Review for High School Of The Dead
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am not a fan of the horror genre, and of the little offshoots of horror that I have encountered, I have a passionate loathing for the zombie movie in particular, this summer's 'Eaters' not withstanding. I'm probably the last person who should be reviewing Manga Entertainment's High School of the Dead, especially as I got the wrong end of the stick when I first heard of it. For the life of me, I was convinced that it was one of those cutesy, quirky, anime comedies, a bizarre sitcom drama that would have the undead going to school with the living. After all, it's already worked once in Vampire Knight, and I was already getting queasy at the idea of a high school romance between a cute girl and a rotting animate corpse. The fact that it was a Madhouse anime stayed my hand from the reject button. The fact that Manga are releasing it on Blu-ray as well as DVD actually got me interested. After all, little enough anime comes out on Blu-ray in the UK, and now that I am BD capable, I want to see as much of the high definition stuff as possible. Sentai Filmworks released High School of the Dead in the US, and Manga are releasing those Blu-ray discs here, after they've been through the Madman Entertainment production house. Anyway, I put the first disc in, and watched the first episode… all the way through with a s***-eating grin on my face. Talk about being proved wrong. Here's hoping that I'll stay just as enthused through all twelve episodes.
Takashi Komuro has typical teenage problems in high school, namely that he has feelings for childhood friend Rei Miyamoto, only she went and fell in love with his best friend Hisashi. That explains why he would much rather be skipping class, loitering in the stairwell and staring at nothing in particular. It in no way explains what happens next. A strange, sickly looking man lumbers up to the school entrance, and when confronted by one of the PE teachers, bites him on the arm. It certainly doesn't explain why that teacher then falls over, collapses, apparently dies, only to get up again and attack the rest of the faculty in the schoolyard. The zombie infection spreads like wildfire, and it's only pure luck that Takashi witnessed its beginning. It gives him enough time to find and rescue Rei and Hisashi, but not enough time for them to escape. They try and make their way up the roof, to find some place to barricade themselves, but during their flight, Hisashi is bitten as well. Time runs out, and more and more of the students and faculty are infected, and only the quick of wit and fast to adapt are able to survive. As well as Rei, practitioner of spear martial arts, Takashi, quick with a baseball bat and Hisashi, kendo captain Saeko Busujima, Grade A student Saya Takagi, weapon otaku Kouta Hirano, and school doctor Shizuka Marikawa also find a way to survive against the rapidly escalating odds.
They'll have to come together, work together if they are to survive. But it isn't just the school; it's the city, the country, the whole planet that is being rapidly overrun with zombies. The world as they knew it is coming to an end, and they'll have to be ruthless if they are to survive in the world that replaces it. And Hisashi isn't feeling too good. Typical teenage problems, huh?
Manga Entertainment present all 12 episodes of High School of the Dead across 2 Blu-ray discs, one dual layer and one single. After Sentai licensed the show, an OVA episode was subsequently produced, and obviously we don't get that with these episodes here.
1. Spring of the DEAD
2. Escape From the DEAD
3. Democracy Under the DEAD
4. Running in the DEAD
5. Streets of the DEAD
6. In the DEAD of the Night
7. DEAD Night and the DEAD Ruck
8. The DEAD Way Home
9. The Sword and DEAD
10. The DEAD's House Rules
11. DEAD Storm Rising
12. All DEAD's Attack
High School of the Dead gets a 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen transfer on these Blu-ray discs, using the AVC codec, whatever that is… I've had a chance to do a quick compare and contrast with the DVDs and the higher definition image is exquisite. It isn't just the sharpness, the clarity of the image, the greater detail; it's the richer and more lustrous colours, the more fluid and smoother animation. This is the ideal way to watch this animation, especially as Studio Madhouse has thrown everything at the screen. The character designs are excellent, the 3D CG elements blend in flawlessly with the 2D animation, the animation itself is vibrant, energetic, and breathtaking, and the direction is imaginative and bold. This is a visual feast, a gorgeous anime, and you can see every last yen spent on the screen. Oh, and there is fan service as well, boobs, panty shots, and lascivious camera angles galore, and in the context of the story, it works a dream. The only gripe I have is with some minor colour banding in the transfer, something that I had hoped we'd have seen the last of with Blu-ray.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional English subtitles and a signs only track. I went with the original language option, and was very pleased with the audio, both in terms of the clarity of the dialogue, and the comparatively front-focussed sound design (a little Prologic does provide some space). Then I sampled the English dub. For one thing, it's a great dub, the characters appropriately cast, and the actors getting the tone of the show, the balance between end of the world horror and tongue in cheek comedy spot on. The English dub also garnishes the dialogue with the profanity appropriate to a zombie horror, which Japanese by its very nature doesn't really allow for. The advantage of this is that the surround audio for the English dub kicks some serious behind, when it comes to putting across the show's various action set pieces. I may generally opt for the original language track with an instinct akin to that of a lemming, but the next time I watch High School of the Dead, it will be the English dub.
The music for the show is excellent, driving the action along with great energy and pace, and also setting the tone for the quieter character moments. The theme songs are also good, and High School of the Dead is somewhat unique in that it gets a different ending theme song for each episode.
The discs get static menus, and each episode is followed by a silent, white on black, translated English language credit scroll.
The extras are on Disc 2, and amount to the clean opening sequence, and all 12 clean closing sequences in a 21-minute chunk.
You'll also find the Australian Madman trailers here for Eden of the East Movie 1, Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, all of which are coincidentally also available from Manga Entertainment.
I love zombie movies; I think they're brilliant. Ok, that sounds too much like a deathbed conversion, and it certainly isn't true. There's still no chance of anything else with 'Of The Dead' in the title getting a spin in my DVD player. But it's no lie when I say that I love High School of the Dead, and that s***-eating grin did stay plastered across my face for the duration, indeed it only grew wider and wider the more I watched, until my face cramped up. In terms of pure energy and fun, in terms of hitting all the right spots when it comes to unadulterated entertainment, High School of the Dead is the best anime released this year. If you have any appreciation of action entertainment, then High School of the Dead should be on your shelf, regardless of whether you are an anime fanatic or not. It has the gusto and joy of any eighties action flick, knows exactly what it wants to sell in terms of sex and violence, but it also develops a cast of very interesting and entertaining characters without ever once becoming bogged down in navel gazing existential introspection. The end of the world is nigh in High School of the Dead, but that's no reason not to have a blast on your way out.
I'm not well versed in zombie lore, so I can't do a compare and contrast, and tell you how High School of the Dead stacks up against its peers, but apparently it does have a great love for the genre, and even I recognised a couple of references to other movies such as Shaun of the Dead. The dedicated zombie fan will find a lot more no doubt. But where High School of the Dead excels is in that it cuts out the fluff and the filler, and simply concentrates on delivering the action. The opening scene introduces the main character in a rare moment of reflection, thinking on how messed up his life is, as he skips class, only to be lectured by a friend who happens to be passing by. And that is the last moment of normality in this world, as a zombie then walks up to the school gates, bites a teacher, and unleashes a plague of the undead, and from that point on, it's full speed zombie mayhem.
While there is room for the characters to speculate, no reason is ever given for the sudden infestation, the dead just rise and keep on multiplying, an ever increasing menace that just keeps raising the odds against our heroes, who get more and more desperate in finding ways to stay alive. It's all about the action, with the first couple of episodes introducing the main cast, and showing them shucking off the last vestiges of their old lives, their meek high school existences, as they first run from, and then hide from the zombies. For Takashi, that moment comes first of all, when his best friend Hisashi is bitten, and he has to face the new reality of the world in the worst possible way. For the others, that realisation comes mostly when their lives are directly threatened, although some are quicker to adapt than others.
Takashi is the ideal lead, in that he's pretty much an everyman character, notable for his leadership skills and his ability to adapt, but not much else. Fortunately, among his fellow survivors are Rei and Saeko, who both have martial arts training with weaponry, and while Kouta may look like the slightly overweight speccy nerd, he turns out to have a fetish for guns. Saya Takagi brings attitude, common sense and intelligence to the team, and Shizuka may be the excessively boobed ditz, but she is the school doctor. Together they form quite the anti-zombie squad. From the moment that they leave the school, it's a battle against the odds to get back to their homes and find out if their families are safe.
In this particular group dynamic of four females to two males, the relationship antics get interesting. The show could have gone down a darker, more prurient route, especially with the start of the show introducing the Takashi, Rei, Hisashi triangle, and then resolving it in a terminal way. Fortunately for Takashi, it doesn't appear that Rei holds a grudge, although as the show progresses, it becomes apparent that she does have something of a jealous streak. And poor Kouta, who sees the girls through his otaku glasses and quickly develops an appreciation for Saya, but Saya, and indeed all the girls see Takashi first and foremost as their protector. Eventually Saya gets to see Kouta's better qualities, but it does take time, and surprisingly the group manages to stick together through this, although the fact that it does owes more to the harem comedy genre, than any serious attempt at character analysis.
Of course when you're talking about the end of the world, and a zombie crisis, things can tend to get a little dark. How better to balance that with a healthy dose of sex, and High School of the Dead really does deliver when it comes to fan service and male character nosebleeds. Boobs, butts, crotch shots, and lecherous camera angles abound, and the generously endowed Shizuka gets the ubiquitous comedy booby-bounce sound effect. The first moment of respite that the characters get from the zombie menace is in Shizuka's friend's flat, where they get their hands on quite the anti-zombie arsenal. They also find bathing facilities, which the girls take advantage of to wash off the zombie entrails and brain bits. Cue communal bathing scene and boob comparison. Of course once they've bathed, they find nothing to wear, indeed the relief and relaxation even makes them feel a little drunk. Poor Takashi and Kouta emit the typical wimpy teen male response, although thankfully for the sake of realism, Takashi isn't all that wimpy. And while the harem comedy antics ensue, the story intercuts with the increasing zombie mayhem that is occurring outside their door and in the wider world.
It isn't just the undead that the group has to face, as the collapse of society reveals that the lunatics are left running the asylum, and the psychopaths start coming out of the woodwork. The governments of the world don't know the first thing about dealing with the crisis, indeed as per anime convention, it turns out that it's the US government that makes the situation worse. Meanwhile the first nutter that the students have to deal with is a teacher from their own school, Shido, who Rei has a personal hatred for. That hatred is justified when it becomes clear just what Shido is willing to do to survive, while the students that he brings with him start looking on him as some sort of cult leader. His presence sows discord between Takashi and his friends, almost leading to disaster. Later when the gang do find some semblance of normality, they find that they are being treated like high school kids again, after having fought for their lives, and that causes its own problems. High School of the Dead isn't just kids versus zombies, it has a hell of an interesting story too.
High School of the Dead has astounding animation courtesy of Madhouse Studios; its action set pieces are to die for, while the sheer exquisite detail and overall look of the anime, the quieter character moments never once shirk from the peak of production values. The action is amazing, the show is fast paced, and energising, it has a great wit and sense of humour to it, the fan service suits the tone of the show perfectly, it's sexy and stylish, and I find it difficult to fault in any way. The only disappointment I had was that some of the storylines were left hanging. That can only be resolved in one way… They need to make more High School of the Dead, and they need to make it as soon as possible. The world will only be a better place with more anime of this calibre, and another series means that we might get to see the OVA episode as well. High School of the Dead is the best action anime series since Black Lagoon. You'd be daft not to buy it.