After the surprising reveal at the end of the first episode, I jumped right back in for the second helping of Gakkou Gurashi!, and it did not disappoint. The show further distinguishes itself from contemporary zombie fiction by focusing on the characters over cheap thrills.
We open on Kurumi having a flashback, admitting that while she didn’t mind running, the real reason she joined the track team was to be closer to a boy she liked. A boy who would later turn into a zombie, and attack her.
Much as Yuki deals with the horrific reality by living in an idealized dream world, Kurumi has her own defense mechanism, seeing the zombies as being heavily obscured by black smoke, rendering them faceless. This comes into play shortly, but for now, she jerks awake from the nightmare she is having, reliving the day everything went to hell.
After the opening credits, we come back to see Yuki is oversleeping, yet again. Miki shows up to wake her so she doesn’t miss breakfast, but Yuki is lazy and refuses to get up, leading to Miki knocking her in the head with a ladle.
The two head to the club room, where they have some idle chatter, joined by Megumi. With that done, Yuki and Megumi head off so Megumi can give Yuki some private tutoring, as she sucks at school work. With them gone, the other girls take a moment to discuss how Yuki’s delusion is getting worse, with Miki filling them in on how she was talking to an empty classroom in the previous episode, and nearly left the school to go home.
They all realize there’s not much they can do about it, and decide to just keep trying to keep her safe for now. Nobody has any experience dealing with psychological trauma, as they are all high school students. With that settled, Kurumi decides to head out on patrol, while Yuri and Miki do inventory.
While they do, Yuri and Miki give us a bit of background. The crops atop the school are just about their only real food source, with the school store being outside their barricaded area. Solar batteries provide them with electricity, at least, for now. They discuss the zombies a bit, fearing the problem may be nationwide, but agree that it can’t be global. It’s their only hope that somehow, soon, they will be rescued.
Meanwhile, Kurumi is giving the barricades a good look over, finding the desk and bungee cord contraptions they’ve set up to be holding for the most part. It’s implied that they only had enough to cover access to the top floor of the school, where they are, while the other areas, such as the store and so on, are on lower floors, putting them at a severe disadvantage.
At one barricade, Kurumi sees a zombie loitering about, and after a bit of thought, and obvious fear, she distracts it with a ping pong ball long enough to get across and dispatch it with her shovel. However, a cell phone slides out of the zombies pocket, and a sticker on the back showing the girl it once belonged to with her boyfriend. The smoke that shrouds the zombie begins to fade, and Kurumi is about to be forced to see the zombie as the girl it once was. Before it can happen, she buries her shovel in its head.
As this is happening, Yuki is proving to be a terrible student, despite Megumi’s best efforts. The two rattle on about about the upcoming summer vacation, with Yuki declaring all the things she wants to do, while Megumi steadily grows more and more sad, then tries to cover it for Yuki’s benefit. As an extra moment of sorrow, we get this shot.
Yuri and Miki catch up to Kurumi on the roof as she cleans blood off her shovel. Yuri chastises her for taking an necessary risk, and the three watch the zombies down on the ground trail after a soccer ball as the wind blows it around. Yuri ponders whether or not, deep down, the dead have any inkling of their former lives, before Yuki bursts in to declare they will all be participating in a test of courage.
Yuri decides this is a good opportunity for the group to raid the school store downstairs, gathering some supplies they need. It’s easier if Yuki thinks it’s part of the test of courage. As they cross the barricade, we get a brief glimpse of the zombie Kurumi killed earlier. Apparently, she pulled it into a classroom and left the body in a peaceful pose. She quickly closes the door so no one else sees it.
Megumi appears out of nowhere, and wait… what? How did Megumi get there? And why was Yuki the only one to notice her? For that matter, why did no one else say anything to her until Yuki did? God dammit show! Is Megumi part of Yuki’s delusion? Cause, that’s freaking cold!
Megumi begins to explain the test, but gets talked over by Yuri, and yes, folks, Megumi is only a figment of Yuki’s imagination. Holy shit. I’m guessing since everyone else knows her name, she was one of their teachers, likely now a zombie wandering the lower part of the school.
Nah, I didn’t ever need to feel joy again, Gakkou Gurashi!
The group heads to the store, rounding up supplies, including a bucket to carry stuff in. Yuki raids the candy, leading to a pretty good sight gag as everyone falls in to her Nummy Stick appreciation.
The store run done, they head over to the library to grab some books for Miki to read, and to help Yuki with her studies. Everyone knows she’s living in a delusion, but rather than drag her back to the harshness of reality, they have chosen to let her be happy, and do what they can to keep her alive.
With Miki and Kurumi guarding the door, Yuri leads Yuki into the library. Yuki promptly runs off, because she’s regressed to the emotional age of about ten. Followed by imaginary Megumi, she misses the groan that sets Yuri on edge. After a brief look around, she catches a glimpse of a zombie moving around the library, and there is no doubt, she is scared to death.
Megumi catches up with Yuki, who’s browsing manga titles. Yuki sees the zombie among the bookshelves, and decides it must be a ghost, part of the test of courage. Megumi looks terrified, and hides Yuki around the edge of the bookshelf, urging her to be quiet. As the zombie moves closer, the two hunker down.
Yuri races back to Miki and Kurumi, and the girls quickly come up with a plan to lure the zombie away from Yuki, who they know is completely alone, and likely to not recognize the danger she is in. Megumi assures Yuki, who is now terrified of the ‘ghost’, that her friends care about her, and will protect her. As she says this, Miki begins pounding on the bucket she snagged back at the store, luring the zombie towards her. As it approaches, we see both she and Yuri in absolute terror of the thing before Kurumi dispatches it.
The girls recover Yuki, who is alone, until she states that Megumi protected her. At that point, Megumi appears, and the girls thank her. They know she isn’t there. They know she’s dead. For Yuki’s sake, for her sanity, they play along.
They head back, calling it a night, after some good natured poking at Yuki about how she’s likely to repeat a grade.
We return to Kurumi’s nightmare, where the boy she had a crush on is attacking her. We see her take up a shovel, and kill him, to protect herself. She awakes, terrified, as by her side, Yuki mutters in her sleep about repeating a grade with Kurumi. Holding Yuki’s hand, she goes back to sleep with a smile.
Two episodes in, and this show has nailed the horror element perfectly. Not just by way of the delusion Yuki lives in to shelter herself from the nightmare reality, but now with Kurumi not allowing herself to see the zombies as her former classmates, teachers, friends, and love interest. Each of them, in their own way, has fractured to cope with the situation.
There are no badass heroics here, either, just the desperate struggle to stay alive. They don’t take risks, they conserve what they have, and when it comes to it, they work as a team to deal with a threat. Well, mostly. Kurumi has shown a tendency to jump the gun and face the dead by herself, but even then, she only takes on one, and she’s smart in how she does it.
The girls are clearly terrified, and desperately clinging to any hope, no matter how vague or vain it may be, just to keep moving. After two episodes, this show has all the makings of a horror classic, and I find myself deeply invested in their struggle. Like them, I am holding out the vain, completely unreal hope that they will all make it out of this alive.
With what has already been done, with the dark places the show has already gone after only two episodes, though, I know this hope for what it is, just as they do.
It’s a lie. A cruel, yet necessary, lie.
The next episode airs on the 22nd, so I’ll back on the 23rd to catch you up on what’s happened to the girls of Gakkou Gurashi!
Remember, you can catch the show yourself, being simulcast over at Crunchyroll.