Highschool of the Dead (2010)

They’re gonna graduate with horrors!

Directed by Tetsuro Araki, Highschool of the Dead (H.O.T.D.) is an anime adaptation of the manga written by Daisuke Sato and illustrated by Shoji Sato. The series opens in Japan 2010 when the world is struck by a lethal pandemic that transforms humans into flesh-eating zombies, referred to in the anime only as ‘Them’. The story follows 17-year-old Takashi Komuro, a high school student who attends Fujimi High School and was separated from kindergarten friend and childhood sweetheart, headstrong 17-year-old Rei Miyamoto. Takashi reunites with Rei at high school only to discover her dating his now best friend Hisashi Igo. When savage attacks begin to spread around the school, infecting and killing students and staff, Takashi goes to warn Rei and Hisashi about the imminent threat. While the three attempt to flee the school, which is in a state of panic and disarray, Hisashi gets bitten in the arm and Takashi is forced to take his friend’s life, preventing him from becoming one of ‘Them’. Takashi, now left with the responsibility of protecting his childhood friend, attempts to lead Rei out of the school and to safety.

Several other characters are introduced as the series progresses. Takashi and Rei eventually meet up with two16-year-old survivors, the often-impolite ‘genius’ Saya Takagi and the overweight Kohta Hirano, who promptly join the group. After rescuing the 27-year-old school nurse Shizuka Marikawa, whose breast-size defy the laws of gravity, 18-year-old Kendo champion Saeko Busujima and nurse, Shizuka, also join the assemblage. Together the survivors abandon the school and attempt to outrun the murderous ‘outbreak’ and reunite with their families, on the way facing additional threats of societal collapse, in the form of dangerous fellow survivors, including a very terrifying teacher by the name of Mr Shido, and the possible decay of their own moral codes. While hiding-out at the apartment of an out-of-town friend of Shizuka’s, the survivors adopt Zero, the dog, and 7-year-old Alice Maresato, the daughter of a man brutally murdered by paranoid residence while trying to seek refuge in one of the neighboring homes.

'I'm ready for my close up' ...
‘I’m ready for my close up’ …

For an animated series H.O.T.D. is exceedingly violent, featuring an abundance of graphic scenes where our heroes and heroines battle the undead using an assortment of weapons including handmade nail-guns, baseball bats, a muratatou and a variety of powerful firearms which result in some very gruesome sequences. The attacks on humans, at times, are also quite vicious and unforgiving as blood splatter becomes something viewers get used to fairly quickly. Even though the violence is somewhat stylized, it may be a little too much for some to handle, particularly those not used to butchery of such magnitude. There is also an abundance of sexual references scattered throughout the series and we speedily learn that the camera doesn’t shy away from venturing up our lead ladies already short schoolgirl skirts. There are some very in-you-face sexualized sequences on display here; we have a gravity-defying Matrix-style shot that gives a whole new meaning to the term bullet-time and another scene where one of the girl’s enormously sized breasts is used to steady a sniper rifle. There is also an episode that features the entire female cast bathing together, ogling each other’s breasts and acting like a bunch of drunken strippers. So H.O.T.D. is extreme, unforgiving and certainly does not shy away from what some may consider to be indecent.

Although animated, one can’t help but praise the outstanding cinematography achieved in H.O.T.D.; the overall aesthetic look of the show is quite stunning, which, most times, is in complete juxtaposition to what’s happening on screen. The animation is very smooth and life-like, particularly in the high-octane action sequences, and the character designs are awfully unique and, bar Kohta Hirano who is supposed to be overweight but is hardly recognizable as being so, have been shaped with perfection; the girls are unrealistically unblemished and gorgeous, looking like high-end strippers, and Takashi is basically a teenage girl’s dream with long flowing hair and a chiseled torso. But there’s something about the characters looking so faultless that works all too well here; it adds to the fantastical element of the narrative, giving the anime an almost dreamlike quality. As far as character design goes, the detail in all the characters is quite intricate making it easy to read a lot from their facial expressions without many words having to be uttered. H.O.T.D. has a nice seamless blend of traditional hand-drawn and computer animation and this complimentary style works incredibly well for the type of story being told.

A lazy day enjoying the apocalypse sun!
A lazy day enjoying the apocalypse sun!

The character relationships in H.O.T.D. are quite complex and ripen as the show develops; we see a strong friendship form between Takashi and Rei as the pair rediscover their long-lost love, Takashi’s relationship with Saeko is also an interesting one with Rei’s jealousy of the pair’s new formed bond aiding to her own reconnection with Takashi. But the character who experiences the most change is Saya as her opinion of Kohta changes throughout the series; she goes from seeing him as a useless gun-obsessed, socially awkward nobody to a respectful comrade, calling him by his first name rather than family name by the end of the series which symbolizes a sign of closeness in Japanese culture. There are also themes of family and friendship explored within the anime which add a sometimes needed human element to the fantastical narrative.

The series opens up with a lot of oomph, full of fast-paced, high-octane action sequences which include intense escape scenes involving tanks and school busses, along with a whole lot of zombie carnage, and here you’ll find some visually spectacular sequences; some of the best you’ll ever see in animation. The last third of the show slows down a little and focuses more on character relationships, particularly once the main group of survivors meets up with other survivors who have banded together and are hiding-out in the well-protected Takagi Manor. The anime’s finale is a bit disappointing considering what came beforehand and the narrative is left very open-ended, not giving viewers much resolution or closure; hopefully a second season might get released someday seeing as the manga is still in production.

In the DEAD of night!
In the DEAD of night!

Highschool of the Dead is a powerful, sexy, slick, violent anime that’s a lot of fun if you’re into that sort of thing. There really is a lot to enjoy here; the show looks incredible, the characters are interesting and there’s plenty of humor, action and excitement to be found. Finishing the 12 part anime in less than 24 hours, it had me hooked from start to finish. An Eastern take on the zombie genre and an anime that’s quite unlike others around, H.O.T.D. comes recommended, just be sure not to watch it with young children or anyone easily-offended around as this show is exceedingly extreme in all regards.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Highschool of the Dead (H.O.T.D.) is released through Madman Entertainment Australia