If you haven’t seen school-live (Gakkou Gurashi!) Go away…. You can come back after you’ve watched it. I’m not mad or anything, I’m doing this for you!
I haven’t reviewed school-live. It’s a show that thrives in its reveals and looses a bit of its polish once the mysteries are unraveled but I still quite enjoyed it. The first few episodes were fantastic if you ask me. The original reveal of the infection in episode one took me completely by surprise. I couldn’t close my mouth for 5 minutes. Let me tell you, I looked like a genius.
However, if that first reveal left me dumbfounded, it’s the reveal of Sakura Megumi’s fate that left me completely shattered. More than anything else in the series, having that last beacon of reason and hope ripped away from us without warning, forcing us to yet again reevaluate everything we thought we knew, is what carried the tense bleak tone of the series home and secured its reputation as more than a mere gimmick show.
Such cruel and unforgiving handling of such a sweet, truly wonderful character. Of course, I loved it.
When we meet Megu-nee, as she is affectionately called by her students, we are shown a gentle young woman who cares deeply for her charges and will do anything for them. She’s young, this is in fact her first job, and eager to prove herself, but even more than that, she’s hopeful. Bright eyed and idealistic, she sees herself as a shepherd and protector of her students. And as a viewer, I looked to her for comfort as well. I could tell that she was frazzled, I mean who wouldn’t be, but it was ok, she’d take care of all of us, she’d try her hardest!
It’s sort of expected, that when the narrative suddenly goes into flashback for the sole purpose of developing and detailing a particular character’s backstory, things are likely not to bode well for said character. It makes sense, if the production wants the death or set back of a character to resonate with the audience, they have to care about that character on some level. On the other had, spending time and resources on a character that’s going to be irrelevant by episode 3 isn’t always the most reasonable approach for cash strapped animation studios. The easiest compromise is to give use just enough backstory so that the audience can begin to form some type of connection, then immediately rip it away before they’ve had the time to forget. It may be cliché, it may be cheap, but generally, it works.
So when School-live decided to take a step back to before the spread of the infection, to show us a lovably befuddled Megumi trying to get her bearings at her new job, I was bracing myself for the worst. We were smack dab in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, obviously all the characters were in inherent danger and it was more than likely that not all would survive. In fact, as the only adult, Megumi was a prime candidate for sacrifice to begin with… But I was still sad and that falshback made it worse.
It humanized our savior. It showed us the cracks and fragility behind the forced smile and controlled calm tone. They actually took the time to create a lovely, vibrant young woman, with dreams, and aspirations, and fears and insecurities and even some prejudices. Fresh and pretty, full of hope for the future. If Megumi had been a salve for all our pains before, she seemed like a real friend now. The type of young woman that makes for a perfect teacher and that’s probably the biggest compliment I can give.
I obviously knew what was coming, I expected fully that we would revert back to the present and I would have to hold back tears and screams as this truly likable lady became lost to all of us. I wasn’t happy about it but I was resigned. My friend was going to die. I expected it to be brutal, the show had already shown a certain viciousness towards its cast. I expected it to be sad, our already beaten down little group of survivors weren’t really equipped to deal with yet another set back. This would probably break Yuki beyond repair. I expected it to be drawn out and melodramatic and often recounted throughout the run of the series. I did not expect it to happen before the flashback was over!
In a show that had already played with my expectations so much, this was a severe blow. Not only do I lose my friend but I have to deal with the fact that I never actually met her at all. Not really. I have to reset my understanding that the dire and hopeless situation these girls are in, never even included the warmth and security of a kind teacher looking over them. That the one beacon of light that we had to hold onto, was nothing more than a PTSD symptom.Well now, that’s new….
School-live, to me, never quite lived up (is that pun?) to the promise of its opening act. It flatters a bit in the middle and is ultimately much more forgettable than such a premise should be. But at its best, it’s a pretty incredible show that knows how to get a reaction out of its audience, and that best is personified in Megumi. Not only did they bother to flesh out a stock character well beyond what anyone expected, creating a flawed and deeply lovable creature out of what should have been a stereotype, but they then threw all of that right out the window as well.
An epitome of deceitful storytelling. Megumi, I would have liked to have met you.