Monday, July 9, 2012

High School of the Dead (Sentai Film Works, 2010)

I am a bit of a mediocre anime fan.I do not get overly excited about shows, but sometimes get the itch to watch some. This weekend, such an itch occurred, so I made my way to Netflix to see what was available. After a few not-so-great starts I came across High School of the Dead (aka Gakuen Mokushiroku). Now, I am a little sick of zombies to begin with, and the weekend held way too much of The Walking Dead for me, with AMC running it almost non-stop, but I figured I would give this a shot. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised.

In many ways this is a very standard anime endeavor. There is the attractive yet awkward male hero, his seemingly-over-competent love interest, the talented nerd, the obnoxious genius and the silent-but-deadly warrior. Throw in an untrustworthy adult or two, and a world-as-we-know-it ending plot and viola!, you have an anime. Creepiness, gravity defying breasts and panty-shots seal the deal.

The main heroines: Rei, Saya, and Saeko
The basic story is zombie-outbreak standard. We have a gated high school. A loner (Takashi, our hero) is hanging out on an external staircase. A strange man is trying to get through the gate. A few teachers go to investigate. One grabs the strange man, who quickly bites him. Soon, we have an epidemic of zombie plague spreading faster than news of Justin Beiber's latest pimple. Fortunately, Takashi saw everything and his first instinct is to get his unrequited love, Rei, to safety. A handful of students spread throughout the building survive the initial onslaught, and eventually team up. Their plan is to escape the school.

Certainly zombie films are one of the tropiest of genres, and it is very hard to make anything truly new. Despite how awesome the public finds The Walking Dead, it is still just a Romero clone, they just have more than two hours to explore characters. High School of the Dead is little different, though it does throw a few curve balls. Saeko, our silent-but-deadly warrior, is the president of the kendo club (Japanese fencing), and learns quickly that killing every zombie encountered is not as necessary as getting where you need to go. Saya is our obnoxious genius who wants to observe the zombies to get a better idea of what is going on. We all know how to kill zombies, and what their motivation is, but part of the zombie story is that the characters do not. Even if they have seen Night of the Living Dead, which is referenced by the characters, it is unbelievable that such a thing is taking place.

I guess the biggest difference between High School of the Dead and other zombie serials is that there is no real difference. Things are very much what you expect from a rag-tag group of survivors trying to get away from the undead masses. The story and commitment to zombie-canon are rather refreshing, however, even if the story is not one to knock your socks off. The best part of the zombie menace, in regards to anime, is the lack of wackiness. I kept expecting things to get all Resident Evil on me, but they have kept the living dead pretty standard. I am a mere three episodes in, and while it certainly has pervy qualities, it has yet to turn overly sexual. This is likely to change, after a quick Tumblr search, but it is always hard to tell what is from the actual anime, and what is side-art or fan creation.

Ultimately, this is an excellent "what the hell am I going to watch" show. It is funny, exciting, a tad scary, and a little bit sexy. It won't tax you too much, and just might give you a renewed perspective on the incredibly over-done zombie genre.

Netflix here. Hulu Plus here.

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