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September 2011

High School Of The Dead

voice cast: Junichi Suwabe, Marina Inoue, Jessica Boone, Illich Guardiola, and Leraldo Anzaldua

director: Tetsuro Araki

322 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Manga blu-ray region B

RATING: 5/10
review by Sarah Ash

High School Of The Dead

"They're not people anymore." School nurse Shizuka Marikawa steels herself to mow down a menacing crowd of zombies at the school gates.

It's just another normal day at Fujimi High School, and student Takashi Komuro (Juniche Suwabe/ Leraldo Anzaldua) is up on the roof, reflecting ruefully on the fact that his childhood friend Rei Miyamoto (Marina Inoue/ Jessica Boone) is now going out with his best friend Hiroshi. So, when the first zombies appear without warning and start infecting teachers and students alike, he's a little slow to react at first. Forced to kill Hiroshi, who is bitten as he defends Rei, Komuro finds himself leading an unlikely little group of survivors as they battle their way through the fast-growing legions of the living dead to try to find out what has happened to their families.

Fellow students Saeko Busujima (martial artist), little rich girl Saya Takagi, and over-endowed school nurse Shizuka Marikawa make up Takashi's little harem, with class nerd, bespectacled Kohta Hirano, along for the ride. Later on, they rescue a little girl and a dog. It seems that the deadly infection is spreading like wildfire throughout the world and the threat of a nuclear strike looms in the chaos. As civilisation breaks down around them, how can these few brave survivors escape and try to start a new life in a world gone mad?

Oh dear me. High School Of The Dead (based on the manga by brothers Daisuke and Shouji Sato) is a mess. It wants to be a sexy blood-spattered zombie horror movie, delivering fan service and gore in equal measure. But it also - intermittently between the gunfire and zombie-clubbing - tries to tell a coherent story that falls flat on its face because it's more interested in delivering fan service and gun porn. Everything that happens relies on the most extraordinary coincidences.

For example; our intrepid survivors fight their way to the flat of the ditsy blonde school nurse's girlfriend. What do they find there, apart from the excuse to fritter away a whole episode on a naked bathing scene as the girls compare boob sizes in the bathroom? Oh, just a locked arsenal of the most up-to-date weaponry. And, luckily for them, the only other student in the group, otaku Kohta Hirano (Nobuyuki Hiyama/ Mark X. Laskowski) just happens to be obsessed with guns and turns out to be an ace shot. (The geek saves the day; wish fulfilment for certain members of the target audience, anyone?) There's even a humvee in the garage. Some girlfriend, huh..?

And, to add insult to injury, H.O.T.D. (aka: Gakuen mokushiroku) tries to make us interested in some of the main characters by suddenly delivering back stories at the most inappropriate moments, further disrupting the flow of the action. And info dumps: "Do I have to explain everything to you people?" demands pink-haired class genius and tsundere Saya Takagi (Eri Kitamura/ Maggie Flecknoe) at one moment. Oh yes, she does - although, of course, the ensuing info-dump is more aimed at the baffled viewer than her friends.

So what we have here is a 12-episode shabby little shocker of an anime series that looks fantastic, with high production values, and a starry Japanese voice cast. The US voice cast does well enough with the material, but, the US script seems to have been considerably re-written (though my grasp of Japanese is not yet good enough, alas, to tell how accurate the translation is). The final line, spoken by Takashi, is translated in the subtitles as, "This is really... annoying." Whereas the US version, as delivered by Leraldo Anzaldua, is, "Let's end this little road trip... with a fucking bang!"

Talking of endings, the last episode leaves so many plot threads unfinished, that I can only assume a second series is planned. These 12 episodes cover roughly the first three volumes of the ongoing manga, so the story is far from over.

In fact there seem to be quite a few anime series based on a mash-up of fighting and fan service being released on Region 2 at present: Master Of Martial Hearts, Sekirei, and Shikabane Hime (aka: Corpse Princess), to name but three recent outings. I have no particular objection to fan service per se, nor to a good action series, and I am well aware that I am not part of H.O.T.D.'s true target audience (being a girl and all that...).

However, I found H.O.T.D. a real chore to watch. Not for a long while have I found it so hard to get to the end of a series. It's a prime example of 'plot, what plot?' Now, PWP shows can be fun - but they don't usually pretend to be a hard-edged drama or start plot arcs that don't deliver, they just do what it says on the tin. I could have forgiven the fan service if the series had delivered a gripping and well-developed zombie story, instead of just offering endless shots of well-developed chests. Or am I asking too much?

The greatest insult to the intelligence is the quotation from T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men that shows up on the screen at the conclusion: "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper." The creative team even gives the source, as if to infer that by finishing the show with an extract with proper literary credentials, they've somehow dignified what has gone before and elevated it onto a higher plane.

Madhouse Studios has brought us some excellent animation over the years, ranging in scope from Satoshi Kon's masterworks to CLAMP's charming Cardcaptor Sakura. The animation in H.O.T.D. looks amazing, especially so in blu-ray, which is crisp and clear, and the character designs are strikingly faithful to the original manga. The sound balance is excellent on both the original version and the US dub, and disc navigation is blissfully straightforward. A word of praise too to Sentai Filmworks for giving us the full credits in English (US team as well) at the conclusion of each episode. As I said earlier, I'm not the target audience for this series. So, if you're a fan of zombies, you may want to give this a try.

Disc extras consist of blu-ray trailers, and clean opening and closing animations; if this sounds a little meagre, it's worth noting that each episode uses a different song for its closing animation, delivering 13 tracks by idol Maon Kurosaki, specially composed, it seems, for H.O.T.D.



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