Plot: “Yuki Takeya loves her school so much that she does not want to ever leave! Megurigaoka Private High School is a unique and lively place where Yuki enjoys her carefree life as a third-year high school student and member of the School Living Club. The club, consisting of the president Yuuri Wakasa, the athletic Kurumi Ebisuzawa, the mature junior Miki Naoki, the supervising teacher Megumi Sakura, and the club dog Taroumaru, prides itself on making the most of life at school. However, this illusion of endless bliss is just a bubble waiting to be burst because Yuki is unable to perceive what is truly happening around her”

In a recent Loot Anime a certain item included was the first volume of the manga School-Live! In just two months I’ve become so obsessed that I’ve bought the next 6 volumes, watched the 12 episode anime and have the boxset pre-ordered. So as the obsession is fresh and the series has just been dubbed into English I thought now was as good a time to review it. At first School-Live! seems like your typical cutesy slice-of-life anime but given enough time you’ll see the tone shift and a much darker setting lying in wait.

So before reading here’s a warning, it’s hard to write a review of School-Live! without mentioning certain events that occur within the first episode. If you don’t want any spoilers you should check out the episode before continuing. After that initial twist though of course I’ll be avoiding any other major spoilers.

The story follows the activities of the “School Life Club”, a group comprised of 4 female students a teacher and a dog named Toromaru. Their main priority is looking after the school for the other students by assisting various clubs with their activities and general maintenance of the school. They’re even so dedicated to the cause that they never leave the school grounds, which is…odd. But then throughout the first episode we get more glimpses that things are not as they appear. A cracked window here and a desk barricade there, it starts subtly but keeps building up right to the end when all is revealed. These girls are the sole survivors of a zombie attack, and all of the cutesy school life events we’ve seen so far are all delusions from the head of one Yuki Takeya. If you were unaware of the big twist the reveal is sure to give you goosebumps

After the shock of the initial episode for a while the plot continues in a series of backstories recounting the days following the outbreak. Overall though the show is centred on how the girls keep themselves sane in this mad world. Thankfully the school they’ve holed themselves up is well suited to the situation. Solar panels to generate electricity, electric heaters to run hot water and a rooftop garden for growing food. Though it’s not enough to last which means going on dangerous supply runs through zombie infested territory.

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or in the case Anime with its cover art) is very apt for this series and is backed up by fantastic writing. Episodes end with cliff hangers and elements of mystery begin seeping in and drawing you into the each episode. The only issue I had with the story is that I would have liked to have seen more of the horror elements than the happy school-life activities. It just felt like a couple of things went on a bit too long. If you’re coming in from the manga there are a couple of changes you’ll notice straight off, starting with a rejig to the order of events and a bigger role for a certain four-legged critter. Preferably I would have preferred them to go in the book order but it is still a solid retelling and arguably builds up more drama.

To give the girls a sense of purpose they’ve created a new club which helps them go on day by day while also keeping Yuki’s delusions under control. I’ve already mentioned the central figure Yuki Takeya, a bright-eyed and cheery girl who’s wrapped herself in a delusional world but what about the other members? First off there’s Yuri Wakasa, the clubs president and essentially the ‘older sister’ persona who manages the groups supplies and maintains the peace. Kurumi Ebisuzawa is the fighter, patrolling the hallways with her trusty shovel and the first to volunteer undertaking the most dangerous of tasks. Lastly there’s Miki Naoki the newest member (newly found survivor) who’s colder and more pessimistic as she knows what it is like to be alone. Each character has their own distinct personality and roles they must play and throughout the 12 episode they are developed exceedingly well. We see how the events of that day changed the girls and how they balance their emotional states with Yuki and their dire situation so that by the end you’re truly invested in the characters and their future.

Something we come to learn through Miki’s experiences is that surviving is not the same as living. This is where we see the benefits of Yuki’s delusions as she suggests various activities for the club such as having a sports day, cleaning out the water tank to use as a pool and going on a school trip to the mall. The others are then able to twist these situations in to ways that benefit their survival but also help them unwind. The delusions make the show lighter but it has its serious moments especially after the midway point, and going so far as to tackle darker subjects like loneliness and running from reality.

The other club members are all aware that Yuki’s delusional escape is not a good thing for her. Miki especially thinks it’s a mistake to play along at first. However they come to find it as a necessity.  In this bleak setting where doom and gloom is around every corner her smile and child-like nature cheers the other girls up. It can simply be getting the others to take a break and enjoy themselves which provides them with some normalcy and escape even if it’s just for a short time. Of course they are also aware that she poses a danger to herself and other as she doesn’t know when to keep quiet or stay put meaning she needs constant watch. School-Live! looks to answer if living in a delusion is a good thing or a bad thing, instead of finding a firm answer it finds a nice balance between the two.

School-Live! uses a moe art-style where girls are drawn a lot younger than they actually are. Megu-Nee the teacher for example who is presumably in her 20’s appears the same age as her teenage pupils. While it does make the ‘fan-service’ scenes rather cringy the style suits the slice-of-life segments very nicely, creating a very light-hearted atmosphere. But then the camera angles skews, a darkened corridor comes into view and what’s that shadow looming in the background? Turns out School-Live! is also very good at creating a sense of tension. Moe and horror are two themes that usually don’t work well together but this story has managed to blend the jumps between lighter and darker tones perfectly. As the story progresses the bright doughy colours fade away and it builds up the characters so well that the climax of the series becomes genuinely nerve-wracking.

All in all School-live! is a refreshing take on the whole zombie apocalypse sub-genre, stating even when things are dire it’s good to take some time to enjoy the little things. The moe meets horror vibe that shouldn’t work has been pulled it off to great effect here; funny and light-hearted for the majority and dark and ominous when it’s called for. Of course the style also makes certain scenes cringy and sometimes the comedy school-life routine goes on a tad too much given the bleak situation but these are more minor gripes. It’s a very well written story with a solid cast of characters and just enough mystery that’ll keep the ‘just one more episode’ feeling going.

School-Live! is currently available to stream on Crunchyroll and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray July 24th.