Impulsive Empathy; School Live! Reflection

Spoiler Warning: this post contains major spoilers for the Anime Series “School-Live!” up through and including Episode 10: Rainy Day

My empathy does not confer with my logical half.  It jumps from reality to imagination and abolishes the barrier in between.

When I read Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, I struggled to realize that Sarah’O’Rourke cut off her finger on that Nigerian beach; not me.  I started Borderlands 2 with casual interest, and my hatred toward Handsome Jack drove me to finish the game without rest or reprieve; not until I shot him in the head.  I feel the pain of nameless, random background characters that get slaughtered by trite Hollywood directors; and it doesn’t matter if I knew them not; I give them identity, story, sadness, and terror.

Habitual transplantation of character and feelings isn’t particularly new or odd -I think-, but I continually find myself struggling against empathetic recoil.  It’s a defining trait to me, but it’s also core to Kurumi Ebisuzawa’s character from School-Live!, and I quickly identified with her and became attached to her.

And oh, the feels…

Yuri Crying

More or less how I feel after watching School-Live! episode 10.

Cover of Gakkou Gurashi Volume 2, featuring Kurumi Ebisuzawa

Cover of Gakkou Gurashi Volume 2, featuring Kurumi Ebisuzawa

I identify with Kurumi.  I admire Kurumi.

Like me, Kurumi reads the memories dressed onto individual zombies; she imagines the terrors written into fallen furniture, broken barricades, and pools of blood huddled into the corner; and then her empathy pulls lost love and terror out of the grave.

Unlike me, she persevered the zombie apocalypse.  My default response to zombies is to end it all.  It’s hard for me to even watch zombie media, but Kurumi’s courage became my courage, and she became my emotional anchor in School-Live! when I would otherwise flip out because of… well, zombies…

I loathe zombies.  I hate the mouths, I hate death by gnawing, and I hate the one-bite-kill concept.  I’m fascinated though by far more dangerous and visceral fictional enemies such as the Tyranids.

So why Zombies?

Because zombies weaponize the most vibrant of our emotions: Love.

A child gets bitten… her mother grabs her and retreats to those who care about the daughter; and those the daughter cares about.  Love leaves her friends and family vulnerable.  She bites them, and then they retreat to their loved ones… and the cycle repeats again.

Of all the characters in School-Live, Kurumi is the one most identified by Love, and the most affected.  Her symbol in the opener is a heart.  She was madly in love prior to the outbreak, and she’s haunted by the memory of killing her crush/boyfriend.  When Kurumi, Yuri, and Miki discover the document that disavows individual love in favor of humanity’s survival, Kurumi reacts with rage.  Love has driven her throughout the series, and in the presence of her friends, she takes on the front and charges into danger with her shovel.

Alone, she becomes vulnerable to the tragedy in her environs.

In episode 2, Kurumi shovels a zombie in the head and it drops a cellphone.  On the phone is a photo of the-girl-that-was and her boyfriend.  Kurumi becomes overwhelmed by the emotional rush and nearly gets bitten before double-tapping the zombie.  This event revealed the impulsive nature of her empathy, and how empathy might serve as Kurumi’s fatal flaw.

School-Live! wrote Kurumi’s piece of the story with perfection.  Episode 2 showed you her weakness… conversations foreshadowed that Kurumi would get bitten… the temperature of the series grew colder… and then you watch her stand there: shovel ready as her beloved teacher’s zombie approached from around the corner… and you knew she was going to hesitate to kill Megumi’s zombie: Megumi’s memory.  And yet the traits that ultimately undid her… kindness, love, empathy… gave you hope, because she repeatedly displayed the strength it gave her.

But there’s a clear dichotomy:

When her friends are around, love becomes power.  Her empathy draws on the fear and hope of her friends and she quickly reacts to protect those feelings.

Alone, her empathy draws on lost love, and it’s not a choice.

All the counsel, the comfort, and support Megumi-sensei had given to Kurumi became Kurumi’s opponent… and Kurumi faltered.

And just like it always does, School-Live! keeps hope alive with the pause of an episode, the promise of “medicine” and a cliffhanger.

Despite how much it hurt to watch episode 10, I’m thankful for School-Live!, regardless of how it chooses to end.

School-Live! flipped Moe on its head and gave it something substantial to stand on.

School-Live! told its story well.  Bad story-telling is the failed crutch that repeatedly assassinates the anime and manga mediums; and so School-Live! has been a treat in that regard.

School-Live! also did something for me.

I’ve wondered for years why I have Neophobia, and School-Live! illuminated the reason.  I’ve been stuck in that room for days as Kurumi screams, her blood boils, and the infection spreads from her arm.  I drop myself far too deep into fiction and into my imagination.   I bring back all the feelings -all the despair and suicidal thoughts I would be having in Yuri’s position as she contemplates killing Kurumi- and then my common sense has to fight to try and remind me that fiction is fiction.

I’ve been shielding myself from potentially dangerous empathetic recoils, but fictional trauma led me to write my first short story Stitched Angel, and once again it’s got me writing.  Comfort is the last thing I need; perhaps it’s the last thing any writer needs.

So, thank you, School-Live!

Even if this breaks my heart.


3 thoughts on “Impulsive Empathy; School Live! Reflection

  1. That was nicely put and glad to hear that it has been of some assistance to you. While I don’t share nearly the same amount of admiration for it, I do agree that is one of the better show that uses the cute girl and moe aesthetic to subvert expectations and the presentation itself is one of the more better aspects of the show. The foreshadowing does go way overboard, especially in later episodes when the audience should be privy to certain details, but trying have Yuki make the realization (Yes, I know Megumi was dead since episode 2 so you don’t have to dive the point home now) and does spend a ridiculous amount of time getting pass the fluff that episodes start off with, but still do like how the storytelling is configured. I also been enjoying IGN’s Anime Club thoughts on it (I listen to it on my break at work), but really like to stick around for Steins;Gate discussion.

    As for Kurumi, she isn’t one of my favorite characters, but do like how she assumes the protector role for the group. When she actually goes down into the basement in episode 10 and comes into contact with Tarōmaru and Megumi and seeing how they have changed, that is when you use her at her most vulnerable and like that the show highlights it. Of course, the part where Yuri had the knife was just chilling…something telling me that having to deal with keeping up the lie everything is alright for Yuki and the reality of the situation is starting to take its toll. I am slightly worried that this will revert to another zombie heavy show, since there are only so many ways you can play the perspective of fear, but for now and this season, it is doing alright.

    • I apologize for altering the post. I’m as confident as Tomoko Kuroki when I post anything other than my own fiction works >_<

      Thank you though for replying! I enjoy reading your insights.

      I'm overestimating School-Live! for sure. I conveniently skipped episode 9, and it was so extraneous that I didn't even notice. The emotional impact has been pretty real for me though. I'll give the show a hard critique after it's over, as I enjoy breaking down stories, and School-Live! has a lot to analyze on the good and bad.

      • No problem. I actually enjoyed reading both pieces (I have the older one as an email notification), but the first one was really well done and like how you did touch upon the method in which the show disseminates information – not necessarily pulling the info-dump card and does trust that the audience is capable enough to link together the info it does give.

        And I get where you are coming from. Gatchaman Crowds Insight is sort of hitting me on an emotional level with taking a deeper look at Tsubasa as a character and how that relates to myself. Once I divorce myself from my emotions and get more time I’ll try to write a post on it, but probably won’t be until the start of next season. I agree it definitely does have a lot to examine on both ends of the spectrum and probably will revisit it again once I do decide to review it. Been enjoying mostly all of shows this season on one level or another. I’m looking forward to hearing your overall thoughts on it.

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