A dive into Megu-nee’s past becomes a crash course in how to nail a flashback episode.
I’m loving the way Gakkou Gurashi! is making fantastic use of the ‘twist’ it’s already revealed. The more we look at Megu-nee, knowing (but not completely knowing) her fate, the more we learn about and engage with the rest of the cast. We learn this week that she’s the reason the School Living Club exists, making her also, fittingly, the reason our cast are still alive today, giving them a good reason to be respectful to her other than just maintaining Yuki’s sanity. Had she not given Kurumi the talk she did, would she have been carrying her Senpai up to that roof? Where might she otherwise have been as the outbreak began, and would she have survived?
Then again, this episode also implies that Kurumi was the reason behind Yuki’s PTSD. The use of censorship during the scene she practically annihilated her lost love with a shovel was amazing. We’d already known about and seen some of this action before, but Gakkou Gurashi! managed to put us right in Yuki’s perspective, not being able to take or comprehend the carnage. As I noted last week, this show’s horror is breathtakingly about what lies inside our characters – their own fears and traumas – rather than trying to engage the viewer with what’s around them, and it pays dividends for a medium such as anime that can rarely get the shock factor from pure scares alone.
I’m wondering if every episode will be as richly varied in direction as this week’s. Blending Megu-nee’s recollection through her diary – a kind of cinematic ‘epistolary form’ told through old-fashioned film reel transitions – with shaky footage, the aforementioned incredible censorship and more dynamic shifts in tone than this blog can count, the show avoids being a mess of multiple styles and, through its engaging characters, strings them all together to make each instalment a feast for the eyes.
It works with the series being a shaking-up of the mundanity of slice-of-life that we saw (and got rightly bored of) in the first episode. There’s so much more realism – a connection to the instability of the characters, even – in having unstable cinematography that could change its style at a moment’s notice, or without any notice at all, which makes Yuki’s delusion, which we get more of towards the end of the episode, even more enjoyable to connect to.
Speaking of Yuki, the show seems to never shy away from complicating her consciousness further. We can quickly tell that she was never popular or welcomed in her class by how they talk about her, and the fact she clings so much to Megu-nee for support makes her even more of an outsider. Yet, the class are all her friends in her imaginary world. After seeing the bond she had with her teacher/friend, and the sense of belonging she always desired from her fellow students, how much more painful is it going to be as we watch her realise the truth? The ties she refuses to sever with the school are many, and the show still has time to add even more for us to fret over.
I’m also detecting a pattern in Yuki’s ‘love’ and how she often pauses the scene to announce it: she loves school life, but that’s dead; she loves Megu-nee, but she’s clearly under a cross on that roof (or so the show is trying to make us believe); she’s also said that she loves the School Living Club – will they all be living for the rest of the series? What other death-related twists will be in store for our gang? And what would another death do to Yuki’s already broken mind?
My focus for Gakkou Gurashi! is often on the tragic and unsettling, but the show also delivers great laughs through Yuki’s continual denial that her happy slice-of-life comedy has ended (or even existed in the first place). As much as I want it to keep up this great balance, a point-of-no-return will have to be reached eventually, and it’ll be remarkable if the show manages to suck all its mirth away. Uncomfortable, yes, but are any of us watching this for an easy ride? We’d have to be as deluded as Yuki to think that things are going to get better.
Now, what unbearable horrors will Miki’s backstory have in store?