In terms of quality shows, the Summer 2010 season was severely lacking. Only a handful of shows were of notable importance, and even then most them were crossovers from the previous season. However, one particular TV series garnered a great deal of publicity before it even aired. Highschool of the Dead was already a highly popular manga series before its TV run. Set in a post apocalyptic Japan, it was one of the rare occasions where the highly established and layered zombie trope makes its way into Japanese animation. Until Highschool of the Dead came about, “real” zombies were never really central to any anime series. So how did Japan’s foray into zombie adaptations go? To put it simply, shakily.
Highschool of the Dead is essentially Japan’s take on the zombie apocalypse that the western audience is all too familiar with. The main character is a typical high school delinquent caught up in a love triangle. What was shaping up to be another high school romantic drama quickly takes a sharp turn when a mysterious virus causes the mass zombie outbreak. Together with a group of equally “capable” students, the main character must fight his way through hordes of zombies in a test to survive. A central theme throughout the series is how the moral code of the main character deteriorates as he is forced to deal with not only hordes of zombies, but survivors living in a collapsing society.
While the main cast of characters remain fairly stable, the writing is severely lacking on the supporting cast. Perhaps the most noticeable shortcoming is the simple fact that the setting does not compliment the zombie theme as well as it should. As a result, the show does a poor job of immersing the viewers in its characters and setting. The show relies heavily on the internal reactions of the characters, instead of the innate, to display emotion which creates a disconnect between the characters and the audience. When they appear shocked or horrified, we often times instead find ourselves laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Viewers can only suspend disbelief for so long before things begin to seem shallow and forced.
The underlying problem with Highschool of the Dead is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Zombie works in western entertainment have been rehashed to hell and back. It gets to the point where zombies fail to convincingly scare people. Just look at the plethora of zombie films that delve into the post-modernist, satiric realm (eg. Shaun of the dead, Zombieland). These movies are comedies that parody the zombie genre. Japan on the other hand, hasn’t really had exposure to the zombie trope in films, and especially not in anime. Highschool of the Dead tries to be a horror show and an action show at the same time. Throw in copious amounts of fanservice and the result is a complete mess which pretty much describes the Summer 2010 season.
Final Thoughts: 5/10
Highschool of the Dead is a victim of an overused premise and adaptation decay. Albeit having a formidable lead character and fairly strong main cast, the character emotions, in general, feel shallow and forced. The show lacks a clear focus and tries to much in 12 episodes to encompass horror, action, and comedy, all the while trying to maintain a serious atmosphere. Despite the flawed premise, and reliance on fanservice, Highschool of the Dead is still a decent source of entertainment.