Highschool of the Dead, Vol. 1

A poor man’s Dawn of the Dead — that’s how I’d describe Highschool of the Dead, a slick, violent zombie story that borrows shamelessly from the George Romero canon. Whether that’s a good thing depends a lot on your relationship with Romero. If you thought Dawn of the Dead was a sly poke at American society — its consumerism, class divisions, and latent racism — Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato’s manga will seem awfully thin, as the authors are more concerned with dishing out panty shots than revealing how threadbare the social fabric really is. If you found Romero’s film unnecessarily burdened with subtext, however, you might just cotton to the Satos’ ultra-violent update.

As the title implies, the story begins at an ordinary high school in Tokyo. When the staff contract a mysterious disease that transforms them into zombies, they wreak havoc, infecting hundreds of other people as they chomp, rend, and tear their way through campus. A small band of students take refuge on the roof, hoping for a helicopter rescue. What they discover, however, is that the entire city has descended into chaos, leaving them little choice than to find a safer place to wait out the crisis.

From a narrative point of view, Highschool of the Dead follows the zombie playbook to the letter. The zombies are slow and shambling; the the story takes place in a closed environment where the zombies’ sheer numbers give them a decided advantage; and the characters can barely stand each other, setting aside their mutual contempt only for the zombie-fighting cause. But while Romero made the most of his film’s shopping mall setting, the Satos treat their high school’s corridors and classrooms as just another indoor space filled with convenient weapons. (Call me crazy, but I don’t remember nail guns lying around the Newton North science labs.) The fight scenes are choppy and poorly staged, giving little indication of how the characters are moving through the space or where, exactly, they are in relation to the school’s main entrance. Even the violence-porn flourishes lack imagination: zombies die by baseball bat, power drill, broom handle, sword, and fire hose, but none of the characters improvises an interesting weapon out of something unique to the school.

The script is as predictable and clumsy as the fight scenes; the characters speak in exposition-heavy soundbites that bear little resemble to real conversation. (Sample: “Rumor has it that your childhood girlfriend ended up in your class when she stayed back and is going out with Igou now, right?”) Daisuke Sato assigns each character a few defining personality traits, raising the possibility that the characters’ economic and social disparities might inform the way they interact. The characterizations are so meager and inconsistent, however, that it’s tough to remember who’s who; I learned more from reading the Wikipedia article on Highschool of the Dead than from the manga itself, never a good sign when the characters, in fact, do have important backstories that shape their opinions of one another.

The biggest problem with Highschool of the Dead is its relentless commitment to cheesecake. The Satos work fanservice into as many scenes as possible, taking full advantage of every stairwell, fight, fall, and female death to flash derrieres and panties; only an episode of Strike Witches has more up-skirt imagery. Adding insult to injury is Shouji Sato’s willful disregard for basic female anatomy. Several of the female characters’ bust lines are so monstrously distended that it would be impossible for the characters to actually stand up and walk in real life, let alone fight zombies. (Hint to aspiring manga artists: large breasts do not look like grossly misshapen lemons or balloon animals.) I realize that costume failures and nubile girls are a staple of horror movies, but when the cheesecake is so poorly done, it’s hard to imagine who would find it arousing; the Satos could take a few tips from Robert Rodriguez on how to incorporate plausible, sexy women into a monster flick.

And when the scariest thing about a zombie story is the way the female characters’ breasts are drawn, well… I’d say the creators have fallen down on the job. The bottom line: unless you’re a die-hard zombie fan or panty-shot connoisseur, you’re better off seeking undead thrills elsewhere.

Review copy provided by Yen Press. Volume one of Highschool of the Dead will go on sale January 25, 2011.


27 thoughts on “Highschool of the Dead, Vol. 1”

  1. Alexander Hoffman says:

    Ah… so it turns out this one IS a #badmanga2011 candidate. Can’t say I’m surprised. The cover image told me everything I needed to know about this piece of work.

  2. Katherine Dacey says:

    Yup, what you see *is* indeed what you get: fanservice, fanservice, and zombies.

  3. Jade says:

    Fanservice, Fanservice and Zombies sounds like the worst law firm on the planet.

    Thanks for confirming this is a bad manga. I love zombies, so this title sounded interesting, but everything I’ve seen has been a real waste of potential. What’s really silly is they ape Drifting Classroom and waste that classic source of ideas too.

    Even the Battle Royale manga managed to keep the subtexts from both the movie and novel in place while turning the sex and violence up to 11.

    On the other hand, I do love me some bad so the first volume may be worth a look.

  4. Katherine Dacey says:

    I think I had a few friends who did summer associate work at Fanservice, Fanservice & Zombies LLC!

    If only the authors borrowed more from Kazuo Umezu — the story would have been a lot more entertaining, even if it didn’t always make sense. Highschool of the Dead reads like a film student’s first attempt at a zombie screenplay. It’s got every conceivable cliche of the genre, but none of the wit or inspiration that make the best zombie flicks interesting.

  5. Angelica Brenner says:

    Honestly, I’d read a manga about a Fanservice, Fanservice & Zombies law firm. Is it too late to hope for a Boston Legal crossover in volume 2?

  6. Katherine Dacey says:

    Now *that* I’d read!

  7. BurningLizard says:

    Finally, all my other friends rave about this series, and all I can think is “Good lord those breasts look horrible.” Sure, it says a lot about me that that’s all I took away from my first look at this manga, but I won’t lie, I like me some fanservice, as long as it isn’t overbearing. And when the main draw of your manga fails to pull in the kind of person that would read it, then you’ve failed miserably. Never thought I’d find a manga that would make me wish they’d just stuck balloons on all the womens’ chests.

    That and I don’t even like the zombie genre in the first place. Gimme some good old adventure with plenty of gags and I’m satisfied.

  8. Katherine Dacey says:

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who saw those drawings and thought, “Good Lord, who would find those attractive?” I get the appeal of panty shots and heaving cleavage — after all, I’m not immune to the charms of shirtless guys with nice abs and tousled hair — but when the bodies are so poorly done? It seems about as sexy as flipping through Grey’s Anatomy.

  9. BurningLizard says:

    At least Grey’s Anatomy has proper anatomy. And good lord, we’re on the internet, don’t give them any ideas by associating sexy and Anatomy Textbooks!

  10. Thomas says:

    I haven’t checked out the manga (and don’t plan to), but your review sounds about on par with the anime (which I still can’t believe I watched all the way through the end). And add another voice to the “How is this sexy?” crowd. I’m all for a little (or a lot) of fanservice in a manga, but the bizarro females of HSotD are not even remotely appealing. The only moment of the anime that made me glad for the freakish physics of this world was the totally ludicrous shot of a bullet flying through a characters breasts (one bouncing up, the other down) in bullet-time slo-mo. For reader’s sake I hope it turns out this was taken from a panel in a future volume of this manga.

    1. LG says:

      “The only moment of the anime that made me glad for the freakish physics of this world was the totally ludicrous shot of a bullet flying through a characters breasts (one bouncing up, the other down) in bullet-time slo-mo.”

      … Oh, freakish breast physics. And I thought the water ballon bounciness was bad.

      1. Katherine Dacey says:

        Not even Richard Feynmann could rationalize the boob physics of Highschool of the Dead!

  11. Jade says:

    Speaking of “a film student’s first attempt at a zombie screenplay,” George Romero didn’t even really intend a lot of the social commentary that gets read into Night of the Living Dead. I’m not saying he’s a hack, it’s just really not incredibly hard to create an evocative story when you throw some actual human interaction in there.

    When I see a book like this, it’s especially frustrating because there’s a lot of that natural human interaction that gets intentionally sacrificed for the sake of delivering some contrived shock takes, plots and T&A.

    Also, no one else gets to make a good zombie/highschool comic for a few years because they already marked that territory with a big stinky poo. That’s what I can’t stand about original ideas that end up sucking.

  12. Heather says:

    Man, I was really looking forward to reading this manga. I love zombies
    and since I heard about the tv series. I wanted to try out the manga first,
    but now I am really on the fence. Some of my favorite actions titles have
    some great T and A, like Plastic Little, Seraphic Feather and Tenjo Tenge,
    so I think I will for go this title till I find it used or win the lottery.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Hi, Heather! I’ve certainly read my share of entertaining manga with fanservice, and the fanservice didn’t necessarily bother me. Here, though, the authors’ gross disregard for anatomy made a lot of those images kind of icky, which I don’t think was the intent.

  13. Angela says:

    Was anyone else bothered that the title says Highschool instead of High School? It’s two words! (I’m such an English major…)

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Given how many manga titles don’t really make sense in English, I’ll give Yen a pass for the lack of spacing. That fanservice, though…

  14. Ciao says:

    Yeah, it is not a good manga, though I think Sato does a good job drawing stuff like backgrounds… I still like it, though, it’s my guilty pleasure.

    As a woman, though, even though fanservice almost never bothers me, the fanservice in HoTD did simply because the anatomy was grossly wrong. I was so distracted by thinking, “…Breasts do NOT work that way” that I pretty much ignored the other aspects of the manga.

    I really think this could’ve been a way more awesome manga if the author had trimmed down the fanservice just a little bit- yeah, it’s for men, that’s totally cool, but when my male classmates are making remarks about how it’s got too much ridiculous fanservice, that’s not a good thing. It sucks, too, because I really like post-apocalyptic survival stories.

    Anyway, I’ll still buy it since I’m trying to support the author, and because I like it enough to try to ignore the bullet train breasts.

  15. Crystal Pierce says:

    i like the highschool of the dead manga and anime, and im only 13,i like zombie killing and the plot so far behind highschool of the dead, even though the boobs are ridiculous!

  16. Animefan34 says:

    Of course you don’t like HOTD: You need taste to do that, which you, obviously, do not have. What a joke of a “review”. Shame on you, Katherine Dacey.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I’d take your comments more seriously if you had the courage to use your real name, as I do.

  17. Phoenix says:

    This was not a Bad manga, unless you have been through every nook and cranny you can’t criticize something that is loved by millions, your whining and bitching isn’t going to get you anywhere, so shut the fuck up and sit it down kiddies

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Telling a grown woman who disagrees with you to “shut the fuck up and sit it down” is the lowest form of disagreement there is; the only hint of a counter-argument you offer is that Highschool of the Dead is “loved by millions,” which is tantamount to saying that no one is allowed to dislike or criticize something that’s popular. By that logic, everyone should like Twilight, because it’s infinitely more popular than HSotD.

      Note as well that I deleted your response to a thirteen-year-old girl who posted a comment in the thread. I couldn’t tell if you were praising her for sharing your taste in manga or criticizing her for finding the female characters’ anatomy “ridiculous.” Either way, your comment is out of line.

      I think it’s safe to say that if you disagreed with this review, you’ll disagree with many of the reviews at this site, and I would encourage you to troll elsewhere for a response. Any future comments emanating from your IP address will be promptly deleted.

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