Region: 2 - UK
Length: 300 minutes
English 5.1 Surround
A deadly new disease is ravaging the world, turning the populace into mindless zombies, and the number of infected is skyrocketing by the second. As their fellow classmates and teachers succumb to the infection around them, a small group of students at Fujimi High School are fighting for their lives after surviving the initial outbreak. It is up to Takashi Komuro to unite the group of weary survivors and try to escape the horrors that surround them. In this new world of the living dead...will they escape?...
For fans who enjoy action anime, a name that they would do well to acquaint themselves with is studio Madhouse. When their name is behind the production, it gives assurance that the result will be of a good if not great standard. They have a history of creating high tension epics with cinematic splendour. In Madhouse productions, cityscapes unfold with exquisite detail, which is irrefutably an asset to the visual storytelling of zombie apocalypse and the destruction of urban life and society.
They have also become one of the studios that have made the most of the move adapt to the technological advancements in the anime industry through integration of traditional animation and CG effects. The results are, if not seamless, highly effective and make for dynamic delivery of intense storylines and situations with stunning action sequences.
The signature style of series director Tetsuro Araki is all over High School of the Dead. His former works, including the intense gambling drama Kaiji and perhaps - most famously - the anime adaptation of Death Note have laid foundations for his assignment on this high school horror story. For Tetsuro, interviews reveal that the job may well have been a dream come true. He has sought to entice and delight the hordes of adolescent anime viewers, to answer the schoolboy within and unleash both terror and boobs beyond measure in this epic erotic nightmare.
While it was originally aired in Japan, Tetsuro's creative motivations were revealed during an interview with Dragon Age (the magazine that publishes the High School of the Dead manga). From a post entitled "I Want Jiggling Breasts in Every Scene" ero blog (NFSW) Sankaku Complex gave a remarkable account of the director's ardent belief that the quality and quantity of bouncing bosoms were paramount to the series production:
"Even if the world is swarming with zombies, let us not forget the breasts and thighs!" – those are our watchwords.
This is not to say that the studio doesn't give due attention to the main meat of the story but Tetsuro has ensured that the essential eroticism is never overshadowed by the macabre. The series has often been lovingly nicknamed by Western watchers "Fanservice of the Dead" and with good reason. Do not be fooled, however, for this is no tacked on titillation designed to draw in a TV audience. It happens to be a faithful reproduction of the overtly sexual scenes of the original as drawn by artist Sato Shouji. Also known as dojinshi artist Inazuma, Sato is an accomplished hentai creator who has brought the skills he has honed to back home the horror genre. His style of drawing and design of orgasmic scream queens fits the story like a glove. Character designer Masayoshi Tanaka (Toradora, Ano Hi ni Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-Tachi wa Mada Shiranai) does a remarkable job of bringing his curvy creations to the screen.
The strength of the series is underpinned by a great cast of characters. The two male leads are very different boys, harbouring their own internal conflicts and flaws but who both show remarkable strength and resilience in a crisis. On centre stage is Komuro an impetuous well-turned out hero who has been designed to draw in the attentions of the ladies. Hirano on the other hand is the shy military otaku who rises up in the fight for survival. He takes up arms relish and incredible skill.
The female cast are a feisty four who are a feast for the eyes and a force to be reckoned with. Rei, the moody love interest for Komuro is handy with a spear (thanks to after school activities). Graceful kendo queen Saeko is adept in the art of swordplay. Saya, is the tsundere of the show, a genius and a great tactician. They are supported by the school nurse, Shizuka who is... the adult and thus the designated driver equipped with handy healing skills. As the most mature member of the party her principal function, however, is to be the principal source of seismic bouncing thanks to her J-cup frontage.
They are later joined by middle school student Alice and Zeke the small yappy dog.
For all the entertainment value, which I cannot deny is abundant, it would be too much to say that production standards are flawless from start to finish. Unfortunately, the reality of televised anime is rarely thus and High School of the Dead suffers in the latter episodes from a noticeable dip in quality. It is not detrimental - for the fight sequences are still dynamic, the girls still gorgeous and the effects are outstanding but there is a little less finesse in the character animation, indicating that pressures of productions costs and schedules impinged on quality control.
The narrative meanwhile suffers from the predicament that plagues any soft core scenario, or introductory segment of a larger story; it creates a lot of build up but seldom delivers a satisfying climax. The focus is on the alliance forged between our troupe of survivors as they resist the threat of new social chaos that emerges from disaster. Their struggle for survival is beset with terror alongside endless emotional and moral conflict. Thrown into the mix are teenage love triangles and the intervention of the crazed and corrupt adults who seek to take advantage and control in the chaos. Needless to say, there is plenty going on.
The first leg of this story is principally concerned with their escape and the development of the bond between the band of heroes. They each have agendas that reach off beyond the limits of the twelve episode series and the finale is not rounded off neatly, more it feels as though it has been inelegantly wrenched off before its time.
The series severed short makes me hungry for more. In the interim I shall surely sink my teeth into the continuing adventures as told in the manga.
This review is of the Blu-ray edition of High School of the Dead
You can also get this title on DVD in the US and UK.