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Reviews

High School of the Dead

It began without warning. It continues without mercy. Now a band of high schoolers join forces with guns, swords, baseball bats and anything else they can get their hands on to battle a bloodthirsty, flesh-hungry zombie apocalypse. Slashing action, stunning anime, and draw-dropping excitement make HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD the most hotly anticipated adventure of the year. For horror fans and animation addicts alike, nothing offers the high-energy adrenaline of HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD!

The concept of the ‘zombie apocalypse’ became incredibly popular in the 2000s and has spawned nigh-uncountable amounts of material covering the subject. Tongue-in-cheek, serious, realistic, fantastic – these are the kinds of approaches that have been taken to explore and adapt material regarding zombies and the end of the world that invariably follows. My personal favorite is 28 Days Later, simply because it was one of the first time that ‘fast zombies’ had been introduced into mainstream culture, and it was scary as hell. The music for it still is haunting every time I hear it. 28 Days Later, as an example, could be described as both ‘realistic’ and ‘serious’.

You know what phrases aren’t used in describing it, or any other zombie related media that I can think of? Panty shots. Or sudsey bathroom romps with several naked women. Or animated, massively over-sized jiggling boobs with their own sound effect.

Those are the phrases that come to mind when I think of High School of the Dead. And depending on what you’re looking for in an anime, this is either going to be right up you’re alley or you’re going to think (as I do) that what few redeeming qualities it does have are lost amid the sea of debris and wreckage that is this show.

The story is nothing new – a zombie outbreak occurs worldwide, nobody knows why, and the 12 episode show follows a group of kids in high school and the ditzey high school nurse (she’s the one who gets her own sound effects) as they try to escape through the city to find their families, all while avoiding the oft-overplayed cliche of “people go batshit crazy and turn into evil and horrible maniacs SO WHO IS WORSE US OR THE ZOMBIES”. This can be done well sometimes, especially in something like The Walking Dead, but here, it just doesn’t play well except to make it look like the world was populated almost entirely with assholes before everything went undead.

The characters are pretty standard fare for Anime High School. There’s Takashi, our spunky lead hero that is surprisingly not as bland and flat as I might have expected. He is joined by his long time friend and love interest Rei, who isn’t entirely brainless or helpless, but is always in trouble when she needs to be so Takashi can look like a badass. Case in point – she can fight and kill zombies just fine, but somehow lets a single thug sneak up on her out in the open so she can be held hostage and fondled for several minutes (which is pretty awkward to watch).

Another example is a scene that can only be described as hilarious, in which Rei is on the ground, having fallen down, and can’t will herself to use the gun she has strapped to her body. But Takashi comes to save the day, and she is perfectly content to just lie there while Takashi uses her boobs as a balance for the massive rifle she has. A Matrix style slow-mo fight scene follows, in which with every fire of the gun, not only do Rei’s boobs move like the sterotypical jello your crazy aunt always makes you, but another of the characters, Saeko, who acts as a modern day samurai and wields a wooden katana (or a bokken for you in-the-know kids) is doing cartwheels and handsprings around the bullets, which are flying just inches away from her body, which happens to most of the time be at some angle that allow for a fantastic show of her panties to be front and center.

Then there’s Kohta, a military and gun otaku who gets nosebleeds every time the girls clothes get tore up, which happens a lot. Kohta at one point puts together a rather interesting ‘rifle’ using a pnumatic nail gun and classroom supplies, and his expertise with firearms is even made clear as he says in passing that he was trained by a former Blackwater member, which I wasn’t even entirely sure how to take. He is madly in love with Saya, who is the ‘brainy one with glasses’ and talks to everyone as if they’ve never read a book before. She treats everyone like dirt most of the time, but nobody seems to mind. For some reason. And finally, there is the high school nurse Shizuka, who has breasts so large I think she is actually breaking some law of physics. She is present for comedic relief only, as she can’t really fight, and nobody needs medical help as when they’re bitten, there isn’t any stopping the zombification. Her breasts are featured prominently in the previously mentioned ‘sudsey bathroom romps with several naked women’ where all the other girls are conveniantly covered by suds, but Shizuka’s assets are made clear to the world, and even accused of being fake by the others. The sad part about this, is Shizuka is so unrealistic that she actually would have been better if she had been anything more than a character design from the neck down. She is stupid to the point that it is never, ever funny. When you fail at your goal like that, in such spectacular fashion, you know you did something wrong.

Note how I’ve talked a lot in this review about boobs. And panty shots. That’s because they make up a staggering amount of this show. Or the girls wearing incredibly revealing, flashy outfits which would be awful to walk in, let alone run and fight in. And boobs… don’t have anything to do with actual plot. Which, aside from the whole ‘zombie’ thing, involves some stuff that I couldn’t make up if I wanted to. At one point there is a creepy teacher introduced who is pushing other students into absurd and bizarre sexual behavior for…some reason? They seem to follow his words like he’s leading them to the Promised Land or something, but it’s just creepy and really, really weird. It’s never even remotely made clear what’s going on with him. Oh yeah, and the President of the United States launches a bunch of nuclear missiles….for some reason. That also isn’t made clear.

The show ends in the sort of “looking towards the future to continue living” kind of way, and I believe the manga goes past where the show ends.

Now, with all this said, there are some things I liked about the show. The music is pretty good, and each episode had a different ending theme which fit the end to that episode, all sung by the same performer. Even if the genre of music isn’t your thing, that kind of little touch I found to be appreciated. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, which is to be expected as it was animated by studio MADHOUSE. And if gore and zombie fights are your thing, then there is that aplenty in this show. If you’re in search of absurd fan service that comes before the plot at every single opportunity, then you should find this right now and pick it up, as it will appeal to you. The design work for the show is actually quite good (if you go ahead and concede that all the women will be wearing revealing clothing and be well endowed) and I really liked a number of the action sequences – past the fan service, they were executed well, and at points, there is a real ‘weight’ to the action taking place – that baseball bat connects with that zombies head, and you almost feel it.

Overall, High School of the Dead is a show that centers on zombies and all the aforementioned fan service, but if you’re looking for something to run in the background and zombies and schoolgirls is your thing, then you should probably pick this up (assuming, of course, that you don’t already own it.)

About Daniel Briscoe

I'm a lover of people, a scholar, and massive nerd. Enjoy meeting new people, going to conventions, and writing about the things I find interesting (or even just worth talking about). Always open to new people, so don't hesitate to leave a comment. Follow me on Twitter @DanielBriscoe

Discussion

4 thoughts on “High School of the Dead

  1. I think the main thing of HOTD is that it really is not meant to be taken seriously. The fact that there’s a “plot” speaks more to the fact that the show’s creators wanted you to finish the series than any kind of artistic bent. And no, telling me they are just following the manga doesn’t wash. It take special sexist skills to see a project like this to the end.The fact that so many bloggers focus on the negative parts of it amazes me. It’s better to, much like drugs, just inhale and roll with it.

    Good night and good luck.

    - Phillip

    Posted by Phillip (@EeepersChoice) | September 26, 2011, 3:53 pm
  2. In one of the earlier incarnations of Rolling Stone’s “Record Guide”, there’s an entry for ZZ Top which read something like “Rock can be mindless fun, but it never deserved to be this empty-headed.” I thought the same sort of thing here. Granted, I enjoyed stuff like “Tokyo Gore Police” (which isn’t all that far removed aesthetically from this kind of show), but that was a different kind of offensive than this. “TGP” had nerve; “HSOTD” sounds more like they were hedging their bets.

    Posted by Serdar Yegulalp | September 27, 2011, 1:49 pm
  3. Agree with Phillip, HSoTD isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and its creators knew that damn well. Think “Shaun of the Dead” rather than “Night of the Living Dead.” And, one might argue that American “slasher” films have their share of T&A as well, and while HSoTD’s fan service is a bit over the top (like everything else is in the show, I might add), it’s… what?… not precedent-setting? Anyway I went into it not expecting anything great, just a testosterone soaked action flick with lots of zombie head smashing, and I enjoyed it, though the ending left something to be desired I must admit. (Like, it kind of leaves it open for a second season, but not really, and at the same time it was kind of limp and weak…)

    Posted by otakunopodcast | October 23, 2011, 5:20 pm
    • I’m not necessarily going to argue that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but the presentation is such that it seems the creators were not always sure of what they wanted – it tries very hard at points to be serious, and to take itself seriously, and at other points it has all the T&A one could ask for. It’s the indecisiveness that bothers me, I think, more than the content itself.

      Posted by Daniel Briscoe | November 1, 2011, 3:02 am

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