Monday, August 22, 2011

REVIEW: Highschool of the Dead

Highschool of the Dead
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Year 2011

Highschool of the Dead is a wild and sometimes inappropriate ride through the bloody mayhem that is the zombie apocalypse. This beautiful and violent anime follows a small group of high school students as they attempt to survive the ravenous onslaught of the flesh-eating undead, while at the same time struggling through their teenage angst that often serves to be the real threat at hand. Having wished for years for a zombie anime to come into existence, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the wait was more then worth it. Let's dive into this insane bloodbath of a series.

Cheer up Takashi. At least you're surrounded by hot and frequently naked chicks.

Lying down on the job? Get up you lazy ass zombie!

To say that this anime series has a multiple personality disorder would be a tremendous understatement. The tempo, nature, and mindset of Highschool of the Dead is schizophrenic at best, changing from foreboding doom filled moments to playful sex comedy romps in mere split seconds. It's a challenge to keep up with the ever changing pace and seizure inducing imagery, but miraculously the director is able to contain the madness of it all and make something completely coherent and simplistically natural out of it.

Tetsuro Araki depicts a world where its inhabitants are stuck in fast forward and able to change moods in an instant. It's frightening the amount of mood swings that can happen to a single character in a matter of seconds, but extremely entertaining to see that it comes off as a routine act in this animated world. I love the energy that this charged approach creates and it comes at you in waves, relenting not on the melodramatic moments, but mimicking what a crazy person might feel when on PCP and horned up.

The technique is a force to be reckoned with and of course it's no stranger to the anime world. In most aspects it's a patented trademark of the genre, but with Highschool of the Dead it feels more dynamic and unpredictable because of the morbid inclusion of the zombie army. In a nut shell, it's like watching George A. Romero's dead series on speed with teenagers thrown into the mix. It's bat shit crazy.

How the hell did you not get any blood on you?!?!

School's out FOR......EVER!

George Romero would be proud too, because these zombies are the good old fashion slow moving brutes that they should be. They're decomposing masses of flesh with one mind set, to devour the living. This is frighteningly realized throughout the series, as we are witness to some very graphic maulings and an overabundance of lacerated flesh being torn from the living, courtesy of the walking dead. It appears that the creators of the Manga, that this series was based off of, had a great deal of love in their hearts for Romero's point of view on the zombie apocalypse.

They even carried over most of the rules that he set in stone when creating the original Night of the Living Dead. If nothing else, Highschool of the Dead could be considered a love letter to Romero and all that he has given to the genre. Like the Japanese video game Biohazard, retitled Resident Evil in the United States, both seem to have an affectionate respect and passion for Romero's work in the horror world and I for one share that same passion and applaud them for it.

The gang prepares to kick some zombie ass.

You seem to have sprung a leak young lady.

Now Highschool of the Dead isn't a carbon copy of Romero's work, far from it. What they've generated here is something of a special blend that on paper would seem pretty damn ridiculous. Hell it's pretty ridiculous in motion too. The filmmakers combined the blood soaking action of a zombie film, with the inherently guilty pleasure aspect of a teen comedy, but with the most scantily clad and busty women the world has ever seen.

Many people claim that the fan service, or the catering to the naked anime fan fanatics, is what kills the series as a whole, but I would have to disagree with those folks. Of course it is unneeded and I would have loved to see a strictly serious approach to the material, but I think that it actually adds a bit of fun into the mix that makes the series unique and memorable. Who cares that women are all ridiculously over endowed and that they jiggle like a bowl of Jello that has been shaken like a toddler by an enraged british nanny. It's ridiculous and the filmmakers know it, but it also reflects the hyper realistic nature of the anime.

We have to remember that the main focus of this series is seen through the eyes of the young high school students as they deal with the zombie outbreak and their social relations with each other. These are over dramatic, overly stimulated, and sex crazed kids. The ADD spastic nature of the series is reflected and jacked up to outrageous levels because of this, but for me it works. It adds a charm that's as contagious as a zombie bite and I really couldn't imagine the show without it. The mixture of comedy and horror is brilliant, making for a unique genre bender that splits your sides and spills your stomach.

Takashi says BRING IT ON!

You wouldn't know it from this picture, but there's one hell of a naked party going on in there.

With all of the controversy and disagreement over whether the series is brilliant or trash, both sides have to agree that this is one beautiful looking creation. A lot of detail and care was put into this production and it shows. The scenery shots of a dilapidated and dying cityscapes, scorched with the blood of its citizens and smoked out by the fires that consume it, is just breathtakingly depicted. The mood and atmosphere of this series is just top notch, bringing on some heavy weight to the overall look of the animated world and reflecting that dire framework that is so essential to recreating a zombie apocalypse.

The mixture of beauty with the ugly characteristics of death is almost poetic in its presentation, while the more fanciful and playful segments are streamed with a bubblegum tint that wholly contrasts the previous mentioned content. The balance is night and day, but astonishingly it never jarred me into thinking I was watching two separate stories, one light hearted and one dark and demented. The combination, just like all of the elements of this series, is kinetic and brutal, masking the stark differences in tone and relying on its hyper nature to bridge the two in this stylized world of high emotions and bat shit crazy moments.

Whodini was right. The freaks do come out at night.

What beautiful and bloody adventures will they have next?

Highschool of the Dead is an amazingly super charged experience that cranks up the volume on the zombie apocalypse scene. The imagery is sleek and savage, never letting up from its relentless barrage of visual delights. The fan service might be a tad bit over the top and abundant, but I think the sleaziness actually adds to the appeal of the show and mimics the energy of the entire production. I love the fact that they've turned the clock back, so to speak, on the zombie lore, aiming for a more Romero-esque approach to the zombies. I also loved the amount of gore and blood that was splattered across the screen.

I really couldn't recommend this series enough to anyone who loves the zombie genre as much as I do. There's enough respect for the inspirational source material of zombie flicks from years past and enough added flavor to cover the screen in crimson goodness, that Highschool of the Dead sits high on my list of zombie creations that really peak my interests and entertain the hell out of me. Check it out for the amazing zombie moments alone.

5 out of 5 stars     The Perverted Zombie Apocalypse on Speed!

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