Supernatural creations are everywhere in anime and manga. Ghosts often feature, demons are dime a dozen. There are more vampires then you shake a particularly pointy stick at. Zombies, on the other hand, are conspicuous by their absence. Japanese creators have given the world some excellent zombie works in the fields of video games, such as the Resident Evil series, and live action movies such as Versus. Despite being commonplace in nearly every other form of popular culture over the last decade or so, there has been slim pickings for the anime-loving zombie fan. Enter Daisuke Sato’s manga Highschool Of The Dead, first published in 2006, which was adapted into this 12 episode TV series in 2010.
This is a very rare thing; an anime whose title actually tells you what the show is about, in no uncertain times. As you may have guessed, this is an anime take on a George Romero-style zombie apocalypse, which takes place in a high school! In actual fact this doesn’t quite cover it, as after a few episodes the titular school is left behind, but there’s no need to go into much into detail about the plot. As is usual in these stories it follows a rag-tag band of survivors forced together as they try and escape. However, out in the real world they find that fellow survivors can be as much of a threat as the hordes of flesh-munchers. It pretty much unfolds as you would expect if you’ve seen a few zombie flicks, although it adds some uniquely anime-ish twists that I won’t spoil for you here. The lead characters are pretty much all cookie cutter stereotypes. There’s the regular Joe lead character, the class nerd and a gang of girls – every one of which is a different fanboy wish fulfilment fantasy type. There’s a ‘girl next door’, the girl with glasses, the dark haired ‘Japanese rose’ type and of course the blonde bimbo. It is to the show’s credit though that they do actually do a good job of making the characters likeable; they actually have just a little bit more depth to them than it first appears. It’s just about enough to make you actually care what happens to them. Considering that well developed characters are hardly the top priority in a show like this, any effort made towards it, however small, is appreciated.
The animation looks pretty spectacular. It’s not much of a surprise considering it’s animated by the studio Madhouse, who have rarely put a foot wrong. It looks amazingly slick for a TV show, with high quality animation and beautiful backgrounds. This show could live or die on one aspect though – the zombies. Fortunate they have got them spot on. The zombies here look just right, and are a shambling delight, just as they should be; no running zombies here thank you! They look and sound like they could’ve been ripped straight out of a Romero movie.
Although the quieter, tenser character-based moments are not badly done, the real fun in HOTD is in the set pieces, the large scale zombie attacks. The series opens with one, providing one of the most memorable opening episodes in recent memory. There are plenty of zombie fighting action sequences all the way through, and the final episode is another highpoint. The ending, although not exactly conclusive, is satisfying, while leaving it open for more seasons. It’s annoying however to know there is an extra OAV episode that is not included.
A word of caution; the episodes have a slightly unusual structure, where the story continues after the closing credits. So if you usually skip credits, then make sure you don’t miss the after credits sequence in each episode, or you’ll miss important plot points.
You cannot talk about this series without bringing up the matter of fan-service. From the very first episode onwards this has a dedication to it that makes almost every other show look unambitious. The female character designs are, shall we say, ‘optimistic’? Every one of the female leads have ridiculous, heaving, lovingly animated bosoms. Although there is little actual nudity, no opportunity is missed to zoom in on a female character’s chesticles, or especially their undergarments. Even if she’s being eaten by a zombie. It’s as if the ‘camera’ is being operated by a horny teenager. It’s very strange, and the blending of sex and violence can be a little unsettling, but there’s no getting round it. As such, if you really can’t stand fan service then you really need to give this series a miss. However it’s so (ahem) upfront about it, and it’s so gleefully in-your-face it’s hard to imagine anyone getting too offended by it. In fact it’s hard not to think they’re largely playing it for laughs, with the bouncing sound effects, and one character experiencing back problems following a boob-related incident. It’s so part of the show it’s difficult to ignore, so it’s best to just go with it, and it’s hard not to admire it’s sheer audacity.
It’s a shame it is so prevalent however. As its stands, HOTD is something I would recommend for any seasoned anime fan. If they had toned down the fan service, I think it would have possibly have been a classic, with real crossover potential – something you could recommend to any horror or zombie fan.
It’s not fair though to penalise something for what could have been. What it is an unrelenting, ass-kicking thrill ride or a show that starts off strong and is never boring. Yes the fan service is a bit much, but with the rest of the show this good I’m willing to let it slide.
The English language release comes not via Funimation, but it is a rare UK release for a show from Sentai, the company that used to be ADV. The dub is perfectly fine, and the few lines that have obviously been added to the English script don’t seem to out of place. If you’ve made the jump to HD, the Blu-ray version looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous, so it’s definitely worth the extra cash. Whether you go for DVD or Blu-ray, this is the show that zombie loving otaku have been waiting for. Luckily it’s dead good.