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.
Highschool of the Dead is a show that knows a very, very base demographic and knows exactly how to pander to it. It aims to please simple-minded, uniformly male teenagers with base level action and lots and lots of large, jiggling breasts. Highschool of the Dead has quickly entered into the ranks of shows extremely popular, not for being well-written or emotive, but simply for being a barrel of big, dumb fun.
The problem is... it's not very good at it.
As the name would suggest, Highschool of the Dead involves a highschool and dead things. More specifically, the series begins in a highschool and revolves around a bunch of highschool students, who happen to have walked into a George A. Romero film. In other words, they're surrounded by undead, bloodthirsty corpses... zombies. From here, the plot is about as simple as can be. The cast has to try and not die.
So all in all, it really speaks volumes that Highschool of the Dead manages to fuck up such a simple task, for a wide variety of reasons. But let's start with the most glaringly obvious one... the fanservice. OK, so considering the demographic the show is aiming for, it's hardly surprising that HotD uses a lot of fanservice. But Highschool of the Dead crosses the line of what an acceptable amount of fanservice would be repeatedly. Any scene that was otherwise good had an irritating tendency to shove some schoolgirl's underwear into the camera. And don't even get me started on the infamous "Boob Matrix" scene.
Of course, no matter how much fanservice is in a show, it would not destroy an otherwise good show. So let's get to the next reason HotD is an incredibly poor anime - the characters.
Let's summarize the cast very quickly. The everyman, the ditz, the needy girl, the bitch, the action chick, and the nerd. Not one of these characters has any more depth than that. I have literally told you everything you need to know about the characters in the space of one sentence. Takashi is completely unremarkable, Shizuka is dopey and annoying, Rei is irritatingly helpless and inconsistent in her character, and Saya (probably the worst member of the cast) is a self-righteous bitch who has no consideration for anybody else and considers the rest of the cast below her. The only passable members of the cast are Kouta Hirano (named and designed after the creator of Hellsing, a MUCH better take on the same style), who manages to make his military obsessions at least entertaining, and Saeko, who manages to not be annoying.
The worst thing about Highschool of the Dead, though, is that for a show that tries to be simple and fun... it's very boring.
All in all, a survival horror really needs you to care about whether the characters live or die to work. At first, after a seemingly significant character is killed off, it seems quite possible that major characters will be killed off, and that the series will be a struggle to survive. And yet, after that, not one character we care about dies. It becomes quite clear that the entire cast is in no real danger, due to having that strange immunity from danger that being a main character grants you. This means that we are simply stuck watching these unlikeable characters do things we don't care about. It would have at least been passable if the action had been well-directed, but it really isn't. There are no fight scenes that really stick out (barring the aforementioned Boob Matrix, which sticks out for all the wrong reasons). The action is mediocre at best. All of this leaves it up to a plot that really doesn't exist.
So what does this leave us with? A show that really doesn't have any positive points at all, really. It's watchable, I'll give it that much, and the first episode was quite good. But it really doesn't follow through on any of the potential it has. The themes in this show have been done before many times, and almost always better.
Final Words: Just watch a George A. Romero film instead. Seriously.
For Fans Of: Hellsing, Elfen Lied.
Ever seen a zombie movie? Yes? Good, this will be similar to those. No? Well, then let me explain.
Story: This was your standard, zombie apocalypse anime. It starts off somewhat mundane, you'r average school life anime, for all of about 10 seconds. Then, all hell breaks loose as zombies pretty much spawn out of nowhere. The stroy then follows the protagonists as they attempt to find safety from the horde. It's done with enough action to keep you entertained, and with enough drama to keep the characters interesting.
Animation; Apart from the fact that most of the female cast comes pre-oiled for your viewing pleasure, the animation is stunning. Detailed backgrounds, intricate details on the characters, and even the zombies look great.
Sound: Ever wonder what a skull sounds like when it meets a broom handle? Well, you'll know after three episodes. The music score is upbeat and with enough dark undertone to match the story.
Characters: This has the blend needed for a good apocalypse team. The brainiac smart-ass, the ditsy eye candy, the skilled nerd, the battle-happy beauties, and the guy who serves as their leader. And while much of the appeal comes from watching the girls' bounce around, they are given backstories and dynamic personalities.
Overall: This was a bloody good time, emphasis on the word bloody.
If you are a real zombie fan and looking into seeing an anime that is all about zombies, gore, and survival...Look elsewhere. This anime is not about the zombies. It seems the artist was so concentrated on making this as close to a hentai as possible without classifying it as such. Every five seconds (no joke, I'm being literal) there is some kind of ecchi scene. It is really annoying, frustrating, and ruins the hell out of the anime.Not to mention that there are some scenes in which are unrealistic to fighting, but that's not too uncommon in anime's so I won't rate it for that...It's just all the damned ecchi. So if you're looking for zombies, not ecchi, then yeah this is not the anime for you.
This anime came out during the craze of the zombie fad of the 2010s. Many fans were waiting for something to be the Walking Dead of anime and they finally got it (or so they thought) when it came out from Madhouse, back when it wasn’t in the pathetic state it is now. As it turned out, Highschool of the Dead was not much of an alternative to the Walking Dead since it was very short, heavy on fan service, and light on plot. The very title doesn’t make sense after 2 episodes, since the characters left that place and never returned. And even the premise quickly changed its priorities and turned from “zombies with some boobs in the background” to “boobs with some zombies in the background”. The threat of the monsters quickly became unimportant and while more mature zombie flicks would focus on the society and way of living of the survivors, Highschool of the Dead was just about the characters getting naked and drunk in the bathtub. You were watching it for the action and the tits; there was nothing beyond that.
One could of course enjoy the show as nothing more than ecchi with cool fights, and never bother looking into it any further. Something many didn’t since there were ridiculously long essays while it was airing. The Monogatari generation that could fill ten pages about the symbolism of a toothbrush was at full throttle on this one, and a lot of them were taking it more seriously than what it deserved because of the ‘assumed’ sociopolitical overtones. Besides being the usual zombie infestation where people get bitten and friends turn to foes it also showed bits of people trying to organize, survive and increase their odds of making it out alive by not letting others to join them or to leave the city. Such scenes made the setting a bit livelier; even if they were nothing more than a few short skits around people you will never see or hear about ever again. It was nothing but a lame attempt to remind the viewer for a few minutes that there were still zombies somewhere out there before the camera swifts back to its main plot: Retarded fan service.
The supposed sociopolitical stuff didn’t matter in the excuse of a plot this anime had, since those other people didn’t interact with the main group and they didn’t form a lasting community that would allow a bit of theme exploration. Despite all that, at the time the anime was airing there were no decent animated zombie flicks and therefore it was ‘unlike anything we’ve seen before’ in anime. It was also food for thought as those same people would be writing novella-long essays about stuff Highschool of the Dead was barely scratching, thus in the process making a better plot than the anime they were supposed to be talking about. Because the actual anime didn’t do much of anything, and the only thing people remember from it after all these years is the clip of the bullet that passes between a pair of boobs that defy gravity and speed.
And it’s not like the anime didn’t have any hints that could lead to something interesting. It had romance, teen angst, and even dementia scenes here and there. It could have done something interesting with its cast and setting as well. But it didn’t since nothing came out of it. The story was left incomplete and so did the manga. Even the mangaka gave up on it. Thus all you are left with is caricatures that better fit in a hentai and not a horror survival show, since all you remember is the fan service and a few clips of sakuga. I mean, you can still overthink its social messages if you like. That way you might convince yourself you are not watching a mindless softporn and that anyone staring you wearing a Naruto T-shirt and hugging a Tifa Lockhart dakimakura just doesn’t get how smart this anime is.