Judge Roman Martel is adapting this anime for Off-Broadway as High School Musical of the Dead.
"God you reek. I know you're dead, but is a little hygiene too much to ask."
The DVD cover features busty girls in school uniforms wielding various weapons and splattered in blood. I can guess what kind of anime series we're in for. But just when you think you can judge a DVD by its cover along comes High School of the Dead to shake things up a little. And yes, that does include shaking cleavage.
Takashi Komuro (Leraldo Anzaldua, Guin Saga) is skipping class and feeling sorry for himself. His childhood sweetheart, Rei (Jessica Boone, Kaleido Star), has dumped him for his best friend. The the school know-it-all, Saya Takagi (Maggie Flecknoe, Ghost Hound), comes by to tell him how dumb he is. Just when he thinks things can't get any worse, he witnesses the unthinkable. A honest to goodness zombie walks up to the school gates and proceeds to attack and infect some of the teachers.
Pandemonium erupts as the entire school comes under siege by the living dead. These shambling corpses crave human flesh. If they don't completely devoure you, a single bite will transform you into a zombie. At first Takashi is only concerned about finding and saving Rei, but eventually he joins forces with other students who manage to survive the initial horrors.
There's Kota Hirano (Mark X. Laskowski, Noir), a pudgy gun loving nerd who's got the hots for Takagi. Then there's Saeko Busujima (Taylor Hannah, Gilgamesh), a purple haired amazon with deadly katana wielding skills. Rounding out the survivors is the school nurse Shizuka Marikawa (Monica Rial, Dance in the Vampire Bund) whose chief attributes are her cluelessness and her giant chest.
It becomes very apparent that the zombie plague is not occurring just in the school, but all around the world. As the Japanese government attempts to cope with the nightmare, they take drastic action. Now these teenagers (and the nurse) will see just how low humanity can sink and that life in high school was a breeze compared to an undead apocalypse.
High School of the Dead really grew on me. At first I figured I was getting into something like Corpse Princess: Part One. It would be a violent show with a ton of fan service and some wacky characters thrown in for giggles. But I was surprised to discover that the comedy was toned way down in this show. Instead we get a full blown end of the world scenario and all the horror it entails. Sure we get some one liners and the busty bouncy nurse is pretty much only around for laughs, but for the most part this series is damn serious.
And you know what, it really works. I never thought about it before, but animation really allows the zombie loving film makers out there to expand their canvas of horror. Not relegated to budget constraints because of make up effects, they can really open up the situation of a world gone completely insane.
High School of the Dead never explains why the zombies exist or what started the whole thing. Instead we are immersed in the panic with the students. This also invests us in their characters. Sure most of them are stereotypical anime archetypes, but the writers end up working these tropes into all kinds of interesting situations. One of my favorites was watching Takagi, the perfect student with top grades deal with the fact that she can't reason her way out of the madness. She has to rely on loser Kota's ability to fashion a crude gun from supplies found in the woodshop. It makes for an interesting dynamic that blossoms even further when we find out more about her family and their role in the finale of the series.
But before you come in thinking this is great drama with a dark center, I have to say this series is bloody, slimy and oozy. You want gore, you get it in spades here. All kinds of zombie death dealing is covered, from flashing katanas to machine guns and plain old running them over with a bus. When the zombies get their hands on someone, the violence is in your face and disturbing. There are some great action scenes in the series when the survivors really get into a jam and have to blast and fight their way free.
Finally, there's the fan service. Much like the gore, pretty much every type of excuse to show off female attributes is used. Nearly all the women in this series are well (and over) endowed. Most of them are running, jumping and swinging weapons around at least half of each episode. Add all the creative camera framing, bullet time effects and slow motion and you've got a cheesecake fan's dream come true.
As entertaining as High School of the Dead is, there are a few things about it that didn't click. First, the series teeters dangerously on the edge of becoming a harem show. Nearly all the girls have a crush on Takashi. The series doesn't really delve into it too much, but it seems like a element that wasn't really needed or resolved by the end of the series. Speaking of endings, while there is a nice finale it also leaves things very open ended. I also thought that the last three episodes ran out of steam just a bit, and made me wish that the series had used the previous mini-climax as it's big finale.
Finally, I'm not against fan service at all. It's one of the things that makes anime unique and fun. But man oh man did they go overboard here. It gets so ridiculous I was laughing at all the ways they managed to work in cleavage or panty shots every two or three minutes. Honestly, it becomes really distracting, especially when the show does such a good job ratcheting up the tension. We get too many edge of your seat sequences that get scuttled by snicker inducing slow motion acrobatics which manage to catch every jiggle and flip of a skirt.
Sentai provides all twelve episodes on two discs. The transfers look great with solid blacks for the nighttime scenes. The 5.1 audio track for the English dub was well mixed. The shotguns had some nice bass to them, and the score and J-pop never overpowered the dialogue. I spot checked the Japanese track and it sounded nice and clear, if a little less dynamic. The only extras are clean opening and ending credits. The end credits are a little different every time, so these are actually kind of fun to watch. Shame we couldn't have had a little more about the manga the series is based on or even some commentary by the english voice actors. I'd be interested in their take on the characters and story.
High School of the Dead is easy to recommend to any horror fans out there. It's a nice mix of action and gore with a healthy helping of over the top fan service.
Bloody, bouncy and not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
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