Unbeknown to most, prior to Highschool of the Dead, there wasn’t a bonafide anime of the zombie genre. This is not to suggest that zombies haven’t ‘featured’ in anime before, they have (Le Chevalier D`Eon and, dare I say, Tokko, as examples), but not the post apocalyptic setting that we’ve all come to love, where zombies rein supreme and survival is imminent. So, with this in mind, I welcomed Highschool of the Dead for offering just that, but did it succeed?
In practice, Highschool of the Dead is essentially a westernised zombie action film, a la Dawn of the Dead, stretched out into a 12 episode television series, while maintaining all of the motifs and tropes associated with our beloved medium of anime. The story revolves around a group of students who are caught up in this zombie infested pandemic, struggling (or effortlessly, depending on how you look at it) to stay alive, where initially their school is swiftly overwhelmed by the undead, leading to an eventual global crisis. Needless to say, there’s plenty of gore, animated fluidly and impressively by the veterans at studio Madhouse (with director Araki at the helm of Death Note fame), and with an element of romance to provide some balance and character development.
In this regard, Highschool of the Dead achieves its aim of offering an anime series of the survival horror genre. It’s important to highlight that it doesn’t strive to extend beyond this, and while the fan service is not warranted, by any stretch, will inevitably satisfy the demographic this series is obviously catered for. The lead characters themselves are rather generic and may come across as perceivably annoying at first, but gradually, throughout the crisis they’re in, receive enough development to satisfy.
However, beyond all of this, what I commend the most, as briefly mentioned before, is the production. Madhouse and Araki truly nailed it here. The dark foreboding atmosphere was definitely captured, both during the action sequences and the quiet scenes. The background terrain, most notably, is absolutely sublime, while the character design is attractive (needed to be, given the excessive fan service throughout). The opening theme was catchy and the sequence that accompanied it was contemporary. The ending theme changed for each episode, serving more as an opportunity to promote Maon Kurosaki’s subsequent album. Not much of a fan of her music (and j-pop, in general), but I can’t really complain. On the seiyuu front, Suwabe, most known, perhaps, for voicing Keigo in the Prince of Tennis and later Grimmjow from Bleach, gave a reasonable performance as Takashi, while Inoue, not commonly associated with series of this ilk, voiced Rei well. However, the most noteworthy performances, in my opinion, goes to Kitamura as Saya and Hiyama as Kohta. You could argue that their respective characters had the most range in terms of personality, but conversely, were the most challenging as a result.
My only main gripe with the series, as you’d expect, would be the fan service. It did have a tendency to become needlessly excessive, bordering inappropriate. On occasion, it felt disjointed with the situation at hand. If only the fan service was kept to a respectable minimum, I would have appreciated its place in the series, but it felt too deliberate and forced.
So, to conclude, Highschool of the Dead has achieved its aim of filling the vacant zombie slot, and does so successfully, largely due to its production. The scripting was flimsy and lacked direction from time to time, and the copious amounts of fan service hindered its credibility to an extent (debatable, I acknowledge). It’s not a masterpiece, nor does it strive to be, but it was certainly entertaining and undoubtably one of, if not the most distinctive series of its broadcast season, and arguably of the year. For those who enjoy the popular zombie genre of Hollywood and are a fan of anime, should definitely give this one a try. Even you’re not keen on the genre, you can expect plenty of action and some romance to compensate.