I Love Zombies. I’ve watched films I would never normally watch simply because the film has zombies in it. In my DVD collection I have all but one of the George Romero zombie films -– and I will get that one in time too -– Shaun of the Dead, Zombie Strippers, Undead and Dead & Breakfast; however my pride and joy is the comic book collections of The Walking Dead. I love it more than the DVDs because by its long-form storytelling nature it can tell a continuing tale that can stretch for months or years, where films are limited to a limited run time that can really only give a small snapshot of a larger apocalypse. This was one of the reasons I was drawn to High School of the Dead.
High School of the Dead follows a small group of students (and one school nurse) who manage to survive the initial onset of the zombie apocalypse and start trying to live and adapt to the changed world around them. The first three to four episodes are the only ones that are actually set inside the titular school, with the remaining episodes taking into account the broader scope of a zombie-plagued Tokyo, how the police react and deal with not just the zombies, but also a citizen populace. Many citizens, not knowing any better, attack and kill each other, panic and mentally crumble when exposed to the menace, generally treating the threat of the undead with less seriousness than one should.
There is a lot to love in High School. The early episodes feature some very inventive uses of common objects like brooms, bats and fire hoses but the stand-out has to be a nail gun from the wood work room that gets MacGyver-ised into a semi-auto assault rifle, complete with sights made of a pencil and two erasers. Later episodes feature more traditional firearms: handguns, shotguns and some samurai sword work. Animation by studio Madhouse is beautiful and well handled as we’ve come to expect from them. A stand-out sequence has to be the school breakout scene as our heroes charge through a swarm of zombies to get to a school bus to use as an escape vehicle, which reminded me a lot of one of the Zack Snyder directed fight scenes from 300.
Yes there is a lot to like, but there’s one absolutely glaring thing I really disliked, and it’s hard to overlook. Gratuitous Fan Service. I’ve come to understand that the author of the manga upon which this is based has made a name for himself with fan service heavy works and so it’s quite possible that the anime is just staying faithful to the manga in that regard. But it just felt squickee when in the second episode a high school girl, about to be chomped upon by the Walking Dead, is given the last indignity of having the camera lovingly linger on her exposed undergarments. In almost every episode there is sexually suggestive imagery, upskirting, convenient winds that pick up enough to blow skirts up, and enough Gainax bouncing to pop an eye out. In fact the only female character to not have prominent breasts is pre-pubescent.
If you can get past the fan service you will find a great long form Zombie apocalypse that you wouldn’t normally be able to find at the movies (at least until the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead is released). If you can’t then you might want to take off a point or two off of my final review score. If you are however the kind of person that REALLY likes fan service than maybe add a point or two.