Spoilers for the first episode ahead! This is a case where I highly recommend not reading a single word more and going and watching the first episode before coming back here after. Anyway, recommended listening for this post: https://youtu.be/Mitw5haqx5Y
Why are we still here? Just to suffer?
Every day I can do my homework, talk to my friends, even my teachers.
The school I’ve lost. The classmates I’ve lost…won’t stop hurting. It’s like they’re all still there.
You feel it too, don’t you?
Gakkou Gurashi is a series I knew only a little bit prior, like the main selling point which is right in every description of the show and was when it first got announced as well: a cute slice of life with a rather unique setting – a zombie apocalypse. So I came in mostly blind while knowing one big aspect, which would make you think I’d be fully aware of what was going on in the first episode. However, the show managed it in a way purposefully to deal with people who knew what was coming (and even manga readers in a way, as apparently it was handled very differently here in a much better way) and made it confusing. At first I thought maybe I misremembered what I had read – maybe it wasn’t “the only 4 survivors of a zombie apocalypse at their school try to survive” and was actually a show about a school that was turned into a safe-haven of sorts. Then I thought maybe this was a flashback to when the zombies were first appearing and maybe the students and teachers were being educated on things to help them rebuild or combat the zombie hordes and survive as well – the idea of classes in this scenario would make sense especially in a manga or anime – and that by the end of the episode we’d see the “present” or something.
Then this happened.
I enjoyed studying with everyone. Let’s study together again. But it done not come true at all.
All is in the darkness in the past. Please don’t throw me away. Help me.
At that point you might still not fully realize what’s going on in entirety – if you’re even lucky enough to notice that text in the first place as it’s only there for a short scene, but if you do see it you start to piece it together even with how much the show tries to trick you out of it thanks to the girls pitying Yuki and playing along for her sake and for the sake of survival. Then the show finally, eventually after a lot of hints throughout that are easy to simply overlook, shows you the truth of the world – and it does a damn good job of it too. The entire atmosphere, the look, the feel, all of is totally changed but done with great skill and it feels legitimately creepy and very heavy all of a sudden – even the zombies are actually jarringly scary and ‘realistic’ looking compared to the very cute smushy art you see up to then.
I think the thing people should be focusing on alongside and a bit more than that main reveal and should be praising is how well this portrayed the loss of sanity and brokenness of Yuki. We just learned so much about this character, more than some full 25 episode shows will ever develop their main characters, and on such a deep intimate level at that. It’s one thing to have the show change so drastically, but to then show it’s really the wild delusions of a little girl trapped in a horrific world – worse, trapped inside her own delusions and either going insane and literally (if it’s there in the present as well) writing insane babblings on what’s left of the classrooms or her subconscious is trying to wake her up to the truth – and is so detached from reality that she still ‘goes to school with her friends’ each day? That’s something far different and far more powerful. Like I really have to say it’s no exaggeration to say the misdirection and skillfulness behind this entire episode was fucking masterful, it even completely manipulates the viewer on a deeper level than just trickery and lies, but it fully immerses you into the perspective of Yuki without you even realizing you’re overlooking obvious clues – just like her – through the entire episode. It’s genuinely fucking amazing.
What I believed to be a unique slice of life set in a fucked up scenario (zombie apocalypse) turned out to be exactly that…along with severe as fuck and totally genuine fucking psychosis.
I really REALLY hope this delves into her and the other girl’s attempts at mentally dealing (or the lack thereof, in Yuki’s case) with their horrible situation. It seems like it’ll continue having fun and silliness but ALSO deal with the suffering of these girls in a serious manner and I worry what that might entail – yet am incredibly anxious to find out at the same time. I also would love if this show continues using a mix of Yuki’s deluded visions of the world with reality, rather than just one or the other, as it creates a really amazing feeling and would further make you sympathize for her and possibly see her fall even deeper. The other girls I’m sure also are suffering from serious problems too – but she has by far the most interesting perspective for a viewer to see this world in alongside the truth. It’d be great if they could continue this level of fun, serious and heavy, and the subtlety shown especially this episode through the short haired book reading girl throughout the episode in dealing with Yuki throughout the rest of this and in how well the foreshadowing and hints were hidden but totally there. It feels like it’s a character study on how these girls handle this type of life, rather than anything else – at least based on this episode, and that could be fucking fantastic if it’s all handled this well. Hell, imagine if the show keeps this mix and continues pushing Yuki’s subconscious into her delusions with messages to herself and she starts waking up to the truth more and more because of the messages she sees from herself and ends up in a very bad place because of it?
Another aspect I love is that these are not just “zombies” – these are their friends, their classmates, their teachers. These are people they knew and were close with that they now have to run from or even, possibly, have to “kill”.
As a small aside before ending this, I really do want to reiterate that this was handled amazingly well in every way and without coming off as edgy or anything. I see a lot of people saying this or that about it was misleading – such as the opening – but I really disagree. If you are a retard who picks up anime without doing even the SLIGHTEST bit of research, sure, but anime assumes the viewer at least KNOWS THE BASIC FUCKING PREMISE OF THE SHOW. Saying this was ‘misleading’ sounds a lot like saying it was trying to pull the same edgy tryhard bullshit that Urobuchi got popular for with people who hadn’t heard of him prior – Madoka Magica – genuinely making a show appear as something it isn’t to trick viewers and even advertising and promoting the shows as something they are factually not. It never did that. Not to mention it’s pretty obvious about what it is even if you come in blind – they even zoom out and literally show zombies walking around outside the school way before the reveals, along with broken glass, and the writing on the chalkboard. Like yes, it tricks you and it’s pretty goddamn subtle – but at the same time it’s not being disingenuous.
This show could really end up something special, as long as they don’t squander what they now built it up to be. Now we wait, and by the end I won’t be surprised if Yuki’s psychosis turns violent or she takes accepting reality too harshly and she ends everyone’s suffering once and for all.