Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer 2010: Highschool of the Dead

(Screenshots courtesy of Anime Network. Episode 1 is available on their website for free viewing.)

Aside from the two undead zombie hunters in Zombie-Loan (who really don't look too undead), there haven't been many zombies in anime that have managed to make names of themselves. Any and all sorts of invasions unleashed upon the populace haven't really amounted to squat, since the droves of rotten flesh with hankerings for brains have usually been dispatched by the supernatural all too easily.

It's hard to understand why a zombie apocalypse hasn't resulted in success in anime or manga, but perhaps the atmosphere wasn't right for the story. Perhaps success was meant for more first-person perspectives in video games (House of the Dead, Resident Evil). Perhaps the apocalypse was meant for more sinister means and not merely a parade of the undead. (Or perhaps we really really didn't want to wander into stories about zombie girlfriends.)

Well, damn the ecchi undertones. Highschool of the Dead does the obvious by taking that awkward, hormone-infested dump called "school" and turns it into a playground for zombies...and the awkward, hormone-infested teenagers trying to escape them.

The concept of the anime is as plain as the paper that housed the manga written by Daisuke Satô, known for his fictional readjustments of history, and illustrated by Shouji Satô (no relation). While skipping classes and brooding over his crush Rei dating his best friend Hisashi, Takashi Komuro witnesses an odd occurrence at the school's gates—one of the late students sinks his teeth into the Phys-Ed teacher, and one zombie becomes two. Sensing the oncoming onslaught, Takashi dashes into his class and pulls Rei and Hisashi out before the panic sets in.

In a matter of minutes, the peaceful school is overrun with the infection, leaving the three to survive on the school's rooftop, only to see the grim reality that the entire city has already succumbed to the spreading infection. Surprisingly, the first episode of the anime leads to the first notable death of the series, as Takashi is forced to kill a zombie-bitten Hisashi right before Rei's eyes, setting the somber and drastic tone of the series.

Of course, every zombie apocalypse is to have their smaller bands of survivalists who dispose of the horde their own way. Cold and collected Saeko uses a kendo bokken to split open skulls. Combat otaku Kôta fashions a nail gun for the fight and attempts escape with his classmate Saya. The school nurse Shizuka...well, Shizuka's not really the "fighting" type, as her breasts are really in the way too much to tell what her fighting style is.

This is perhaps the trickiest part of Highschool of the Dead—fan service lurks amongst the action like the undead. Mangaka Shouji Satô's reputation for erotic artistry and sensually-drawn women is well-represented, as the cinematographic angles tend to get rather low. Skin shines, breasts bounce, and skirts flap in the air from helicopters. Yes, the story is shockingly stocked with horrific shots and grisly deaths, but the flashes of lace and skin (when not being ripped or chewed) are almost so inappropriately strewn in the story that it gets comedic.

That being said, even the blatant service shots are not enough to keep this series from being exhilarating to watch. Piloted by director Tetsuro Araki (Death Note), the pace of the show is rather explosive once the zombie population hits exponential rates, and its presentation is pretty sharp from an artistic perspective. The characters may not be the most memorable, but the show appears to be willing to present the survivors through their own monologues as time goes by. Most of all, the story manages to take the overplayed setting of a high school and turn it upside-down—while schools are normally used as "haunted houses" in some horror shows, very rarely will the horror be presented during the day.

It is perhaps this excitement, this altering of the scenery that we've found commonplace into a thrill ride, that makes Highschool of the Dead an anxious show to watch. The starting episodes present the zombie apocalypse the way it should be presented—as a panic attack with very little choreography, even with the panty shots.

The only disappointment? High schools can never be used again successfully in stories as zombie breeding grounds.

No comments:

Post a Comment