On Western TV, a zombie apocalypse would be easily comparable to shounenshit like One Piece and Bleach to our anime. However, once you get the zombie apocalypse in anime, it becomes a whole different thing altogether. To mark the occasion when I happened to stumble across such genius, I present my first formal anime review, of Highschool of the Dead.
This type of setting and plot is a first in anime to me, so it is difficult to compare it to other shows. As such, the only other similar story to this I’ve encountered lies in a Ninendo DS game: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. If you’ve played this game before, you’ll notice quite a few similarities in the scenario. The Demons in HotD are animated corpses, the means of fighting them are realistic weapons, and the lockdown is… Well, a lockdown. But the largest difference lies in the ending. Devil Survivor has a solution to the problem. In HotD, there is no solution. While watching, I acquiesced that it most likely would have a “happily ever after” ending, with an impossible situation. Upon arriving at the end, however, I was surprised, yet pleased, at how well it played out (for the viewers).
Ending with the main character making a “cool” quote isn’t the best way to end, and it reminded me of those damn One Piece episodes I got so addicted to before I came to my senses. That aside, they ended with “there is no solution to the problem, but we’re still alive”, which was an excellent choice. Instead of all of the zombies disappearing for no reason, we are given something to ponder on.
Not only the ending, however, but the body of the story deserves some things said about it as well. It tries to be realistic, and show the darkness within people. In one episode, two girls were running away from the horde and promised each other that they’d be fine if they were together, and to never betray each other. And then, one gets caught, and the other immediately kicks her away, attempts her own escape and gets caught herself. An excellent display of how humans react in a panic-inducing situation. I probably would’ve kicked her away before she got caught.
HotD gives you quite a lot to think about. In the first episode, the main character had to kill his best friend. As soon as you forget about him the next two episodes, he’s brought up again with a “what if he was here?” Since that character was portrayed as the intelligent, professional person who always does the right thing, you have to think about how things may have played out differently. And then as you forget about that and continue, he’s brought up again, but more subtly, and to express other things. Using dead people to progress the story and intrigue the viewers is not exponentially uncommon, but in this case, it was used quite well indeed.
Not all of the story is good, though. Like I’ve stated previously, it tries to be realistic. But a high school girl who can use a sword like a samurai from five thousand years ago or something is not realistic at all. A fat military nerd should not be able to shoot at all, even if it did get explained off by having a month of training. That one thug guy, who had to kill his family and tried to kidnap the girl was amazingly knowledgeable. The time he said something along the lines of “I saw my own family turn into those things! I had to smash their heads!” Now, how did he, and every other character know that smashing their heads was the way to kill them?
Some things also seemed too convenient, but that’s a given for any show. In this case, though, there are a reasonable amount of TOO convenient things happening. When Takashi acquired his motorbike, it just happened to be because only ONE zombie was around who just happened to have a bike. Who infected the biker? Additionally, when Hisashi was bitten, the zombie held on for much longer than the rest of the victims, and yet he didn’t die instantly when a tooth touched his arm. He happened to stay alive just long enough to help ensure the safety of the two others before dying, and much more slowly too.
Throughout the show, I noticed a few things. It’s full of gore and nudity. That doesn’t make it “good” or “mature”, though. I felt like the constant pantsu shots and oppai scenes were just there to say “hey, keep watching, something is going to happen but zombies aren’t too interesting, so look at this in the meantime.” I don’t think that’s the best way to grab an audience’s attention. If you wanted porn, you would look for porn. If you looked for anime about zombies, that’s what you should expect. Though this doesn't really down the animation, it does intrude on the plot a fair bit.
The group is made up of of a high school boy who is amazingly skilled with a baseball bat, a girl who should’ve been a man and lived a few thousand years ago, a girl who only knows how to complain (which isn’t too rare), a fat guy and three other girls that do nothing.
Almost a harem, but not quite there yet. Do fat people count?
There is no backstory to any of the characters whatsoever. We don’t even see the main character’s family once throughout the show. At one point we’re shown one of the girl’s parents, and all they did was cause problems and slow down the story. The characters don’t really develop, but we are shown the samurai girl’s sadism and the main character’s indecisiveness, and other useless things like that on a few occasions, but they get dropped in five minutes and resume smacking ugly people in the head.
In itself, the animation was perfectly average. The character designs weren’t anything spectacular, but they all still looked good (except that nurse with the disgusting pig tits). Sticking to the normal and accepted way characters look isn’t very impressive, and gambling can lead to the show being quite a hit, even if it is just with uniquely styled characters, proven in pretty much all of Shaft’s works (that I’ve seen).
The fight scenes looked pretty good, in comparison to the rest of the show. But if they didn’t, something would be terribly wrong. The way that the girls’ hair and skirts flutters around while they swing around lethal weapons, and the movements in general of the characters are quite eye-catching.
There are numerous scenes which would be considered “epic”, such as the time when Takashi had to kill Hisashi after he became infected. That scene had a fair amount of dramatic zooming around, different camera angles and panning on the scene, but they didn’t show the moment when Hisashi was hit. This could’ve been something like hiding the moment when he kills his best friend for added effect, but it could also be an attempt to cover up them being unable to animate such a scene. Either way, before the moment bat meets head, it was a nice display of what they are capable of. I just wonder why they didn’t animate the rest of the show like that.
I can’t say anything about the blood squirting around, since I’ve never actually encountered that in real life (and don't plan to any time soon), so I can’t say too much about it. It was drawn and animated realistically to match what I think it should look like, and doing that so many times each episode must’ve been a real hassle.
Personally, I’m not the kind of watcher that watches the OP and ED of every episode of every show I watch. Given, I don’t just ditch them straight away. I normally listen to both once or twice, to decide whether or not I should
purchase download the song and add it to my playlist. HotD’s OP and ED didn’t make it onto my playlist, but they weren’t terrible. I just don’t particularly like the style of music the OP and ED have. The soundtracks played through the show are also not the best you’ll find, and they didn’t appeal to me too much, but they set the mood like they’re meant to, and work at least for that.
The seiyuus weren’t greatly skilled, but the voices matched the characters well, and all of the screaming and crying in the show didn’t sound too much like a sex scene, and seeing as how they almost always do, I thought that was quite good.
There are a large number of noticeable flaws in the show, but it was an enjoyable watch for me. The story also had its share of flaws, but it was solid, well told and original (to the Japanese, from what I know). At the time of watching, I had no internet, so I probably enjoyed it more than what I should have. Like when you’re hungry, food tastes better. Something like that. There are a number of better things that you could spend your time on, but viewers would see a nice change from your usual anime in Highschool of the Dead.