime about high-school life that nonetheless concludes on an optimistic footing. Given the manga is ongoing, a second season is a possibility, although given the resolution seen in the anime, I imagine that Gakko Gurashi‘s animated incarnation has reached a satisfactory stopping point and therefore, a continuation may not be necessary. With this in mind, if there is a continuation, I will almost certainly be watching it.