High School of the Dead
Takashi Komuro is a normal high school boy (as are many anime leads), but one day, an infection breaks out that turns people into zombie-like creatures. Along with his friends and the school nurse, he fights his way out and begins a journey to find out what exactly has happened to the world. (Adapted from ANN)
Highschool of the Dead is essentially what Japanese animators make when they feel inclined to produce something that screams "trash!" from the very onset, complete with a well-worn story of zombie apocalypses, a never-ending stream of gun violence, and, in between the various battles, scenes that approach pornography, seemingly placed precisely to placate impulsive sexual urges when the desire to see zombies have their heads blown off is exhausted. Exploitative from start to finish and entirely unapologetic about its own raunchiness, Highschool of the Dead at least has the good grace to maintain an enjoyable if derivative plot, rarely becoming boring and always managing to keep the viewer curious, and yet its tone makes it difficult to like and, at times, nearly impossible to watch. Indeed, once you get past the spectacle of the gunfights and over-enlarged mammaries, there is precious little to love in this series, its unlikable cast failing to bring any joy to an ultimately bleak and unsatisfying story and thus making the show feel like wasted time.
As said, the cast of Highschool of the Dead is made of the most stereotypical possible archetypes, and while I felt occasional affection for some of them, it was the kind that will never transcend the series itself, the characters being utterly dull when compared to those from some better-developed series. Once again, we get an angsty and troubled lead in Takashi, and this time one whose pettiness, stupidity, and bigotry make him entirely impossible to cheer for as the series progresses. Meanwhile, there is a banal romantic interest in the selfish and whiny Rei, anime's obsession with "cool and mysterious" presences manifested in Saeko, a precocious lolifang in Saya, an overweight and unintelligent otaku in Kohta, an insultingly stupid (and well-endowed) school nurse, and even a creepy and possibly pedophilic teacher, none of whose personalities are ever given the space to expand and hardly any of whom appear to be anything besides a means through which the show extracts basic drama and, in the case of the females, fan service galore. Kohta is at least charming in a lovably stupid way, and Saya's tempter tantrums are ocassionally amusing, but when compared to the many other characters in the field of anime, they hardly stand out at all. To make matters worse, the show actively renders an initially likable character, Saeko, into a detestable mess by introducing an entirely unnecessary backstory through flashback, and indeed, it seems as if this show's story was extracted from any and all possible trends within the medium of anime, the creators throwing in whatever love triangles and stories of abuse they could find in the hopes that they could make something interesting out of their lifeless cast.
With that being said, the show is very capable of being entertaining on a basic level, with the enjoyment of seeing zombies have their heads blown off trumping my dislike of the main characters and the pacing usually being measured enough to keep the story coherent and fast enough to move it along. There is absolutely nothing new to see here, for the various components of past zombie flicks (the scene where crowds of people desperately scramble to reach restricted zombie-free zones, the moment where weapons of mass destruction are released as a last resort) are present in full force, but it's a decent ride all the same for those who can stomach gun violence and more than just a little blood in their shows. The story is really nothing besides an exploitative bloodbath, the junk about biological weapons causing the outbreak being window-dressing in the end, but I will give the director (Tetsuro Araki of Death Note fame) credit for keeping it interesting.
And yet, as I went along, I could not escape the fact that the show seemed entirely pointless, and there were two events that brought that conclusion to mind. First of all, there is a point in the middle of the series, during the 6th episode, where the already ridiculous amount of fan service escalates to extremes, with panty shots giving way to an unwatchable communal bath scene and at least four places in the space of a single episode where mammaries are groped and manipulated. That particular episode is so irrelevant to the plot, so over-the-top, and so unpleasant to watch that it entirely derails the show, and the series just keeps on plugging it afterwards, the female characters going about their business in clothes whose width wouldn't even cover your little finger, butt and boob alike being endlessly highlighted, and, in one ridiculous scene, Takashi using Rei's breasts as a rangefinder for his rifle. The effect would be bad enough if the show was merely a sexist show that turned any and all females into objects of ogle as it does, but it is compounded by the fact that the series has no satisfying conclusion, the story petering out on a ridiculous cliffhanger and nothing regarding the state of the world or the zombies being at all resolved. I came away from this series with the feeling that I had been flipped off, lured by a vaguely entertaining premise and then slapped in the face, confronted with a series unaware of the fact that fan service will never be enough to sustain my interest in a story.
It's worth noting that I despise ecchi content and thus probably enjoyed this series much less than some people may have, but my core problem with Highschool of the Dead is that it, underneath its flashy spectacles of zombies being torn to pieces, is unlikable and unsatisfying. The fan service, as annoying as it can be, is really only an index of the cast's vapidity: there is no hope for characters who must be stripped naked to become remotely interesting. While Highschool of the Dead manages to avoid being boring, it leaves a foul taste in one's mouth, the kind that makes me wonder if I'd have been better off not bothering at all.
It gets a second star for (mostly) being entertaining, but the unlikable cast, unsatisfying story, and suffocating amounts of fan service make it very hard to recommend. Those who don't share my dislike of ecchi content may add at least one star, and those who can't stomach gun violence and gore should skip this alltogether. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Absolutely not for children. When the show isn't exploiting with copious amounts of blood and gore, it instead turns to exploiting with clothing of wire-thin skimpiness, communal bath scenes, gluteal shots, whole minutes where one's face is trapped against a mammary, and scenes in which the entire female cast appears to be having an orgasm. The English dub, meanwhile, also contains many utterances of strong profanity.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
High School of the Dead © 2010 Daisuke Sato / Shoji Sato / Madhouse
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