In almost any form of art, the use of contrast can be a very powerful tool to enhance the appeal of your work. By taking two different items and setting them against each other, it can multiply the overall value and effect of the product versus those two items being standalone. It can make paintings have a captivating appearance, give food a memorable flavor, and, in the case of movies and television, give a unique experience that makes it stick to the minds of the audiences watching. There is, however, a catch to this: the right amount of each item must be balanced against each other lest one overpower the other or it turn away potential customers/viewers/etc. So how does the use of contrast affect the anime School-Live? The answer is important - after all, it's what the entire show hinges on.
School-Live is an anime that wishes to contrast two different atmospheres, cute and creepy, in its 12 episode runtime. It combines a cute high-school slice of life show with that of a zombie apocalypse. The reveal that there's horror in something charming is sometimes hidden from the viewer to make the turn of events more shocking, but in the case of School-Live, it's its worst kept secret. The show's synopsis, poster, and tags all give away what's happening. Even before the big reveal, it's pretty clear that something's wrong inside the show's world. That said, the show's use of zombies isn't really where the main focus lies. Instead, it uses this as a tool to test the survival, and psychological skills, of our main protagonists.
Each character is given a slight role to the group. Kurumi is the twin-tailed fighter of the group and uses her trusty shovel to fight off the occasional zombie rush. Yuuri serves as an organization leader of the group and is shown keeping down a list of supplies as well as "approve" of certain events. Miki is the newcomer and though she is the youngest of the group of girls, she is the smartest and most practical of the group. Finally, there's Yuki, the chipper voice of morale and mascot of the show. A black hat with cat ears is worn over her head filled with ideas of what to do during the group's downtime. Together they make the "School-Life" club, a club dedicated to doing what they can to "help" other groups and make school the best place to be. The price for this dedication is to stay on school grounds at all times, but considering what's going on outside, it can hardly be considered a downside.
Of course, the club the 4 girls form isn't really an official club - rather, it's the way that they help keep their sanity in check. The supernatural fear outside combined with the claustrophobic environment inside can get to a person, so pretending to have ever-popular school events such as a sports day and field trips can break the monotony of survival. This is where the show wishes to use its contrast. It shows a typical school life setting against the fear of a horrific death. Every event is limited not by a school budget or time, but rather what the girls have on hand. Throw in the chance of something horrific happening during each day in their fortress and you've got a show that certainly finds a place for itself.
Those looking for a chance to see some intense girl-on-zombie fighting will be sorely disappointed. Sure, Kurumi swings a shovel a few times but it never focuses on the action. Instead, it offers two alternatives: goofing off and twisted tales. The former is to deliver the "cute" half of the show's contrast (as well as attract the audience who enjoy idle, silly fun). The latter is the core strength of the show, as we get to see how these girls truly feel about the events that have occurred and the fears of what the future may bring. Yuki is the obvious choice for this category, as she simply pretends nothing went wrong and thinks every day is another fun and fantastic day at school. I do find her to be a bit immature, though. She's a senior in high school, and yet I feel like I'm watching a kids show when she performs her antics. Miki is for my money the best of the cast. Her story is a personal one, much like the others, but the emotions feel amplified as a result of the lack of interactions she gets as well as the isolation she has from the rest of the world. The main cast get a school and make up fun activities - during Miki's origins, we get none of that and instead get a greater fear of the unknown. It's arguably the greatest moment of the show.
With these details in mind, does School-Live find a balance between its two genres? For some viewers it does, but I can't say it did for me. The show has a habit of pointing out a few flaws in their own show but ultimately struggle to answer them. The biggest example of this include part of the field trip episode. There's danger looming all around and, especially later in the show, a fear of supply management as resources start to dwindle down. Yet there's enough time for swimsuits to be tried on. The excuse "We are girls, after all" doesn't really work here and suggests that the show is also trying to attract an audience via alternative means. A better strategy would be to stock up on more of the zombie's weaknesses (sound and light based items, such as glowsticks and child alarms). Another example stems from how coincidental everything is. With the school's vast amount of natural resources, it definitely feels apt for survival. This seems to be hinted at something greater, but not enough detail is given. A good question to answer would be how long do the zombies live for? Right now, I am to believe they are immortal unless they are explicitly killed. In the end, it's a supernatural story so anything the author wants can be put into place. This latter point is only minor, since this is the first part of the story. However, a little enticement for the future can go a long way with keeping people interested - it comes off as more credible than trying on swimsuits.
The ultimate issue will lie with the audience. I enjoy some slice-of-life but it's not a genre I can say is my favorite. Sure, it's cute watching the girls run around and make stupid jokes, but I really don't gain too much from it. I'd much rather see a form of progress across the city or more of what's happened with the world rather than be confined in the halls of the school. Considering that's half of the show's appeal, it's quite clear that I'm not meant for the show's audience. That said, it'd be foolish for me not to admit it's a necessary evil. Had the show entirely be focused on the mystery and horror, it probably would've received more criticisms of shock value and wouldn't have found as large a fanbase. That's really the takeaway of using the contrast strategy - the balance in the creator's eye may be imbalanced in the eye's of the viewer. That's why we all have different likes and dislikes, after all.
The animation studio behind School-Live is Lerche. There are a few shortcuts here and there (the CG zombies in one scene being the #1 shortcut) but they do a fairly good job. Bright, cutesy colors for when everything's fine and shades of purple, black and dull gray for when zombies are involved. Arguably the scariest thing about this show may be the character's eyes - their irises are a bright ring that contains a dark colored pupil. They're sort of unsettling to look at. The music for the show consists of goofy, lighthearted pieces and some dramatic tones - mood music, mainly. It sports a catchy OP "Friend Shitai" and a relaxed ED "Harmonize Clover" to end episodes on a lighter note (with the tongue-in-cheek "Good Night" displayed after the end of early episodes). The real grab would be the moody piano piece "We took each other's hand", used perfectly for Miki's scenes and again amplifying her backstory. The voice acting is also good. The seiyuus know how to deliver a dramatic scene or a scream when needed. Yuki's is a bit too "bubbly" for me, but it's appropriate for her character.
Overall, I give School-Live a 6/10. It's a show that's not for everyone - again, this is a show for people who want a slice-of-life AND a bit of psychological horror. If you're more in the former camp and don't mind a darker show, this will probably be the anime for you. If you're more in the latter camp, I'd advise to pass on this one unless you need something a bit lighter, as strange as that sounds. School-Live is a short and interesting watch that shows that even a strange contrast can give a show staying power.
Do you like or dislike this anime? If you haven't watched it, are you encouraged to watch it or not? Leave a comment on my profile telling me what you think of the anime and/or my review.
Thanks for reading and have a blessed day!