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.
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.
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?