If you like your survival horror, and appreciate hefty doses of fanservice to go with it, here’s a series that will be right up your alley: Highschool of the Dead. Take a group of rather capable high school students, unleash the Zombie Apocalypse, and sit back to see what happens…
What They Say:
A seemingly ordinary day at Fujimi High School rapidly descends into a terrifying nightmare and a deadly fight for survival for a group of teenage students who find themselves caught up in the chaos caused by an outbreak of a new disease that turns its victims into ravenous, flesh-eating zombies. Forced to slay large numbers of their teachers and fellow students just to escape the confines of the school, they soon learn that the outbreak is not only a local or even national problem but also a global one.
As the pandemic rages out of control, society begins to collapse and everyday moral codes begin to crumble. Now it is up to Takashi Komuro to unite the small group of school friends and other survivors and lead them on a journey that they hope will take them to a place of safety beyond this new world of the living dead.
Two audio tracks are provided: a Japanese 2.0 track, and an English 5.1 version, both in DTS-HD MA. I listened to the Japanese track for this review, and even though it’s ‘only’ in stereo it’s still an impressive soundtrack. Effects are well-placed on the soundstage and used to great effect, background music sounds great, and dialogue is clean and clear throughout. There were no obvious encoding issues.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect, using the AVC codec at 1080p, and once again it looks wonderful. Colours are bright, backgrounds are detailed, animation is fluid… with Blu-ray anime still being a novelty in the UK, I’m still getting used to the wow factor of it, but this genuinely is a damned good-looking show.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
In typical manga fashion, the main menu is a static affair, with one of the girls off to the right in an action pose (Saeko on disc one, Rei on disc two), direct access to each episode available on the left, and an option for language setup (plus extras on disc two) at the bottom. It’s all suitably snappy to use, so no complaints here.
Creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences are ‘all’ you get – although since there are 12 versions of the ED, each with a different song and slightly different animation, that still means there’s a decent amount to work through.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
What started as an ordinary day for Takashi Komuro and his friends soon turns into a living nightmare – the zombie apocalypse is here, and his school has just become the front line in the fight against the shambling hordes. With his childhood friend Rei Miyamoto and her boyfriend Hisahi Igo, Komuro begins the fight not to become one of Them – and the odds are clearly against them…
Hisashi, unfortunately, doesn’t last long – a nibble from a passing zombie sees him transformed to one of Them before meeting a messy end at the hands of Komuro and his rather nifty baseball bat. Which kind of sets the tone for the rest of the series. Rei and Komuro aren’t left to fight on their own – they’re soon joined by a small collection of friends and classmates, in the form of Saya Tagaki, the intelligent and confident daughter of an ultra-nationalist politician; weapons otaku Kota Hirano, who knows just how to use any weapon you’d care to put into his hands (and can rustle up some rather nifty makeshift ones, too); school nurse Shizuka Marikawa, who’s well enough stacked that she’s bound to have trouble running; school kendo star Saeko Busujima; and young girl Arisu, rescued from Them along the way after her father was killed while trying to find them a safe haven. Where the zombies came from is anyone’s guess – there seems to have been a spontaneous worldwide outbreak – but from the appearance of a lone one of Them at the school gates to the collapse of law and order takes about and hour of “real” time as the plague rapidly spreads.
With their world falling apart, the kids do what comes naturally: decide to try and find their loved ones, and so begins their journey across a city than now knows nothing but chaos. If you ever do a little reading on how psychologists suspect people would react under the sort of pressure that Komuro and his friends are being placed under, then how events unfold won’t particularly surprise you: given the opportunity to kill without comeback or remorse, some will revel in the violence, which is the path that Saeko and to a lesser extent Komuro travel down (there’s one memorable scene where Saeko’s getting so caught up in the thrill of the fight that she gets, uh, rather aroused). The breakdown of law & order gives those with a charismatic and power-thirsty nature the chance to step in and fill the void, a role filled by Saya’s father and complete bastard of a teacher Shido-sensei – one trying to protect those around him, the other using his influence to create his own little cult of personality. And the intense pressure that everyone is under leads, in some cases, to a desire to release that tension in a variety of fanservice-friendly ways, if you get the picture. It’s all very believably done. There’s a sense that someone’s done their homework – the initial adrenaline surge, the urge to live that soon comes to override the basic niceties of human behaviour, the need to turn to others you can trust in a time of extreme need – and the mental meltdowns that inevitably occur when you give reality a chance to sink in, it all feels just right, even though I can’t claim to have survived the Zombie Apocalypse myself to know these things first-hand.
The characters, while each possessing markedly different personalities, aren’t exactly what you’d call multi-faceted, but that’s hardly required when your reason for being is simply to scheme, stab & bludgeon you way through the zombie hordes – if you’re going to survive in a world where the majority of the population has taken up full-time shambling, you’re going to need a certain mindset, and our ‘heroes’ certainly have it. Add in that there’s enough plot and character development going on to keep the zombie slaying from becoming repetitive – not a lot, but enough – and some impressively high production values, and you have what for me at least is the show of the year so far.
But I also had a thought along the way that gives rise to a counter-argument. The reason I was originally drawn to the series is because it’s a tits & ass fanfest, topped with lashings of gore. That’s fine, they’re both ideas that play well with anime fans, and with scenes like the immensely silly bullet-time sequence (where a sniper bullet fired by Komuro is followed in flight, passing neatly and in very slow motion right through Saeko’s cleavage before hitting its target) the story is clearly playing to a certain audience. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that the show’s presentation plays on the exploitation flicks of old, over-the-top fanservice and all. Part of me can’t help but wonder, though, if the series might not be even more of a hit (albeit paradoxically not quite as good) if it just toned down the sexual content a little, to the point where I didn’t have second thoughts about showing it to friends who weren’t already into anime. I can only take so many “All anime is porn!!” gags.
Such thoughts are fleeting, though, and soon forgotten about the next time Rei or Saya get naked. Highschool of the Dead is visually gorgeous, it’s clever, it’s action packed and it has some truly disturbing moments, all played out by a cast that’s entertaining to watch while being presented in a way that doesn’t really demand to be taken all that seriously. Easily my highlight of the year so far, and one to be added to the must-have list.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Creditless Opening and Closing Songs.
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: 29 August 2011
Running Time: 322 minutes
Video Encoding: h.264/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37″ widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI at 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.