Dead Cells horror anime podcast – Highschool of the Dead

Today on Dead Cells we are talking about ‘Highschool of the Dead;. This is a 2010 anime released by Madhouse who has brought us some of my most favourite titles. Ninja Scroll, Death Note, Demon City Shinjuku, Wicked City and even one of the oldest titles I recall off the top, A Wind Named Amnesia, which was the first time I recall seeing really realistic landscapes and likely one of the most beautiful animes of it’s time. Now, realize, it has been over twenty years since I watched that one and have not seen it since. Something I will have to do since it would be great to compare to the modern CG and some of the more beautiful films and series out since. Highschool of the Dead, while not without it’s bouncy pouncy and zombie killin’ charm is not a beautiful anime. It is gritty, crazy, loud and sexy fun. With zombies!

But before we get into fun, I want to touch on zombies for a second. I’m not a huge zombie fan, but really wish there were more zombie anime. They lend themselves wonderfully to the genre and while there is an overabundance of zombie tv, film and literature, not many anime exist. I mean, Is This a Zombie? is too much of a harem comedy to fall under the Dead Cells umbrella of mainly horror, gore and darkness. There are a handful of zombie manga, but few have been adapted into anime. Not sure why. I have largely resisted the tide in my own writing since it’s just not for me.

There are numerous submission calls on a weekly basis for authors who wish to write all manner of zombie stories, and for those interested I have published one. There is another half written that needs a load of research to polish, but my only entry into the zombie genre remains Crocodile Rot. The inspiration for this came from abuse of the drug Krokodil which renders users into zombie in more ways than one. If interested, the print version can be obtained in Dark Moon Digest 10, you can listen to me read it on soundcloud, or if you drop me a line, I can send you a copy of Crocodile Rot.

There is no horror anime news this time around since I’ve been busy with a second draft edit of Nightface II, and watching films for Dead Air podcast part of which I co-host with my partner in grime Wes ‘Dead Air’ Knipe. My day job consists of writing the occasional article on television shows – usually of the dark or horror type – so I’ve been watching some stuff for that, but by and large, I have been deep into other podcasts.

Not only my most favourite of all, Bind Torture Kast, which is the number one super best lucky horror podcast in the universe, but a podcast that Chris, the host of BTK turned me on to which is Sword and Scale. Now I am a huge fan of true crime, and podcasts on the topic get me hooked pretty deep. Generation Why, Dark City, and Last Podcast on the Left have been swallowing my time, along with True Crime with Dan Zupansky and Darkness Radio with Darkness Dave which are my go-to’s but Sword and Scale really knocks it out of the park. So if you are into that, check it out. For anime podcasts, the only one I can really stick with is Anime Addicts Anonymous which cover anime, japanese culture and anime news in depth. Love that show. But for horror, it has to be BTK.

If you recall the last episode on Devilman being suggested by Chris, I watch a hell of a lot more suggestions that come from his show. Each episode can turn into a horror film rabbit hole since they not only cover news and upcoming releases, but during discussion they drop film titles like panties on a change room floor. Or panties in Highschool of the Dead for that matter, which we do see a hell of a lot of.
So yeah, Highschool of the Dead began as manga written by Daisuke Satō and illustrated by Shōji Satō from 2006 until going on indefinite hiatus in mid 2013. The anime was directed by Tetsuro Araki who worked with Madhouse previously on Death Note and recently with Wit studio for Attack on Titan. Anime News Network describes the story thus:

hotdIt’s the end of the world: a virus that turns people into the walking dead who feast on the flesh of the living has been unleashed and things are rapidly going to hell. The plague strikes Fujimi High School, where unlikely hero Takashi Komuro, genius Saya, estranged love interest Rei, sword-wielding Busujima, Hirano the gun otaku and a school nurse of below-average intelligence need to escape the school and head for the city, where their parents might still be alive. Thank you, Anime News Network.

I was lent a copy of this a few years ago by fellow (though far more serious)  journalist, anime fan and gamer James Culic. I loved it instantly even though he did in his chivalrous though not really caring manner warn me of the explicit nature of the series. Explicit it is, though I would not say it is outwardly pornographic. This is a common complaint. Somehow it seems some horror fans don’t like the illicit fusion of sex appeal and horror, which sounds odd to say, since so much of horror relies on sex to catch you off guard and really sell the money shot, or the head shot, as the case may be.

There is a LOT of tits in this show. Like, A LOT. More tits in this little series than in any horror film I’ve ever seen. They are encased for the most part, but jiggle, squish, bounce and are just in your face in nearly every scene. sorry you’ve been so used to having the dirty pillows all strapped in and contained ~ newsflash. boobs bounce. if you have anything over a B cup and don’t have them in a fabric, under wired and carefully padded fucking cage, its really is like two mad cats in a sack.

If it isn’t boobies, it’s panties. Like woah. Or… not woah. It’s actually kind of nice to see bras and panties normalized to such a degree they become benign. It’s part of the female landscape in this series. Where most of the characters are women, only two males really take up any notable screen time. This series surpasses the laughable Bechdel test by having multiple female leads who barely talk about men and act with their own purpose throughout. Not to mention they are all startlingly unique personalities and most of them kick so much zombie ass it is insane.

As summed by the most relatable female, Takashi ’s childhood friend and true love interest Rei, when he deems her reasoning behind finally falling for him of being too raw she replies, “because women are raw.” and I like that. I like that a lot, and it sums up a lot of their reasoning through the series to that point.  It isn’t the echo-chamber of why women are often portrayed as as quote strong unquote-  because they are sensitive, have female intuition, are mothers, have some elevated sense of sisterhood, or because they are anything other than simply human – it is because they are raw. Normally, this is a trait attributed to men, and because these women are all boobs, panties and excited womanly noises as much as they are javelins, swords, guns, fists and smarts – it is because they are raw that they have made it this far at all.
Now raw is a great word to describe a lot of this. The animation is superb, though not highly detailed. and rather, well, raw. The angles, pallete and soundtrack all harken to action and street fight anime, while the story borrows a little from The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and your favourite upbeat harem anime.

Speaking of borrowing, soundtracks and 28 Days later – while almost all of the music in this is unique, and every episode has a different and appropriate closing theme – there is a song in the first episode that is used to great effect the moment that our hero, Takashi must dispatch his first human. It is the watershed moment. The decision to take a life by choice before he is forced to take it for survival. It is a decision made in nearly every zombie story. While this dreaded situation is playing out, and his old classmate advances, Takashi finally and reluctantly raises his weapon – it is a heartbreaking moment – and the driving instrumental score in the background In the House, In a Heartbeat by John Murphy – made absolutely famous as part of the 28 Days Later soundtrack. According to the wikipedia listing for this song, it’s appearance here is an unofficial arrangement, and I’d like to think some compensation was earned since it wasn’t a diegetic sound moment, and a very large portion of the song was used. I’ve noticed songs in other horror anime that reminded me very much of other music used in horror film, but this is the first time a song has been actually shared, so I’m curious about the decision to include it – not that it doesn’t work. It works wonders for a very sad and very intense moment.

The series’ opening theme song is “Highschool OF=f The Dead” by Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets. I enjoyed it very much and basically let the credits roll with each episode, something that is often skipped to save time when watching an entire series, but with this not only is the end theme unique to each episode and loosely part of the story, the title sequence and song is pretty cool too.

Now the rest of the series, as they escape the school and cope with finding transportation, ammo, fend off other survivors and deal constantly with slaughtering zombies – it is very well done. For an overused plot, it feels fresh. There is nothing new about using a variety of weapons to kill hordes of the undead – or THEM as they are called in Highschool of the Dead – and there is nothing new about sniping the groaning bastards from the rooftop – there is a lot to be said for the style and attitude of this show. Super sexy, without being sleazy, the action is quick and dirty. Now the gore is really front loaded. I found myself wishin’ and hopin’ by the last few episodes for a return to the horde and the brutality of the first few episodes which are really unrelenting with the panicked head smashing and brain killing. The gorehound in me felt there was a little bait and switch at play since there are way more skulls exploding to start and it kind of peters out. The further you go in the show, the more kills are hidden. Crafty cuts, undead being blasted off-screen, objects and scenery obscuring the view. Maybe this gets old to some people, but not to me, but then I suppose it was as fun for those who enjoyed the boobs and panty shots that they played peekaboo with and teased us with the kills just as much.

Again with the boobs. I must say, while the first few episodes are really full of all kinds of goodies for the gorehounds, episode six if full of fanservice. For a series accused of being wall-to-wall fan-service and nothing but naughty – i didn’t really get that feeling. It is a harem anime as much as it is a zombie horror anime, but the only really porn ridden and ridiculous episode is six. Top dead centre. So, forewarned is foreboobed in this case. In the way I often warn others of animal violence, I will warn that if you don’t like rampant shots of women in compromising positions, panties galore and magnificent malleable mounds of mammary madness: then you’re gonna have a bad time.

Granted, this particular bit of slippery sexiness happens when the group is by and large safe for the first time since the outbreak. It is a 0-day tale, and of course the first chance they get to relax, get bathed, and be human they take it. They are also high school students, so we roll with it. Also, the boys are basically absent. One is rescuing a little girl, and the other is busy covering his gutsy ass with a rifle, so there’s that. Chalk it up to women being raw. There is very little chance for them to relax, not until the last few episodes are they technically safe again for a short while, and of course, like any good zombie story, that is rife with societal expectations, grownups being dogmatic, the political and industrial infrastructure as we know it beginning to crumble, and our now beloved characters completing their very abrupt though actually very rich arcs of their own. As this is a really action packed 12 episode gauntlet, we have only learned about them on they fly with only very few expositional scenes. Highschool of the Dead is all about ‘show’ and not so much about ‘tell’ which chalks up to an extremely well wrought story time.

There is a 2011 OVA called ‘Drifters of the Dead’ which I have not watched but eventually will as I will be adding this to my small but select permanent collection and it comes bundled in the Highschool of the Dead : Drifters of the Dead edition which is available all over the internet and certainly at your favourite comic book shop. The series proper will run you about 300 minutes, and as each episode is under a half hour, and that includes intro outro and a little recap, it’s not all that time consuming and well worth it whether you are in it for the gams, the guts or the glory.

Thank you for tuning in and I hope you get a charge out of Highschool of the Dead as I do. Next on Dead Cells, in no particular order, I’m going to get into Ghost Hunt since it has a really great paranormal angle I adore. Petshop of Horrors is a really compelling title though I’ve really been wanting to sink my teeth into yet another vampire anime. If there is something you think I should be watching, let me know here in the comments, on soundcloud, at typicallydia on instagram, tumblr, twitter, or wherever you hang out online.