Having graduated their high school last volume, in School-Live! Volume 6, the girls take a graduation road trip to the college St. Isidore. While one sidebar follows a radio broadcast only to find the operator dead from suicide, our new freshmen’s ‘rush week’ does result in upping their membership when Rii rescues a young girl. Along the way, they dodge this series’ slow and unusually antisocial zombies. Every now and then a living dead loner pops up out of the shambles of this or that building to fulfill their contract as an extra, and provide some local color to this zombie tale.
I generally dislike zombie fiction. With some exceptions like Shaun of the Dead and iZombie, little of it is life-affirming, and moreover, much of it uses the conventions of the subgenre to excuse lazy storytelling and provide a great example for Sturgeon’s Law. Don’t want to tie those story arcs in a bow? Kill ‘em and zombify them. Most of the weak characters in zombie fiction deserve it, too, so that I’m usually Team Zombie and rooting for the army of the undead to grow, that being my only way to enjoy watching that tripe (double entendre intended). Reading all those E.C. horror reprints when I was a kid may have raised the bar for my enjoyment of horror, but I do still enjoy some horror, such as Junji Ito’s Gyo or Tomie. Science fiction horror, like Alien. Just not zombie horror. When it’s not lazy, it’s usually still boring.
Enter School-Live!, which—spoiler alert—is a shojo manga in the zombie genre, a subgenre of shojo that this comic probably has all to itself. To be clear, the shojo angle is dominant, as this is principally a life-affirming story of the friendship of young women, with the added twist that it’s a life-affirming story of the friendship of young women surviving the horror-show around them. While the zombies are often, particularly in this volume, consigned to the backdrop, that backdrop is a bleak one, with the living being a definite minority in a land of the dead, walking or not.
Moreover, the heroines of School Live! are constantly reminded of the contrast between the horror that is and the way things were because one of them had a break with reality during the zombie attack, believes everything is just as it was, and constantly needs to be protected, both in body and in mind. This psychological wrinkle adds a dimension of reality to the story and reminds us how fragile we humans are, mentally as well as physically. If there was a real zombie attack, wouldn’t there be three distinct groups: humans, zombies, and the raving mad that can’t adjust to the new world?
Not unlike a first peek into the Tardis, School-Live! made my mind explode a little bit, as most unexpected juxtapositions do, whether the faith-wizards of pre-midichlorian Star Wars, Stephen King’s gunslinging fantasy The Dark Tower, or the fairy tale / space opera Saga. For the first time since Shaun of the Dead, I am not Team Zombie, and moreover, I am enraptured by a tale that has moved past the non-stop whining and groaning of zombie-horror-packaged-as-survival-literature to find a truly melancholic tone. I want these young women to live, and when I write that, I don’t mean that I want them only to ‘survive’—they deserve a better fate than the mumblers and grumblers of The Walking Dead, who, in sucking up all the survival that they can, have become the true dead men walking of that series—I want the School-Live club to have their college freshman experience and to enlarge their friendship.
While I have never had a favorite zombie comic before this, I can tell you that School-Live is not only my favorite zombie comic, I’m looking forward to read more. Right now, it’s one of the freshest, most original, comics available. Although…I’m a little concerned that it may be difficult to keep the series concept fresh and honest at the same time, as the journey to St. Isidore is obviously a way to cling to the School concept of School Live. What’s next for these young women? Cooking schools? Police academies? Not that I wouldn’t appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humor of that.
Yen Press sent the review copy.