Gakkou Gurashi! – 12 (Fin)

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Though Yuki is the only one who can save everyone, I appreciated that she didn’t have Kurumi’s zombie-smiting strength, as her first target doesn’t even feel the force of the aluminum bat she swings. She’s not going to get it done with brawn, but she does get it done with a bit of luck, as well as the relationship she’d cultivated with Taroumaru all this time.

He’s loose again, but rather than bite her, he chooses to bite the zombies cornering her, remembering just enough of his pre-zombie life to instinctively protect his friend, just as Megu-nee did by staying in the basement. It gives Yuki the moments she needs to slip into the broadcast room.

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There, she makes a P.A. announcement that school is out, along with a moving speech that mirrors her monologue in the first episode. Only now, her eyes are wide open, and she’s aware that the ideal school she speaks of is no more. The announcement works, and the zombies disperse, freeing Miki, who rushes the medicine to Kurumi in time to save her. Thank goodness!

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But there is a price for Yuki and Miki succeeding and Kurumi recovering, in the form of the show’s biggest gut punch yet. Taroumaru is doing much better than he was, but he can’t eat and only drinks a little bit of water before letting out one last little yip before dying in Miki’s lap. Needless to say, this was a heartwrenching and tearful scene, but like Megu-nee’s end as seen in flashbacks, and Yuki saying goodbye to her “specter”, the sendoff further demonstrates this show’s devotion to giving its doomed characters a proper, unblinking sendoff.

The girls bury Taroumaru next to Megu-nee; two protectors who gave their lives to save them, and when Miki says she’s fine, Yuki lets her know it’s okay to not be fine; to not bottle up one’s grief, but let it flow out without reservation. This is sage advice coming from someone who once broke from reality rather than face what was going on, but eventually opened her eyes.

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With the school’s utilities trashed and provisions dwindling, the School Life Club must disband and depart from the school for a more suitable shelter. Megu-nee provided locations of other shelters on a map, and though the group doesn’t know what kind of survivors (if any) they’ll encounter, they have little choice but to take their chances out there.

The graduation ceremony they have isn’t some empty gesture, but is carried out with the same decorum and formality as the real thing would have had most of the school not been zombified—Yuki even neatens her hair! They are literally graduating from one kind of life, one of relative safety and routine and contained within the walls of their beloved but now-broken school, and striking out into the vast, unknown world, full of as many possibilities as hazards.

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But I have no doubt that they’re ready, if they stick together, they’ll do fine. And when Kurumi fires up the Mini Cooper and they pull away from the school, even when Miki catches a glimpse of one last zombie who may well be her friend Kei, she doesn’t insist they turn back, because they can’t turn back.

Megu-nee, Taroumaru, and even Kei may be lost to them, but they wouldn’t be alive without them, and aren’t going to squander the product of their noble sacrifice. We also get a glimpse of the puppy Taroumaru saved; an upbeat parting shot of the school grounds.

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After the gang heads off into the horizon and the credits roll, there’s one last ambiguous scene imparted with GG!’s signature sneakiness, in which a glasses-wearing girl we’re not familiar with (but who definitely isn’t a zombie) approaching a field of debris (though it looks more like building rubble than car wreckage) finds Yuki’s childish drawing of the School Life Club members with the message “We Are Happy”.

Is this something Yuki left behind, like Miki’s note to Kei on the blackboard, for anyone who might come past, like this girl? Or is this drawing all that’s left of them? The latter possibility is too dark and ghastly for me to contemplate any further, so let’s say the latter and call it a day, shall we? After all, it’s School-Live, not School-Die,right?

…Right? O__O

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 11

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After multiple events at the end of last week’s episode piled upon each other like so many zombies, spelling imminent doom for the School Life Club, this week starts off with a continuation of that despair, with no shortage of intense terrified close-ups of Rii-san and Miki. But Yuki’s expression is different. It’s not existential fear…it’s an awakening, which comes in the form of a sudden flash as she sees her former choker-wearing classmate as she truly is.

That awakening continues gradually and painfully throughout the episode, as more and more, it becomes clear Yuki is the only club member who can save everyone. Her emotional scars are re-opened and reckoned with, and the same voice in her head that’s taken the form of Megu-nee for so long steps into high gear, putting Yuki not only in a position to stay alive, but help the others, starting with Miki. Now that she finally sees again the danger she and her friends are in, she doesn’t crumple into a ball; she picks up a shovel.

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Nostalgia, despair and hope go hand in hand (…in hand) this week. Rii-san remembers promising to “do what must be done” if Kurumi were to get infected, and as she’s being slowly driven mad by Kurumi’s increasingly horrifying moans and screams, with a knife in her lap, Rii-san starts to contemplate fulfilling that promise. Meanwhile, the zombies are everywhere, including the roof, where a lightning storm ignites the zombies, who then ignite the crops and Megu-nee’s grave marker.

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With all this grimness, Yuki’s strength in this time of ultimate crisis, and her desire to have more fun times with the club in the future, inspires Miki to action, after she was briefly paralyzed by her grief over Taroumaru. She then use’s Kei’s discman to try to sooth/distract the zombies at another barricade as she heads to the basement to find medicine. As that gorgeous music first we heard in episode 4 plays, we return to the day the club drove out in Megu-nee’s car and ended up saving Miki.

On the drive home, Kurumi and Rii-san (the only two still awake) talk about whether the zombies are still “aware”, and Kurumi hopes they aren’t, after all the terrible things she’s done to them. She says she had no choice—it was them or her—and she’s right. But that doesn’t make what she’s done, or not knowing the true nature of the zombies, any easier a pill to swallow.

Back in the present, Rii-san prepares to stab Kurumi to death…but just can’t do it, thus avoiding the possibility of Miki getting the antidote, only to return to find Kurumi is dead. If Rii-san isn’t already FUBAR, she certainly would be under that scenario.

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But Miki is still a long, long way from getting that antidote to Kurumi. It’s by no means a sure thing. She encounters Megu-nee down there, gets cornered by her and pays her respects, cognizant of the possibility the teacher’s stayed down there all this time in order to prevent hurting her still-living students. Despite that apparent awareness Kurumi mused about (and hoped wasn’t true), Megu-nee is still, ya know…a zombie, and grabs Miki’s ankle, forcing Miki to take her out.

Just then, as if there was a chip in Megu-nee tied to the school (though probably a coincidence what with the roof generators going haywire), an alarm sounds and red lights come on, and a P.A. system announces emergency power has been activated for the shelter (which probably means batteries, which aren’t going to last). All that noise attracts hordes of zombies to Miki’s location, and she ends up trapped in a room, unable to act, just like when she was at the mall.

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Thus Yuki becomes the only one who can save everyone. She does so by finally opening her eyes to “the hard stuff” she left to the others for so long, even before she went into her dissociative state, because she deemed herself clumsy and weak. But she’s able to use a vision of Megu-nee to get to the place she needs to be, have one last conversation with her through a door before opening it, and seeing, finally, that Megu-nee is no longer around, that she’s gone, and now it’s up to her.

It’s not easy, nor is it painless, but it’s what has to be done, or, Yuki knows, the School Live Club is finished. Her smile and her silly optimism sustained the club for so long, but now she has to do more, by breaking out of the protective shell she created in her mind, facing the reality of her situation, grabbing a bat, and getting to work. Everyone is counting on her.

No matter what happens, everyone will be scarred by this day they’re having. But can Yuki stand strong and act; protect and guide as Megu-nee did; be the new guardian angel, so that she and the others can live a little longer? I hope so.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 10

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Fun Time is officially over as shit hits the fan on all fronts in this taut, slithering, devastating, unforgiving powerhouse of an episode. It starts quiet on a rainy morning. Miki laments that she’s finished her book—at the end of which its implied the dog comes to a bad end—Rii-san informs her why she’s so down: this is the same kind of day when they lost Megu-nee, their sensei and caring protector. Ever since then, Rii-san has been trying to fill the void Megu-nee left, and the strain shows this week as pretty much everything that can go wrong, does.

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Kurumi, the muscle of the group, confidently strikes out to find the escaped Taroumaru, assuring Rii-san she won’t do anything rash. She ultimately can’t abide by that assurance, first locating a zombified Taroumaru, then Megu-nee herself, in the previously un-explored basement. Why she goes alone is beyond me, but like I said, she’s a tough one, so I guess Rii-san felt she could trust her to come back safe and sound on her own.

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As soon as she spots both Taroumaru and Megu-nee, Kurumi knows what she has to do; it’s just a matter of being able to do it. She was able to kill her would-be boyfriend before he killed her back when this all started, but her hesitation results in Taroumaru running rampant until she can trap him in a room (with a non-sliding door he can’t open). And when Megu-nee raises her face, Kurumi can’t help but see her memory of her warm, beautiful, heroic teacher, not the shambling monster before her.

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She loses her nerve, and Megu-nee bites her. Damn, that was fast. Kurumi gets back to the safe zone, but it isn’t long before the wound starts to fester, and it becomes pretty clear that things are not going to go any better for her than they went for the dog or the teacher. It’s only a matter of time.

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During this time, as she screams in her sleep, we go inside her head, where she’s trapped in a nightmare in which countless zombies stalk her from just behind the walls of a classroom she’s in.

When they break through, her mind will be lost and she’ll be one of them. The only glimmer of hope she can be saved comes when Miki consults the emergency manual, which indicates there’s medicine—an antidote?—down in the basement shelter.

Rii-san doesn’t want Miki to go alone, but she doesn’t have much choice; she has to be there if and when Kurumi turns. As for Yuki, her bubbly obliviousness is more of a liability than ever. Miki and Rii-san are going through emotional issues of their own, and they have no time to babysit her.

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Miki finds Kurumi’s shovel, but also spots Taroumaru’s still-full dog bowl and collapses into tears, remembering how Kurumi lamented that she’d “failed”, and believing she too had failed to protect Taroumaru, just when they had kinda become friends last week.

Miki claims not being close to Megu-nee (who we see sitting down there, “writing”) will make it easier to take her out, but the dog’s down there too, so her task to grab the medicine—before Kurumi turns—is not going to be easy, to put it mildly.

As for Yuki, when she stops in the hall to remark to herself how today is like “that day”, and she then asks herself what “that day” is, and then feels the cold rain hitting her on the face. She sees the broken window now, just as the zombies burst through the ground floor and start bringing the barricades down.

We can imagine what she’ll see next week. The question is: how will she react to her sudden awakening? Will she be able to play a role in her own and everyone else’s survival, or are they all doomed?

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 03

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In the first two episodes, Sakura Megumi or “Megu-nee” was treated at turns like an apparently deceased teacher/semi-comic relief whom only Yuki, in her delusional state, can still see, hear, and interact with, and whom the other girls play along with so as not to further disturb their already disturbed friend. This episode goes deeper into who Megu-nee is, or rather who she was, by taking us back to the day Everything Went South.

Like the first two episodes, this third one expertly juggles normalcy with abnormality, with dread lurking just out of sight or in the far corner of the frame, at least early on. A perfect example: Megu-nee noticing an abnormal number of sirens while on her normal drive to school in her cute Mini Cooper.

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The normal day proceeds, with Megu-nee getting warned by the vice principal to maintain an appropriate emotional distance from her students. That morning, Megu-nee’s Mom expressed a similar worry with her daughter’s ability to “cut it” as a new teacher.

Yet when, say, Kurumi comes to her and is able to talk about her dilemma with the boy she likes, Megu-nee proves she actually is cut out to be a teacher, in that she’s a trustworthy, approachable nurturer of minds and an open ear or shoulder to cry on.

At the same time, she’s willing, nay, determined to go the extra mile for students in need of extra help like Yuki. It’s confirmed she was never a great student and had problems focusing.

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Interestingly, it’s Yuki who suggests she and Megu-nee head up to the rooftop to try to finagle some tomatoes from the gardening club member, namely Wakasa Yuuri, whom Yuki meets for the first time. This action essentially saves both Yuki and Megu-nee, because it isn’t long before everything goes to hell both in the school below them and the city beyond. The vista of just-out-of-focus students feeding off one another as buildings burn is another one of GnG!’s awesomely chilling images.

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Megu-nee takes a chance on opening the door to let Kurumi on the roof, with her beloved senpai in tow. This scene gives us the whole picture of how she came to kill him with a shovel, and we see that Yuki witnessed the whole thing and in fact grabbed Kurumi to stop her from whaling on an already-dead body. Yuki’s fear and disgust at watching a fellow human being in full-on, vicious Survival Mode, is another likely contributing factor to her eventual mental break.

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I like the fact that Megu-nee isn’t just an invented figment of Yuki’s imagination; she was a real person who, for a time, at least, did what she thought was her duty as a teacher, doing everything she could to protect the remaining students under her care at the school, even in a Zombiepocalypse. But while much of this episode is told from her perspective (with a grainy-film framing device), the fact remains, in the present, she is no longer alive, and exists only in Yuki’s head.

Even so, Kurumi, Yuuri, and even Miki let Yuki keep believing she’s still around, and I think it’s more than just humoring their troubled friend (and let’s face it, in a world like this, they’re all troubled). I also believe they take some comfort in the idea of Megu-nee still around protecting them.  Hell, five’s better than four.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 02

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After watching the first episode a second time (man was that creepy!) and now this one with full knowledge of what’s going on from start to finish, I’ve gained an even greater appreciation for GG!’s ability to show us one thing in the center of the frame while something slithers on the edges, and I mean that both visually and thematically. As the show’s point of view shifts to more aware characters, the dark imagery is far more overt, but remains just as effective and creepy.

We start off inside the head of Yuki’s friend Kurumi, who is dreaming of the time the guy she liked (and joined the track club for) suddenly…turned, and grabbed her while on the rooftop, enjoying the sunset. Just when she was wishing that time would stop in that moment, she’s thrust into to a purgatory far darker and harsher than she’d bargained for.

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That purgatory is, of course, the school, where only four girls remain alive and uninfected by whatever malady turned the rest of the school into zombies. Kurumi, Rii-san, and Miki not only struggle to survive, but also take care of Yuki, who still believes the school is the way it was. She even believes the club advisor, Megu-nee, is still alive, if she ever was, of course.

The show does an exquisite job placing Megu-nee in the clubroom at angles where it’s clear Yuki sees her (and even an extra meal at her seat), but the dialogue of the girls carefully makes clear Megu-nee is not there. But they don’t let that on to Yuki, or about anything being amiss, lest she suffer another, even more severe mental break. As Rii-san says, they’re not experts, so it’s best to wait and see.

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Thankfully things don’t seem to be that dire as zombie-surrounded schools go. Part of this is that the zombies are slow and dumb, as demonstrated when Kurumi uses one of the box of ping pong balls that fell on Yuki last week to distract a zombie that’s come close to the desk barricade. With it’s back turned it’s an easy kill for Kurumi, but she catches a glimpse of her still-charged cell phone, and has to re-steel herself to finish it off.

And she has to believe they’re “its” now, despite some evidence to the contrary: the boys still “play soccer” out in the yard; and most of them leave school around nighttime, as if they’re headed home. Is this behavior explained by the fact they still harbor a piece of their memories? The girls don’t know. All they know is, they can’t let them touch them.

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When Yuki unilaterally announces there’s to be a test of courage one night, Rii-san uses it as an excuse to brave the area beyond the barricades to make a supply run. Everyone stocks up on Nummy Sticks in the school store without incident, but when Rii-san and Yuki enter the library, Rii-san encounters a zombie in there, in a sequence that’s pitch-perfect for dread, atmosphere, timing, and intensity.

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Here, as was indicated on other occasions, Megu-nee serves not as an endangering ghost on the side of the zombies, but as a guardian angel: Yuki’s common sense and survival instinct given human form only Yuki can see and hear and even touch. 

Yuki is clearly dealing with quite a few delusions right now, but Megu-nee is one of them that provides some peace of mind for the others. If Yuki tells them Megu-nee is near, they can rest assured she’ll be okay on her own for a while, as we see when she stays put so they can lure the zombie to them and take it out, all without Yuki noticing anything amiss (she also assumes they’re playing up the test of courage.)

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Though back behind the safety of their barricades with no harm done, Kurumi can’t escape her nightmare of the guy she likes suddenly turning and grabbing her. We see more of the dream the second time round, as she falls to the ground and, in a moment of terror, grabs the object closest to her—her now-trusty shovel—and swings as hard as she can, taking the guy out.

She wakes up in a panic, but then we see the value of having Yuki and her unique perspective around despite all the extra work taking care of her involves. The half-asleep Yuki wants to repeat her third and final year together with Kurumi, which gives Kurumi comfort.

Yuki phrases it this way because her grades suck and she’s believes she’s at risk of repeating her final year of high school But I’m sure Kurumi doesn’t want this to be the final year of their lives, and thus “repeating” the year—a year in which they’re alive and well-fed and most importantly, together, is something she and the other two can get behind.

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