If you haven’t watched Gakkougurashi, I highly recommend you do before reading this. Spoilers abound.
I used to watch every single new anime that aired for three episodes. That’s a fairly standard practice and most people still continue to do it, not just in the blogging community but a fair amount of the entire anime community. I didn’t do it so I could write reviews or analyses; that wasn’t even on my radar at the time. I just thought that the only way to know if an anime was for me was to actually watch it. I still stand by that line of thinking. I also thought that I’d be able to find any hidden gems of the season.
After awhile, I almost got burnt out on anime altogether. I started to see recurring patterns in character archetypes, designs, settings, and even story arcs. It’s an inevitability really: both seeing recurring things and said things recurring. The former because of experience and the latter most likely a byproduct of how close-knit the community is. We see an anime do [x] and we love it. Thus, we want to try our hand on implementing our own version of it as both as an homage and attempt at refinement. There’s no malice in it. It simply happens.
I started to become an anime recluse; watching mostly slice of life because there was no grand narrative; it was just a bit of dumb fun in the moment. That’s why when Gakkou Gurashi came along, I felt as if I was saved. No synopsis or spoilers existed yet. I went in expecting to watch people enjoy their lives, that’s all. And you know what? I got that. I got that and so much more.
Let’s leave the psychological analyses for another day. I definitely want to revisit Gakkou Gurashi since it’s actually one of my favorite anime. There’s a ton to talk about like trauma, repression, pain threshold, attribution of emotion to color, mental illness treatment… Oh, it’s endless and so interesting, but another day to be sure.
Today, I’ll be talking about the brilliant unraveling of Gakkou Gurashi. I’m not gonna hold back any emotions in this review since I loved it that much. Because of that, it might read a bit differently than normal. It’s definitely me experimenting with a new style, but don’t think this is a facade. I’m not putting on a mask or anything of the sort. I genuinely write casually and semi-formally naturally. Speaking of personas, the manga I wrote about in my last article, From Now On We Begin Ethics, has a chapter dedicated to the concept. Check it out if you’re interested. Anyway, back to Gakkou Gurashi.
I really do hold Gakkou Gurashi very highly, perhaps higher than I even should, but the way it unravels is breathtaking. Twist after twist, all of which is perfectly foreshadowed beforehand, creates a picturesque viewing atmosphere. Being surprised by a twist is nothing special, but when a twist feels cathartic, you’ve done it right.
From the end of the very first episode, it punches the audience in the face. I talked about restraint in my Isekai Quartet article, so you might think that’s it hypocritical to praise this. However, there are exceptions to every rule and this is why it worked.
There was actually a lot of restraint shown. Sure, they did reveal a twist in the first episode. The thing is though, their restraint didn’t begin with the first episode. It began behind the scenes. The initial key visual was this:
Coupled with the release of that was its opening:
For those who didn’t read the manga, it was strictly a slice of life anime. Very rarely was it hinted in news sites that there was anything dark under the surface. This is a huge component of what makes the anime so great and I do attribute this “deceptive” marketing entirely to Gakkou Gurashi. After all, advertising and media don’t only serve to promote your product. They themselves can spin a narrative.
Check out this key visual that was released much later:
Then also look at how the actual anime opening evolves over time. It’s brilliant really.
If possible, I would’ve liked to link to a Code Geass publicity stunt they did a while back. I actually can’t find anything about it anymore though, but the gist of it is that a Code Geass themed announcement was made with a time, date, and location. When people gathered there, a metropolitan area with huge billboards and screens, said screens went to static. Silence captivated them for a short while until Lelouch appeared. In the middle of Japan, during a regular day, he was there. It was a great publicity stunt, especially since it mirrored the event in Season 2.
For something I actually have a video for: Joker’s inclusion in Smash. If you don’t know, Joker is from the game Persona 5 and is the leader of the Phantom Thieves. Thus, their hacking in The Game Awards broadcast was incredibly apt.
I’ve gone on a slight tangent, but to summarize, marketing is a core part to telling a story. Try and take advantage of it when possible.
This is all well and good, but how did Gakkou Gurashi sustain itself? They started with an absolute banger, but how did they keep up the momentum? There was never only one twist.
Admittedly, when people talk about Gakkou Gurashi and vaguely refer to “the twist,” they’re most likely referring to the first one. Yet, there’s so many twists and turns that it’s almost unfair. In my mind, the first twist wasn’t even the best twist. “Who is Megu-nee?” takes the cake for me.
If you’re reading this without watching the series and breathing in all these spoilers (you monster), Megu-nee is the teacher of the four girls on the key visual. While she’s supposed to be an adult, she’s very clumsy and instead serves as a source of emotional support. The thing is, she died before the first episode even began. Every time we see her, it’s simply Yuki imagining her presence. She can’t do anything and is a crutch for Yuki’s psyche.
Damn, I’m slipping into psychology again. I intended to talk about the incredible planning of Megu-nee instead. Since she doesn’t exist and only Yuki sees her, no character ever interacts with her except at Yuki’s behest. The amazing thing is that the continuity goes completely unbroken. Rewatch the series and you’ll see that she really does do nothing. You can catch her teleporting from scene to scene with no conceivable way for her to get there. Oh, but they still keep the pressure on as they compile another twist atop that twist! Megu-nee isn’t quite dead. To be clear, she’s undead. She’s still walking around as a zombie in the depths of the school.
Another beautiful twist that goes unexplained has to do with the setting itself. While its exterior is that of a regular high school, it has the ability to be fully self-sustained. The girls catch on to this and realize it’s too big of a coincidence. With enough searching, they found out that part of the school faculty were aware of a biological weapon (or weapons?) that would create zombies. Thus, the school would serve as a sort of sanctuary for the healthy.
“Why was that specific school built as a haven? Are there other locations like it? How many people were aware of the biological weapon?” We never get an answer and yet it adds more than it detracts. To understand why, think back to an anime called Girls’ Last Tour. In both Gakkou Gurashi and GLT, the goal isn’t to answer why they’re in such an apocalyptic state. The goal is simply to survive above all else.
So, even with this more cluttered style, what did we learn? Let’s recap.
1) Advertising and social media is a tool for much more than promotion. It can elevate what you’re trying to sell and can even tell its own story. Code Geass and Persona are good examples for thematic correctly publicity stunts. Of course, marketing antics on that level aren’t possible at the get-go. A possible alternative is what Studio Élan is doing right now with making audio logs. Theoretically, if you’re competent enough and have an appropriate setup, you can even record the script yourself. Whether there’s voice acting for the game itself is irrelevant.
2) Plot twists in a story shouldn’t be completely out of nowhere. Like any great mystery novel, the audience should be able to piece the next story beat together. Having them realize your intentions shouldn’t remove the emotion you want to evoke. Adding a surprise for the sake of it, one that your audience can’t see coming, is lazy writing. If you want to implement something like the “Who’s Megu-nee” twist, have the plot laid out before hand. Otherwise, you’ll end up with plot holes when you retroactively correct your story to account for said change.
What do you think of this style of writing? Did it reduce the article’s educational value? Did it add or detract from what I was trying to convey? Most importantly, did you still find it an enjoyable read? I found that by writing like this, I can probably crank out articles at a 3 day pace. For that reason, any feedback is greatly appreciated and will go a long way to molding this site.