Anime Review: Highschool of the Dead

By Michael Vass | January 30, 2011

As time is passing this gem of an animated television series is growing a fanbase, while the Highschool of the Dead series itself has passed on. A unique situation that has many factors and little explaination. Yet one thing that is clear, after watching the series, is it has more to offer than most movies coming out of Hollywood.

Highschool of the Dead (HOTD) is based firmly in the zombie apocalypse genre. As such it provides the usual plot one might expect from the genre. The zombie plague hits and various people try to survive with different levels of sucess. What makes this anime series stand out is how this is approached, and the …subtle manner of the artwork. The combination provides the anime with a feel more akin to The Walking Dead, while being seperate of it.

What makes this anime different than most?

  • It takes place in Japan
  • The main cast are all in high school
  • The zombie plague takes place while the students are at school
  • There are nuclear weapons involved in the storyline
  • There is an attention to the sexual hyper-sensitivity of teens (hardcore feminists and celibacy advocates beware)

    From the start of the series we get the basic characters. The reluctant leader, the nerd that breaks out of their shell, the ditzy blonde, the genius geek, the super skilled zombie killer. But the story is being told from the view of the narrator, our reluctant hero and a young man around the age of 17 or so. Thus his hormonal state might have a large influence on the depiction of the 3 female protagonists as well as the other male in his group.

    Based on what was stated to us by anime super fans that made us aware of this series in the first place, the nature of the artwork is actually due to the fact that the artist involved were formerly involved in hentai. Considering the style involved, and the writing, the hentai connection makes complete sense – though we were not able to confirm that. Whatever the reason, the serious nature of the series, coupled with the hyper-sexuality, makes for a more believable set of characters. It also adds to the concern the viewer has for each main character as the story develops.

    Saeko Busujima from HOTD manga

    Saeko Busujima from HOTD manga

    Honestly, in a world where the only people left are a few people you barely know, that look like these do, combined with teen hormones, the very least that will happen is that comments will be made. Actually it highlights a common event in most anime. Women are regularly depicted with attributes that would make the old Barbie seem like a stick figure – yet none of the characters ever seem to notice. Generally the women are treated like they are drawn akin to Olive Oyl instead of Jessica Rabbit. In this series everybody knows that the curves are their, and they react to them (without ever getting actively sexual – though it is implied 2x in the series).

    Going back to the main features of the series. The artwork stands out for the ‘generous’ proportions, but is no worse than current standards in anime art otherwise. The sound is interesting, with the first episode containing background music highly reminiscent of 28 Days Later sountrack. Other than that the soundtrack is again at least as good as the norm if not slightly better.

    The voice acting is worth particular notice. The voice actors do a very credible job giving the animation life and depth. You feel like the character have real concerns for themselves and others around them in part do to the voice acting. Considering the subject matter, and the medium, it would be easy for the voice acting to go over the top, but it never does that. Well maybe a bit for a couple of the adults featured far later in the series, but they are characters that are only around for 2 episodes and likely never to be seen again.

    Perhpas the glue that combines all the average and unique elements of this anime series is the plot. It’s not rocket science, but it is better thought out than many a Hollywood movie. Seriously, the 12 episodes of Highschool of the Dead have less plotholes than Green Hornet and a slew of other films.

    The plot takes the characters from the initial exposure to the on-going zombie plague, their insites and revelations about the zombies, to plans for survival in a manner that actually makes sense and is completely reasonable for a set of teens. Given the odds of a group of teens in a particular high school including the daughter of a military officer of rank, a noted martial arts instructor’s daughter, a gun-nut trained by a former Blackwater operative, and a mensa student are pretty low. Even lower when you include a nurse that has the apparent IQ of a wet noodle but a figure on par with the aforementioned Jessica Rabbit.

    Still, the teens are not super genius. They are not endowed with ability that are superhuman, or act in a manner that is implausible even for an anime television show. Highschool of the Dead sticks with a world that is mostly like our own, and people that generally might be expected under the circumstances. There are exceptions, like the super-liberals highlighted in a couple of episodes, but those exceptions are more of a statement about extremes than a serious part of the series.

    So when you put it together what do you get? 12 episodes that fit together with at least as much sense and visual appeal as AMC’s comic book conversion of The Walking Dead. Except that is all you get. Because the manga and the anime series for Highschool of the Dead have been killed. HOTD aired in Japan from July 5, 2010 to September 20, 2010. There will be a original video animation released on February 10, 2011. In addition Highschool of the Dead: Drifters of the Dead OVA is scheduled to be released on April 20, 2011.

    Rumors state that the series may yet return. Even if it does not, we would recommend the series. IF you like zombies and anime, this needs to be added to your collection.

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