Zombie Holocaust, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later and Resident Evil: all standout zombie entertainment in their respective media, however none of these (bar the distinctly average Degeneration movie) have crossed into the anime world. Enter stage right Highschool of the Dead, a slick Romero-esque translation of a manga that has had otaku tongues wagging for a while and seemingly for a good reason. As a salute to those that came before it, there are numerous nods to the masters of the genre. Most are too spoilerific to mention here, so just keep an eye out for the “Shaun” petrol station.
First and foremost, this show is a horror – and a good one at that. It is not the lurching zombies thirsting for human flesh that invokes fear, although this does add to the overall atmosphere of the series. Instead, the terrifyingly accurate and desperate attempt at survival of an unlikely group of kids as their world slowly starts to fall around their ears that will cull the most alarm. Exploring the motivations of each character, the tense drama that ensues gives rise to the question: what exactly would you do in their situation? Yes, they do act like angsty teens, but when day to day living becomes reliant on glimmers of hope, such as crossing a river to reach a safe house, then I think their reactions are justified.
Of course, there are still the zombies to consider. The writers stick with the traditional slow moving, brain-dead corpses; their strength and sheer volume are frankly chilling, especially as the usually dependable protection of the police and army seems completely useless. Since the authorities are so inept, the transformation of an overweight geek into a life-saving crack shot, and a school kendo champion suddenly able to launch 10 foot into the air for a breathtaking aerial attack seem completely unbelievable. But who cares? This is entertainment and a few liberties are allowed, especially when the action scenes can immerse the viewer so successfully. Further hooking the gore junkies, the excessive bloodshed builds on the shock factor making the pulse-raising chase scenes even more hectic.
But who can talk about High School of the Dead without mentioning the shameless ecchi? Giving a hint of the impending fan service, up-skirt shots and well endowed women pressed face first against a metal fence greet the viewer during the opening credits. Sadly, those who haven't built up their immunity to perversion may find the misplaced fanservice a deal breaker. Although it doesn’t hit full force until episode 7, even I found myself questioning the reasoning behind four buxom babes fondling each other in a bathroom during the zombie apocalypse. However, I’m sure there’s some psychological thesis exploring the mental state of those in such a precarious situation... probably...maybe.
Another buzz-kill in the show is the sheer lack of explanation: Why did people turn into zombies? Is it all one big government conspiracy? Although readers of the manga assure me the story is ongoing and therefore still time for these to be answered, there are many people waiting ravenously for season two, and for good reason. Sexy, slick action and a damned good story save the show from the over the top ecchi and make High School of the Dead one of my favourite shows of 2010.
Decorated with countless buckets of blood, the camera artistically displays red splatters as another of “them” is brutally dispatched with a baseball bat, adding to the tension and desperation of the survivors. Also aesthetically pleasing is the fluidity of the action, especially when Saeko takes centre stage during her balletic performance with the sword. The numerous chases down endless corridors and tight alleyways is furious and fast paced; the scenery distorts as the focus moves around a slickly drawn character with an amazing overall effect. Unfortunately, the same sticking point in the story also trips the animation: breasts. Swinging like udders or shuddering as if filled with jelly, the unrealistic funbags are an unwelcome distraction from the adventures unfolding on-screen.
Varied and exciting, the initially quiet opening theme suddenly bursts into life as the credits depict a fervent zombie slaughter. The closing tracks are unique to each episode and feature emotive lyrics that follow the plight of the survivors. What also works well is the lack of background music during the show; a haunting silence isn’t immediately noticeable, however it adds to the sense of impending doom that hangs in the air throughout.
Marina Inoue brings her Yoko (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann) attitude to the girlish Miyamoto, whilst the perpetually surprising Miyuki Sawashiro serves up equal measure of badass and seductive siren as Saeko spends half her screen time slaying zombies and the other flirting with Takashi. The show’s high budget is especially apparent in the choice of seiyuu, each bringing their stereotyped character to believable life. My only issue is with the high-pitched voice acting for the school nurse Miss Marikawa. High pitched and grating, the vocal range was not the only thing to irritate me about her....
Instead, the gigantean breasted blonde bimbo acts just as one would expect – like a completely feckless waste of ink better suited alongside some loser in a tedious harem. Featuring in brashly implied yuri, the supposed nurse aimlessly bumbles along wasting oxygen for twelve episodes. Although Marikawa undergoes little to no development, one of her final lines sums her up perfectly and allows a little forgiveness: “It’s because I was written this way”.
Luckily, her compatriots save the character section and make an excellent horror anime even better. The main protagonist Takashi starts off lovelorn by following the helpless and confused classmate Miyamoto like a lost puppy, but becomes a stronger figurehead who carries himself like a hero. Although unbelievable as a real otaku, Kouta’s one month gun training course in the US coupled with a degree in Call of Duty instantly turns him into a crack shot with a Springfield M1A1 Super Match; but he remains a firm favourite and generally likeable as he protects those closest to him. Despite the sultry Saeko easily dominating the female protagonists, Saya is a surprise swan that blossoms from an ugly duckling; starting out as an utterly detestable self-confessed genius, she transforms into likeable human during a surprise revelation.
Devouring this show in one sitting, I became akin to a crack addict desperate to get their next fix. The numerous flaws are easily overlooked as the pacing of the action and development of characters remains Highschool of the Dead’s strength throughout. Arm yourself with a copy of the Zombie Survival Guide, turn off the lights and get ready for a timely reminder as to why horror and anime should go hand in hand.
When the infected approached Rei and Takashi's school, it led to a gruesome blood bath that left the majority of students and staff dead or turned into the zombie-like monsters that have spread throughout the world. Together with a handful of other survivors, Rei and Takashi set forth to find their families in a world that is rapidly detoriating. Governments have collapsed, the killer disease is out of control, and people everywhere are trying their best to simply live through each day...
As a not-so-closet perv, I love watching anything involving panty-shots, handfuls of cleavage and an innuendo fuelled plot. Although most of my reviews will err on the risque, I also love the obscure, the twisted and things that make you think - drop me a line if you want to discuss any of them!