You know, when High School of the Dead was announced I was super excited. I mean, "zombies + anime = win", right? It's only logical. Well, I didn't quite catch the stream of the series, but I read responses to the show and a collective groan from much of the anime community. After mostly negative response from a few early episodes I figured I'd reserve judgment for myself. And here we have the complete series being released on DVD by Sentai Filmworks.
Prior to checking out the anime, I actually read a couple volumes of the English translation of the manga. I kind of saw what people were talking about. As much as zombies, or "Them", were a focus for the franchise, the torpedo shaped boobs and gratuitous fan-service really bogged down an otherwise good concept. The show unfortunately follows suit and is ridiculous with the amount of bouncing bazooms that fill the screen at any one time.
You've probably read some of my anime reviews where I've been subjected to tits-galore. In all honesty it's one of the things I hate about anime. Do shows like Dragonaut, Gravion, and Divergence Eve really need to be made? I mean, who wants this much boobage in their anime without it being hentai? I certainly don't. Breasts are supposed to be fun; not a crutch. Have you ever seen someone use dairy pillows to assist their walking? I don't think so. And yet here we have a zombie-horror anime relying on high school girls with fleshy watermelons.
Despite the flagrant use of chesticles, and my disdain for it, High School of the Dead was actually fairly entertaining. The series is essentially about the zombie apocalypse. Nobody knows where it started or why it happened; it just did. Things begin for our protagonists at school, and soon enough all hell breaks loose. Takashi takes the lead and attempts to get some of his friends to safety, but only his childhood friend, Rei, manages to survive. They are soon joined by other students Takagi, Saeko, and Hirano. The group of survivors also manages to meet up with the school's nurse, Shizuka, as well.
From the school to a harrowing run through an infested city the group of survivors finds themselves unable to catch a break. Zombies are everywhere and it's only when Shizuka remembers a friend's place is nearby that they are able to rest (about halfway through the show). This point is one of the weaker moments as the change from running from the undead allows for goofy tata antics. The downtime does allow for everyone to sit back and what the calamity outside, which makes for some good entertainment in itself. The dead get to snack on people that aren't the heroes we're rooting for, so that's always fun.
As the show moves into the next leg of its journey there are some surprises in store for our heroes and in a sense they all grow up a little on the way. I particularly liked the development Takashi undertook and his relationship with one of his busty teammates seems natural given the circumstances. Right up to the end the show manages to remain lightly entertaining, which is really all you could ask out of a series such as this.
With that being said, just keep in mind a few things when considering High School of the Dead. For starters the excessive milk wagons get old after a while, and by a while I mean, like, ten minutes. The show is also awkwardly paced and drawn out with a plot that is full of clichés and paper thin when you get right down to it. This series brings very little that's new to the genre and it boils down to a sum of its parts. It's stereotypical in many ways and overloaded with fan-service. Yet somehow I still found myself entertained. It's an odd mix of qualities that keeps the series afloat for the most part and actually makes it worth checking out; even if it's just a light recommendation.
High School of the Dead is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks good with vibrant colors and solid contrast, especially with the heavy use of blood everywhere. Black levels are a bit on the flat side, however, and there's some aliasing to be found. With that being said there's some outstandingly fluid animation to be found here, despite some occasional shortcuts. Watching Saeko jump into battle with zombies is simply a joy. I do have to say, however, that the animation of the numerous mammaries takes precedence over everything else.
For sound Sentai Filmworks has released this show with its original Japanese 2.0 track and a 5.1 English dub. The quality is on par with expectations with both accounts. The original Japanese track fairs the best in terms of voice quality, but falters with a flat presentation and front-centric sound. The English offers some slightly better use of the soundstage, but suffers thanks to a dub that leaves something to be desired. Let's just say the immaturity level that was already suffering with the series drops even more with the English dub's penchant for busting out swear words left and right. I say stick with the Japanese track and you'll be satisfied enough, and thankfully it's much better than the lowbrow English dub.
For bonus features High School of the Dead includes clean animations and trailers, and, well...that's pretty much it.
Unrelentingly trashy, High School of the Dead offends the senses in many regards. With knockers being bared in every other frame and gratuitous use of gore, it would seem this show is strictly for those looking for shlocky fan-service anime. For the most part that's what you get with the show. At its core; hidden beneath all the clichés, stereotypes, blood, and flesh, is a surprisingly entertaining series. As long as you can leave your brain as zombie food at the door and don't mind the raunch, the show comes lightly recommended.