There are a number of different things that can separate anime fans in their enjoyment of the medium; sub or dub, manga or anime or the go-to for any DBZ fanatic – Can they beat Goku? However, one thing that certainly divides the community is the inclusion of excessive fan service.
Though the name would suggest otherwise, fans seem to be evenly split about its implementation in their favourite shows. Whilst some adore the opportunity to witness their waifus in more suggestible angles, others detest this troupe entirely – an excess of pansu shots and tongue-in-cheek comedy ruining the original tone of the story.
Despite this, there is one anime that seemed to both heavily blend fan service into its story and capture the community’s admiration, the incredible Highschool of the Dead.
Highschool of the Dead is a Japanese action-horror anime, directed by Tetsurō Araki. The work is based on the manga Apocalyptic Academy: Highschool of the Dead, written by Daisuke Satō and illustrated by Shōji Satō. This twelve-episode anime covers the first four volumes of the manga, along with a standalone OVA episode, Drifters of the Dead, released with volume 7 of the manga in 2011.
Synopsis: “When the infected approached Rei and Takashi’s school, it led to a gruesome bloodbath that left the majority of students and staff dead or turned into the zombie-like monsters that have spread throughout the world. Together with a handful of other survivors, Rei and Takashi set forth to find their families in a world that is rapidly deteriorating. Governments have collapsed, the killer disease is out of control, and people everywhere are trying their best to simply live through each day…”
The anime wastes no time in descending into its apocalyptic story, introducing the undead threat in a matter of minutes and with an incubation period of a few seconds, their ranks increase exponentially. As such, the depictions of violence and ‘cannibalism’ are rampant throughout, viscerally brutal in their visualization and accompanied by equally gruesome sound effects as the living become a meal for the dead.
On top of these grisly visuals, Highschool of the Dead also considers the sociological horror of this world-ending event exceptionally well. As society collapses, the degradation of its citizen’s moral compass soon follows with looting, murder, and rape suddenly becoming the norm in this variable hell on earth.
Undoubtedly, this is best realized in the despicable character Kouichi Shido, a teacher whose sadistic and disingenuous manner utilizes this misfortune to his own benefit through manipulating a few of the surviving students into a perverse sex cult — impossible to like and heinous in all actions, his death will be applauded by all.
Throughout this descent into madness, the story follows the trials and hardships of a clutch of high school students who witnessed the initial attack that kick-started this ordeal – Collectively referred to as “Z-Day”. The protagonists, whilst struggling to adjust to this new, violent world, undergo significant character development throughout the series – reflecting back on their trauma suffered in their past lives and the unhealthy coping mechanisms that ultimately grow are relatable to some extent.
The original Japanese dub does an amazing job at conveying this development, full of emotion and passion, the respective voice actors bring these characters to life. On the other hand, the English redub is the complete opposite when it comes to quality. Handled by Section23 Films, this dubbing dispels the character development of the protagonists, becoming whiny and unlikeable throughout. Indeed, the best way to experience this anime is in the original Japanese dub.
Supplementing Highschool of the Dead’s impressive visuals is an incredible soundtrack that’s a perfect fit to the overall tone of the story. With an energetic main theme provided by rock group Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets, as well as featuring a unique episode end theme all written and performed by pop star Maon Kurosaki, act as a perfect header and footer for the story to unfold. Each end theme, although different in style, matches the tone tremendously.
Now to address the elephant in the room, the fan service. Though starting off relatively benign at the beginning with some questionable camera angles and slight jiggling, this soon gets cranked up to 11 with boing-boing sound effects and pansu shots galore throughout its entirety – most egregious is an extended bullet-time sequence well-known throughout the fandom and the internet in general.
It’s true to say that fan service is still prevalent in today’s anime, after all, one of the last year’s most popular horror anime, Mieruko-chan, had its fair share but, in spite of this, the sheer veracity of these elements causes Highschool of the Dead to feel dated to some extent. Due to their heavy implementation, it’s understandable that this element is a turn-off from the series.
The art style of the animation is daily typical for the time, mostly consisting of hand-drawn animation with the addition of computer-generated assets for certain instances to assist with realistic detail, such as firearms. Although their appearance is obvious when compared to the general style of the animation, it’s not too intrusive in their implementation. On the contrary, their attentive detailing and realistic handling help ground the story in a realistic setting, even using real weapon brand names such as Ithica and Smith & Wesson (there is a lack of any evidence online of any official partnership).
Unfortunately, series writer Daisuke Satō was diagnosed with the heart condition ‘ischaemic heart disease’ in 2008. Though work continued on the series, Daisuke’s continuing decline in health was stated as the reason Highschool of the Dead was placed on Hiatus in 2011 where it would reside until his death in 2017.
This terrible news hit the anime community hard, with the talented creator having a hand in so many successful projects, his work had touched many and so many more were saddened by his passing. In an interview, Shōji Satō has stated that although he has tried to continue to illustrate the story, it is too difficult a task to do without Daisuke Satō “… But for Highschool of the Dead, [Daisuke Sato] was the one and only, so I’d like overseas fans to understand that nobody else could write it easily.” – Ultimately confirming the discontinuation of the series and manga
Although doomed to remain as an unfinished piece of work, Highschool of the dead is still one of the best representations of the zombie genre in a medium seemingly devoid of the trope. Along with well-designed characters and a kinetic mix of story and action, this short series is one to watch if you can deal with its heavy fan service.
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Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Technical Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A life long love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.