Well, this episode was a doozy.
I know in the past I’ve had a tendency to go on about things before getting to the recap itself, but this week, I’ll be keeping it brief. Mostly because the episode itself deserves to be the highlight this week, but also because I’m trying to get my chaotic thoughts in order in the aftermath of having watched it.
One thing that struck me as the penultimate episode of this truly amazing series played out was that life is not fair. It never has been. It’s cruel, and capricious, and we little humans are carried along the winds of its whim. We’ve forgotten that, somewhere along the way. Not all of humanity, certainly, but a good sized section of it. Especially here where I live in the U.S.
We think everything should be fair, when it isn’t. We try to force it, giving medals for participation, so everybody feels special. We file lawsuits against the unfairness of life, in an attempt to force reality to bend to our desires, be it so we can play on the high school football team, never mind our physical capabilities, or to try and force our viewpoint on others in a sham of the concept of fair.
Life isn’t fair, though. It shouldn’t be, either. It is only through struggle and loss, through failure, that we learn how to grow, and find that which we are good at. When we have things handed to us, in this misguided attempt to be fair, we fail to learn how to live with disappointment. When we never lose, we don’t understand what it means to win. Loss and failure are critical parts of life. We need them, for without them, we cannot become better, stronger, kinder people.
Today, on Gakkou Garashi, failure is everywhere, and it is the impetus the girls need to survive.
We begin where we left off. Kurumi found Taroumarau, and Megumi, was bitten, and now, fights for her life. Miki, determined to save her, collapses under the weight of despair. Yuri struggles to find a way out of the impossible choice she faces. Yuki’s delusion begins to collapse, all as zombies break through the barricades, and draw ever closer to the girls.
It is fitting, in many ways, that the first person to see them is Yuki. Alone, caught in a clash between her need for her delusion, and her need to see reality as it is, she faces the hungry dead as they encroach on the safe haven the girls have made for themselves. Alone, Yuki faces the nightmare she has fought so hard to keep at bay.
She can no longer hide from it, though. The zombies are here, and there is no escaping the horrific reality. In the bedroom, as she watches over Kurumi, Yuri hears Yuki scream. Already shaken, she is paralyzed with fear and doubt as a zombie shuffles past the open door. In that moment, Yuri knows, time’s up. She can no longer afford to wait for Miki. She must choose now.
Down the hall, Miki, lost in her grief and hopelessness, can only look up and watch as the dead lumber towards her. There is nothing left. No will to live, no strength to either fight or flee. The crushing despair is too much. So, Miki simply sits, and waits to die, as she did before.
Again, it is fitting, in every way, that it is Yuki who saves her. Tackling her to give them a brief bit of space from the zombies, Yuki takes up Kurumi’s shovel, ready to fight if she must, to protect those dear to her. Once more, she has saved Miki from certain death, and a fate far worse than that even. In her determination, Miki sees a glimmer of hope.
After the opening credits, Yuki and Miki huddle in the club room as the zombies beat on the doors. Yuki locked them, so they are safe for now. Down the hall, Yuri can only watch as Kurumi fights against the virus, a battle she cannot win. Elsewhere, the zombies have overrun everything, even the roof, where a lightening strike damages the solar batteries, cutting power to the building.
As everything goes dark, the storm raging outside, Miki asks Yuki to say something silly. What she’s asking for, really, is hope, from the one source that has always had it to offer. She is counting on Yuki’s ability to find joy in a world where it has been eaten alive, screaming as it was devoured, and true to her nature, Yuki finds it. She talks of the things she wants to do with the others as the seasons turn, telling Miki of her hopes for a future. To Miki, these are the dreams of a world where they are all alive, happy, and safe, the very thing she finds she is now willing to fight for, even if it is against impossible odds.
Driven by Yuki’s wishes, Miki stands, gathering what she’ll need to reach the sub basement, taking the emergency manual and Kei’s CD player. Yuki wants to go with her, but Miki refuses, telling her to stay, that if Taroumaru returns and no one is there, he’ll be sad. Miki knows the little pup isn’t coming back, but she also knows Yuki isn’t aware of what’s happened. It is a moment of kindness on her part, repaying the hope that Yuki has given her. With the zombies having wandered off, she slips away, leaving Yuki where it is safe.
Racing down the hall, she encounters a zombie, and strikes it as hard as she can with the shovel. To her shock, it slowly stands back up, making her realize just how heavy the shovel is, and how hard it actually is to take down a zombie. Kurumi always made it look easy, not just because she was strong, but because she was certain in her strikes. Miki is not, her fear of the dead still pushing her to back away.
In the bedroom, Yuri can only listen as Kurumi screams and thrashes, the virus consuming her. She can’t block it out, no matter how hard she tries, no more than she can the memories of Kurumi asking her to kill her if she is ever bitten. In her lap is the knife. She knows what she has to do, not only to honor the promise she made, but to protect herself from the thing that Kurumi will soon become.
Elsewhere, Miki hunkers behind a corner, catching her breath and getting a lay of things before proceeding. She spots the poster Yuki made for the sports meet, and thinks on the things the others girls have given her. Not just life, but hope. Determined, she pushes on.
On the roof, the solar batteries catch fire and explode, setting fire to the zombies around them. As they flail about, many collapse into the garden, setting their only source of food on fire as well. As a safe haven, the school is finished. Even if the girls survive, they will have to do it elsewhere.
Back downstairs, Miki finds herself trapped between a group of zombies trying to get past a barricade, and another coming up the stairs. With no way out, she pulls the CD player from her pack, asking Kei to be with her, and sets it atop the barricade, playing the song from the end credits of Episode 4, Kaori Oda singing “We Took Each Other’s Hands”, a piece that plays over much of what happens next.
I have a lot of feelings about this, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
With the zombies distracted by the music, she is able to slip through them, hiding in a doorway until the rest of the path is clear. Tossing a ping pong ball to get past the stragglers, she almost runs face first into another, but collects herself and knocks it down to escape.
Yuri, however, has no escape. As the song plays, she remembers the trip back from the mall, and a conversation she and Kurumi had, where Kurumi asked if Yuri thinks the dead are aware. Kurumi hopes they aren’t, not just because she had to kill so many of them, but because it seems such a cruel fate. She isn’t certain of that, though, which is why she asked Yuri to kill her if the need arose. She doesn’t want to take the chance that there will be some part of her that is aware as she tries to kill her friends.
As the song ends, Yuri stands, taking the knife in hand, vowing to keep her promise.
Meanwhile, Miki has reached the sub basement, the trail of blood Kurumi left telling her she is in the right place. Sliding under the door, she comes face to face with Megumi. She knows it was her that took Taroumaru from them, and more shaken than she expected, falls back. Outside the doorway, she is safe for a moment as the zombie Megumi struggles against it.
She takes that brief moment to tell Megumi that the girls are safe, well, and happy. To thank her for protecting them, and in doing so, saving her life as well. Though this is the first time she has ever actually met Megumi, she feels that she owes her at least this, to assure her that her efforts were not in vain. As Megumi grasps her ankle under the door, Miki asks her to rest in peace and drives the shovel down, ending her.
Upstairs, Yuki gasps out. In the hallway, the CD player falls and breaks. In the sub basement, an alarm goes off, a automated voice announcing that main power has been lost, and emergency power is now running. The zombies, hearing the alarm, head towards it.
Miki reaches the room we have seen Megumi in before, where she was writing, and finds a lot of emergency supplies, including what appears to be a cure for the newly infected. Hidden in a footlocker, Megumi’s bloody hand prints are all over it, telling of her struggle to reach it before she was too far gone. The writing in the journal on the desk confirms that, for whatever reason, she wasn’t able to get into the footlocker, or possibly realized she was too far gone for it to save her. Regardless, Miki sees her last scribblings, the names of the other girls, and below them, a single word, scrawled out with the last of her strength before she was gone.
Upstairs, Yuki struggles with her delusion. We watch her fight against a tide of students, trying to reach Yuri, Kurumi and Miki as they head away from her. She can’t reach them, and they don’t seem to hear her. Screaming, she begs them not to leave her behind. As she does, Megumi asks her what she’s doing. Yuki tells her she was trying to reach the others, and Megumi tells her they are already in class, and that she should join them.
When Yuki opens the door, she does see the others standing in the room, but she also sees the room as it really is. Broken windows, desks, all covered in dried blood, Yuki faces reality. All of it is presented in such a wonderfully symbolic way. The sharp divide between her delusion and reality, and the need for her to choose between them.
Back downstairs, Miki hurries to try and reach Kurumi with the cure, but finds the passageway now clogged with zombies, all of whom were drawn by the alarm. There’s no way she can fight through them, and trying to go back will lead her to a dead end. Falling back, she opens a door, allowing Taroumaru to escape, before diving into the room.
The zombies beat at the door as she tries to hold it closed. Once more, Miki is in a tiny room, with no way out. Despite everything that has happened, she sees no escape, only that she will, after all, die in a tiny room, trapped. She gives her apologies to the others as the zombies break through the door.
In the club room, Yuki stands. Megumi asks her what’s wrong, and Yuki tells her she has to go. She doesn’t know why, but she feels that if she doesn’t act, she’ll lose the others. Megumi tells her to go to the broadcast room, and taking a bat, she heads out. Realizing the zombies were likely drawn to the alarm from earlier, she still goes slow, finding her way carefully, but she is aware of much of what is happening now.
She is also aware that the others may already be dead. This thought nearly paralyzes her, but a memory returns of when she and the others were putting up the barricades. As she is smaller than the rest, and weaker as well, she struggled to be of help, and knew she was only a burden to them. Back then, Yuki realized she could offer nothing to their survival. She remembers Megumi telling her that wasn’t true, that her smile helped them all stay strong. It gave them hope, and the strength they needed. Megumi asked her to promise that, no matter what, she would always keep smiling.
Yuki watches this memory play out before her, ghosts reenacting the scene, and begins to cry quietly, until the phantom Megumi looks at her, and smiles. Startled by that, Yuki gasps, and the phantoms are gone. She hears Megumi call to her, and follows her voice to That Door. The one Megumi gave her life to keep closed, so the others would live.
Yuki admits that she is now aware of her delusion, and the burden it’s been to the others. That she has kept her eyes closed to the scary things, and let the others do the hard things. She admits she is scared to open her eyes, but knows that if she doesn’t she’ll lose everything she cherishes, and that scares her a lot more.
Megumi asks her to remember her promise, that she always keep smiling. Yuki vows that she will never forget. Megumi whispers something to her, and is gone. Yuki throws open the door to an empty hallway. On the roof, as the ribbon tied around the cross the girls put up in Megumi’s honor comes loose and is carried away by the wind, Yuki finally says goodbye to her.
So many things to talk about with this episode, I almost don’t know where to even begin. It’s intense, frightening, powerful, and emotional. Truly, it is worthy of being the penultimate episode of this absolutely amazing series. Especially with the music. It is so incredibly on point, all through the episode, driving everything from the urgency, to the horror, to the emotion of every scene home with precision. It’s perfect.
Speaking of which, the use of the Kaori Odo song was excellent, as we circle back around to Miki’s fear, and how she fights to overcome it. She’s come a long ways from that girl who was too afraid to leave the storage room. Now, she faces the zombies head on, for the sake of a friend. Where she once tried to stop Kei from stepping through the door to find help, she is now the one doing it, and the song does an excellent job of bringing the significance of that around.
As for the girls, though we see little of her in the episode, there is Yuri’s choice. She made a promise to Kurumi that, should she ever get infected, Yuri would kill her. Now that she is not only infected, but turning, despite how hard she fights against it, Yuri struggles with the weight of that promise. As soon as she saw the zombie in the hall, she knew, there was no chance of Miki returning with the medicine, that the only thing left to her was to kill Kurumi. Yet, she can’t do it. It’s too much to ask, too much to do. It is, dare I say, unfair.
Then there’s Miki, who not only uses clever tactics to avoid fighting the zombies, but reaches the sub basement, and finally, puts Megumi’s zombie to rest. She finds not just medicine, but a cure for the virus, only to find her way back blocked, forcing her into the same position she was in before the others rescued her. Trapped, in a tiny room, with no way out, no hope, doing nothing but waiting to die. It is, once more, unfair.
Finally, we have Yuki, who must face reality, and shed her delusion, if she is to save the others. Only she is in a position where she can, by reaching the school’s broadcast room, and using the P.A. system to pull the zombies away. Much as the sub basement is running on emergency power, the broadcast system likely has backup power for emergencies as well, something that part of her knows. As we saw in way back in episode two, her delusion of Megumi exists to help keep her safe, directing her away from danger, and towards helpful things.
Yuki knows, though, that letting go of her delusion means letting go of Megumi, of facing the fact she is dead, and coming to terms with that. For the good of the others, she does it, too, because she must. It is the only hope any of them have.
It’s unfair, too. It’s unfair that Megumi died, that Kurumi is dying, that Yuri can do nothing but bear witness, that Miki is trapped, and Yuki must let go of her dream. All of it is unfair. Yet, in that unfairness, there is growth. There is a chance. There is hope.
Life is not fair. None of us ever really get what we want from it, not even those who seem to have it all. It is important to face failure, and loss, for it is how we learn, and grow. It is how we become stronger, better people. It is how we learn humility, kindness, compassion, and empathy. Life is unfair, because it must be, in order for us, such frail little creatures that we are, to have struggles that teach us how to live.
We are all Yuki, living in a dream we want so much to be true, that we blind ourselves to reality. Like her, we must all face that, someday, not just for ourselves, but for those we care about, and care about us. We must all face the unfair cruelty, the pain, suffering, sorrow, and loss, if we are to live.
Next week, the series finale: Graduation.