Review: Highschool of the Dead

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This is probably the closest it gets to zombie porn without actually having any onscreen sex. I’d say it was only for mature audiences, only there’s little to nothing mature about it.

Highschool of the Dead strikes me as one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of titles. Sometimes all you’re looking for is a good ole-fashioned splatterfest – something with a decent amount of action where the writing and the logic don’t matter too much, so long as you get your fix of blood, guts, and sex. At this at least, Highschool of the Dead more than delivers, as it’s basically Resident Evil in anime version and on steroids. Think Milla Jovovich shows off a lot of skin? That’s cute, think again. See, a bunch of Japanese high schoolers (sigh) need to survive the zombie apocalypse while also occasionally battling their more dangerous surviving human counterparts, since societal collapse equals an over-abundance of sex-crazed psychopaths. They do this while mostly clad in their school uniforms, which for the girls of course means short skirts and white blouses that seem to get wet and/or ripped up an awful lot. Yeah, nobody ever said the zombie apocalypse would be easy. Or G-rated.

To be clear, it’s not just the constant boob-jiggling or barrage of panty shots I’m reacting to when I talk about the fanservice in this show. After all, when MAL lists a title as ecchi, this kind of content can usually be taken for granted – and given the sheer number of other anime that consist of similar levels of fanservice, there’s no way I’d have the time to be offended by all of them even if I wanted to be. Far more offensive is that nearly every. single. scene involving someone being attacked by a zombie is sexualized to the point where it’s quite literally like having to witness someone’s horror-themed rape fantasy. The places on the body where the zombies go for the bite, the specific camera angles and close-up shots, the arrangement of the clothing… it’s exactly like watching a sexual assault, with the undead playing the default predators and the victims their prey. However, it certainly doesn’t stop there. The panty shots in Highschool of the Dead are one thing. That’s just plain dumb. The amount of imagery revolving around rape, coercion, and molestation in this show is quite another, and the way it’s presented makes it abundantly clear that it’s designed for the sole purpose of titillation.

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Alright, now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to the main characters themselves. There’s Takashi, the central protagonist and leader of the group who’s defined mostly by the fact that a) he can ride a motorbike and b) he’s in love/lust with his classmate and childhood friend, Rei. Luckily for the team, Rei just happens to be in the school sojutsu club, which means she gets to use spears as weapons a lot. In a stunning coincidence, the other members of their zombie survival group have equally as useful backgrounds – there’s Saeko (kendo club), Saya (certified genius), Kouta (military and gun otaku), and Marikawa-sensei (nurse). It’s nice that these characters are actually all competent at one thing or another, but that effect is more or less ruined thanks to a few issues. First, all the women other than the teacher end up developing romantic feelings towards Takashi, so Highschool of the Dead develops this weird and totally unnecessary harem vibe. Second, Marikawa is stupid. Insultingly stupid. ‘Airheaded’ does not even begin to cover it, and she’s also depicted with breasts big enough to literally knock zombies aside with – because haha blonde chicks with huge knockers, amirite.

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The third and much bigger problem with these characters is that despite everyone with the exception of Marikawa being presented as pretty smart and capable, they still somehow end up making the most idiotic of decisions. For example, early on in the series they realise that the zombies react to sound but are essentially blind. So what do they do over the following episodes? Make a ton of noise over things like frogs and spiders (seriously, I’m not making this up) as they make their various escapes, of course! In a later episode they rescue a young girl, Alice, and then they also risk being eaten alive in order to save her adorable puppy, who is not useful in any way and – yup, you got it – always starts barking and growling at the worst possible moment. The show has just spent a lot of time proving how tough and quick-thinking these characters are despite still being teenagers, and then they go around making nonsensical choices like they’ve learned nothing at all from their experiences.

This is a waste of what might otherwise have been a decent action series – because yes, if you can overlook the fanservice (and Marikawa’s very existence) as well as those odd moments of glaring stupidity, this would indeed be a decent show. Nothing deep or profound, sure, but it would have been trashy anime violence at its very best, which I have absolutely nothing against. The action is fast-paced and enjoyable, the animation very smooth, and the rock track opening really helps set the mood. The ending themes performed by popular J-rocker Kurosaki Maon are a mixed bag, but what’s cool is that the songs differ for every single episode. So yes, I can understand some viewers preferring the likes of Highschool of the Dead, even with its myriad issues, to moefied high school dramas and insipid romances. And never let it be said that this show doesn’t fully commit to its horror; it plays its tropes straight and is constantly in high-energy, gore-happy mode. On a certain level, I can appreciate that.

Unfortunately, I really do think the negatives more than outweigh the positives here. Saeko is the only main cast member even approaching likeability and also the only one to receive anything resembling character development. The generally realistic action occasionally takes a turn for the blatantly ridiculous by showing things like Takashi using Rei’s breasts as a rifle sight. And the story, such as it is, peters out right at the very end and gives no satisfying conclusion whatsoever, so that everything up until the final episode feels completely pointless. Even if you’re a major horror-action buff, I’d be more inclined to recommend the likes of Hellsing, Parasyte, or the criminally underrated Mnemosyne over Highschool of the Dead. They may not be perfect, but at least they won’t insult your intelligence.

Question of the post: Have you watched Highschool of the Dead, and if so what did you think? If not, would you?

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28 thoughts on “Review: Highschool of the Dead

  1. Man. I’ve heard lots of bad stuff from this anime, but I didn’t realize it was this bad. I’m never going to watch this. Thanks for watching it and warning the rest of us.

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    • I’m not saying the series is 100% bad or even that it’s unenjoyable – in fact, I’m sure there are plenty of people who absolutely loved the show – but yeah, I’m really not one of them.

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  2. I love it and I hope they continue the series. As far as the sound issues, you have to understand that these are high school girls and there are some girls who still freak out over insects and other things. The nurse character to me brings the comedy and yes, there is a lot of fan service. Unless, there was some kind of danger, then there wouldn’t be any excitement or cheering for our characters to escape the situations they get caught in. That’s just my opinion.

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    • Sorry, but I just can’t reconcile the fact that one minute these characters are all proving how smart and strong and badass they all are (after the series has purposefully spent several episodes building up that expectation of them, that is) and the next minute they’re all acting closer to sexed-up elementary school kids than even just plain dumb teens. The decision-making going on with them sometimes really is just that poor. As for the comedy…. ugh. I get that the nurse is meant to be a comic relief character, but for some reason, shoving a ridiculously stupid blonde woman with colossal breasts in front of me didn’t really get the laughs going.

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  3. I really enjoyed it (though I have to completely agree with everyone of your criticisms). I’m just a sucker for terrible horror themed shows and Highschool of the Dead just kind of nailed the right vibe of horror, violence and stupidity to be binge worthy even while I wouldn’t recommend it as a decent watch to anyone who doesn’t like stupid horror/action shows.
    I do wish they would make a follow up as you are right in that there is no satisfying resolution here. Even the teens getting eaten would be better than where they just stop.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    • Nothing wrong with that – I can think of several anime I really enjoyed even while acknowledging some pretty serious character or storytelling issues. I can talk about why I think something’s good or bad, but I’ll never tell someone else whether or not an anime is actually enjoyable.

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  4. Marathoned it with a roommate back in college, had a great time. Agree with all of your criticisms (especially the nurse, geez) although re: bad decision-making, the teenagers here aren’t much worse than what I’ve seen of adults in other zombie works.

    And did you watch subbed or dubbed? We watched the English dub on Netflix and it was pretty solid, although some of the added jokes (“going to be killed by an Asian female driver!”) were trash even compared to the rest of the show. Still a good popcorn-fest, I think.

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    • I can definitely see why this would make for a thoroughly enjoyable show, even though my own potential enjoyment was in the end totally eclipsed by characters like the nurse (among other issues). And I don’t think the terrible decision-making here is in any way unique to the show – you’re right, I’ve yet to see a single zombie flick in which characters consistently act in a particularly smart way. But I’m not comparing Highschool of the Dead to any of them, so moot point for me really.

      I watched the subbed. I’d give the dub a try if I liked the show enough, but I just don’t want to go there again.

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  5. Highschool of the dead is one of those shows that I’ve dived into with low expectations since it’s a post apocalyptic story involving highschool kids, your usual kickback & relax.
    But even with such low expectations I was surprised how superficial the characters were & absolutely no character development what so ever.
    And don’t let me start with the fan service !

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    • Yeah, the fanservice was absolutely cringe-worthy. It’s a shame because I feel like without it, the anime would have been okay even with all (or at least most) of the same characters and plot points. It still wouldn’t exactly have been a work of art, but it would at least have made for a decent, trashy-but-fun horror/action piece. As it stands, it’s like the show just repeatedly keeps shooting itself in the foot.

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  6. Your description of Highschool of the Dead as a “decent amount of action where the writing and the logic don’t matter too much, so long as you get your fix of blood (&) guts,” could also be applied to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress as well, haha ( except that has less boobs and sex).

    To my knowledge the source manga for this has been on hiatus since 2013 ( apparently due to a massive dispute between the artist and head writer, who are both brothers – it’s sad when siblings don’t get along).

    What made you do a review of this? This anime is so unlike the genres you usually discuss here.

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    • I haven’t actually seen any of Kabaneri so I can’t really comment on that at all. Given that Highschool of the Dead is at times mainly or even all about the boobs and sex though, I’m not sure I would want to compare to any series that showed some restraint in that area.

      I wanted to review this precisely because it’s outside my usual genre. I like to branch out every once in a while. 🙂

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  7. This and KissxSis are basically softcore hentai to me. The only thing missing, as you’ve stated, is the actual intercourse.

    Also… Matrix Boobs. Just….GAHHH!!

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    • I’ve never watched KissxSis, but somehow I feel like I’m not missing out on much. And yeah, I’d personally be happy to list Highschool of the Dead as softcore hentai – which is no doubt one of the reasons a lot of people like it so much in the first place. To each their own I suppose. Matrix Boobs and all.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As you know I loved the premise of the show but hated the fan service so much I couldn’t get past the first episode

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    • It was really in-your-face and graphic, yeah – and I have to say, the first episode was relatively tame compared to some of what happens later with regards to the fanservice, too.

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  9. I couldn’t get past the first episode, and I actually felt genuinely disturbed after watching it. What’s (perhaps?) interesting is that I’m very much a free expression person– I always find myself defending hyper-sexualized content, even if I don’t personally enjoy it, because I think it has a right to exist even if it’s not for me. After watching HSotD 1 though, there was definitely a part of me that wished not only that I hadn’t watched it, but that it had never been made. As someone who will defend virtually anything, this show gives me pause for some reason. Not enough to abandon my principles, but enough to understand how people in the other camp feel, I guess.

    I think you have a rare generosity of spirit to be able to watch this show, feel something approaching the kind of visceral disgust toward it that I did, and say “Ok it’s just not for me,” instead of condemning it. The only way I’ve been able to reconcile this show with my general outlook has to basically pretend it doesn’t exist >__<

    Anyway, thanks for the review. If nothing else I now know that I didn't miss anything by not forcing myself to continue with it.

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    • I think Highschool of the Dead has a right to exist – I just don’t think it does anyone any favours by existing. While I accept that other people may enjoy it and that I have no right to tell them what they should and shouldn’t enjoy, I do believe the show transcends any notion whatsoever of taste. The best I can probably say of it, at least as far as the sexualisation is concerned, is that I’ve seen worse. … Probably.

      Regardless, you’re right in that you’re not missing out on anything, other than more of the same of course. The first episode is actually rather tame in comparison to a lot of what goes on later, so if anything I’d say you’re doing yourself a massive favour by not continuing.

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  10. To be honest, I’m surprised this is even here as I figured this show isn’t up to your alley at all xD But yeah, this show is just… for a lack of better word… dumb. At some point, I just shut off my brain and try to enjoy it as much as possible. At the very least, I do appreciate the action and the fact that they are doing a very classical zombie flick-atmosphere… and those are perhaps the only things I can praise about the show.

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    • I do appreciate just shutting off my brain sometimes and watching something dumb but fun. Action (or at least, action all on its own) isn’t usually my thing, but I do like to give things like this a try from time to time. And I could have appreciated HotD a lot more if it /had been purely action, because as I noted in my review, that particular aspect of the show is actually carried off pretty well. Unfortunately, the fanservice tainted that and every other positive aspect of the show for me, so I was unable to properly enjoy it even as just another dumb action/zombie title.

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      • This was my first zombie film and to be honest i’ve yet to see this fan service. It wasn’t on the DVD. Maybe it needed TV dvd player but I like the characters enough (saw it 5 years ago) to know it stands without that. Seems the wierd and cruel in society are up to date always on the dirty stuff so they can chuck it.

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    • I found this to be very intelligent indeed. It is for people who have been to school and look back at really how they were characters and gangs identities. If you are a victim of sexualised culture before you watch this that is what you see. If you are not then you won’t even see knickers because there is so much going on. It, believe me, is the same length skirts as in many schools and if you were to freeze frame a day you could look at the pants and not the faces.
      It is tragically overdone because so many people are unable to see past it but I figure the humour was a mistake over here in Britain where because most people have borrowed guilt so forbid you to be less pervy than them. Nothing else on their minds. Therefore you have to answer their questions all the time, but it’s best to know your enemy and the guilt in this film is a gang dynamic of kids which faces risks yet does not abuse it’s characters itself. Don’t look past the teen fantasy and then wonder whether it should be a 15 or 18, to be honest even a 12, that is all. Unconsumated as a kid this stuff but let’s face it, they don’t have sex in this either. The wonder about big boobs and male interest without wasting time on it by using pictures that are already there. The lack of self consciousness is very up front. The nurse is inappropriate but she is like the adult who given the special right to censor the limits and define their nature. Wrong, well in Britain you are never wrong if you are a nurse having a moment; makes guys jealous until they catch it on camera. Wrong but if the motive is wrong really, otherwise are all adults to be persecuted drips for raving perverts to whip?
      The chapter’s are ace. The adventures are tailored for each character. Each prejudice and opportunity to exploit a theme and gets a lively dose of imagination and courageous heart.
      LXjames.

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  11. I read the manga a while ago. While it still retained a lot of T&A, it did have a well-done portrayal of society collapsing during a zombie apocalypse. I’ve been told the anime itself is good sleep-over material since it’s… really just pretty stupid and fun to laugh at.

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    • I haven’t read the manga, but I might’ve been easier on the anime if I thought it genuinely had anything new or interesting to say about the collapse of society during a zombie apocalypse – besides, you know, everybody apparently wanting to get some.

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