Before I start this review I feel like I should say that if you haven’t watched School-Live! and if knowing that it is one of my favorite media properties in its genre is enough to encourage you to watch its 12 episodes, then you should do that without reading further. It’s literally impossible to talk about School-Live! at any length without spoiling one of the show’s first jarring reveals which comes within the first 25 minutes into the first episode. Sentai Filmworks has released their Blu-ray complete collection of the collected series, featuring an official American dub and improved English subtitles for the original Japanese audio. I’ll touch on the boxset’s features after a brief rundown of School-Live! itself and what makes it special.
School-Live! initially presents itself as what is known as a “Slice of Life” anime, revolving around the lives of three high school seniors (and one junior), their teacher, and their pet dog. The unlikely premise you’re presented with as the series starts is that Yuki, the bubbly pink-haired protagonist who spends the first few moments of the show gushing about how amazing her school is, and three other students are the only members of the School Living Club. This is a club that lives at school and never goes home as “life training” to teach them to function in society. The first time I watched the show I thought I must have started watching the wrong program because I had asked for recommendations for a very specific kind of show and this was decidedly not it. Then, somewhere around the twenty-minute mark, the first reveal happens: Yuki is delusional, and everyone who isn’t in the School Living Club is already dead or has reanimated outside the barricaded floor where the club now survives. Suddenly the fact that absent-minded Yuki had almost gone home without thinking about it takes on a darker undertone, and the group’s dynamic (which, quite literally, utilizes Yuki’s mental breakdown as a survival tool) starts to be trickier than just four girls in a fun afterschool club.
When School-Live! was first recommended to me, I had asked for recommendations for a solid zombie property that drew heavily from George Romero with a focus on drama and no running zombies. By the start of the second episode, you are keenly aware that there are always zombies milling about outside the school, and the four girls are living on a barricaded floor of the building with access to the school’s garden and (fortunately for them) solar powered electricity. School-Live!’s strength is that it dedicates a significant amount of time to the girls not just surviving but trying to live semi-functional lives (partially because of their need to keep Yuki living in her fantasy world). The show continually hits you with emotional body blows, lulling you into feeling safe by dwelling in Yuki’s perspective long enough to make the inevitable glimpses into reality more horrifying. Even the show’s cheerful introduction, where a pop song sung by the show’s cast plays while a myriad of nods to tragedies to come are played as cute jokes in fun colors, subtly changes in every episode, alluding to the breaking down of the fantasy the entire group has built around themselves by way of Yuki’s persistent delusions. This is not a show of jump-scare focused horror, and while it does draw from Romero heavily (the creator thanks Romero, Matheson and Savini in the book version of the series by name, and he has made no bones about being inspired to use a shopping mall for a major plot-point by Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead), it’s not a show that ever mires itself nostalgic references to other works of any kind (beyond a not-so-subtle reference to the dog’s voice actor previously playing a demon in Madoka Magica).
The Blu-ray packaging for this release is a treat. Keeping true to the catch-them-off-guard style of the series itself, the packaging is super cute externally. The boxset includes two discs of music from the series on CDs (styled after one of the character Kei’s mixtapes on CD-Rs), two Blu-ray discs, three DVDs, a booklet of art, interviews and director’s commentary, interviews with School-Live!’s creators (who wrote and drew the original manga and then also helped oversee the anime), and a sheet of stickers featuring each of the characters. The on-disc bonus features are honestly a bit lacking, with just text-less “clean” edits of all twelve of the intros and outros. The Japanese version was released today, during an annual Halloween event staged at the mall used as the reference in the series when Miki is discovered by the other survivors. From what I’ve gathered, the Japanese release is slated to have more in the way of bonus features, but even then they seem to be focused on footage of fans at that event and not much else.
If you are new to the series, I do have to recommend watching it for the first time with the original Japanese voice actors and English subtitles as the US versions seem a bit dumbed-down at times with plot points over explained by the characters or altered in ways that struck me as less impactful. Some of this boils down to just trying to sync the mouths moving with the dialogue being spoken (of which the actors all did a great job), but the original translation is hard to improve upon and the dubs definitely don’t do anything that improves on it at all.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend the series highly enough. The limited edition Blu-ray box is well worth springing for if you are a fan of the work already (although it is a bit pricey if you aren’t).