Monday, July 12, 2010

High School of the Dead

Okay, let’s make a couple things clear before I get too deep into this one. For one, I have no idea what the creators of this ridiculous anime were thinking when they decided that the appropriate acronym would be HOTD. Everyone knows that stands for House of the Dead. I mean, c’mon, it was made by Sega for crying out loud. That’s a Japanese company. They should seriously do a better job of protecting their acronyms from their fellow countrymen who can apparently barely speak Engrish.

Anyways, I’m going to be referring to it as HSOTD, to avoid confusion with Sega’s little zombie arcade/Wii/et al games.

Next, I want to make it clear that at no point have I ever thought to myself, anything like: “Man, zombies are cool but there’s a serious lack of animated panty shots of Japanese schoolgirls in the vast majority of the currently existing zombie records.” But, somebody else did, and I couldn’t help but find out what the results of this odd experiment would be.

It is a little uncomfortable that they occasionally try to censor the gore or whatever by cutting to a shot looking up the skirt of the victim...typically with blood flying onto what you can see of the victim’s skirt. I mean, I’m hardly a fan of gratuitous shots of Japanese schoolgirl panties when they aren’t currently being consumed by the living dead and adding that in hardly changes my mind.

But, again, that’s what they’re doing and I’m watching it, so kudos to them for making the call.

Okay, on to the show. So far, I’ve only seen the first two episodes. I do rather like that it starts off fast. There is no transition period from normal to apocalypse. Once the first zombie appears, there’s three more before we’ve established anything beyond what three of the main characters look like. I kind of like the idea that anime is sufficiently cliched that they barely have to show us more than a single flashback and a brief conversation establishing a former love lost to tell us everything we need to know about the characters. That no other facet of their lives is even remotely unique (not that this detail is) and so we already know our characters and their lives and we haven’t even met them yet.

In any case, it means that we are only going to know these characters in the context of the destruction of their world. I also rather like the main character’s reaction to seeing the first zombie attack and victim. He doesn’t question it; he doesn’t doubt it. He simply reacts. He gets his two friends and says we need to get out of here. He moves as fast as he possibly can, resorting to hitting his crush to make his point.

And he still wasn’t fast enough. They still couldn’t escape even the madness in the school, let alone the outside city. Although, I did like a lot of the imagery of the riot within the school as the kids try to get out. As they kill each other, trying to get out. Reaching and grabbing and tackling, with mouths open in wild constant wild screams, they were already zombies and they didn’t even know it.

What can I say? This is a surprisingly angry and subversive little show. They aren’t wasting their zombies or their violence. They might be wasting their panty shots. And the random giant breasts shots, but we won’t hold those against them.

As for the zombies, I rather like them. They are a little cooler than your classic slow Romero zombies. They’re strong. Before the girl learns how to deal with them, she sticks one with her pole. It grabs the pole, still impaled, and slams her against the wall. That’s a pretty kick ass zombie response.

Even better, though, was when one of the characters puts the zombie in a hold that it can’t escape from or bite him. It responds by twisting its head an inhuman 120 degrees or so and bites him in the shoulder. It was brilliant. Admittedly, that means that neck injuries probably shouldn’t kill them for continuity’s sake, but well, we’ll worry about that when we get there.

Later, they had some slightly more obvious instances of the humans responding poorly to the zombies, like these two girls who promise to stay together and protect each other, until moments later one of them gets grabbed and the other girl has to beat her to let go of her hand so that she can escape without her. Neither survives of course.

Anyways, after the first episode I was impressed enough to definitely want to watch more, and the second episode had something the first never even hinted at: a character arc. I’m serious. I admit I certainly wasn’t expecting one of those anywhere in the show.

And, more importantly, it was a really cool character arc. In the first episode, one of the survivor types is this rather obnoxious “genius” girl with pink hair. For awhile, she’s confident and self-assured and learning about the zombies and keeping her fellow survivor in line. But she’s slowly becoming more hysterical, more in need of people’s respect and less deserving of it. Until she finally cracks and nearly sabotages herself and her partner’s escape with her pride and theatrics.

It was really well done. The breakdown was very slow, over the course of the two episodes. And I liked that the episode ended with her taking out her contacts out and switching to glasses. A visual reminder that she’s been humbled, humiliated even, and that her self image is no longer something she can, or should protect. She has to give it up to survive.

So, yeah, I’m thoroughly impressed. This is way more intelligent than the incorrect acronym or the random panty shots would possibly suggest. Or, maybe, I’m just giving them way too much credit. There are already hints that we’re going to see some sort of stupid love triangle... But, it’s not there yet and so I still have faith.

That is all.


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