Here we are, facing the end. What a grim end it seems to be, too. Miki is trapped in a storage room in the sub basement, zombies forcing their way in, the cure a dying Kurumi desperately needs in her hands. Yuri, unable to keep her promise, can only watch as Kurumi dies a slow, painful death. Yuki, forced to give up the delusion that has kept her sane after Megumi’s death, can save them all, but only if she can reach the P.A. system through a hoard of zombies.
To underscore the harsh reality the girls face, we begin, not with the opening credits, but simply with this. It sets the tone better than anything else could.
Yuki races through the halls, having let go of Megumi, bat in hand, determine to fight for what she holds dear. A flash of lightening illuminates the silhouettes of a group of zombies around the corner. Pausing, she sees them as they seem to feed on someone. Who, we can’t see. It could be another zombie, or a person, but we never see well enough to know, and that is bothersome.
Not bothersome in that the show doesn’t explain what, but because of the possibility that, given reason, the dead will eat their own. That is incredibly unsettling in and of itself. While one of the main things that makes zombie fiction horrific is the idea of mass cannibalism, so taking it that step further is somehow even more nightmarish.
Whatever it is they have decided to eat, it gives Yuki a moment to try and plan how to get past them. She may not be the smartest of the girls, but she has proven herself fairly resourceful, and upon spotting a fire extinguisher, that quality comes into play. Grabbing it, she rounds the bend and sprays them down.
Unfortunately, the extinguisher has grown weak, and doesn’t last long. Tossing it away, she uses the momentary confusion of the zombies to dart through, running past them as fast as she can, praying that her friends are still safe.
Downstairs, Miki retreats to the top of a line of shelves, just out of reach of the dead. She is trapped, and she knows, it’s only a matter of time before they get to her. She thinks of Kei, envisioning her, as she last saw her, one last time, and apologizes for never being able to see her again.
In the bedroom, Yuri holds Kurumi’s hand as she screams and thrashes around, her battle against the virus already a lost cause. No matter how strong she is, she can only hold it off for so long, and rather than take her life, Yuri seems to have given up all hope, and simply waits to die as well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music here. Dramatic and powerful, yet never obtrusive, it captures the depth of the danger the girls are in, the fading hope, the loss and futile struggle they each face, alone. For a show that has been about relying on another to not just survive, but to stay sane, the score here is used to emphasize the fact that they are all now separated, facing an impossible situation, and know that there isn’t any way out. Yet, even in that, it also manages to capture the determination of Yuki to not give up, to keep fighting, to find a way through. It’s astoundingly well done.
Pressing on, Yuki sees the broadcast room, and with it only a few feet away, finds her way blocked by zombies. Using the bat, she swings for all she’s worth, but it is nowhere near enough. She’s too small, too weak, and though the bat connects, it doesn’t even faze the zombie, who yanks it away from her. Shocked, terrified, she seeks some other way past, only to have another zombie grab her backpack and pull her to the ground. Surrounded on all sides, she can only watch as they hungry dead descend on her.
Her salvation comes from the least likely of directions as Taroumaru arrives, leaping at the zombies, knocking them down. Yuki scrambles back, at first thankful to see the pup, until she realizes what’s happened to him. Retreating, she gets the broadcast room door open, then turns back, looking at Taroumaru as he growls and advances on her. He may be infected, but he’s still one of them, a member of the School Living Club, and she cannot turn her back on him.
Taking off her hat, she uses it to catch him, holding his head inside it as she closes the door. Collapsing against it for a moment, she just holds the little pup, petting him, both grateful he saved her, and devastated that he has been lost to them. For a moment, I feared the show would go to the darkest of places, and have her end his suffering.
Instead, she apologizes for not being able to help him, and traps him in a locker before going to the P.A. system and turning it on. What follows is, in many ways, one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen.
Yuki knows now that the zombies do retain some vestige of their former selves. They are not in control, the virus that has infected them, and reanimated the dead, controls them fully, but there is still a flicker of who they were inside. Taroumaru’s actions have proven that to her. Hellish as that is, it is in that knowledge that she finds a way to save them all.
Back in the first episode, as Yuki ran through the seemingly normal halls, she had a voice over, a bit of a monologue about how much she loved school. She talked about the science classroom, the music room, and how nowhere else could you find a place like a school, with so much inside. It was like a different country unto itself. That monologue was upbeat, happy, and truly filled with love and passion.
Now, she repeats it. Her voice is heavy with sadness as she says these words again over the P.A. system, asking if the other students who have been infected love the school as much as she does. She knows they must, because they always come back to it. However, school is now closed, and they need to go home. She thanks them, for everything, and urges them on. Slowly, they do as she says, drawn by the sound of her voice over the speaker system, and that so faint memory of who they once were.
As the storm ends, both literally and figuratively, the sun breaking through the clouds as it sets in glorious colors, the dead wind their way out. With the way clear, as Yuki wishes them farewell, and hopes they all meet again someday, Miki races through the halls as fast she can.
The beauty of this scene is not just in what she says, but how well animated it is. The setting sun shining in through the windows on Yuki as she speaks, illuminating her, as she finally sets herself free of her need for her delusion, and remembers the friends she had before the world went to hell, as well as the ones she has now. In both the event, and the symbolism, it is stunning.
I will not lie. I was in tears at it all. It would not be the last time this episode, this grand and beautiful finale, moved me so deeply, either.
Yes, Yuki, all things, even the best of things, must end. Sad though it is, hard as it is, it is truly always for the best, even when it hurts. Thank you, too, senpai.
The next morning, Miki and Yuki hold each other as they sleep. Across the room, Yuri sleeps as well, her head resting on Kurumi, an empty syringe nearby, as our resident shovel wielding fighter lies peacefully on the couch. As Yuki wakes up, she sees Kurumi sit up, look down at Yuri for a moment, then over to Yuki. With a smile, and a twinkle in her eye, Kurumi shushes her, least she wake the others.
Yuki is having none of that. Squealing in joy, she dives across the room to hold Kurumi as she sobs in joy, waking Miki and Yuri both. For Yuri, it is the end of a long nightmare as she stares up at Kurumi, tears in her eyes. True to herself, Kurumi simply wishes her good morning, and gets one back before Yuri collapses into grateful tears as well.
Across the room, Miki watches as they hold one another, thankful, but not moving to join them, at least, not yet. As she smiles, Taroumaru fumbles about in his box, and yes, they gave the cure to the little pup as well. He seems to have responded, and though he’s weak, he is himself once more. Overwhelmed, Miki goes to him.
Helping him out of the box, they offer him a little food, and he eats a bit, before coughing. Miki gathers him into her lap and holds him, offering him a bit of water from her hand, which he laps at. That he is safe, and whole again, is everything to her. Back at the mall, he lead the others to her, and saved her life, just as he did Yuki in the hallway outside the broadcast room.
She thanks him as she holds him, and he looks up at her, tongue sticking out, moving her to tears. Then, quietly, surrounded by the girls he loved, and loved him, he slips free of his mortal leash, and is gone.
The girls decide to bury him in the burned out remains of the garden atop the school, with Yuki placing her bloodstained hat in the grave along side the little pup. She asks if Miki is okay, and she claims to be fine. Taroumaru saved her life, and she should see him off with a smile. Yuki tells her that’s not right.
This scene. Damn it, Gakkou Gurashi. Why you gotta make me cry so much.
“If you bottle up your sadess to much, you’ll forget what’s really important,” she says as she removes her uniform ribbon and ties it about the cross the girls put up to remember Megumi. Those whispered words we could not hear last episode, the words that drove Yuki to throw open That Door, were her memory of Megumi’s last words to them, spoken as she saved them all.
“I’m so glad I got to be your teacher.”
These were the words that Yuki could not bear to remember, for they were a goodbye. In a world where everyone they had known, everyone they had loved, had been turned into zombies, to hear a goodbye from the person who had kept them alive, together, and safe, it was more than she could bear. They were the words that sent her into a delusion of safety and happiness.
Yuki tells Miki that she had forgotten those words for a long time. She tells her that when something sad happens, it’s okay to be sad, and that you don’t always have to be fine. She asks her to never forget Taroumaru’s last words to her. Miki, not understanding, tries to argue that he didn’t say anything, but Yuki stops her. She tells her he did. He said thank you.
When Taroumaru passed, the others cried, but Miki simply sat in shock. She alone, the girl who was too afraid to leave that tiny room, is the only one, as far as she knows, to have survived it. The weight of that left her numb. Now, however, in the face of what Yuki has said, Miki gives in to her grief, and sobs as Yuki holds her. She was not ready to say goodbye, no more than Yuki was, but with the help of those who understand her grief, she can face it.
As the others gather around to hold her, they all say goodbye to those who saved them, and are no longer able to continue the journey at their sides.
Later, the girls take stock of their food supplies. With the loss of the solar batteries, they will need to do something about the food that needed refrigeration. Water will soon become an issue as well. While the emergency power from the sub basement will run things for a short time, as a safe haven, the school is finished.
More importantly, Yuri found a map folded up in the emergency manual. A couple of palces have been circled with a mark that resembles a teddy bear head, leading them to believe that Megumi had been researching other shelters that the government had put in place ahead of the disaster, planning where they would go when the school was no longer viable.
It’s implied pretty heavily that Megumi planned to tell them about all of this at some point, but was bitten and turned before she could. Regardless, she left them enough information to figure it out, because seriously, she really was the best teacher in history.
All of them realize that, even if there are other survivors at these shelters, they may not be welcoming to strangers. It is a risk, and one they have no choice but to take, but they do understand that any other potential survivors may be even more dangerous to them than the zombies are. It’s a chilling thought, and given that they are all teenage girls, one they face with the weight the realization deserves.
As they discuss which one to head for, Yuki finds a package of baloney that was down in the sub basement. It looks as if something was gnawing at it, trying to get the meat out. From this, the girls surmise that there was possibly another small dog down in the shelter. When Taroumaru went down there, we heard sounds that were kind of animal like, possibly a cat or very small dog. They suspect he heard it, and went to try and guide it up, but was caught by Megumi before he could.
Inspired by this, they decide not to worry about what the future holds, or what they might face. Taroumaru didn’t think of the danger when he sought to help another, so neither will they. They will seek out these other shelters, and other survivors, with the goal of helping each other. Because that’s who they are, and they will not let even the zombie apocalypse change that about them.
Before they leave, however, there’s one last bit of business to attend. They still have to graduate from high school. Naturally, it’s Yuki who thinks of this. Not just as a point of closure for the girls, but as a way to say goodbye to the place that has, until now, kept them safe.
With decorations in place, the girls gather in a classroom, and begin their graduation. Miki gives a beautiful speech, thanking each of the others for taking her in, and acknowledging the qualities in them she admires. Yuri, for her ability to believe in her own strength and hard work. Kurumi for her ability to be strong in the face of adversity. Yuki, for her ability to be optimistic no matter how dark things are. More than the archetypes we usually see in the zombie genre, these are the real qualities these girls have, and what helps set this apart as a work of fiction.
Yuki takes her turn next, reading a speech that thanks Miki, especially, but Megumi and Taroumaru as well, and the others of course. She touches on those they have lost, and how important that makes it that they are together. As she begins to break down into tears, we see that there is nothing written on the page she holds. She is speaking from the heart, and the others feel it, and go to her, comforting her, as she finishes by saying she hopes only that they will be together always.
Diplomas are handed out in a series of beautifully done pastel stills, as the school graduation song is sung. Together, they bid farewell to their home, and head out to face the future. Yuri pauses as she leaves the room, one last image of Megumi holding the thank you they made for her. It is in her imagination only, of course, and with her departure, the room sits empty, the teddy bear that has been a stand in for Megumi left behind.
Gathering what they can pack in Megumi’s car, the girls leave the school behind. It is oddly quiet now, the zombies all gone. It seems somehow more desolate. As they pass through the gates, a lone zombie slowly makes its way toward the school, and though we do not see her face, from Miki’s reaction, we know, it was Kei. Perhaps some part of her will see the last message Miki left her on the chalkboard, and understand it.
I lived, and it was worth it.
With the song that has greeted us at the opening each week plays, Megumi’s car rolls on and we are given a brief series of flashbacks, all of which end with a mysterious girl finding Yuki’s balloon message from few episodes back. Hope, carried on the wind, to another.
As a finale, I can only say that Studio Lerche nailed the landing.
First off, the crisis the girls faced from last weeks cliffhanger is resolved by bringing into play a question that has been bounced around almost from the first episode. Do the zombies have some memory of who they were before? Yuki finds that, in fact, they do, and can even act on those faint memories given the right impulse. For Taroumaru, it was seeing Yuki in danger. Despite having been infected, he jumped to her defense, even though he turned on her moments later. Using that, Yuki gave the zombies an instruction she now knew they would understand. Simply that school was closed.
Prodded by that memory, with the sound of her voice echoing from the speakers, they moved and left, following a routine that was too deeply ingrained for them to ignore. Even in this, though, the show manages to bring us a final bit of horror. Deep down, the infected remain, unable to control their own minds and bodies, trapped in a hell the likes of which only death will free them from. It’s dark beyond dark, but at the same time, it is the salvation the girls need.
The loss of Taroumaru is particularly cutting, and sad. To be given that brief moment of hope he may return, then lose him, hurts deeply. It is made easier, though, that he left this terrible world himself, and surrounded by the people he loved. Sad though it is, there is that small bit of good in there.
The graduation scene is heartfelt and wonderful, not just as a way for the girls to say goodbye to the place that has given them safety, but also to leave behind the memories they have made, and Megumi as well. They are, in a lot of ways, graduating into adulthood, facing the uncertain future, and knowing they will face perils, but determined to do so with hope.
Hope that they now have, not because they glean it from someone who has fractured under the weight of the horror that has overtaken their world, but because they have chosen to have it. It is true hope, because they have seized it with their own hands, and refuse to give it up, no matter what.
I wish them well as they continue their journey.
And so, we come to the end. It is doubtful that there will be a second season of this truly wonderful anime, at least, not any time soon. Sad though that is, Yuki is right. All things must end, and that is okay, because it leaves us to experience new things.
So long, girls. I’ll never forget you.
I also want to thank all the folks who have taken this journey with me, making the Gakkou Garashi recaps the most frequently viewed entries on my blog. I am forever in your debt, and truly honored that you have chosen to spend some of your time with me.
Thank you, one and all. It has been an amazing experience, and a lot of fun doing this every week.
I am hoping to recap another show as the fall season begins, but I don’t know what yet. I guess we’ll see. If there’s something coming up that you guys out there in the world would like to see me tackle, leave a comment, and I’ll see what I can do.
There will be one final Gakkou Gurashi blog post next Friday, however, as I take a brief look at the manga that inspired the series. I’ve put off reading it while watching the show so as not to be spoiled, but I plan to catch up on it over the next few days, and talk about it a little, as well as give some final thoughts on the anime as an overall piece of fiction. I hope you’ll join me for that.
Until then, sweet dreams, and happy graduation.