School Live! (Gakkou Gurashi)
Good lord. I'll be totally honest here, but this was probably the most fun I've ever had going blind into a series since Madoka Magica. And that's saying A LOT coming from me. However, unlike Madoka Magica, the "you didn't see that coming" hardball that hits you right in the face came a fair bit earlier in this series. Aside from an animated GIF that was shared with me on Facebook, I knew absolutely nothing when I decided to pick this series up. And my God, I'm glad I did. Before I begin this review, I am going to say that this review will have some spoilers. I'll try to keep it minimum, but if you haven't seen this series and plan to, do yourself a favor and avoid this review and sites like AniDB, MAL, and Anime News Network like the plague.
In the first episode, the series appears to be a completely normal and cutesy show about a group of girls, their teacher, and (I guess) their club mascot. In all honesty, when I watched the first episode, I sort of started groaning in my head saying "Oh great. This is gonna be another moe blob show like Lucky Star of K-On!, isn't it?". However, as I said in the preface, this show hits you with a high-speed hardball quick at the beginning of the series, much to my joy (and somewhat initial confusion). For the majority of the series, a lot of questions are answered about as to why each character behaves the way they do and some of the plot elements that drive the story. The only REAL complaint I can say about the series as a whole is the fact that a very vital question was never answered by the conclusion of the season that left quite a few people, including myself, dissatisfied. Hopefully some of the questions are answered in the manga or (with hope) the second season if it's released. However, I do feel that the writers of the original manga work managed to generate a better structured story compared to a series like Highschool of the Dead.
At first, I wasn't sure how I really felt about the characters. Initially, I was afraid that the characters would turn out to just be a bunch of moe blobs as I stated in the story section. Thankfully, this wasn't the case. Each of the characters serve a purpose for fueling the plot. You have the cute airhead who's purpose is to cheer everyone up when they're down, the foil to the main character who generally keeps her in line, the motherly figure of the group who continually assures the group that they will be able to get through this catastrophe, and the de facto tomboy who acts as the muscle whenever the group is in a pinch. And if you start to think that "oh, well this character is completely useless and doesn't really have a need to even be here", I'll tell you this: finish the show. It'll become extremely apparent as to why that character is in the series.
I can't really say anything negative about the voice actresses of the series because of the fact that I felt that they were each cast greatly into their respective roles. However, if I DID have to give special mention to anyone, I feel that the voice actress portraying Yuki did a great job. Whether through happy, upbeat, grieving, or distressed, I felt that she fulfilled her role the best out of the four. Unfortunately (for those who watch purely dubbed anime), the show has only been licensed by Sentai Filmworks without any announcement of an English version. I'm not entirely sure what level of popularity this show stands on compared to other series in 2015, but I would be very elated to see this brought over to the West, dub or no dub.
Most of the music for the series was generally likeable. Each of the tracks for the series are implemented carefully to best reflect the scene. Whether it be cheery, tragic, shocking, or somber, the composer of the series managed to perfectly match each melody to each scene. The most likeable track I can probably think of is the opening for the series as a whole. Though for the majority of the series it seems a fair bit unfitting, I think it provides a great amount of juxtaposition to what we're going to watch in the coming episode. Speaking of the opening...
Something that I really adored in this series was the fact that for the majority of the series, the opening tended to change for...well, reasons (watch the series and you'll know). A good amount of plot elements kept changing for the series, prompting the animators to change how the opening was played. As for the artwork for the series as a whole, I generally liked how the animators were able to hold a stark contrast with cutesy characters you would see in series like YuruYuri and Is the Order a Rabbit? against artwork you would see in shows like Highschool of the Dead and Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Hell, I'd even go as far as to say that some of the animation resembles artwork from Corpse Party: Tortured Souls. If I had to complain about anything in this series, it's the fact that the animators decided to use 3D models for some minors characters and that they chose not to display the majority of the graphic content, even on the Blu-Ray release of the series.
As I said in the preface, if you have not watched this series but plan to, try and avoid spoilers like your life depends on it. I do highly recommend you watch this series if you're a fan of shows like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Madoka Magica, but it would be best if you came into the series as blind as a bat to maximize your initial experience upon watching it for the first time.