Zombies seem to be all the rage these days. In recent years we have been getting plenty of undead stuff in movies, TV and video games. As a gamer I feel that the level of animated corpses in games is starting to get silly. I can accept horror games featuring zombies, but even military shooters like Call of Duty or westerns like Red Dead Redemption are getting in on the act. High School of the Dead gives us an example of an anime following the zombie trend, although it doesn’t feel like a horror title. It’s an action packed ride with lashings of eye candy and teenage drama, but I wouldn’t class it as being particularly scary (unless you suffer from mammophobia.)
High School of the Dead takes place in modern day Japan at the start of a zombie apocalypse. It’s the usual fare of the undead rising up, feasting on the living and turning anyone they bite into a fellow walking cadaver with a taste for brains. The show follows a group of students trying to get out of their school which has been infested with zombies. Trying to skip school whilst avoiding attacks from cannibalistic undergraduates? Sounds like my time in comprehensive. Anyway, after just three episodes the party escapes the learning establishment and continue to fight for their lives in the remnants of their city. How will the youngsters fare in the outside world populated with not only zombies, but also hostile humans who will do anything to survive? You will have to watch and see.
The show’s male lead is Takashi Komuro, a typical high school student whose main character flaw is his indecisiveness. Ironically enough, despite his weakness at picking choices, he gets thrust into the role of group leader which permits him to grow as the series progresses. His love interest is his childhood friend Rei Miyamoto who we learn is dating one of Takashi’s friends. In the first episode Takashi is forced to kill his pal, after he gets infected, which naturally causes friction between him and Rei. The pair however have to patch up their differences and work together in order to escape the school. Unsurprisingly as things progress the two develop romantic feelings for each other (forget Barry White tracks, candles and a fireplace… an imminent zombie threat is all you need to woo a girl.)
Joining Takashi and Rei are Saya Takagi, Saeko Busujima and Kohta Hirano. Saya is the brains of the outfit and a bit of a brat. She thinks of herself as a genius and looks down on others, but after realising that intellect alone won’t get her through the crisis she becomes more of a team player. If Saya is the brains, then Saeko would be the muscle. A member of the kendo club, she has a knack for dispatching zombies with her godly sword skills. She normally comes across as cool, calm and collected, but towards the end of the series we learn that there is a dark side to her. Finally we have Kohta the geek who is an expert when it comes to guns. He starts off as a bullied nerd, but when the zombie menace allows him to utilise his firearm skills his confidence grows turning him to a gun totting badass.
Contrary to the image my reviews must be painting, I don’t seek out these ecchi shows. I actually avoided High School of the Dead for a long time as the impression I got was that the series was an Ikki Tousen style anime with shallow story only concerned with showing girls in various states of undress. One of my friends recommended it though so I was persuaded to give it a shot and after watching it I am glad that I did. Call me a hypocrite, but I enjoyed the show even if it is guilty of lacking story and exploiting the female cast. Maybe I am giving it a pass as this sort of thing isn’t exactly uncommon in live action B-movies that feature zombies.
High School of the Dead isn’t something that tries to emulate budget horror though. The vibrant artwork and crisp animation, that makes the action so exciting, oozes high production values. The voice acting, music and sound effects are also of a high standard. I wouldn’t class any of the characters as deep, but I still liked them. As mentioned before they do grow to cope with the situation they are in, be it Takashi having to stick to decisions made as group leader or Kohta manning up to protect those he cares about. The only character I disliked would have to be Shizuka, the school nurse, who tags along with the group. She’s a complete airhead, despite having a medical background, and only seems to be included to appease the audience with a thing for large breasted blondes.
Despite my praise the show isn’t perfect by any means. My chief complaint would have to be how it ends. After the fast and furious start we are treated to the whole thing concludes with a whimper. The last few episodes take place in a mansion owned by Saya’s parents. During their time at the estate the group is safe from zombies so the life and death struggle that made things so interesting is replaced with Saya whining about how daddy doesn’t love her. It’s an attempt to give her back story that doesn’t pay off. The final episode then comes and goes without a satisfactory ending. Our heroes continue on their journey and that is it. This sort of thing is fairly common with animes based on mangas, but it still stings after you get so invested into the world and characters set up in the show.
Plot points like a potential love triangle between Takashi, Rei and Saeko remain unresolved. Rika the sniper, who is introduced as Shizuka’s friend, appears in one episode protecting an airport and then vanishes without a trace. I presume she is important in the comic book, but given that she plays no part in the anime’s main story line you are left wondering what was the point of featuring her in the first place. When the ending credits roll we don’t even have a detailed explanation as to what caused the zombie outbreak. Fingers crossed that a second season gets produced, because like a flesh eating zombie trapped in an empty greenhouse, when I finished watching the whole thing I was left hungry for more.