The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Highschool of the Dead

Title: Highschool of the Dead aka HOTD aka HSOTD
Genre: Action
Company: Madhouse
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 27 Jun 2010 to 20 Sep 2010

Synopsis: On a Spring morning like any other, five high school students and one school nurse are dealing with the innocuous problems of daily life: hormones, teachers, melodrama, the usual. While skipping class on the school stairway, Komuro Takashi spots a commotion at the school gate, where a passing salaryman suddenly bites one of the teachers, and undead chaos soon ensues. The six survivors band together to escape their school and zombified classmates, but their ordeal was merely a microcosm of the disaster that has befallen Japan: a horrific outbreak of unknown origin that threatens to throw the country and entire world into anarchy.

The Highlights
Action: Fast, hectic, and often ridiculous.
Fanservice: Audacious, copious, and also very ridiculous.
Nerdservice: And barely anything else.

Zombie literature in popular culture is not in short supply. Ranging from social critique of political movements, fear of unnatural biological mutation, to campy parody of the horror genre, the tropes of this sub-genre have homogenized sufficiently that everyone understands what a zombie apocalypse entails. However, despite the medium’s inclination for the supernatural, anime has never seen a zombie story proper, until now. This bold pioneer is Highschool of the Dead, a showcase of standard zombie survival clichés mixed with copious anime fanservice clichés. Although the title treads exclusively in well worn territory, it realizes its vision of gore and bare flesh well enough to maintain a level of brainless entertainment.

Highschool of the Dead (shorthand: HOTD) makes no great debate about what it is: nasty zombies and high school boobies. It barrels through all the tropes of zombies invading school, and also makes sure to include numerous panty flashes and improbable cleavage shots for that extra dose of gratuity. And just when it seems to have exhausted all the likely survival possibilities in the building, the tropes reload for the second episode and the troupe journeys into the city. It’s blunt and straightforward that way, but at the same time it limits itself entirely as a visceral entertainment product. What is bloody fun and games for some is gross and off-putting for others, and HOTD provides no leeway for indifference.

What HOTD does best is execute engaging screenplay. There is remarkable attention to sensory details, notable in the choice imagery of ruined buildings and blood splatter and background music that sets atmosphere but never overplays the scene. The anime early on indicates its move away from horror elements to straight action with its kinetic camera usage. It generates visual excitement with swooshing angles, slow motion, and otherwise interesting camera placement peppered into its copious action and titillation scenes. It may not be blessed with the greatest animation budget, as demonstrated by the stiff looking CG it sometimes employs, but overall it looks attractive, fitting of the spectacle HOTD wants to create.

The weaknesses of this anime are rooted in its paper-thin premise. After the team escapes one group of zombies, increasingly absurd and contrived circumstances force them to act again to face the menace instead of seeking or remaining in a safe house. What’s more, the main troupe and those around them are guilty of being morons. Since the zombies prove themselves relatively unthreatening on the spectrum of supernatural beasties, the real threat to human survival becomes the compounded effect of inane human decisions. Why do they ditch perfectly serviceable vehicles at the first opportunity? Why do they seemingly never run out of ammo after mowing down the umpteenth consecutive horde? HOTD clearly doesn’t concern itself with these questions because, hey look, Saeko in a wet shirt!

The series took material rife with lurching plot progression and characterization that leaves something to be desired, and made it watchable on the strength of strong presentation alone. HOTD is the kind of base entertainment that critics (like myself) like to decry as the downfall of civilization, but its technical creativity lets it stand at the top of that heap. HOTD fulfills its promise of brainless fun, if just barely.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: kadian1364

Top of page