Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ghost in the Case - High School of the Dead

*sigh*.... I'm not gonna have any dignity left after this am I?  No?  Didn't think so... oh well since when has that stopped me?   Also this one will be longer cause it's a SERIES as well as I have a little thing to get over with before I even start...

Ghost here, thanks for joining and I welcome you to....

Before I get into this review properly I would first like to discuss the ideas of "fan service" and "appropriateness"  and why these things need to be discussed before we dive into this series.

Obviously from the title of the entry I am reviewing the series High School of the Dead.  Some of you may not be familiar with anime and thus aren't familiar with the term "fan service" though I'm sure it's not that difficult to figure out what it means.  Fan Service is a device that was coined by the anime industry but isn't anime specific, but what is it?   It is simply knowing what your key demographic is and adding things to your product to please them.  This can be anything from having a popular character cameo in a series, two groups of popular characters fighting against each other (popular in comics), and more commonly some form of animated sensuality or nudity for no real reason.

Each person has their own opinion on fan service especially the "adult" fan service as to whether they like it or not and ultimately that just comes down to whether you are the desired demographic and whether their decision is something that is pleasing to you or not.  One thing everyone should agree on, however, is that it makes sense from a business perspective.  If you want your product to bring a profit then wouldn't you try to make your product pleasing especially toward your target audience.  Unfortunately, many anime are aimed at young men and with overwhelming consistency what do young men want to see?  Violence and nudity.

Given the information above, I feel it is important to touch on appropriateness.  Now this is one topic where the answers get a bit muddy and I sure don't have the answers to the question "What is appropriate and what is inappropriate?"  Obviously if something is considered offensive to everyone then it would be inappropriate but how often are you going to find uniform disapproval?  At what point do we stop pandering to those people in our society that are petty and far too easily offended?  I'm just going to take the one issue with this to keep it brief and get to the actual review.  The subject of nudity.

There are several people in our society who are perfectly fine with the occasional nude image but others...well...
 
So I ask the question again.  What makes the subject of nudity appropriate or inappropriate?  If you come to this question from a religious standpoint that you believe then there is your answer, but are you treating that with uniformity?  For those of you who are not approaching this with a religious perceptive where is the line drawn?  Many people will view anime where there are scantily clad people and the occasional nude body (while NOT actually involved in sex) as inappropriate but will freely view things such as the statue of David which has a fully formed penis, or paintings that depict a naked woman drinking wine because they are considered "masterpieces."

What makes the difference?   Is it the age of the piece in question?  If we look back at a modern day anime and view it 100 years in the future will it then be considered appropriate because of it's age?  Does it have to do with intent of the piece?  If something is designed to be more "high class" in nature is that making it appropriate where as the random shot of underwear in a cartoon is obscene?  What if you found out that the artist of a classical piece made it look "high class" because that is what "did it for him", would you change your viewpoint?   Does the medium of film and television automatically get a red flag just because they only had statues and paintings in the past?    Obviously each person has their own ideas and perspectives on this topic but I would like to encourage each of you to really think about your opinion and convictions.  Try to see the issue from another viewpoint and if you still hold the same viewpoint after trying to understand another then that's great!  Different viewpoints is what makes this world amazing provided we understand why we believe that and not just blindly follow something we're told we should believe.  Figure it out for yourself.  Just some food for thought before i get into this review.

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"The night before the day everything ended... I was up all night."

A couple of years ago there was a massive zombie craze that I'm sure most of you remember.  With absolute successes such as  The Walking Dead and Zombieland, is it any surprise that the folks in Japan wanted a crack at this?  Obviously, zombies are nothing new but when you get into a creature war of having the most awesome "creature" show/movie then you get things like High School of the Dead.

The Story
Takashi Komuro was just an average guy laying out of class to ponder on the past as the love of his life Rei Miyamoto who had pinky promised in kindergarten she would be his wife had decided on another guy.  As he sat pondering life on the stairwell at his high school he witnesses a strange man at the gate.  Teachers from the school come to investigate this strange man but one of them gets bitten.  Slowly each person would die, reanimate and begin biting the other teachers there.  Takashi doesn't fully understand but knows they need to get away so he bursts into class taking Rei and her boyfriend Hisashi out with them knowing it would be bad.  As more and more students and teachers get infected with the zombie virus, the survivors find themselves very few in number.   As Hisashi saves Rei from a zombie, he gets bitten and slowly loses his humanity until Takashi has no choice but to destroy him with Rei crying in a corner.

The rest of the series is far too long to explain so I shall do it as quickly as possible.  Eventually what becomes the main group meets together so they could leave the zombie infested school.   The group consists of Takashi the black haired "every man" who is to be the leader,  Rei (red headed) who has decided she is going to live on and be dependable,  Saeko Busujima a purple-haired strong-willed and excellent fighter with a darker side, Saya Takagi a pink-haired genius who is in over her head but is determined to not give up, Kohta Hirano a grayish black haired chubby video game nerd with an enthusiasm for shop class and weaponry, and Shizuka Marikawa (not pictured above) the school's very ditzy nurse and only adult in the group.  They also eventually rescue a seven year old Alice Maresato and her puppy when her father dies protecting her from the zombies.

The rest of the plot consists of these band of people as well as the rest of Japan coping with the unstoppable zombie apocalypse and the inevitability that their lives from that point on will be a constant fight for survival as their friends and family are dead, zombified, or could die at any moment.  Each character has their own growth and story arcs dealing with their strengths and struggles during the end of the known world.  The group as a whole has other difficulties in the wickedness and evil that mankind can be in trying times. One teacher who lords over the children like some sort of messiah yet kicks weaker or injured students into the zombie crowd proclaiming they are not strong enough to survive.  Rei and Takashi run into a thug who has decided the only thing left living for is pleasure; his pleasure is to rape Rei and kill Takashi.  They also run into adults who feel the children are too young and too stupid to deal with actual weaponry despite having survived on their own for several episodes.
 It's a case study in what would theoretically happen if the zombie apocalypse were to happen; what the government would do, what good people would do, what bad people would do, and the knowledge that life is not fair.  The most prepared and most deserving to live can just as easily die while the most unworthy despicable people can survive.  There is just far too much content to describe each episode even though there are only 12.

What's Good About It?
Realism... yes, I know talking about "reality" in an anime is a little silly to most people but the cartoon is just the medium that this story is presented.  This show seems, for the most part, like a very good thesis on what people could go through if they were in this situation.  It's what would happen if the human race were going extinct.  Some people would rise above, some would cower in the corner, and some would live only for the sinful desires in their heart while their brief span on this earth goes.  They sugar coat nothing, but they also don't make things so grim that it's implausible. The writing team did an excellent job.

Speaking of the writing (if you haven't noticed, good writing is an excellent way to get on my good side) the emotional appeal of each and every episode hits the mark expertly.  This is quite literally the ONLY thing I've ever had to get up and walk away from to calm myself down.  They grasp you by an emotional thread and keep you invested; never letting go of you for one second.  I found my muscles tensing up knowing that at any moment our characters could die and it really felt like every danger was legitimate and you weren't sure they could get out of it.  Even the couple of "danger light" episodes where they are taking shelter in a house to take a break, they still involve you in the drama of the characters with some excellent character development pieces.


Perfect transition into the characters.  These characters are great...even the one I'm going to talk about briefly in the "bad" section isn't all THAT bad.  Each character has their weaknesses and strengths.  They deal with the situation differently.  Sure it's a standard hodgepodge of characters but they all fit.  It doesn't seem like any of them are shoehorned stereotypes.  Each of them you actually care about and really love and eventually you'll grasp onto one character and root for them the most.... and for me that would be...

Saeko Busujima - If I were to ever make a list of my favorite fictional characters I would be surprised if I didn't include her in my top ten... if not she's definitely top fifteen.  Saeko is just an expertly crafted character.  She is what you should think of when you think of a strong female character.  She realizes her place in the world, has a sense of honor and duty, can destroy any man living or zombified but controls herself until she is needed to unleash.  When most people hear  "Strong Independent Woman"  they get this certain viewpoint of an overly prideful woman who shoves the fact that she is a woman in other people's faces and she "don't need no man."  This is why I DARE NOT call Saeko a strong independent woman because like REAL women she has her own insecurities, desires, fears, and love interest but she chooses to keep those fears and thoughts at bay until it is appropriate or too overwhelming so she has to deal with it unlike the so-called  SIW's in most modern senses of the character.  Her back story is a great one.  She was attacked as a child by an attempted rapist but due to her training with the sword was easily able to overpower him and almost killed him in self defense but she found that she has a very sadistic side hidden deep within that enjoyed the thrill of killing which is something she has to carry for the rest of her life.  All in all just an amazing character. 

What's Bad About It?
Well since I spent so much time talking about fan service, it comes as no surprise that I'm going to mention it here.  The "adult" fan service in this is in an over abundance. If fan service isn't your thing then this will probably be a big problem and probably enough to make you not want to watch it honestly... especially if you are highly against the "almost" nudity.    No one is ever fully nude to the point of seeing things because something always covers it up in one way or another but you can tell they are supposed to be nude behind the briefcase etc.  There also is a lot of breast jiggling and shots of girl's underwear.  Obviously sometime it's intended for comedic effect but sometimes you just shake your head asking why.  Do I REALLY need to see what color underwear the girl is wearing as the zombie lifts her into the air and bites into her neck? NO   also
BREASTS DON'T DODGE BULLETS LIKE THAT!!
However in "slight" defense.  I was able to watch it and not really notice the fan service that much because I was so drawn into the action and suspense of what's going on.  Sometimes I wonder if those elements were only put in there as a mini break from the suspense of the show.  As I said it's a very intense show so I'm sure sitting here going  "oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap...WHAT?... oh crap oh crap" may have just saved some people from a heart attack.  The only parts that were really distracting were abominations against physics like the picture above or the obvious parts that were put in for comedic effect as evidence by either  the silly sound effects or blood shooting from Kohta's nose. 

Speaking of comedic effect that brings me to Shizuka Marikawa.  She's not an awful character but if there was ever an argument for something objectifying women it would be Shizuka.  Toward the end of the show she becomes a little better with some character development and sense of taking care of the children but for the majority of the show she is just a "sex object."  Anytime she moves she gets the silly bouncy sound effects for her breasts which are both the size of blimps, and she is an absolute ditz taking things in a sexual way.  Until like 2 episodes before the end she is a joke.  It's a commentary that the people you think shouldn't survive, in all reality, CAN survive but I think they could have made her less of a joke.

The only other thing I can gripe about is the dub.  I watched this in Japanese with English subtitles.  It always surprises me how dubs come out when they bring them to America because they will change things.  Now I understand if something is so typically Japanese that something wouldn't translate well but....
THAT'S A RICE BALL... I'M NOT AN IDIOT
However in the case of High School of the Dead, while reading the subtitles I found the dialog to be excellent and logical.  When I discovered the dub however they decided to insert random cursing for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON.   Sure if you're in the middle of a zombie apocalypse there's probably going to be some swearing coming out of your mouth... in the subtitles there was a couple but in the dub it's just a bit ridiculous.  Watch this in Japanese with subtitles if you can. 

Final Thoughts
If this is your first adventure into the realm of anime I will just stop you right now.  Despite it's downfalls I can ignore most of them and see the good within the show but this should NOT be someone's first adventure into anime.   If you want an anime crash course I would watch Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood if you want a series or if you prefer a shorter introduction watch  Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle as both are still weird but understandable and a great into into anime.

If you have watched anime then this will probably fall under the  "not bad" category.  It's not my favorite or even second favorite but I remember it with a smile on my face.  If you dislike fan service then I would avoid this at all cost but if you are looking for a rather accurate take on humanity with some REAL suspense, humor, and great characters I'd give this a chance.

High School of the Dead is rated TV-MA and is available on DVD from Section 32 Stuidio.  It is also available on Netflix as of the writing of this review.

This is Ghost fading into the darkness.
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If you want to see my other Movie and Television reviews/recommendations then simply click here!