What They Say:
It began without warning. It continues without mercy. Now a band of high schoolers join forces with guns, swords, baseball bats and anything else they can get their hands on to battle a bloodthirsty, flesh-hungry zombie apocalypse.
The audio presentation for this release is a definite piece of work, though it’s one that has more to do with levels than anything else. Both the English and Japanese tracks are encoded using DTS-HD MA while the English is a 5.1 mix and the Japanese is the original 2.0 mix. The Japanese mix is very solid with a great forward soundstage mix that use good impact with the action scenes while the music has a rich feel that works really well. Dialogue is well placed and it has a warmth to it overall that lets the acting come through well. The English mix is not something you want to flip over to in the middle of the opening sequence for example, as it’s an order of magnitude louder. There is more sent to the rear channels but what it comes across as in a lot of places is just a louder mix more than anything else. It certainly gives it more impact but when you normalize things it’s fairly similar, though with more activity sent to the rear channels. Our preference definitely went towards to the Japanese mix but both tracks showcase the material well and are free of problems.
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this TV series is in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with nine episodes on the first and three on the second along with the OVA. I had really liked the look of the show even with its simulcast option, which wasn’t a high definition one, but what we get here is just impressive looking on a big screen with lush, detailed colors, great animation and fanservice the way it was meant to be seen. The disc tends to spend most of its time in the thirties with the bitrate and handles all the very busy scenes very well with no real noticeable issues during regular playback. Colors are rich and solid with some real warmth to them and the skin tones in particular come across really well. The action scenes are quite fluid when they get rolling and the transfer here captures that very well. Outside of some very minor noise in a few background scenes here and there, this was a pretty problem free transfer.
The packaging for this release brings us our first collector’s edition release from Sentai Filmworks and the end result is pretty solid. The release comes in a heavy chipboard box that has a digipak inside that holds the discs as well as a spacer box for all the extras. The box imagery is strong overall as we get an illustration style piece that wraps around as it shows off the main cast of characters in action poses, clothing tearing away and a dark look to it with a smoky background that fits well for what’s going on. The obi on it covers things well for the premise and what’s included while the bottom of the box breaks down the production credits and technical information, all of which I’m assuming is accurate because the colors used for a lot of the text on the black makes it nearly unreadable.
Within the box we get the digipak, which has a good action pose for Saeko on the front while the back of it is a full piece that uses the OVA cover of her on her back in her bikini relaxing under the palm tree. I’m glad to see that piece of artwork survive with the set. The digipak opens up to break down two panels, one for each format, that lists the episodes by number and title with their respective discs. Opening it up all the way from there we get a good layout for the discs while also getting an array of character artwork with each main female character outside of Alice underneath in a good pose with lots of detail. The discs also use some good silkscreening that play off the same characters but use different pieces of artwork, giving you more to enjoy.
In the spacer box, we get all the pack-in goods for this release. That includes a cute numbered static cling sticker that has the white hand print with the logo through it that you can slap on your card window as well as a good sized bandana that’s all black but uses the bloody red hand and logo across it. There’s also four really good postcards that shows off eight images, which makes me wish there were eight postcards instead so all of them could be displayed. The really big thing though is the booklet, which is of decent size, as it provides a lot of gorgeous character artwork and translated original short novels that help to expand the overall setting. These kinds of things are more involved in translating and getting the rights for so I’m definitely glad they found their way in here to make this set extra special and to really offer something new for most fans.
The menu design for this release is pretty decent as it fits in with the theme of the packaging by using great looking pieces of character artwork, Saeko for the first disc and Rei for the second, where they’re wearing their uniforms while standing against blood splattered backgrounds of black and great. The logo is done along the right while the left has the individual episode selection blocks where the text is done cleanly in an easy to read and well laid out, and lightly colorful fashion, as it lists the episodes by number and title. The look of the disc is really good here with the menus as it sets the theme nicely and tantalizes you with attractive character designs from the start. Submenus load quickly and backing out of a deep menu, such as the trailers, is very fast.
The only extras included on this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which can be found on the second disc. The inclusion of just two extras may not seem like much, but the closing sequence was done differently for just about every episode here so we get a twenty-two minute section for that was each of the endings are included, which is a great thing.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series of the same name by the brother team of Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato, Highschool of the Dead is a twelve episode series that capitalizes on the current fun and craze with zombies. The show made quite a splash when it debuted back in 2010 as it had a fair bit of controversy about it by some who felt that it could have been a bit more of a crossover hit if not for all the fanservice and sexuality. Considering the nature of zombie films in general, not having the flip side to death would be a sin in making this. Unlike more Hollywood adaptations of zombie material, this one is a whole lot more exploitation. And I loved every minute of it because of that.
The core idea of the series is simple and we’ve plainly seen it before over the decades. We’re introduced to a group of kids at a high school where they’re going through a normal day where the sun is bright, the sky is blue and the cherry blossoms are starting to fall. Within it, there are some strains that you can sense right from the starts as Takashi, a good looking kid who is a bit on the outside because of his attitude, is having issues with his longtime childhood friend of Rei who continues to have feelings for Hisashi since he’s the kind of guy who listens, whereas Takashi just complains. They’re three friends who have a tough situation to deal with, but it pales before what happens just outside the gate. In the smallest of ways, the infection that has just started to hit the country makes its way through when a teacher is bitten by someone just bumping against the gate. It doesn’t take long for the small incident to turn into a violent episode that Takashi sees from up on high.
Where the series breaks tradition is that Takashi gets a clue right away and just bolts to get Rei and Hisashi so they can get away. The outbreak spreads quickly and we see the various core characters in their now ending normal lives. Saeko is the classic style young woman who trains in the sword in the school dojo and has an old school feel about her. Takagi is the bright and domineering young woman who does what she can to survive, which is why she taps the military otaku Hirano to work with her in getting out of there alive. The school succumbs quickly to the madness and the students all eventually meet up along with the school nurse, an overly buxom and slightly ditzy Shizuka. These opening moments, which largely covers the first episode, clues us in to the basics of how the dead operate and shows us that these kids are paying attention.
While they do actually do stupid things along the way, though they tend to be other characters that wander in and die, by and large the lead characters manage to avoid the standard traps. They grab weapons quickly, they group together and keep on the move and they do what’s necessary when they realize exactly what they’re up against. All of this helps to eliminate the main problem that so many zombie shows have in that you have to believe that all of these normal people have never heard of the zombie concept before and are totally shocked by it. While the shock of the reality of it would certainly cause people to stumble, you have so many shows where they act like they’ve never heard of the idea before. And they do stupid things like not grabbing weapons, making too much noise and trying to save those that can’t be saved.
While the show is named Highschool of the Dead, little of it takes place in the school as that’s just the launching point. Once they get outside of the school, they get to see that the city is falling prey to all of this and they grasp that life is not the same. With adults proving just as dangerous as the dead, the kids work together to try and figure out how to get to various homes so they can check on their parents. This provides plenty of challenges as they have to deal with the way law enforcement is trying to maintain order, as regular citizens hole up and isolate themselves from everyone else and some decide that this is the perfect time for a new world order so they can create a new cult. What becomes fascinating to watch is the way the kids themselves accept this new reality so quickly, not without qualms and internal angst over what they have to do, and just get down to the business of making sure they survive. Everything goes to hell so quickly that they’re forced into this acceptance and it shows a lot about their state of minds that they can adapt to it. When you see so many people chewed up and killed by adhering to the old rules, finding out ways to survive while still being true to yourself becomes paramount. But survival is still at the top.
Over the course of it, it does deal with some specific stories and arcs, including a couple of episodes at the end that serves as good closure for the opening arc that we’re introduced to. The cast grows bit by bit, but those that are traveling with the main group only increased by one (an unfortunate addition in my mind, as it’s a young girl that Takashi saves after her father is killed), but even that addition is pretty tame all things told. We get several character stories in addition to them spread around the world as we see this is a global crisis. From snipers at the airport keeping things safe to the US president, from camera crews covering the stories to astronauts in space astounded by the way things escalate so quickly as panic sets in. All of these elements come together to tell an adrenaline filled story. It’s not spoiling things, but in the final moments of the season, the group looks out over a highway and sees so many zombies staggering about and they start saying, “This is so…” and you feel like that the next word out of their mouths must be “fun,” even though it isn’t. They’re not getting a thrill out of it, but they know the direction their lives have now taken and you get that sense from them that they now feel more alive than ever before because of it all. And in that way, it has a layer of fun to it.
While the story is a whole lot of fun and I adore all the characters, a large part of it is because of the gorgeous animation and designs from Madhouse. The show gives us a lush real world set design and populates it with great looking characters that are a touch more angular than usual and end up changing clothes a few times as they cope with the changing situation. It’s filled with a lot of detail when it comes to the death and destruction, the gear and the weapons, as well as the way the characters interact with the world at large. It has a lot of fluid animation to it and it covers numerous locales to good effect, giving us a fairly well realized world in which the story gets to play. Even when watching the simulcast, I was really impressed with the design of it all. In this format on a big screen TV, it’s simply gorgeous.
Particularly all the fanservice. I love the fanservice here. Hell, it’s not even fanservice. It’s exploitation of the best form. Lots of panty shots flip by as the camera runs around, as characters panic and freak out over the situation they’re in. With death constantly around them, there’s a time when the cast works through the first night of the outbreak holed up in an apartment and they take some showers and get a little lightheaded, which has the girls feeling safe and wearing practically nothing. There’s plenty of overt sexuality here. And when you put a group of teenagers, hormones already in effect, and put them in a world ending situation, they’re going to get very sexual. Nobody actually does the dead, but I loved how they used the sexuality of it all to work the show because it feel like natural responses to things. It provided the life affirming side to a world of death that’s at hand.
Released previously as a standalone work that was super cheap on both DVD and Blu-ray, the OVA that was bundled with the manga has finally found its way into the collection and part of the show proper, which is good, as it follows the twelfth episode and basically gives us that very silly, sexual and fun epilogue that allows all the heavy material to lessen just a touch. I had seen it before, but that was viewed as a separate work some time after the TV series had come and gone. Watching it directly after the series certainly smooths it out a bit more and it works as that kind of end cap in a good way rather than trying to stand all on its own.
I’ll preface this part by saying I absolutely love Highschool of the Dead because of its blatant nature and that it had no qualms about restraint, instead going right into a grisly and tense situation where people become excited very easily. With a strong season behind it, this OVA has the group arriving at the shore and figuring that since the undead can’t swim, they’ll find someplace safe out at sea. That gets tiring after awhile they and they land on a nearby small island where all they find is a small beach shack and not much in terms of supplies. But it is a chance to just relax, unwind and be silly for a while after dealing with such atrocity day after day. Roles kind of go back to the norm here as the girls play all sweet and incapable to get the boys to find food and hunt while they dig out some of the impossibly tight swimsuits that are there and splash in the water for a few hours.
Suffice to say, the episode features a whole lot of silliness across the board as the girls play and as the boys attempt to get coconuts or do some fishing. The sexuality is certainly there with the breasts boinging all over the place and it easily put a stupid grin on my face because you can imagine the animators just laughing as they did all of this. When it delves into the second half where things turn into all sorts of hallucinations, it just ramps it all up to level twelve and it’s like a huge fan fiction story. Which, admittedly, is perfect for this kind of show. Everything is dialed up and whether it’s in continuity or not, you have to laugh at the way it plays out and reveals itself. It’s just plain, simple, beautifully animated beach fun with a dash of the undead thrown in for good measure.
High School of the Dead was my pick for the best TV series of 2010 and if it came out today, it’d earn that title for this year as well. I seem to be able to revisit it yearly due to the re-releases and my own schedule and I can’t really find fault with that. This collection is one that goes bigger than Sentai releases have done before with its collectors appeal and they largely hit it on the mark here, providing a combo release with some great pack-in extras that are fresh and new for most fans. Bringing the OVA into line also helps a great deal in making this feel like the definitive release. The series itself is the real draw and it’s one that entertains me endlessly and while I pine for more of this more than anything else, what we get here is a great opening salvo for a larger work that I hope will be revisited again some day. Until then, this is the reference edition to have.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closings, special book featuring Illustrations and short novels, a bandana, a parking sticker, 4 postcards, and a premium chipboard art box
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 4th, 2014
Running Time: 315 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.