Takashi Komuro notices a disturbance at the school gates, escalating to strange bites, sudden death, then rebirth accompanied by a terrifying hunger. ZOMBIES! As the growing swarm makes their way through the school, he rushes to his ex-girlfriend and childhood sweetheart Rei, and insists on dragging her to safety. Her current boyfriend, Hiroshi, comes with them but is soon food for the undead.
Elsewhere in the school, a few other pupils somehow survive – kendo expert Saeko, pushy and political Saya and shy nerd/military fan Kohta. Along with airheaded nurse Shizuka, the group comes together to try and survive the end of the world. Meanwhile, the personality clashes of the survivors constantly threaten to shatter whatever illusion of safety they’re able to create for themselves in the anime series Highschool of the Dead.
Director Tetsuro Araki previously helmed Death Note and episodes of Black Lagoon. This is a man who can handle both dark horror and fast paced action at their best, which is exactly what you need in the face of an undead onslaught. The series is the latest offering from Madhouse, the famed anime studio responsible for more fantastic series than we you can shake a shotgun at.
It’s a rare Japanese attempt at a typically western genre – with a powerful influence from George Romero. There’s also the same kind of near-palpable fear and sense of claustrophobia that Kinji Fukusaku brought to the big screen in his 2000 adaptation of Battle Royale, which similarly cast school children in a different battle for survival. There are also numerous nods to zombified video games, from Capcom’s Dead Rising to a cheeky use of ‘H.O.T.D.’ in the opening credits – the same initialism as Sega’s House of the Dead shooter series.
Like all good zombie films, the ravenous cadavers are held up as a mirror to our own worst behaviours. This is driven home in the first episode, where two girls are practically skipping away from the undead, extolling their friendship and how they’ll survive because they’re together…. until one of them gets a little too close to a reanimated brain chomper. Then it’s “screw you, sister!” faster than you can say “brain candy”. Takashi’s own conflicted feelings for Rei and how he ‘won’ her only after Hiroshi’s death sets up a similar study in psychology throughout the show, as does his growing enjoyment of gruesomely dispatching the infected.
The violence is authentic, harsh and often gory but always powerful, and the series as a whole is a fantastic examination of humanity and survivalism in the most horrible of settings. Manga Entertainment were chasing the rights to Highschool of the Dead before the series even went into production, and fans the world over are already gnawing our arms off in anticipation! At last, it’s here… RUN!
Highschool of the Dead is shambling into DVD stores in the UK, courtesy of Manga Entertainment.