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Highschool of the Dead - Anime Series Review
Highschool of the Dead is a 2010 anime based on Daisuke Sato's hit manga series of the same name. Notably, the manga was illustrated by Shoji Sato (who also did character design), who is known for his work in the hentai industry. This may give viewers an idea of what they are in for, should they decide to watch Highschool of the Dead. Because while most zombie apocalypse works tend to either focus on examining the human condition, or on themes of survival, both of these themes take the backseat in Highschool of the Dead. Here, the focus is placed on -- what else? -- fan service.
Like most works in its genre, the society that Sato constructs breaks down under the strain of the apocalypse; and in such a world, who better to act as heroes than large-breasted high school girls? At least that's the premise of the show.
Story and Setting
I won't be coy: I knew what I was getting into when I chose to watch Highschool of the Dead. I knew it was going to contain a lot of jiggling breasts, and tons, and tons, of pantsu. However, I've been on the internet for a very long time now, and I'm also well aware that I can find both of these things elsewhere. So when I picked up Highschool of the Dead, it was because I was actually really interested in its story and setting. Sure, by now the whole zombie apocalypse thing has been done to death, but it's a classic plot stem for a reason: zombie apocalypses are really fun to explore; and I was rather interested in seeing one play out amid a Japanese high school backdrop. Well, I got that... for about three episodes.
After the students escape from the school in the first quarter of the twelve-episode series, the series quickly degenerates into your standard genre-tale. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's little point in beating a dead horse by describing it. If you like The Walking Dead, or any of Romero's films, this is something you'll be able to get into. Don't expect a whole lot of new ideas, though. Highschool of the Dead is style over substance in every way.
If there are any flaws worth bringing up in regards to the series' plot, it's that it struggles to maintain focus. Highschool of the Dead was always going to be stuffed to the rims with boobs and panty-shots, so to say time is wasted there wouldn't really be fair. However, the harem-like plot elements come across as unnecessary, especially considering that none of them lead anywhere. Twelve episodes might be long enough to explore a love-triangle, but not when there are zombies around.
Highschool of the Dead has, for the most part, likable characters. Everyone who watches will have their own favorite. Viewers who like badass women will appreciate the cool-tempered Kendo master, Saeko Busujima. And viewers who appreciate girls with brains might find themselves drawn to the pink-haired and mean-spirited Saya Takagi. However, not all characters are given as much characterization as these two. And that is to say, they are given almost none. Notably, and perhaps ironically, the main character (Takashi Komuro) comes across as little more than an avatar for the viewer to project themselves onto, as if he were the protagonist in a video game.
The gun-nut Kohta Hirano, and the ditzy school nurse, Shizuka Marikawa, round out the main cast of the series. And they have both been described, nearly in their entirety, with that one sentence. Taken as a whole, the cast of would-be heroes from Fujimi High gets the job done, but without much fanfare.
Art, Animation, and Style
In terms of aesthetic design, Highschool of the Dead does many things right, and many things wrong. Character designs, strong line-art, excellent coloring and shading, and good use of visual effects are some of the strengths of Highschool of the Dead. However, for a show with such a heavy focus on its own fan service and sex appeal... female anatomy is frequently exaggerated to the point of being off-putting, with breasts that resemble eggplants, and chins that come to dangerously sharp points . However, we'll not spend time pondering over either of these aspects of the show.
Another weakness of the series is that it shys away from its own violence. The degree to which Highschool of the Dead employs sexual content (including an extended shower scene with the female students) suggests that the show is aimed at a more mature audience. However, much of the show's violence occurs off-screen. One notable scene features Saeko mowing down a horde of zombies with a katana. What should have been an exciting moment was considerably less-so, because prior to each cut, the screen would flash, and we'd be on to the next one, without seeing the moment of impact. This is a technique that the show returns to many times throughout its duration: for example, Takeshi will swing a bat, and we'll then see a blood stain on a wall. The implication of what happened is clear, but we are left feeling unfulfilled as viewers.
The show does contain an absurd amount of style in its own way, though. And emphasis should be placed on the word "absurd." In one famous scene, Saeko manages to flip through the air in slow motion, while a sniper bullet passes between her breasts. Let what you just read sink in for a moment. This is the type of thing that you're either going to love, or you're going to hate. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm of the former mindset. I couldn't take much of what Highschool of the Dead was doing seriously, but I had a lot of fun watching it all play out on screen.
Music and Sound
The opening of the series is called "HIGHSCHOOL OF THE DEAD and Gone" and is by Kishida Kyoudan and the Akeboshi Rockets. This song is by no means a classic, but it's a nice softer J-Rock song. The endings of the show differ in each episode. Performed by Maon Kurosaki, they range in quality from being horribly sappy and bad, to being quite catchy. If nothing else, taking this approach to the ending songs shows a great deal of care was put into creating this anime, and it's something that should be appreciated. Music played throughout the episodes also shows this effort, and adds a great deal to the scenes.
Voice acting in the show is of the highest caliber. It really is incredible, and adds so much to each of the characters. Of course, this shouldn't be a surprise when you look at the cast list. It's a list full of talented people like Miyuki Sawashiro, Marina Inoue, and Junichi Suwabe -- names that you may not know, but whom you'll find are highly prolific voice actors, who have voiced many characters you're familiar with from other shows. Also, interestingly, is that Junko Takeuchi (known for her voice as Naruto Uzumaki) voices a secondary character.
Highschool of the Dead doesn't hit as many of the good beats as I wanted it to. I would have liked a more focused series -- one with a little more substance to it. For twelve-episode series about the zombie apocalypse, there's too many scenes where nothing happens aside from a shot of girls wearing tank-tops. I feel like there was potential that should have been fulfilled, but wasn't. This isn't to say that Highschool of the Dead is a bad show, though. Far from it, Highschool of the Dead is very watchable, and very enjoyable. You probably won't come back to it after the first viewing, and it's not going to give you a whole lot to think about, but it's a fun romp while it lasts.
Final Rating: 7.0 out of 10.0
(This author would also like to point out, that the show's official title is, in fact, Highschool of the Dead. The author of this review understands that "High School" is actually two words.)