High School of the Dead relives the goriest of days
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I prohibited myself from games such as Yakuza: Dead Souls and horror-based anime like Hellsing to keep myself from needlessly doing harm to my mental health. Now that society is opening again, I’m reviewing an anime series that reflected Covid-19’s fearful grip on our world: High School of the Dead.
Based on the manga of the same name by the late Daisuke Saito and illustrated by Shoji Sato, HOTD tells the story of high-schooler Takashi Komuro and his classmates along with their high school’s nurse who struggles to survive a deadly pandemic known as the “outbreak,” which turns healthy humans into zombies. As the outbreak reaches across the world, Takashi and the others attempt to find their families while fending off zombies and uninfected survivors with mental trauma during the outbreak’s conquest of Japan.
HOTD is a far cry from the typical school and horror anime genres. In the first half, Takashi started out as a usual teenager caring about himself but begins to grow into a leader of zombie survivors. He saves Rei Miyamoto and their friend Hisashi, who is gravely wounded by zombies, forcing Takashi to kill him with a blow to the head. Takashi and Rei meet other classmates, Saya Takagi, Kohta Hirano, Saeko Busujima and their school nurse Shizuka Marikawa who advises using the school’s club bus to leave the campus. Despite finding other survivors and escaping the school, the group is briefly separated by the actions of their surviving teacher Koichi Shido and a bus carrying zombies crashing while on the streets of Tokonosu City. After reuniting and battling zombies on Onbesu Bridge, Shizuka suggests staying at her friend’s home briefly to recover and replenish supplies.
The second half introduces two new members of Takashi’s group: Alice Maresato, whose father was killed by crazed survivors trying to find shelter; and, Zeke, a small puppy who protected Alice from zombies before Takashi arrived. The group continues their quest to find their families, agreeing to go to Saya’s home first. While en route, they come under attack by zombies and are saved by firefighters led by Saya’s mother. However, Takashi and Saeko are forced to lure the other zombies from their comrades. A day later, the group is reunited at Saya’s heavily fortified mansion where they rest and get repairs for their equipment and vehicle, but soon the debate of staying with adults versus continuing their journey begins.
At this juncture, Shido and his students arrive at Saya’s home, forcing Rei to use her rifle to kill Shido for injustice to her father. After Takashi’s encouragement of Rei to remember her honor, she backs down, resulting in Saya’s father banishing Shido students. At the end of the series, the succeeding U.S. president ordered use of nuclear weapons to end the zombie outbreak and deter America’s adversaries. The final episode starts as the U.S. and Japanese militaries shoot down nuclear missiles from China. However, a missile got through the defenses, resulting in an electro-magnetic pulse that renders all unprotected electronics useless. During this event, zombies attack the Takagi mansion, killing various survivors. Learning of another safe area, Saya’s parents instruct their employees and remaining survivors to fight to gain access to it. The group, with Saya’s parents’ blessing, take Saya and heads out of the mansion with their vehicle. After battling with a zombie mob that left their vehicle seriously damaged, the group makes its way to a local mall by foot, optimistic for their future.
I can honestly say that this series is one that I’ve heavily invested my time in watching. HOTD is well written and has the usual selling points of a good anime series and also touched on issues such as mental health and societal pressure on affluent individuals like Saya. Saito-san showcased each character with various issues and, at certain times, allowed them to have moments of happiness while the world was crumbling apart. I’m also applauding Saito-san for doing research on various weapons, vehicles, and groups such as Japan’s special assault team officers who are battling the zombies.
The music in HOTD is spectacular, as the opening theme by Kishida Kyoudan and the Akeboshi Rockets is upbeat, making you feel as if you, too, are fighting the zombies. The animation is polished in high definition and directed by the well-known Tetsuro Araki (Death Note, Attack on Titan). Sentai Filmworks did an awesome job on the English dub with Steven Foster and Kaoru Bertand handling English adaption, direction and translation duties. The voice cast, led by Monica Rial as Shizuka and Leraldo Anzaldua as Takashi, performed excellently in each episode, which enhances the appeal of the anime adaptation.
The only downside I had was the overreach of the near hentai-level fan service with close ups on the female characters’ breasts and panty shots. It was almost too much and nearly caused the series to be a Dumpster fire. Thankfully, HOTD sticks to the horror/school life anime genre and nothing else.
High School of the Dead is indisputably a new classic. Although I wanted to watch Takashi and company continue their quest in a new normal, I cannot because of the death of Saito-san. However, I offer some advice to prevent a similar event: Wash your hands and practice good hygiene, wear a mask, and stay home from work, school and cons if you’re sick. Your fellow geeks will thank you.
Brandon Beatty is editor-at-large of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org