WARNING: I think that the first episode is far better if you go into it blind and so I would recommend watching the first episode before reading this review though it is not required for understanding
[Synopsis]: Takeya Yuki (Minase, Inori) along with her friends Kurumi (Ozawa, Ari), Yuuri (Ichimichi, Mao), and Miki (Takahashi, Rie) make up the School-Living club – a group of students that live out of the campus while attending classes and borrowing from the schools facilities. Though Yuki has yet to realize it, there is a concerning reason for the club’s existence and though she loves going to school, her daily routine may not be as it seems.
The cast of Gakkougurashi is fairly small and primarily concerns the members of the School-Living club and their respective faculty member Megumi Sakura. The small cast makes a lot of sense for the show in my opinion and while the story is definitely focused on exploring the characters individually and their predicament, I feel like the show itself was ultimately more concerned with delivering thematically and visually – areas where it succeeded excessively. That being said, the cast was characterized to the point where they weren’t any kind of negative influence on the show and there were more than a few strong character moments throughout the show’s run.
Yuki best represents the light-hearted, slice-of-life element of the show both through her perception of her surroundings and in how she interacts with the other members of the group. Her happy go-lucky attitude, her style of running from room to room, and her gag interactions with other students and her friends immediately set a sugar-sweet precedent that the show is then immediately able to dash expertly within the first episode and in this way Yuki provided a great deal of utility to the show and allowed it to play with its contrasting settings to a far greater length than it would otherwise have been able to.
Kurumi is similarly childish and excitable however also represents a coming to terms with the environment of the show and her ‘action-girl’ status provides a go-to archetype to reinforce the stereotypical aspects of the show’s design in order to inversely capitalize down the line. Yuuri is the eldest of Yuki’s friends and while she acts the most adult-like as the president of the club she also seems to always have something boiling beneath the surface which was a character trait I enjoyed as it often was used to betray the attitude of her scenes while not doing so directly or in a hamfisted manner. Lastly, Miki is the youngest of the group and a newcomer to the club; due to her initial unfamiliarity with her fellow club-members, she offers an outsider’s perspective on the group and their setting. She also has a good deal of emotional baggage and is one of the more sentimental characters in the show. Each of the characters do well enough to stand on their own though they also each offer great utility to the show in their characterization and they were great vehicles for some of its more intricate themes.
This category was where the show truly blew me away – the art of Gakkougurashi was creative, intelligent, and flexible and provided perhaps the greatest amount of intrigue above all else for me as a viewer. Firstly, the twin aesthetics of the show clash wonderfully – the hyper-moe cast against that of a rather classic zombie-horror setting. The horror of the show plays out a bit differently from other anime like Corpse Party where the violence and gore expresses it’s reliance on shock value and the blatant nature of its delivery. Gakkougurashi uses its horror techniques more subtly and instead visually distances the horror action of the show with repeated cuts to black and hazy filters in order to add to the surrealness of the setting in juxtaposition to the previously established near-slice-of-life atmosphere. Furthermore, as the show continues, these horror images are better brought into focus as that side of the show becomes gradually more dominant and the surrealness of the setting is replaced with the underlying harsh reality of the girl’s situation.
Perhaps one of my favorite techniques used by the show and an area which I think speaks directly to the show’s intelligence is that Gakkougurashi does not flaunt its horror images but instead allows them to exist in the background, almost unassumingly. A show of lesser design and direction would have moved heaven and hell to make sure these images reached the viewer and paraded them around instead of letting them occur naturally within the show. Along with this visual technique, the show also makes great use of depth-of-field in order to focus on certain shot elements and expert use of lighting and shadows.
Gakkougurashi makes amazing use of color as well. The majority of the show’s setting and it’s character designs are extremely bright and in vibrant colors (pinks, whites, and greens) whereas the contrasting environment of the horror scenes are far darker and bleak to the point where the show can become drained of color entirely and is visually delivered through blacks and gray-tones. The palette and color tone of each scene is highly dynamic which helped express the stark contrast between the show’s two moods. There is even intelligent work being done in Yuki’s character design as her school uniform, which differs in color from that of her fellow club members, sets her apart on a visual level in an attempt to parallel her altered perception and difference in mindset from the other girls. The subtle changes in the opening of the show provide a good commentary of what is transpiring and being revealed each episode and was a point of interest at the beginning of each watch.
In so many words, Gakkougurashi is a show that is driven by an engaging, thematic juxtaposition. The disparity between the actions and activities of the girls and the world that they live in is the central focus of the show and by spending half its time establishing a feel-good atmosphere while simultaneously developing a twisted horror story full of tragedy and sentimentality the show operates in way unique to itself. There is a great juxtaposition between the mundane, every day things such as worrying about graduation and love interests against the abnormal horror setting at the heart of the show. Due to the disparity in perception in the case of Yuki, the cast of the show is allowed to return to it’s slice of life roots far more often than it otherwise should be able to and in this way I found Gakkougurashi highly different in terms of progression from other shows that capitalize on presenting conflicting themes and moods such as Madoka and Yuuki Yuuna which, for the most part, have a major turning point in tone before embarking on something more complex and dark than their original premise. Gakkougurashi offers a continuous parallel between its two worlds that I found highly entertaining and clever.
There is a good deal of subtext as a lot of the interactions early on can be explained in different ways after learning of their implications in future episodes and so there is entertaining retroactive work being done in terms of tone and sentiment among the characters. The story is presented somewhat non-linearly at first as it takes the time early on to delve into the individual backstories of each of the girls while fleshing out the setting at hand before progressing the plot towards its conclusion. The comedy of the show wasn’t the strongest and I felt like it existed mostly for the purpose of, like many other attributes of the show, reinforcing one of the show’s major genre elements rather than actually trying to deliver unique and genuine humor. It’s a bit run of the mill in this regard however this allows the show to work better within the stereotypical setting that it tries to operate under and betray. The gag and comedic faces were very classic in their implementation to the point that one could even forget what they were watching because of the traditional environment and style they were delivered in.
It is for a similar reason to my reasoning surrounding the show’s comedy that I found myself quickly forgiving Gakkougurashi for its moe aesthetic and occasional fan-service scene such as it’s classic ‘beach episode’ installment because they both furthered the show’s thematic dichotomy. Additionally, there is hardly an episode that goes by without some attention paid to both sides of the show therein the viewer is never left alone with the slice-of-life atmosphere for too long. I see the fan-service as less of a play to get the viewers attention and more of an attempt to reinforce the stereotypical nature and environment of the light-hearted side of the story as to better contrast its ridiculousness with the darker themes and plot developments later in each episode.
The music fit the show extremely well and while I didn’t feel like there were any stand-out songs in an objective sense, they worked extremely well with the visuals to present an intelligent and intricate setting. Gakkougurashi danced between the up-beat, ditzy music typical of the slice of life school setting and the grittier, darker music of the horror setting in interesting ways, sometimes confusing the two and subtly fading one into the other to amazing effect – corrupting the scene fantastically.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Gakkougurashi was a show that hooked me from episode one with its unique tone and twisted setting. The intelligence of the show really shone through in its visual direction and kept me highly invested each week. The ending was satisfactory in some ways and unsatisfactory in others in that it didn’t bother to deliver on a couple of key plot points that arose in the midsection of the show. I think the show would benefit greatly from another installment in order to continue the story however I am doubtful the second season could play with the theme and tone of the show in the same way and would have to either present an incredibly compelling story or bring something unique to the table once again.
I gave Gakkougurashi a 7 because it kept me captivated from start to finish with its brilliant use of images, colors, and shot composition alongside an incredibly interesting thematic dichotomy which it played at excellently. The ending didn’t quite live up to the rest of the show in my opinion and the stereotypical nature of the show, while incredibly important to its design and delivery, was stereotypical non-the-less and caused the show to drag slightly at times however I feel this was negligible.
I would recommend Gakkougurashi to fans of horror who can find it in themselves to also tolerate a traditional slice of life school setting for a handful of episodes as the payoff is definitely worth it in this regard. Fans of genre twists where something pure and innocent becomes something darker would do well to pick up this show as the show really triumphed in this area though it presents a more continuous conversation between its contrasting genres than other shows I have seen. While the show does heavily concern zombies I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the show to fans of zombie fiction based on this alone unless they fell into one of the previous categories – there isn’t a great deal of characterization surrounding the zombies and therein they might not carry the same intrigue as other shows that involve them.