It's the end of the world as a new zombie apocalypse hits in a brutally and beautifully animated series from Madhouse arrives.
What They Say
A deadly virus is turning the world's population into walking corpses. While the world erupts into chaos around them, Takashi Komuro and his friends frantically search for a way to break free from the living dead. As the virus spreads throughout the school, how far must they go to escape the infected? Will they escape?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name by Daisuke Sato which began its run in 2006 with five volumes out in Japan, High School of the Dead is a twelve episode series that's being promoted as a hit before it even airs, which admittedly isn't all that rare but it's amusing nonetheless when being promoted overseas before its broadcast that way. Generally we hear about a series being a hit after it's been licensed some time after its original airing and fans can know whether it truly was or not. With it being a simulcast, US fans have a chance to help make it a hit as well with the viewership numbers and general discussion on it. While the promotional video certainly raised eyebrows and interest, the Madhouse animated series is going to have to maintain the intensity for its run in order to really win over people.
While there are a few zombie manga titles, few make it into the anime realm and it's hard to even remember the last time there was a decently done real zombie show done in the traditional sense of what a zombie is considered to be. Like any good show though, High School of the dead kicks off with lots of carnage to show us just how bad things are as a bunch of high school kids run around their building getting chewed up as blood splatters everywhere. That setup works well as does the opening sequence which paints a rather nice sexually and violence charged set of themes for the show before taking us back to the time before the incident happened and we're thrust into a basic high school drama. Takashi's your average good looking kid who is coping with having been dumped by his childhood friend and is now withdrawing into himself a bit, enough so that even one of his friends informs him he's acting like he's in elementary school.
Takashi's childhood is at an end though as he watches from up high and sees a student at the front gates violently attacking and practically eating the teachers who came out there to see what that person wanted. It's brutal and quick as the blood flies and the scream go out and Takashi quickly goes off to find those he cares about to help them stay alive before things hit. Surprisingly, the kids are pretty smart even though they aren't sure what's happened and they actually get some form of weapons right from the start to defend themselves. Even better is that they actively use the technology at hand and try basic things like calling emergency services, only to discover the 110 is busy. A simple day at school suddenly takes on a lot of tension as violence has now entered fully, but a violence that's not understood just yet.
Everything turns to a massive amount of chaos quickly as one infection leads to another and before you know it the bulk of the student body has been turned. Those that haven't been infected are trying their best to stay alive, knowing that this isn't a movie or video game, but also realizing that the only way to stop "them" is to smash their heads so that the bodies stop moving. The focus initially on a small trio of students, Takashi, Rei and Hisashi, does a nice job of showing the things they learn and the way life in the city is changing quickly as it becomes eerily quiet while plumes of smoke rise in the background. Not everyone will survive and some hard choices are going to have to be made right from the start after seeing friends and classmates fall victim to whatever is causing this.
Madhouse has done an excellent job here with this show by producing a first episode that's tense, violent and with some good simple emotions imbued in it when friend must kill friend before it's too late. The character designs have a great level of quality about them with some really attractive colors and details. There are a couple of cute characters here and there but by and large it plays it straight with teenagers that look like that, not soft and slightly squishy people that you'd have fun snuggling with. They look like young men and women should in a show like this and that gives it an extra edge. The background designs produce a great real world look to it and the music, minimal throughout for the most part, adds to the overall atmosphere. Little is held back here in the first episode and they use a whole lot of red digital paint.
The opening episode to High School of the Dead is exactly what I wanted out of the show based on the promo video. What we get here is the introduction of a couple, but not all, of the key players and a whole lot of violence and bloodshed. There aren't any seriously stupid moments here where you roll your eyes at the characters as they do something they shouldn't. The lead realizes this isn't a video game or a movie but rather real life and his life is at stake. Takashi takes a hard edge to protect himself and those that are still normal. There's a lot to like here if you're looking for something beyond the usual high school dramas and comedies of the last few years but it remains to be seen whether they can bring in a really good story with some strong hooks to make it work. It's off to an excellent start though with a lot of promise just from the visual quality and that it's not holding much of anything back.
*update*: I've changed some of this review where I talked about the amount of frustration I had (along with others) in getting the episode to play. Apparently it was read by some as encouraging or justifying theft of the show through other means than the legal method The Anime Network offers. Anyone who knows me and my writing about the anime world for the last twelve years knows otherwise as I was pointing out the problems in the player, the interface and how the experience would be viewed by many first time visitors to The Anime Network in that it could easily push them to go away from the legal method and go to other methods. That was in no way an encouragement of such a thing. If anyone viewed my issues with the player and interface for watching the shows as encouragement of fansubs or rips, I'll apologize for it not being crystal clear. I DO NOT AND NEVER HAVE ENCOURAGED THAT AND NEVER WILL. I will say that The Anime Network needs to make a cleaner and more intuitive interface so that people new to their site can figure it out and not spend all their time being frustrated in trying to do the right thing.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Dell 10.1 Netbook via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.