Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the second edition of “Horror Hoedown Showdown!” Today we’ll be reviewing Highschool of the Dead, which was produced by Madhouse and based on the manga by Daisuke Sato (and illustrated by his brother Shoji Sato). Sentai Filmworks released a dub of HOTD back in June. They also recently released a dub of Angel Beats!, which I also hope to watch and review too. That is for a later time, however, so let’s get down to the reviewing!
The premise of HOTD is simple; a zombie apocalypse strikes the world and a bunch of Japanese high school students band together to survive. Sounds cliche right? Unfortunately, that is the problem with many zombie related movies and t.v. shows; there’s little variation. Mysterious virus ravages human population. Everyone is zombified. Few survivors band together. That’s the the staple formula. However, what makes HOTD stand out is the fanservice. Yup you heard me. What better way to add variation to the zombie apocalypse genre than by throwing in lots and lots of hot girls and boobs. I think it’s important to note that I’m a huge sucker for harem and fanservice heavy genres. After all, the first manga I ever read (and to this day is still my favorite) was Love Hina.
Now that we’ve established the general plot, it’s time to get a little moar specific. Let’s meet the cast. You got the main protagonist and the center of the harem Takashi Komuro (Junichi Suwabe/Leraldo Anzaldua), the extremely annoying childhood friend Rei Miyamoto (Marina Inoue/Jessica Boone), the other childhood friend and snob Saya Takagi (Eri Kitamura/Maggie Flecknoe), the cool and collected (but secretly sadistic) kendo captain Saeko Busujima (Miyuki Sawashiro/Taylor Hannah), the fat gun otaku Kohta Hirano (Nobuyuki Hiyama/Mark X. Laskowski, the ditsy but extremely busty school nurse Shizuka Marikawa (Yukari Fukui/Monica Rial), and later on little girl Alice (Ayaka Taketatsu/Brittney Karbowski) and pet dog Zeke.
Komuro is the typical not too bright and not too confident protagonist who is thrown into a leadership role (while surrounded by beautiful women). There really isn’t much else to say. The one thing that is worth mentioning is that in the English dub, the director decided to turn Komuro into a Rambo-like character, dropping “fuck yeah!” every other sentence. After watching the subs then the dubs, it was weird hearing Komuro drop curse words like no tomorrow, but it was nonetheless entertaining.
Rei is the typical best friend from childhood who has a crush on the protagonist. But of course the protagonist is too dumb to realize it, and the relationship is strained. At the start of the series, the relationship takes an interesting turn when Komuro is forced to kill Rei’s zombified boyfriend Hisashi. Rei was only going out with him because Komuro didn’t make a move, so the whole “you killed my boyfriend since you were jealous!” really doesn’t hold water in my book. And Hisashi was zombified so what the hell were they supposed to do? Let zombified boyfriend eat them?
But…as much as I bash her, there’s a part of me that feels for her. With all the horrors happening around her, she takes things out on Takashi to cope. This is how her character develops: take things out on Takashi, understand your feelings for Takashi, grow closer to Takashi. It’s not the best way, but it works.
Saya is the typical rich snob. Like most rich snobbish characters, the parents play a significant role in their condescending nature. Most of the time, characters like such eventually have a direct confrontation with their parents to set things straight. In HOTD, the last third of the show revolves around the group taking shelter at Takagi’s parents’ place. It’s here we get to see the real Takagi. She’s insecure and just wants to know her parents care for her. Well you idiot, of course they do.
Moving on to my favorite character, Saeko Busujima. It helps that she’s voiced by one of my favorite seiyuu, Miyuki Sawashiro. Don’t get me wrong; this is only a small bonus. Saeko is truly the most interesting character in the series. It may seem like she’s a typical cool and collected sword wielding sempai. But there is moar to Saeko then meets the eye. I expected her to be that stereotype (cool and collected sempai). And like any seasoned harem anime watcher, I expected her to have some sort of weakness that the main protagonist would address thereby winning the love of this particular heroine. What I didn’t expected was that her “weakness” was her real personality; a raw beast who thrives on inflicting pain. A sadistic creature. Wow. Just like Komuro, I was thrown for a loop.
Now I wouldn’t have gone about the way Komuro did in “accepting her nature and convincing her to live” (he literally just ran behind her and groped her boob), but nonetheless this scene is still one of my favorites. As far as the dynamic between Komuro and Saeko, their relationship is the most interesting ; their talks are very revealing, and their scenes together are probably the most entertaining (see aforementioned “boob groping in order to live” scene, the wet clothes scene, and the “making girls wet” scene). Granted that most of their relationship development is accomplished in episode 9, that one episode was by far one of the best and most important, further proving my point that their relationship is the most meaningful (did I really just use the word “most” 3 times?).
Some might say he really doesn’t care for her because he really didn’t “accept” her true nature and just wanted to live. But I believe he does care, and he was doing what I believe most would have done in a live-or-die situation (I would have done the same sans boob groping…maybe). Wanting to live is selfish, but that doesn’t make it necessarily bad. I could be wrong, however, and it will be interesting to see in a possible second season if his “must live no matter what” mentality comes back to hurt his companions.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love Saeko for her looks and personality (I tend to gravitate toward the “cool” one), but her real self truly made me fall for her. She’s an interesting beauty to say the least. The apron scene was one of the best too. Oh before I forget, the one thing that bothered me the most in the dub was the way Taylor Hannah portrayed Saeko. Hannah’s portrayal made Saeko seem bland rather than cool. I’ve noticed this in many dubs; cool characters often sound bland in dubs. And I could never get used to the way they pronounced Saeko’s name in the dub. The way they say it, it sounds like “psycho.” It is kinda fitting though, don’t you agree?
As for the others, I admit Marikawa sensei gets little to no development; she remains a busty ditz through and through. Kohta would normally play the role of the “best friend/sidekick” in harem shows to the Komuro-type character, but I was surprised that his character was really able to shine on his own. He probably remains my second favorite character behind Saeko. Watching him get excited over various guns is hilarious. His dual personality is also pretty cool; there’s the lovable, “I’ll do anything for Takagi-san!” and the badass sharpshooter. I still regard the scene where Kohta assembles the nail gun rifle as one of the best in the series. Also, my friend Sam cosplayed Kohta at this year’s Otakon. I have to say it was pretty awesome.
Back on topic, I won’t say much about Alice. Her most significant moment was when she was introduced, when she witnessed her father’s murder; I feel for her, as no child should witness such a horrendous act. It’s odd that she gets over it pretty quickly, but maybe she’s just burying her feelings. This is another possible plot element for a possible second season. As for Zeke, he’s the typical cute puppy that all the girls fawn over; however, I will say I thought Zeke was pretty awesome. It’s pretty handy having a dog who can sense the undead right?
So there’s the cast for you. This dysfunctional merry band of survivors are your heroes. Time to get to some moar technical stuff. The art and animation are both top notch in my opinion. It’s funny how some shows that many consider boring and unoriginal are given so much production value. The reason? It will sell. I mean zombies + boobs = cash. People will watch despite all the complaining. Anything with fanservice sells unless it is especially terrible. Anyways, all the characters (especially the females) and scenes are very beautiful. Colors are vibrant and the detail is noticeable (just look at how they illustrate all the unique guns). Shadows and lighting are implemented very well. There are seldom times where the characters or scenes are awkwardly drawn or out of place.
The same goes for the animation. There are no scenes where the animation gets choppy. Everything is crisp and flowing. Action scenes especially. Saeko’s sword strikes are beautiful in motion. The firing of guns is realistic. Bullet time is properly used. The (gravity-defying) boob jiggling is fantastic. A+. As for music, it was pretty forgettable. The OP “HIGHSCHOOL OF THE DEAD” by Kishidakyodan and the Akeboshi Rockets is pretty distinct because of the unique voice of the singer. That’s about it. I’d rather play Left 4 Dead 2 for my zombie apocalypse battle music.
Zombie shows are very cliche, but HOTD manages to get a few things right. The cast is full of diverse personalities, and many of them are annoying. But this cast still works. Part of the reason is the element of survival. When thrown in live-or-die or “us against overwhelming odds” scenarios, the most appealing part is what the group does to survive (as evident by Komuro’s boob groping). Not just banding together to fight, but also working together despite vastly different personalities and flaws. It’s moar fun to watch a dysfunctional group work together. Rei may be annoying, and her qualms may be petty, but her interactions with Takashi tell a lot.
Also, when there is fighting, it doesn’t disappoint. Action scenes as mentioned earlier are really well animated. And as I stated in the intro, I’m a sucker for these fanservice and harem anime. Sure there’s zombies and the killing of said zombies, but what most people will remember this show for will be it’s abundance of boob bouncing. And boy do I love me some boob bouncing. I’m not saying HOTD is a masterpiece by any means; however, I am saying that it’s not just boobs (although the boobs are great).