Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anime Review: Highschool of the Dead

We’ve talked a lot about comic books the last few months.  So let’s take a break (At least until, oh I don’t know, four blogs from this one) and focus and something else for a bit.   How about some anime?

 Highschool of the Dead, or simply H.O.T.D., is an 12 episode anime series based on a still as of this writing ongoing manga by brothers Daisuke Satō (Writer) and Shōji Satō (Artist).  It was aired in 2010 and produced by Madhouse, the studio responsible for many noteworthy works including Trigun, Ninja Scroll, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, Nana, Monster and the recent string of Marvel Anime that has been popping out the last year.  Now I’m somewhat cheating here because I have seen this anime in its entirety before re-watching for this review.  It was last fall; I was watching around the same time I was watching Black Blood Brothers.  I was going to review it then but I realized that it had just been licensed by Sentai FIlmworks and scheduled for a 2011 release so decided I would wait until it was commercially, and legally, available to everyone before I advertised it here.  The title of the series is probably pretty self-explanatory; this is a horror/zombie drama starring Japanese high school kids, which I assume makes half of you roll your eyes and possibly the pique the other half’s interest.  To set the tone of this review I must let you know that the manga version o this work was named one of the Top Five Worst Manga at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.  So obviously we’re off to a good start. 

Full review after the jump.

Our heroes about ten minutes after the world goes to shit
Takashi is an ordinary high school student who’s biggest conern is that his childhood friend Rei dumped him fairly recently for his best friend Hisashi and now spends his days pretty mopey.  Life as he knows it suddenly and drastically changes when he witnesses several teachers dying from being bitten by a stranger by the front gate of the school…and then suddenly start to stand back up and attack others as walking dead.  Despite his shock Takashi quickly formulates a plan and goes to convince Rei and Hisashi to accompany him as he attempts to escape the school.  However the three friends soon realize that the infection has quickly spread throughout the school and that majority of the student body appears to have died and then risen.  Escape will be much harder than they originally believed.

I’m a bit torn on whether I consider myself an actual fan of zombie fiction or not because on the one hand I dislike the horror genre in general but on the other hand I’ve willingly watched more zombie movies and other material than just about anything other scary franchises.   I like the atmosphere that an zombie apocalypse tends to bring out in a situation as well as seeing character act much differently than they normally would.  So in this regard it’s easy to like H.O.T.D. from that perspective.  The first few episodes are probably the strongest and the show unfortunately kind of devolves into more traditional anime tropes afterwards but mostly I feel this is a well done series.  Like any good zombie fiction the show is not simply about the undead but it’s about the characters we focus on. 

"Steal a bike. Drive illegally. Shoot some suckers. Best. Day. Ever."
The earliest episodes are straight-up survival horror but as the group become more used to their new zombie-filled lives the show starts to become an action series that relies on the Rule of Cool more so than the terror of the situation.  Zombie purest won’t like this but as you know I’m a big fan of overblown action and impossibly cool action scenes (See: Gurren Lagaan) and since none of this takes away from the character development I’m totally cool with it.  Intellectually I can agree the first part of the anime is technically better but my lust for anything badass argues “Hell Yeah!  Slice That Zombie in Half!”   That is to say I enjoyed it enough here it didn’t bother me.  In fact this is one of the few anime series I watched since starting this blog that I had be glued to the screen.   I literally stayed up all night at least once watching this show because I could not for the life of me wait until the next day to see what happened next.

I really like the opening theme song (Although I hate the opening sequence) which is titled, oddly, “Highschool of the Dead” and performed by Kishidakyodan and the Akeboshi Rockets.  There is a different ending song for every episode, all done by Maon Kurosaki.  A few are stinkers, most are pretty good and a few are absolutely awesome.

Five seconds before Saeko kills a million zombie bastards
 Characters are usually the most important part of a show like this and thankfully for the most part the main cast is full of likable characters who do grow as people throughout the show (In as much as the can in a shorter series like this, I mean).  My favorite characters were Psycho Saeko, a kendo wielding upperclassman that comes off cool and collective but has some serious issues buried inside, and Kohta, an overweight nerd who was always picked on before Z-Day but becomes the most useful member of the survivors due to his expertise on firearms.  Takashi is pretty okay as a main character for the most part but he suffers from essentially being that same old Ordinary High School Student archetype that you always see in anime meaning that for every really cool instance of being genre savvy and competent there is also a very annoying trait that he shares with a thousands of other leads; bizarre indecisiveness and a lack of ability to express his feelings despite the obviousness of what’s in front of him (i.e. Love).   Still he’s better than he could have been, by far and I love that he manages to act so quickly in the first episode as almost any other protagonist in a zombie story would have done a lot more dicking around.  The only characters I disliked (And I did so venomously) were Saya and Shizuka.

Saya is a mostly played straight Tsudere archetype (Which as we know I love so much) but instead of just being an asshole to the other characters for no reason in this show she’s an asshole to the other characters for no reason despite the fact that they have to constantly defend themselves from a horde of flesh eating zombies.  Were Saya in my group of saviors in a zombie apocalypse I would have abandoned her a long time ago for being a bitch and not even feel the least bit guilty.  Shizuka’s just a typical bubble headed blond cliché that, despite not being completely useless (Just mostly useless) she is devoid of any character depth as her personality is pretty much “Stupid Blonde Woman with Huge Tits”.  This is not only acknowledged in this show but it’s almost celebrated.   Despite that I loved this show when I first watched it and I almost gave it a Perfect Panda Score.  The show had its faults but most of them wouldn’t have been enough to lower my opinion of the show as a whole.  Except for one thing; one thing so utterly annoying that it literally was the sole factor in lowering the score by a whole panda.  Two words: Fan Service.

Yes, at this point we all know I’m not a proponent of fan service in general but things are really ridiculous.   First of all every (Relatively) adult female in this show has huge breasts; to the point that the animators from Dragonaut are blushing.  And goddamn does this show love to focus on them as much as they can.  In addition to all the boobies and cleavage shots there’s an abundance of panty shots all the time, suggestive positioning and near constant sexy posing that serves no other purpose than to titillate lonely otaku.  You can’t even make it past the opening sequence without feeling creeped-out.  There’s even an entire episode dedicated to watching the female cast in a state of undress.  In a show about the f**king zombie apocalypse.  Even the physics of the world are challenged in the name of “Sexy”, taken to its insane extreme in a mid-series episode that I can’t even properly describe.  I’ll just say it involves Bullet Time and Breasts and leave it at that.   If someone new to anime were to watch this show and ask if they were watching softcore porn I don’t think I could blame them for being mistaken.  That’s how bad it is!  The fact that this abundance of cheesecake doesn’t automatically fail the show is a testament of the strength of the parts I did enjoy, but even so this was jarring the first time through and actually made me cringe most of the time the second.

 Another major problem is the English dub.  When I saw H.O.T.D. last year it was in Japanese and everything was fine, but when re-watching it for this review I had to do it in English which made everything harder.  Again I’m not an English-dub snob but it was not a good track here.  Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by FUNimation, who usually have top notch voice acting, but regardless hearing the dialogue almost made me turn the show off.  It’s mostly that key voice actors are terrible in their roles and that most of the cast don’t really sound appropriate for their characters but there’s also the dialogue itself which goes beyond mere translation and actually comes off like some sound director trying to make things seem as American as possible.  I know I’m American and I’m certainly not against someone trying to appeal to me as such but do you really expect me to believe that Japanese teenagers would constantly make casual reference to Western pop culture like that?  Seriously guys?  A Sarah Palin joke?  It happens far too much for my liking.   Even though it’s in English it’s still a story about Japanese people in Japan; let’s not make things too relatable for Western audiences at the expense of Eastern identity.

I had some other issues but really they’re mostly minor nitpicks.  I loved Highschool of the Dead but unfortunately because of all the fan service involved I say that with more than a little shame.  If give this show a chance with the Japanese track on and try to ignore all the crotch shots than you may find yourself enjoying things as much as I did.  Sadly I can understand you not wanting to deal with this level of titillation because I could only barely tolerate it myself.  If you’re a fan of zombie films you might enjoy it unless you are a hater of all things anime because this show will not change your mind and will probably just make you mad.   If you’re an anime fan who is not used to zombie films this is probably a good starting point to get the feel of what the genre is all about.  In a way I feel this show doesn’t deserve the high grade I’m about to award it but despite its major, major flaw but frankly I still rather watch this than the vast majority of anime out there right now.

Also lets not forget that this is a horror anime

I give Highschool of the Dead 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


-Good assemble cast (For the most part)

-Great action

-Genuinely creepy


-Waaaaay too much fan service makes this anime hard to watch

-English dub isn’t worth watching

-Can dip into anime cliché more than it probably should

If you have any suggestions or requests for an anime review let me know in the comment section or shoot me an e-mail at

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