Highschool of the Dead
Title: Highschool of the Dead (HotD)
Genre: Anime Series, Action, Horror,
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Duration: 25mins (12 Episodes)
The first time I've heard of an anime zombie flick and it would seem to me that the creators had come up with an untapped source for something original; with Madhouse (Black Lagoon) on animation, known for not being shy when it comes to graphic details, and a promising 18 sticker, I was looking forward to a classic Romero “Dawn of the Dead' theme with a touch of “Elfen Lied” thrown in; no shying away from good ol' fashioned gore but with a plot to back it all up. My expectations were undeniably high, and perhaps part of the reason for my apprehension was the subconscious knowledge that they might be too high. Which they were. Rather than meeting my hopes, the most concise summation of this short series would be “Resident Evil” meets “Gantz,” and assuming you're aware of both of these, that's pretty much all you need to know about this series; it's got shitty fan service up the wazoo, and whilst it does indeed get gory, the plot straddles between laughably bad and non-existent and the whole thing is a cheesy as all hell.
When a zombie outbreak hits the world, it's a small rogue group of Tokyo high schoolers, 2 guys and 4 girls with oversized breasts, that find themselves banding together in a mismatched party working together to survive against the onslaught in front of them. As the series progresses they find themselves moving from location to location, trying to find survivors amidst those who have lost their sanity. It never goes into any more depth or comes up with a story any more creative than this basic movement and hunt for better weaponry and transport; other sensible staples of the zombie genre such as concerns over food and water, or dissent within the group never come into the fold lending a rather superficial feel to it all. Without any real conclusion being drawn, it's all just a mindless vehicle for the action, even going as far as to steal a key track from “28 days later,” as if to joke 'hey we can't come up with an original plot, why should we bother with an original soundtrack either?'
Often it'll try to be serious, struggling to retain a dramatic horror atmosphere where every action has serious repercussions – even though it never actually does – but then it gives us a plot that's stolen from better films but with fewer details, I guess hoping we'd figure most of it out from said better films so they could spend more time travelling a bit closer towards Hentai territory for those who are interested in animated porn but fear being labelled “that weird guy.” On the flip side it spends so long being one long bad B-Movie joke, where your ability to suspend disbelief is given a thorough work out, that any attempt to be serious may as well come with sitcom laughter track. It never really seems to know what it wants to accomplish and so as a result actually accomplishes very little. Despite many of the details being poorly explained, the actual plot itself is very easy to follow for the simple fact that not all the much happens over the course of the series, much of it dragged out by long speeches and melodramatic death scenario's for nameless characters, fan service, unnecessary re-caps that sometimes take up a third of an episode, and of course, the action sequences themselves.
The fan service is a major part of the problem, quickly becoming quite ridiculous. I'm not on the side of those that despise it's very existence and campaign loudly for its complete removal any more than I'm thinking we should replace the pretty young starlets from most Hollywood blockbusters with fat transvestites with faces like a baboon's backside. I like to look at attractive women, animated or otherwise, but when the deliberate choice of angles prevents you from seeing what's actually happening; shots where the path ahead is barely visible but large and centre screen is a shot of a girls underwear wiggling as she runs forward, or where they need to make an escape on laundry day, just so they can spend the rest of the episode with slightly more of their breasts on show, well it all becomes too much, and if you think it'll die down at all as the series progresses, don't. It only gets worse (one episode for example is all about 'bath time'). The fact that it tries to get the audience to take it seriously then spends a good time showing us tits that look they're made out of jelly bouncing up and down uncontrollably and making a 'sproing' sound as it goes manages to completely undermine much of the horror atmosphere, turning it into a bad sex comedy in the process. Though yes, occasionally it does come off as genuinely amusing as your ability to suspend disbelief at the scenario's that occur falters and you can't help but think, seriously?
A brief glimmer of hope gets dangled early on that this could become character driven once we we're allowed more time for the characters to really develop, but this gets shot down after a couple of episodes where we realise they were almost as fully fleshed out already as they were ever going to be; the gun nerd really is just a gun nerd, the blonde nurse never escapes the stereotyped dumb blonde shell and the kendo champion barely says anything worth listening to unless its with her blade. As the lead breaks away from the pack with another cast member we may be given brief insight into their past but it never leads up to anything or has any consequence in future episodes, everything far too readily resolved by that episodes conclusion. Instead they try to compensate by gradually adding new characters to the mix but since they never really do anything with them, it feels like something of a futile effort and a cheap trick to try to maintain interest.
And yet my interest is maintained and I still find myself finishing the series thanks largely to the one thing that they manage to get spot on; the action. Whilst not this production companies finest work, it's still a far cry from being badly done, with the sequences only improving as the series progresses. Much of it is still filled with the ridiculous superhuman feats of jumping and manoeuvring around the zombies like no high school kids should be able to do; learning the use of weaponry faster than should be possible and conveniently stumbling upon items to make use of in the upcoming battles and lend variety to the proceedings which all typify the action in other anime series, but it's the finer details that they excel at. The consequences of using loud weapons to draw attention, the use of their surroundings and the facial expressions on the characters, each given their role to play not too dissimilar from an RPG with their defined roles and attributes. Whilst perhaps I wonder if it wouldn't have made a better video game than a series, much like Gantz, it is this saving grace that prevents it from being the atrocity it might have been.