As I stated in my series review of Gakkou Gurashi, I had planned this to be a single post, but along the way, realized I had a lot more to say than I had first thought, both about the series, and about the manga.
One of those is full of praise, the other, not so much. Can you guess which one this post is?
Now, I don’t want to say I didn’t like the manga. It wasn’t bad, or anything, just not what I expected from the hype surrounding it. As I recapped each episode, I was also keeping up with other sites that were doing the same, and the comments section was frequently filled with people claiming the manga to be vastly superior. This left me with certain expectations.
Expectations that were not really met, I should also say. If anything, the manga left me feeling seriously underwhelmed. It isn’t terribly written or anything, it just wasn’t the piece of mind blowing art the fans had built it up to be. Well, there’s a few other things that I didn’t like about it, but I’ll get into all that soon enough.
The biggest complaint I saw frequently from manga fans was that the anime spent entirely too much time on the girls doing “cute girl” things. When episode nine, “Holiday” rolled around, I was even willing to give that argument the benefit of the doubt. It is, absolutely, an episode that focuses heavily on cute girls doing cute girl things.
Until I read the manga, anyway. That argument goes up in a puff of logic at that point. With two exceptions, “Holiday” being one of them, everything the girls do in the anime, they also do in the manga. The test of courage happens, almost unaltered, as does the camping event. There are places the writers of the anime reshuffled the order of events, who was involved, and who did what, but with literally only two exceptions, it’s all pulled directly from the manga.
So, sorry manga fans, that argument doesn’t hold water. If you want to complain about “Holiday” specifically, then okay. I can get where you’re coming from. But to say the whole of the anime series is filled with too much random filler, yeah, that isn’t gonna fly when it’s all taken, nearly verbatim, from the source material.
That said, there is a fair bit off stuff the anime writers fluffed out to pad the episode length on several occasions, usually to good effect. This has more to do with the length of the manga chapters, versus the length of an anime episode, however, so I’m willing to forgive a lot of this, as the manner in which they applied their padding was to spend that time exploring the characters more fully than the manga does in the first thirty chapters.
Which brings me to my first big problem with the manga. The characters are very poorly explained, or explored. Worse, however, is that their characterization changes according to the needs of the plot, which is something that will make me drop any piece of fiction like it’s radioactive. I really, really, really hate when a character acts out of character for the sake of the plot, and it happens a lot in the manga.
Now, there are times when it can be done right. If you cast a character as inconsistent to start with, or have an incredibly valid reason within the context of the story for why a character is acting out of character, then that’s fine. But Gakkou Gurashi the manga does not do that. Things happen, and the characters react in the way that is most dramatic, never mind their established character, or if they ever even had any character established to begin with.
This is most notable with Kei. In the anime, she’s a pretty well realized character, and her reasons for leaving the safety of the storage room are understandable, as is Miki’s refusal to do the same. Kei’s character, and her actions, play a huge role in Miki’s character arc, and we know Kei as a person well enough to relate and understand.
In the manga, this is not what happened. We barely even see Kei, and she has almost no dialogue. She’s more a prop than a character, and why she influenced Miki so heavily is hard to understand. There’s no real sense of connection between the two, and while we are told they were best of friends, we never really see it. She’s there for a couple pages, then she’s gone, and that’s it for Kei as a character.
Taroumaru suffers much the same fate. He only appears in one chapter, as a dog Yuki found somewhere. He’s already been bitten, and quickly turns. Megumi throws him outside, but he comes back soon after, and Kurumi has to shovel him off to the sweet hereafter. While it’s done in part to explain that the zombie virus only affects mammals, there is any number of other ways this could have been done without resorting to killing a puppy, and it feels more like it’s done for shock value than anything else.
Of course, a lot of things happen in the manga for shock value, it seems, and while a lot of people were ready to write the anime off as another “cute girls” type of show, then later worried it would turn into tragedy porn, the manga is actually guilty of being both. Sadly, it accomplishes neither overly well.
There are a number of differences between the characters in the two mediums, as well. For starters, the anime spent time building them as characters, while in the manga, they are more or less roughly drawn sketches of characters that react to events however the plot needs them to, for no clearly obvious reasons. About the only exception to this is Kurumi, who is more or less the same between the two versions.
In the manga, Yuri plays at the big sister/leader role, but breaks down when things go wrong. At the point Kurumi was bitten, and Miki heads off to get the cure from the shelter under the school, she waits all of maybe twenty minutes before deciding to kill Kurumi, for no obvious reason. Seriously, the school isn’t being over run with zombies when it happens in the manga. She just gives up waiting on Miki after maybe twenty minutes, and is only stopped from killing Kurumi by Miki coming back.
She had no reason, in the context of the story, to think Miki wasn’t going to come back, and with the cure. She just loses it and almost kills her friend, because drama! Later, when a helicopter crashes into the school, for reasons that are not overly clear, she flips out again and has to have Yuki pretty much reel her in from overblown dramaland. Not for long, though, because she heads back there for a while soon after when she doesn’t know where Kurumi and Miki are.
Basically, Yuri flips out and falls apart whenever the plot needs her to. In the anime, there were places where I wondered just how close to the edge she was, but she never went over it. In the manga, she falls off the edge repeatedly, and for no obvious reason.
One could argue that she’s at the end of her rope, but we are never given that indication at any point before she loses her shit. It just happens, again, for the sake of drama. Cheap drama at that.
Miki is even farther removed from her anime version, since she’s basically an asshole. So much an asshole that at one point Kurumi nearly beats the hell out of her, because she goes around acting like she knows everything, and pretty much bullies the other girls into letting her take charge. Which they do, after some initial dramatic arguments over the matter.
The most obvious point of her assholery is Yuki. When she first joins up with the others, she decides they need to slap Yuki out of her delusion. She goes and gets some textbooks on psychology, leaving the barricaded area on her own and without telling anyone, I might add, cause she knows what’s she’s doing, and does some research into Yuki’s condition before deciding she’s totally faking it.
A second year high school student goes for a walkabout to the high school library during the zombie apocalypse, gets some high school psychology textbooks, flips through them for a while, and decides to make a prognosis she is completely firm is accurate. To the point she actually ends up endangering Yuki’s life, almost getting her killed by zombies, trying to prove she’s right, and everyone else is stupid.
Miki, you’re an asshole. When this doesn’t go exactly how she planned, she sits and talks with Yuki, and out of blue decides it’s fine if she’s faking it, and plays along, for no valid reason whatsoever. Well, because the plot needs her to, but that’s about it. It’s completely nonsensical, and yet, everybody just starts doing what she says after that, for some reason.
Then, there’s Yuki. In the anime, Yuki’s break with reality came after Megumi’s death. That last goodbye, from someone who had practically moved mountains to keep them all safe after zombies literally took over the world, shattered her ability to cope. By contrast, in the manga, it seems to have happened right away, maybe, and may well actually be her faking the whole thing. The manga leans heavily in the direction that Yuki isn’t delusional, just stupid, and playing make believe because at one point she misunderstood something Megumi said, and thought it was her “job” or something in the group.
My problem with that is it completely undermines her character. If she knows, and is just playing pretend because she thinks she’s suppose to, then she isn’t a tragic figure, she’s just a moron. It destroys any point in the story where she wakes up from her self induced dream, because she always knew it wasn’t real, and it just renders the character kind of pointless. Worse, she’s kind of jerk for making the others think she actually was delusional, and needed them to take care of her because of it.
Of course, Gakkou Gurashi the manga is full of stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons.The first good example of this is during Miki’s backstory, when she and Kei were rescued from hiding in the a changing room by a group of other survivors. These folks had set up some barricades and such on the top floor of the mall, and took the two poor helpless little girls in, what with them being damsels and all.
The group, lead by a nameless dudebro who is only ever addressed as “Leader”, making me roll my eyes so hard they almost shot out the back of my skull, determines that women should do women work, while the menfolk take care of the “hard” stuff. I seriously almost dropped the manga read through at that point. It was gag worthy, coming from a manga with fucking Kurumi in it. Falling back on those kinds of overused story telling mechanics is just lazy, and does not do anything but make both Kei, and especially Miki, look hilariously helpless. Only when there’s a man around to take care of things, though, as evident by Miki acting the way she does later on, when surrounded only by other women. Without one, they turn into badasses, then return to shrinking violets the moment a penis appears. It’s disgusting, because it’s the worst kind of character building. The kind that plays to stereotypical gender roles, which have been proven time and again to not just be false, but harmful to society.
Anyway. Leader goes and gets himself bitten by a zombie. Like any responsible person who cares about the well being of others, he instantly removes himself from the group to insure their continued survival, knowing there is no hope for him.
No, wait, I’m sorry. He throws a giant party and gets everyone drunk off their asses. Once they are all passed out, he changes, and kills them all, turning them into zombies as well. Miki and Kei only survive because they didn’t drink any booze at the party. I can’t tell if this is a PSA for not drinking, or another example of why you should never let a dudebro be in charge of anything, ever.
Seriously, I can’t tell what the point of all that was. It made no sense.
Speaking of things that don’t make sense, at one point, someone who is maybe part of the military or something finds one of Yuki’s balloon letters, and flies a helicopter over to the school. Then, he crashes it, and sets the school on fire. Why, I have no idea. He just does, for no discernible reason. Maybe he hates high schools. Maybe he hates girls. Maybe, he was just a crappy helicopter pilot and thought you were suppose to land one nose first. The manga doesn’t really say exactly what happened.
It tries to imply that he turned into a zombie at that moment, but that is pretty convenient timing, and hard to swallow, as he’s shown to have a vial of the cure. I guess he thought he needed to take it with dinner or something. Honestly, the entire thing happened to make the girls leave the school. It really served no purpose beyond that, which is what we in the profession call shitty plotting.
Now, there’s a few things the manga does do that the anime certainly could have benefited from. Despite the flaws in it, the expansion on Miki’s backstory is pretty interesting. Another is that it shows a lot more insight into what Megumi was dealing with after the arrival of the zombies, and that even after she first turned, there was still enough of her in there to get as far away from the girls as possible. That is all excellent stuff, and adds a lot of depth to the character. It’s just a shame no one else got the same treatment.
It also manages to severely undercut the two things I talked about above. First, with Leader, it makes him look like a complete asshole who fully intended to take everybody with him. Because we see with Megumi that there is a brief period where the old self lingers, Leader could have been selfless, redeeming his character greatly, and removed himself, only to return later and bypass the barricades because he knew how.
The helicopter pilot as well suffers from this. There was a enough time for him to fly the helicopter away from the school, and maybe even land it, before he was too far gone. Instead, he crashed it. Why? Who knows. Because plot dammit!
Even when the manga does do something interesting, it manages to shoot itself in the foot by completely forgetting about the neat thing it did. Regardless, the big complaint about the anime is that girls spent too much time not being victims in a tragedy porno.
My apologies to fans of the manga, but as a writer myself, I can’t help but notice the gaping plot holes. Of which there are many. Too many. Enough that even the poorly done character work pales in comparison. If anything, the anime is a vast improvement on the manga, solely because it actually makes sense!
As a source material, Gakkou Gurashi the manga is an interesting enough read, but it doesn’t really bring anything new or exciting to the field of zombie fiction. It often trivializes its own protagonists, and the plot work is pretty ham fisted. I can’t say I’ll be continuing to follow it, though I can hope that if by some miracle, the anime gets a second season, it chooses to follow its own plot, because I don’t see the manga improving at this point.
Like the zombies plaguing Japan in Gakkou Gurashi, the manga feels more like a lot of bad ideas brought back from the dead, and given some sort of unholy life.