I remember reading a review of a squeamish anime fan’s nauseous reaction to the relentless onslaught of blood, zombies and gratuitous fan service that was Highschool of the Dead and I could think of no better endorsement for this series than his disgust. It is in every way unapologetically trashy and exploitative and thats whats awesome about it. The creators succeeded where so many have failed and actually made an anime series that feels like an action movie. It has an awesomely furious pace from the second Takashi screams out “what the fucks going on!?” all the way through till its rather abrupt ending.
Its odd that this is really the first time that Anime is taking on the Zombie Apocalypse genre, especially since its subject matter would have fit in so well in the super violent style of 90s anime. The medium really sets up an awesome opportunity to bring something fresh to the over-milked zombie genre. Unfortunately it brought about the same amount of freshness as Queen’s Blade did to the medieval warrior genre. And like Queen’s Blade, the fanservice is a huge part of the appeal. The creators exploit every opportunity to show T&A so relentlessly that you can tell they approached it with a sense of humor rather than to just titillate. Take episode 6 for example. While most anime series would use the obligatory “bathhouse” episode to give us modest peek at the female cast’s most developed character traits, HOTD uses it to animate more bare-bodied shots than I’ve seen in an entire lifetime of harem anime bathhouse episodes. I appreciate its boldness and it makes for one hell of a drinking game but like QB it wears you out pretty quick, especially if you don’t have a high tolerance for seeing blood and boobs.
The episodes fly by at a furious pace, fueled by enough wild camera movements, explosions and bloody fight sequences to satiate even the most ADD-ridden fanboy. The first 3 episodes rocket you through the story of Takashi Komuro and a group of his fellow highschool students as they band together to escape the school during a zombie outbreak with the remaining episodes following their travels through city in search of their parents. You’re not going to see anything here that you haven’t seen a million times in every Romero-flavored zombie movie. While it may be nothing new, Art director Ayu Kawamoto did an incredible job setting the zombie mood with beautifully desolate cityscapes and the use of cold colors. The atmosphere makes for some great creepy moments, like the news broadcast in episode 3 where the bodybags sit up but the omnipresence of the fanservice ruins any chance this series had for stabilizing the eerie mood. Which ultimately isn’t really that big a deal since this show is mostly about cheap thrills anyway and the sooner you adjust your expectations, the sooner you’ll start enjoying the ride.
The cast is made up of some fun but pretty generic characters with Saeko Busujima the
d-cup bokken wielding schoolgirl with a bloodlust and Kohta Hirano the nosebleed prone, gun nut nerd being my favorites. Props to the writers for at least attempting to give some depth to the characters but with such a large cast and all those zombie panty shots to save airtime for, they never really go deep enough for you to care much about them. Which is totally excusable with a pace and premise like HOTD has but having recently just watched Kill La Kill and been so taken with the rich characters and humor, I was a little disappointed that much of the cast could essentially be removed from the story and you wouldn’t even notice. Some characters like Alice, Saya, and Dr. Boob Shizuka were so grating that I kept praying for a zombie to eat them, but sadly my prayers went unanswered. The creators painted with every vibrant color of the fanboy-crush rainbow hoping to snare the viewers with the female cast and though most of them fall pretty flat, I wont lie, they totally got me with their busty bokken beauty Saeko. They tapped right into that weird thing I have for pale girls with darkness on the inside & d cups on the outside. Its no coincidence that the characters that you connect to the most are the ones that get the most development in the story and some day they will prioritize that over gainaxing but for now I’ll enjoy the jello show and hold on to what bits of storytelling they left time to draw out.
While I usually side firmly with the subtitled versions of shows, the explicit dialogue rewrites, campy overacting and the westernizing of the humor of the dub of HOTD makes it even better. It mocks the material and its exactly whats called for in show that uses tits as a rifle steady. The man you have to thank or blame is Steven Foster, an ADR director infamous for his penchant for gag dubbing and he is in classic form here (see “Ghost Stories” for his most absurd work). There is a certain elegance lost in translation but the are so many super campy lines in the dub that its really hard not to laugh.
Favorite lines from the english dub
Saya : Referring to Nurse Shizuka as “Dr.Boob”.
Rei: “Ah! More big ones” (referring to Saeko boobs)
Saya: “So what, we all just had to take a bath at the same time?”
Saya: “Jesus Christ, do you actually enjoy getting me wet or something?”
There are a million more mostly unnecessary but totally funny changes that have been made to the script that mostly revolve around adding swear words to the dialogue or adding a really out of place topical american jokes. This series was made for Foster’s lewd b-movie sensibilities and while not all may like him, you gotta admit, HOTD was made for him.
I was disappointed that the series ended so abruptly. It just sort of stops with out really tying up any of the many loose ends. As of this writing no animated follow up to the series has come, well other than the fan service stroke reel that is “Drifters of the Dead”. I’m sure they cover it in the manga but it would be nice to see a proper conclusion to this bizarre and unique series. If you have a sick sense of humor and a serious love of
breasts zombies, you’ll survive this 12 episode series just fine, if not, well, than I’d be shocked if you made it past the 2nd episode without calling your therapist.