I’m relatively new to anime/manga fandom, and School-Live! is the first series I’ve managed to follow “traditionally.” You know: waiting for weeks or months for the next issue, knowing the last one was coming and anticipating what was coming next.
And it’s been known for a while that School-Live! was ending with volume 12. And POOF. It did.
Reminder: the ending of a narrative has two functions. It has to resolve the central conflict of the story and it is supposed to tie up the loose ends. (If you can only do one of those, for pity’s sake RESOLVE THE CONFLICT. Otherwise it’s not the end of the story.)
School-Live! had a real problem in its construction. It was explicitly the story of four ordinary girls – smart Yuri, strong Kurumi, upbeat Yuki, and detached Miki – caught in a zombie apocalypse and trying to survive. What made it interesting was the very real psychological damage they suffered as they watched all their friends and their society crumble. Yuri develops survivor guilt so profound she adopts a teddy bear thinking it’s her dead sister. Kurumi becomes emotionally cold, ready to sacrifice all for survival. Yuki is totally delusional, unable to even see the destroyed world. (Miki is an outsider they come on later and is more poorly developed, but she, too, faces survivor guilt.)
But here’s the problem: They’re ordinary school girls, not the genetically modified superwomen of Coppelion. If you want them to live, a happy ending, how the heck can you resolve the conflict?
Brief summary of overarching plot and central conflict: The agent creating the zombification is Randall Corp, a faceless entity. (Even its agents wear gas masks so you can’t see what they look like.) Randall has effed up major league in releasing the zombie virus and is prepared to stop the virus by killing the girls and every other survivor in Tokyo. They plan to sterilize the city with a nuclear blast.
Girls vs. Randall, life vs. death. Okay, that’s conflict.
The plot plays through three arcs, one in which they are living in their old high school, one where they move to (and make allies in) a nearby university, and the final arc where they ramble off in search of Randall. Right. They are metaphorically growing up, but what matters is when they finish that last one, the story’s over.
Problem: the unarmed girls have nothing they can do to affect Randall, who has all the weapons up to and including nukes. How the heck is this conflict going to be resolved?
Well – and this is the problem – the writers pull it off by throwing in two deus ex machinas and a plot hole.
I don’t like the deus ex machina – where some larger entity enters the story to hand the hero the means of victory – to begin with. It gets the job done but it’s cheap. And the only thing I like less than the deus ex machina is TWO of them.
So, let’s set the end in motion: Randall is out to kill the girls and everyone else. Kurumi, their muscle, is down and nearly out with the zombie virus.
Surprise! One of the college kids from the second arc discovered a cure for zombieism! In fact, it was in the water supply for their old school, which is why the girls didn’t get zombified!!
How convenient. More importantly, apart from a little flim flam about hacking the college kid’s iPhone, it’s just handed to our gals. Deus ex machina #1.
Oh, and the plot hole? If the cure is in the water to the high school, how did the college kids make it out unzombiefied? They don’t drink the high school’s water. They don’t even drink water! (Being college kids they live on booze and soda.)
ANYWAY, if the cure is back at the old high school, to the old high school they must go, to heal Kurumi. (That works, by the way. By making Kurumi, the physical one, sick, the story forces the others into unfamiliar roles and creates a certain amount of tension. That’s a nice bit of writing.)
They get back but the nukes are coming from Randall and they have to stop them. Kurumi’s out. They decide they need to radio Randall – yep, the people prepared to nuke the city – with the information that they have discovered the cure. But the radio is in a zombie patrolled part of the school.
Miki goes and fails (it’s her survivor guilt that gets her). Yuri goes and fails (same reason).
So it comes down to Yuki, which is the emotional high point of the series. To the extent the ending works, it’s because you like Yuki and cheer for her as she breaks out of her fantasy world to go for and get the win. It’s an emotional release and a good one.
Yuki radios that they have the cure. Well, who’s going to hear that broadcast? Randall Corp, the guys trying to kill them and everyone else. What good can that do? Put them on Ground Zero so they go out quickly?
Oh, surprise! There are two factions inside Randall, and one of them doesn’t want to sterilize Tokyo! The moderate faction wins (off camera) and all is happy happy joy joy. Repeat after me: How convenient.
Deus ex machina #2.
But that was the problem they had: the writers created high school girls who were not only ordinary but actually damaged as their characters. The girls could not have stayed in character and still prevailed without outside help. It wasn’t possible for them to resolve the conflict without divine intervention.
Now, it’s not a BAD ending. The conflict IS resolved. Some of the loose ends are tied up: We see the girls in their adult careers (Yuki becomes a teacher), although the college kids (except one) and Randall both disappear. And the emotional release of Yuki’s personal triumph is strong, especially following the losses of the more powerful members of the quartet.
But in the end, the way they were designed meant they couldn’t do the job themselves. They had to be handed the victory. And that’s just a bit of a cheat.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.