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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Walking Breasts: Thoughts On Highschool of the Dead

A mysterious, lethal disease is on the loose worldwide, resulting in a catastrophic death rate of humanity, and the increasing rise of attacks, caused by the living dead. In Japan, several high school students and a school nurse have banded together to escape Fujimi High School shortly after it was attacked by zombies. The group now attempts to figure who or what was responsible for this plague, and in the meantime, attempt to survive the present apocalypse. The story is initially narrated through the eyes of Takashi Komuro, one of the students who had survived in the initial outbreak. (Source: MAL)
Note: Due to HSOTD's content and the fact that their promo photos reflect all of its bloody, bosomy glory, this post is NSFW. Scroll with caution!
So all of Japan, and indeed the world, is undergoing the zombie apocalypse. The entire planet is going to hell in a hand basket. People are getting bitten left and right, including major players in the institutions that shape civilization. World governments are crumbling with no one left to control them. It's an unholy bloodbath of chaos and civil disobedience and this all happens within the first 36 hours.
But no. Here you are, one of the main characters of Highschool of the Dead, and you are more concerned about whether the main protagonist might see your panties. Despite the high risk of being infected due to contact with a zombie, your breasts (which are comically huge and bouncy) are pouring out of your exposed bra like foam over the rim of a pint of beer. If this were a real zombie throw down, you and your gang of like-breasted friends would be walking dead bait in the first hour. But this is HSOTD's territory, where common sense and inner universe zombie continuity are eschewed in the name of melodrama and fanservice.

Highschool of the Dead is a pretty dumb show, and mercifully short at twelve episodes (for the purpose of this review, we will set aside the later OVA, which was not included with the set of episodes I watched). The main focus of the show is Takashi and his schoolmates surviving the initial slaughter and making sure their family members have made it out all right. Oh, and packing up as many guns, swords, and military grade vehicles as they can manage due to many plot-induced coincidences.
Yes, it's totally plausible that our school's resident ditz doctor is also best friends with a military trained sniper whose apartment is more heavily protected than the Swan hatch and has more guns that Jack Bauer's personal arsenal. Not to mention, as the gun otaku so helpfully and gleefully points out, the sniper's ownership of these weapons kinda toe the borderline between legal and illegal. Oh, Japan, the loopholes in your gun control laws make absolutely no sense to me - but, like many things in HSOTD, they make sense here.
Luckily, what it lacks in brains, it makes up for in high octane action sequences, skillfully choreographed and created to make viewers forget about how idiotically dangerous our fearless heroes' plans actually are. We, as humans, love watching people kick the crap out of zombies, because we know zombies stop being human beings the moment they get a thirst for brains and therefore it becomes okay to enjoy the slaughter. So watching Takashi mow down a group of walkers while psycho Saeko goes on a decapitation spree with her wooden sword isn't horrifying, it's electrifying. It also helps that the audience has been made to care about these jiggly chested teenagers and want to see them survive, as they have become the shining avatar of what is left of civilization in a zombie-filled world - and if that's true, God help us all.
Real talk: Highschool of the Dead is not unique in the fact that it features fan service so heavily in its narrative. Look at some of the other titles that came out around the same time HSOTD hit Japanese TV screens: Ikki Tousen; Qwaser of Stigmata; Ladies Versus Butlers!; Panty & Stocking; To LOVE-Ru. None of these titles are strangers to the T&A. But HSOTD makes the fan service so part of the narrative, it is unavoidable. It dominates a serious storyline with scenes of breast fondling, sexy lingerie dress-up, ladies-only bath time, and even the occasional steamy scene between Takashi and whichever lady is trying to jump into his trousers that day. It successfully detracts from whatever gravitas the situation had left just so all the hornier sections of its target demographic watching the show can enjoy some gravity defying eye candy between fight scenes.
It also doesn't help that HSOTD likes mixing its fan service with its violence, creating many moments of gorgeous curvy young women covered in the blood and guts of the zombie they just crushed with whatever weapon they had in hand. It is cognitive dissonance at its finest, and it's a card often played throughout the Highschool of the Dead series. I immediately think of the scene where our pink-haired pampered genius, Saya, actually has to kill a zombie for the first time and is taken aback by the moment, especially when the blood of it splatters all over it. Even in this moment, HSOTD still manages to make Saya look sexy in red.
Still, even I can't hate a series who bases one of its few male main characters after the Hellsing manga-ka, Kohta Hirano. They even have the same name! And if you've read Hellsing or any other title by Hirano, you know full well that the Highschool of the Dead Hirano's obsession with guns and military weapons is right on the money with how the real life Hirano thinks and operates. HSOTD's Hirano, as the glasses-wearing gun otaku of the group, added some much needed comic relief and surprising moments of bad-assery that don't rely on boobs and upended skirts. Although, seriously, dude should stop chasing after Saya. He can do better.
A lot of the relationships in the series are underdeveloped, outside of the two main 'couples, Takashi/Saeko and Takashi/Rei, who form the prerequisite love triangle of the end of the world. We see Saya and her parents for a short time and we soon fall into their family dynamic, but even that doesn't last long. What few human (i.e. non-zombie) antagonists are in the series are either ignored or promptly taken care of the moment they cause serious trouble to Takashi's group. Again, HSOTD takes the easier way out and supplies Takashi and company with a series of lucky fixes and coincidences that have them actually make hard decisions. The fact that no one in the main group is dead by series end, when so many of them had made rookie mistakes, is a big sign of this phenomenon.
Highschool of the Dead is junk food anime, for viewers who like big boobs and big violence and don't mind turning off the critical portion of their brain for six hours. I would not call HSOTD the worst anime I've seen, but I probably won't be re-watching it, well, ever. It is seriously violent, seriously fanservice-ridden, and seriously lacking in the brains department.

It's also currently streaming via Amazon, so there you go! This is how I watched it, although I must warn viewers that this is the original censored broadcast version, not the uncensored Blu-Ray cut. You can also buy it on DVD or Blu-Ray via Sentai Filmworks' shop. It used to be available via Netflix but it seems to have disappeared.