When people the world over start becoming flesh hungry zombies, a small group of Japanese high school students, along with their ditzy school nurse, are forced into a fight for their lives as they attempt to find their respective families. Based on the popular manga.
I only recently rediscovered my love of Japanese anime. I used to watch it all the time in my younger days, everything from Dragonball Z and Trigun to those interesting 80’s movies where every monster became a giant vagina. Then I kind of gravitated away from them in my twenties, vagina monsters and unending battle screams becoming just a tad old hat for my tastes, but recently I’ve started to delve back into the strange and mysterious world that is Japanese anime with its twists and turns, obligatory panty shots, unnecessarily long stare downs, comically oversized breast, and yes, vagina monsters that made many a young boy question whether sex was really for them. Having spent such a large chunk of time away from anime, there were a lot of new shows I’d never seen, or even heard of, my initial foray back containing mostly Dragonball Z, Trigun, and the 80’s vagina monster anime, so my niece Ivy and nephew Damien were more than happy to give me a handy little list of new ones I could check out. Instead of sticking to their rather well rounded selection of carefully chosen anime, I went and found the first anime that promised zombies because why listen to two kids that know a hell of a lot more about anime than you do, two kids who came up with a specific list just for you, when you can roll the dice and hope you don’t end up with more panty shots than a Victoria Secret’s photo shoot. Next time, remind me to listen to my niece and nephew.
Our pantilicious film begins just as the world is ending, with people the planet over passing into death only to rise back up, now undead and ready to tear into the flesh of anyone still among the living. While people are doing their best to survive, and failing miserably I might add, a small group of teenagers in Japan barricade themselves inside their high school. These include brave Takashi, the central character and leader of the group who is always looking for ways to prove himself, his love interest Rei, who’s boyfriend, Takashi’s best friend, was killed at the beginning of the series, the calm, always in control Saeko who wields a wooden practice sword with deadly precision, Saya, a childhood friend of Takashi’s who’s grown tired of her privileged life, the nerdy, overweight Kohta, possessed of a superior knowledge when it comes to firearms and an innate talent to use them, and Shizuka, the ditzy school nurse who though a decade older than the rest, possesses far less maturity, tagging along with the rest because she’d quickly become zombie chow if she didn’t. Though their barricades might keep them safe for a while, the group is concerned about their families, deciding to brave the zombie infested streets outside in the hopes of discovering their loved one’s fate. Starting out with only the most basic of weapons, with the exception of Kohta who’s managed to build himself a gas powered nail gun capable to destroying a zombie’s brain, they quickly acquire better means of defending themselves along their travels, adding two new members to their group as well, the seven year old Alice and the dog Zeke. As the world falls apart around them, the zombies swelling in numbers while the living themselves dwindle, and hope becomes all but a memory, it’s going to take more than weapons to keep these kids alive, it’s going to take a will to survive that will determine the future of humanity.
This is going to be another one of those reviews that focuses on one specific media version of a title. I’ve never read the manga this is based on, so I have no idea how it compares. I would imagine that, much as in most manga to anime transfers, it’s fairly similar with a few differences spread throughout, changes that were most likely necessary in order to shorten a story that would have been far longer otherwise. In researching a bit about the manga I discovered that the anime, referred to as season one in most places, covers the first four volumes of the manga. It seems that a second season has been in the works for a few years, but nothing has yet come of it, most likely meaning that the one season that aired is likely to be the only season we see. Though the anime has gained some fame here in the U.S., it never found much popularity in Japan, despite the success of the manga. This might be a problem for the diehard Highschool of the Dead fan, if such a thing exists, but I don’t see it as being too much of an issue for the casual fan since just one season wrapped up into a complete whole. That’s not to say there aren’t things left hanging at the end, the manga stretches to at least seven full volumes, but by placing the first four volumes into the first season, we get a well-rounded story that comes together at the end to compete this one tale while leaving things open for the next, and it is one enjoyable tale.
Over the course of twelve episodes you’re going to be taken on what seems like a long ride, but ultimately takes place over only a few days. It seems like a longer span of time for two reasons, one good and one not so good. There’s actually a lot that goes on for such a short series, the characters taking quite a journey from their initial start at the high school building through the dangerous trek in the city, and ultimately to their final destination for season one. On this journey they’ll face insurmountable setbacks as they fight off hordes of the undead, trying to stay together, but constantly finding themselves separated by the dangers lurking around every corner. It made for an enjoyable watch, but it wasn’t without its faults, this being the bad side of that earlier equation. As the group makes its way through the city, they constantly stop for stupid bits that only serve to slow the action down, bits that were obviously there for the horny, teenage viewer. They might stop at a rest house, the viewer expecting them to catch their breath or resupply, but end up seeing a bath scene where all the female characters get together for a communal bath where they decide to play with each other’s breasts, checking for size in a manner I remember being called heavy petting. After a pitched, intense battle that sees them escaping said rest house, they have to leave with nothing, or nearly nothing, to cover their skin, a skimpy teddy or a kitchen apron with nothing underneath (are you starting to get an idea which gender this anime is geared towards), the show taking more than enough time to give you a full close up of their bodies. This in turn, after yet another pitched battle, will lead them to stop along the way for some sexy outfits they just happened to find. This is a constant throughout the film, great battles or intense moments that give way to cheesy segments where the female cast gets naked, or close to it, caresses their own or each other’s bodies, and then proceeds to do everything you hoped women did when you were fourteen years old. It was these moments that dragged the anime to a screeching halt, dragging the story out in ways that could have been avoided. Yes, I understand who the target audience was, but that doesn’t mean they had to handle it with all the finesse of a young virgin.
Then again, these “sexy” moments aren’t the only things that make for absolute silliness, adding things in that the anime would have functioned just fine without. In fact, the whole thing could have probably been about eight episodes long, been much more intense, and had a much more satisfactory feel. Besides the undead, there are a couple of living villains we’re presented with, villains that were cheesy in a way that wasn’t fun. One was a teacher who survives the high school assault with a few of his students, meeting up with our main group and taking a bus to all escape. He immediately, like within the span of only a few moments, takes some cult like control of these new kids with only the slightest of effort, those that follow him giving them all their devotion for the simple fact that he is their high school teacher. And the cult subtext isn’t just my idea, even the main characters comment on the fact that these others are now turning into a cult. It was silly and pointless, giving neither him, nor his acolytes, any sense of foreboding or danger, instead making them yet more add ons that could have been cut from the final product with no effect. Their only purpose to add a bit more run time to the overall show. This is also true of the anime’s other villain, Saya’s criminal father who has access to immense wealth from his various enterprises. He’s presented as a kind of an antihero, but by the anime’s end is little more than a corny villain with delusions of grandeur. It was obvious they hoped he’d be a deep character, but he’s unfortunately not.
There is still an elephant in the room that I’ve yet to address of course, something I brought up earlier on, but haven’t touched again. The panty shots. You can expect nearly every aspect of this show to be near dedicated to the art of the panty shot, whether it’s supposed to be an intense scene of drama, high emotions, battles, or humor, the panty shots are never ending to the point I’d imagine that the animators must have been damn near experts at drawing them. I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny, sexy, or both, but it’s neither. It was silly at first, and I’ll admit to laughing about it, but it got old quick. Again, I understand the target audience, but what the hell man? Weren’t these kids all supposed to be in high school?
Still, despite all my complaints, it’s not the worst anime you can watch, and at least it gives the anime fan who loves zombies, or vice versa, something to enjoy. The animation was great, the gore was never ending, and it was fun for what it was. If you happen to like anime and zombies, give it a shot, you might like it, but if you’re only a zombie fan, I wouldn’t bother. It’s got the typical insistence on anime insanity (lots of unnecessary yelling, impossible body proportions, and a crazed atmosphere that makes you wonder if you’ve lost your mind) mixed with weird sexual overtones (did that dude really just use the rather large breasts of his girlfriend to better aim his gun, causing them to act in a way I’ve never seen outside of The Matrix, damn, yes he did). Not the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but it’s far from the best, and I can’t see anyone who wasn’t convinced of the possibility of enjoyment from the genre swayed by this one.
The Undead Review
Manga Created By: Daisuke Sato (Seito, Red Sun Black Cross, Imperial Guards)
Directed By: Tetsuro Araki (Death Note, Kurozuka)
Voice Work: Jun’ichi Suwabe (Final Fantasy: Advent Children, Appleseed Alpha, Space Dandy), Marina Inoue (Attack on Titan, Kite Liberator), Eri Kitamura (Blood +, Toradora!), Miyuki Sawashiro (Sword Art Online, Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina), Nobuyuki Hiyama (Gasaraki, Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files), Yukari Fukui (His and Her Circumstances, Kill La Kill), Monica Rial (Dragon Ball Z Kai, Soul Eater, Noir), and Ayana Taketatsu (Sword Art Online, Guilty Crown)
Written By: Yosuke Kuroda (Gungrave, Fire Emblem, Panzer Dragoon)
On Air: 2010 – ?
Number of Seasons: 1
Released By: Madhouse, Sentai Filmworks, and Geneon Universal Entertainment
Network: Anime Theatre X and Anime Network
TV Rating: Rated TV-MA
Rotten Heads: Two and a Half Heads Out of Five