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School Live (2015)

The ideal way to experience School Live- which in a classically Japanese naming quirk is pronounced not 'Live' as in alive but 'Live' as in 'where you live- would be to go in completely blind. But in order to explain just why it's worth watching (and write a thorough review) then I'm going to have to give away the basic premise. We're not talking full spoilers -  the "twist" comes in at the end of the first episode, but if you want to go in without any prior knowledge then click away now.

Based on an ongoing Manga from Norimitsu Kaihō and Sadoru Chiba, the anime adaptation is produced by Lerche and directed by Masaomi Ando. It originally aired between July and September of 2015.

School Live starts like any number of other High School set anime. We are introduced to the members of the School Life club. Perky, pink haired Yuki, is the most enthusiastic member. with an adorable hat. Junior member Miki (Mi-Kun) is reserved and shy. Spunky Kurumi carries a shovel with her everywhere she goes, while club President Yuri acts as the group's "big sister".  Alongside cute dog Tarōmaru, and the girls' young, pretty, teacher Megumi (Megu-Ne), the scene is set for another cutesie "slice-of-life" anime. From the bouncy J-Pop song that accompanies the opening sequence on, it's all sweet enough to give your dentist nightmares.

The majority of the first episode sees Yuki trying to catch a wayward Taromaru. But all is not as it seems. At the end of the first episode Yuki is seen cahtting with her classmates. It's only when another member of the School Life club enters do we realise that the other students are not really there after all. The windows in the classroom are broken. Blood stains the walls. In reality, the members of the School Life club are the only apparent survivors in a zombie apocalypse, taking shelter in the school.

After the candy-coloured cuteness that makes up the rest of the episode this moment has the ability to genuinely send chills down the spine. And at this point, it becomes a show like no other.

Things that would be considered character quirks in any other anime take on a sinister or tragic dimension. Yuki's always-happy demeanour is the result of a mental breakdown caused by the situation, in which she believes everything is as it was before. And Kurumi's shovel? That's for zombie hunting, naturally.  By the second time we see the opening sequence, a couple of shots of zombies and post-apocalyptic chaos have been added in amongst all the bright colours and cheeky antics.

The show doesn't go full-on Walking Dead at this point. That original cheery tone remains part of the mix throughout the show- even if is now given a whole new angle. The club members try to enjoy themselves as much as possible given the horror of the situation, so still find time to have fun and act like (anime) teenagers.

In these parts the allusions to their situation are quite subtle. We'll see zombies shambling away in the background, or there will be whispered mentions of "them"- as with most zombie fiction, the z-word is never uttered.

The more horror-based sequences and very effective too, and can often be genuinely unsettling. The smart move the series makes in not to overuse them, so when we see them it's often from a distance, or glanced fleetingly. Even when front-and-centre they are kept largely to the shadows. It appears that CG has been used to animate them too, which proves to be another masterstroke. That unnatural movement that Japanese CG is often criticised for is utilised perfectly here to make the zombie's shambling more creepy and contrasts with the traditional animation style used for the living.

Flashbacks to past events are also used to add a real sense of melancholy to the proceedings too. As the series moves towards its end, this sadness becomes more and more apparent, as the plot goes to places that traditional storytelling conventions don't usually go.

The manga is ongoing, and the series ends in a way that is very much open to a continuation. However, it also feels like a perfect ending to the story as it is.

The dark places the story goes are brought into more stark contrast by the visual style of the show. The character designs are incredibly cute and are perfectly suited to the kind of show that it first appears to be. So when the faeces hits the fan and things get dark, seeing these characters in a zombie horror situation is at once funny and a little disquieting.

This unusual mix is what makes the show so special. Cute but sad, funny but creepy, it's a strange- and very Japanese- concoction that probably shouldn't work, but yet somehow really does. Perhaps the reason for this is that it feels completely committed to all its disparate genres. Much like Shaun Of The Dead this feels sincere and does not feel like a parody of either of the genres it operates within. School Live is proof, if it were needed, that however long you may have been a fan for, anime still has the capacity to surprise.

FORMATSDVD/ Collector's Edition Blu-Ray/Streaming
FROM Manga/Animatsu [UK]/ Sentai Filmworks [US]

12 Episodes

IN A NUTSHELL: The cutest Zombie Apocalypse you ever saw.