Visiting the beach is a common mechanic in anime. Almost every series will feature the protagonists donning bikini and swim trunks at some point and having fun in the sand and surf, usually for an entire episode. It happens frequently enough to earn the mechanic the title of trope, though that is a word I strongly dislike, so I’ll be avoiding it as much as possible.
Personally, I prefer the term mechanic. Writing is the art, but the themes, moods, emotions, and plot points are all the mechanics of the art. Certainly, some mechanics are overused, or more commonly, used in the exact same manner between many different types of fiction, across many different mediums. This is the fault of the writers, not the mechanics. As such, giving the mechanics a term that is commonly used in a derogatory manner is a convenient way of avoiding holding writers themselves to a higher standard. It’s the “tropes” that are to blame, not the writers themselves for failing to find new ways to use old mechanics, or subverting them in interesting and unexpected manners.
Basically, I think blaming the “tropes” is a cheap way of sounding like a hipster. An obnoxious, overly self indulgent, smug, asshat of a human being that doesn’t know enough about the mechanics of writing to make a sound argument in the first place, but wants to act as if they do. If you want to make a reasoned argument about tired themes, try spending a little more time learning the mechanics of writing, and a little less browsing TVTropes.
I do give a pass to BookTrope, mind you, because they are my publisher, and I love them.
The beach visit mechanic actually is a pretty well worn theme in anime. Every series, from Fairy Tail, a show about wizards fighting battles for the fate of the world, to High School of the Dead, a show about the zombie apocalypse, has found a way to incorporate a beach episode. Mostly, it’s an excuse to show the female characters in skimpy bikinis and have the guys lose their swim trunks at some point. I’m more surprised when a show doesn’t manage to figure out how to have a beach episode than I am when one inevitably shows up.
All of which leads me to this weeks episode of Gakkou Garashi, which is basically their beach episode.
As I said, it’s always nice when writers find a way to subvert an overly used mechanic, or put a new spin on it. While this episode only really had anything interesting happen at the very start and the very end, I will give the writers points for doing something different with the practically obligatory beach theme. It wasn’t the strongest episode of the series, and probably ranks as the lowest point yet in what has been an amazing ride, but at least they made an effort to do something new, as well have a solid bit of reasoning behind why they did it.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get into the episode.
We open on Kurumi, Yuki and Taroumaru cleaning that giant pool that collects rain water and allows them to take a shower. As usual, Yuki’s kind of slacking, while Kurumi is taking the scrubbing way too seriously, and Taroumaru is sort of… scooting around.
Yuri is watching from a comfy place on a couch, under an umbrella, with Miki, who think this is all kind of a waste of time. After what they learned from the Emergency Manual in the previous episode, she feels like scrubbing down a water tank isn’t the best use of their time. Yuri blows this off, simply saying that it’s perfect pool weather.
After the slightly more disturbing than before opening credits, we skip back to that morning, and find out what lead the girls to don their bikinis and engage in a little tank scrubbing. We also find out what happened after they found the Emergency Manual, as Kurumi, Yuri and Miki go over the information contained within it. There’s one other fact they are struggling with, as well.
Namely, that there is the possibility Megumi knew all of this could happen. Though, as Miki points out, there are instructions to only open in the event of an emergency, so it’s possible Megumi didn’t learn of all this until after the fact. Either way, that she kept something like this from the girls is hard for them to handle, as it clashes with their image of her.
They also learn that there is a sub-basement, one that they didn’t know about before, and that there may be answers to their many questions down there. As they discuss this, Yuki shows up, prompting Miki to hide the folder. It turns out that Taroumaru slipped his leash while Yuki was talking him for a walk and got into the water tank atop the school. He’s now filthy, covered in slime and algae, and Yuki isn’t much better, but it has given her the idea they should spend the day cleaning the tank.
It’s also revealed that there are fish in the tank, making me wonder what the hell kinda tank it actually is. I mean, we’ve never really gotten a clear description of what purpose the tank serves, beyond catching rain water for the school to use, so why would there be fish in it? It’s just kind of a weird thing.
Yuri approves the project, as they all need time to collect their thoughts after what they have learned, and it’s probably a good idea as the tank really is nasty. It’s also not entirely used as a water source, but also for biology class, as it simulates an natural underwater environment, hence the fish. Mostly carp and trout, which have to be removed so they drain the tank and scrub it of all the algae that’s built up since the dead got pissy about being dead.
Yuki wants to swim in it after they get it clean, leading to Yuri pointing out it isn’t an actual pool. Before she can finish, Kurumi has dived in, splashing Yuri. She tries again, only to have Yuki do the same. Giving up, she lets them have their fun as she plays with Taroumaru.
Miki tries to pet him, as well, but is still getting the cold shoulder from the pup. After he bails to be with Yuki, she asks about the solar panels, and we learn a bit more about the strange structure of the school. While the solar panels provide power enough for the school, they also run the huge water purification system off to one side, which draws from both a nearby river, groundwater, and the tank they just cleaned.
Somebody was seriously ready for the zombie apocalypse. The question remains, however, why did all their preparation fail? That seems to be the main thing on Miki’s mind, and it’s on mine, too. What exactly went wrong here, that these four are the only survivors. Well, three really, as Miki was rescued from the mall. What happened to everyone else that the school was suppose to protect?
Then this happens.
The girls play around with a beach ball for a while, enjoying the tank as if it was a pool, and are generally cute. After while, Yuri settles back under the umbrella, messing with Miki’s CD player and its built in radio, but is having no luck. At least, until Yuki discovers some big ass water guns in a storage locker, leading to Yuri and Kurumi having an old west shootout. Yuri cheats with a water balloon, revealing that her nickname is actually The Balloon Bomb Sorceress.
It’s kinda dorky, but fun, and leads to Miki getting a water balloon to the face, prompting her to turn the hose on both of them, while Taroumaru chills under the umbrella.
As it gets late, Kurumi and Yuki are playing fetch with Taroumaru using a Frisbee as Yuri tries to get a radio station again. Miki notices, and is reminded of when Kei did the same. Yuri gives the CD player back, which brings Taroumaru over.The sound of the static makes the little dog act silly, and as he sniffs it, Miki realizes it probably still smells slightly of Kei.
Holding the player, she reaches out, petting Taroumaru’s head. He runs off after a minute, then comes back with the Frisbee. As Miki accepts it, the pup puts a paw on her knee, and finally, she can hug him again. Her joy is a beautiful thing. That slight connection, it means a lot to her.
This is about more than getting to play with a pet. Taroumaru is Miki’s last real connection to Kei. Sure, there’s the CD player, but that’s not the same thing. Taroumaru slept between them, and kept them going when they were trapped in that storage room. He is that tiny bit of hope she has that things can be better. When he allows her to hug him up again, Miki is regaining that hope.
With the sun setting, the girls put the fish back and head to get showers, and have a bit of banter. Mostly it’s having a bit of fun at Yuki’s expense, but it’s also a moment where Miki realizes she really is bonding with the others, and feels at home with them. Despite the horror at play around them, with the others, she can smile, laugh, play, and live. Just as Kei wanted.
While we can more or less surmise that Kei is dead and now a zombie roaming about somewhere, Miki hasn’t missed out on the fact that she is the one living the life Kei longed for, and the lack of prompted her to leave the safety of the storage room. It’s a bit bittersweet to her, but she feels that Kei would be happy about it, and tries to be happy herself.
As they head off for dinner and then bed, they decide to explore the sub-basement in the morning. Later, as they sleep, Taroumaru hears a strange sound in the distance and slips his leash to go find the source, leading him deep down into the school. As he closes in, it sounds almost like a cat.
Passing a rolling door, he steps into a passage, through which, Megumi approaches.
As I said at the top, not a lot of important stuff happens this week, with most of the heavy lifting on the plot being done in the opening and closing minutes. However, the writers do find a way to work in a beach theme to the show, while also tackling one of the realities of the situation the girls have, namely that the tank would need to be cleaned from time to time, so I give them a lot of credit for putting a new spin on a tired mechanic.
Like I feared last week, however, the very place the girls must go seeking answers is where Megumi now wanders, and somehow, I think the final three episodes of the show will be darker than anything before, meaning a light and fluffy episode this week was the shows way of giving us something sweet before plunging us into a nightmare.
With that closing scene, the image of Taroumaru walking alone makes me fear that none of the girls are going to survive long. With Megumi wandering up, the question becomes even more urgent, as this is the one thing Yuki is likely not going to be handle at all.
Somehow, I feel that the next three weeks are going to be heart breaking, and I can only hope that there show will get a second season. At the moment, for the girls of Gakkou Garashi, it’s the only hope I am allowed.
See you next week for Episode 10: Rainy Day