An argument can be made that I only focus my time and energy on talking about shows that I personally enjoy, and as such, I am not being an objective reviewer of anime. That is a fair argument to make, as well.
My counter to that is to say that one can not be objective about entertainment. In other words, as I have said many times, you can not objectively state what anyone will enjoy, because personal taste in entertainment is not something that can be objectively measured.
To put it more simply, I am not trying to be an objective reviewer of anime. I have no interest in that.
Of course, another argument could be made that since I enjoy SAO more than Log Horizon, my opinion isn’t worth listening to. That, like any review of anime, is a purely subjective argument, however, along with any review of an animes worth.
Everything, when it comes to entertainment, is purely subjective. Objective criticism is a lie. No one is objective in their analysis of any form of entertainment. I’m just honest enough to admit it.
Still, there are shows out there I’ve seen that just didn’t land with me. Explaining why is, obviously, going to be a purely subjective analysis, but to be fair, I thought it only right to now and then tackle one of those shows.
My first foray into talking about a show that I didn’t love is going to be High School of the Dead, a show I both loved, and hated.
Like, really hated. And yet, genuinely loved.
This show makes me feel so conflicted.
First off, High School of the Dead, or H.O.T.D. as it is more commonly called, is a 2010, 12 episode series from Madhouse, maker of all the things. It’s based on a manga by game designer, novelist, and mangaka Daisuke Sato, who is not to be confused with a professional footballer by the same name.
Oh, footballer is what a soccer player is called in literally every other part of the world besides America. Cause America is a special snowflake that needs a safe space for its preconceived notions that the world revolves around it.
H.O.T.D follows a group of high school students as they try to survive the first days of the zombie apocalypse. On that front, it’s an amazing fucking show.
It’s also the most ecchi thing you will ever see, and on that front, I hate this show so fucking much I can’t see straight.
Let me start by talking about the zombie apocalypse side of things, or rather, the part of the show I loved.
As a zombie apocalypse story, H.O.T.D. is pretty damn amazing, not just in terms of how Madhouse manages to frame the whole thing, but in terms of how it actively changes the characters. Damn near every shot in this show helps build on the mounting horror of the reality of the situation, with director Tetsuro Arakai (Black Lagoon, Attack on Titan, Death Note) frequently using still scenes of the devastation around the city to build the tension.
Make no mistake, the backgrounds on this show are unreal. There’s one shot of a street light flickering that is incredibly eerie, as each time ti comes on, what at first looks like a normal street, is suddenly splattered in blood. With the single image, that one flickering light, normalcy and horror overlap in a powerful way. It’s brilliant, emotionally engaging, and shocking, all without ever being overdone.
At every turn, the backgrounds help sell that more is going on around the city than what the characters we are following see. It is used to imply the struggles of others as they try to survive this onslaught of nightmarish horror. Better than even that, however, is how the characters we follow slowly grow accustomed to seeing such things, and by the end of the series, barely pay this stuff any attention.
In other words, the backgrounds are an active part of the story, and how they are used relates directly to the characters acceptance of the reality of their situation.
That’s intense, clever, and something you could only really get away with in an anime. Not to mention, it’s all just so amazingly animated, that it actually at times feels like a gut punch to us, the viewer.
Then there’s the characters themselves, who are one of the best, and worst things about this show. On the best front, it’s that they are incredibly believable as characters. When things first go to shit, they try to deal with it logically. When that fails, the just start reacting. Soon, they are all in a state of shock from the horrific things they’ve seen, and done, and start acting the way people in shock really act, by fluctuating between reckless bravery and emotional fragility. Once they begin to accept the reality of their situation, they become more cautious, and start really thinking through the possible consequence of their actions.
To put it another way, they act like real people. Nobody is a super badass instantly. They struggle and accept reality at different rates, with some coming to terms with it faster than others. Nobody is the lone hero, and they have to rely on each others strengths to make up for their own weaknesses, which still doesn’t guarantee they will survive. Even as a group, they are prone to mistakes, failure, and frequently have to retreat and regroup.
More importantly is the way they each begin to question their own view of themselves, as the choices they must make erodes their own morality. By the end of twelve episodes, no one is actually a hero, and they have all done things to survive that they just try not to think about to much so they can hang on to what is left of their sanity.
This is easier said than done, as each character was already kind of a mess before the zombies showed up.
Komuro, the central character and leader of the survivors, was a wreck before the outbreak, because the girl he was in love with started dating someone else. To him, that was the end of the world. The came the actual end of the world, and he had to kill her boyfriend, who had become a zombie. This does not make him relieved, either. He actively hates himself for it. As the show progresses, he doesn’t become the leader of the survivors by being the protagonist, either, but by listening to each of the others opinions, and forming a plan based on their input. He only leads because he is able to utilize the people around him in the best possible way, something he soon comes to realize he is only doing in order to keep himself alive. This, above all else, makes him question just who and what he is becoming, and if survival is worth it.
Rei, the girl he was in love with, best emphasizes the dual nature a person develops as they find themselves in a nightmarish situation. She fluctuates between that reckless bravery and emotional fragility the most, due to a ton of external influences, including watching her boyfriend get his head caved in, nearly being killed multiple times, stuck with a teacher who used his fathers political connections to ruin her dad’s life and possibly tried to sexually assault her, as well as her own feelings for Kumoro that she tried to forget that are hard to ignore when she is stuck alone with him for an extended period as they try to regroup with the rest. As a character, Rei is the most affected by the outbreak, and the one who struggles with it all the most, making her a genuinely interesting character that reacts in believable ways to everything being thrown at her. She’s not a total badass, either, and her only real skill is with a spear, due to her time with the sojutsu club. As you may know, a spear is a terrible weapon against a zombie, but she uses it to keep them still while others finish it off, making her an integral fighter to their survival.
Then there’s Saeko. Jesus, this girl. As president of the school’s kendo club, she is extremely skilled with a sword, and has her bokken, or wooden sword, with her when the outbreak occurs. A wooden sword is actually a remarkably effective weapon against a zombie, especially in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. Likewise, her cool demeanor and analytical nature allows her to figure out quickly that just knocking zombies down is an effective means to escaping them, rather than trying to kill all of them. Her character develops further when we learn she has a strong sadist streak that she is deeply ashamed of, and tries to repress. So strong, in fact, she is sexually aroused by inflicting pain on others. Naturally, fighting zombies poses a slightly different problem for her, and she is ashamed of that as well. Not the fighting, but the fact she actually enjoys it, and is kind of glad this happened, since it lets her go nuts. This is a major issue for her, since she knows being happy about the zombie apocalypse, and getting to smash people in the face, shouldn’t be something she’s happy about. More than anyone, Saeko is a fascinating character, because her character arc is so radically different than everyone else’s, and not the kind of thing we often see in any fiction, especially zombie fiction.
On the opposite side of that spectrum is Saya. The top student at their school, she is brilliant, and often serves as the tactician of the group. Her ability to logically analyze any situation is what first helps the group figure out that the zombies are blind, and react to noise, and this is the main reason they survive. However, Saya is emotionally rather fragile. She is able to distance herself from the horror happening around her at first, until she must kill a zombie herself in order to live. This causes her to break down, and fall apart completely, because it destroys the wall she put up between herself and what’s actually happening. That separation of self from the events around her is her sole means of dealing with it all, and something she is constantly trying to rebuild, locking her in a vicious circle of trying to be logical while fending off emotional collapse. As a character arc, this matters, because it’s something most zombie fiction doesn’t touch on. You can’t hold your emotions at bay forever and do everything logically. Sooner or later, one is going to give. For Saya, this is the battle, and it’s damn interesting one.
My favorite character of the show, however, is Hirano. With a character design actually based on the creator of the Hellsing manga, Hirano is what is called a gun otaku. Short, heavy set, and socially awkward, Hirano is obsessed with first person shooters, American culture, and guns. This kid freaking loves guns to the point he has memorized stats about damn near every gun ever built, and has actually gotten to shoot guns, thanks to his dad’s ties to a private security firm. He is resourceful, but wishy washy about making decisions, and frequently just follows the lead of the people around him. Of them all, Hirano is the one who most readily accepts the reality of their situation, and even his own inner violent streak, making him the odd backbone of the team, as everyone starts relying on his ability to just pull the trigger without hesitation. Regardless, he is the one most in need of the others, as by himself, he knows, he wouldn’t survive long. It isn’t even about friendship, so much as utility, and despite his frequently awkward personality, Hirano uses the people around him to his own benefit the quickest. He doesn’t want to sacrifice them, because he needs them, but he does realize what he is doing, and accepts it the most readily. As a character, he’s an excellent exploration of the socially shunned often having more to offer than people realize, and how physical appearances can be very deceiving.
The last two characters are Marikawa, the school nurse, who’s main role is to be ditzy, drive, and jiggle around a lot. She gets some good character moments, but not enough, and is the start of where I really hate this show. The other is Alice, a seven year old girl the gang rescues after her father is murdered by fellow survivors. Her main role is to be cute and give them someone to protect, but past that, she doesn’t really do much.
Point being, most of the characters are actually really well thought out and realized, as is the world setting, and how the zombie outbreak actually works, spreads, and affects things.
As for what the show does wrong, oh boy. Let’s start with the fact that every female character’s design is basically bouncy boobs and panty shots. Like, constantly. So many panty shots, even when panty shots shouldn’t be possible according to physics and just common sense.
The big problem with this is that the generally excellent character work that goes into the ladies sometimes vanishes entirely just to have their boobs bouncing around or looking up their skirts. It becomes really easy to forget the massive amount of work that went into defining them as characters because the director sometimes forget they are characters instead of boobs with a holder to help them get around.
Not that the guys get off easy, either. There are times where they suddenly stop being characters in order to be action set shots. This doesn’t happen as often as the girls find reason to show both their boobs and their ass at the same time, but it does happen a lot.
Still, it pales in comparison to Saeko fighting zombies while wearing nothing but a g-strong and an apron. Like, literally nothing at all except that. Or Marikawa basically bouncing around completely nude, for some reason, for an extended period of time.
That said, there is a sequence where the girls were more or less trying to get some sleep and had to get mobile very fast, so it makes sense that they didn’t bother getting fully dressed. That’s not the issue here, as I can buy that scenario existing. It’s that it was largely just done to have the entire female portion of the cast bouncing around mostly naked, or fully naked, for an extended period of time, rather than deal with the reality of the situation that getting mobile fast could be difficult.
On the one hand, that’s kinda dumb. On the other, it is used to show the guys in the group basically ignoring the fact that the girls were mostly naked and dealing with not dying. Again, that’s not a bad thing, but the way it was done still reduced these well crafted characters to little more than props, rather than actual people.
Which is sort of the big problem with H.O.T.D. in general. The characters forget their characterization at too frequent intervals to be action figures. The ladies especially.
Over all, this undermines the strong zombie story the show is telling. Without the ecchi elements, H.O.T.D. would likely be the definitive zombie anime, and probably one of the most definitive zombie stories out there. With it, it just ends up being a lot of wasted potential.
Which is why I love it and hate it in equal measure. I love the story it could have told, and I hate that instead of telling it, it tried to be a soft core porno.
This is further exemplified by the music for the show. Arranged by Takafumi Wada, best known for his work on Rideback, the music on H.O.T.D. is absolutely amazing. There’s points where it brings in elements of the soundtrack from 28 Days Later, and others where it is it just breathtakingly beautiful, creating a powerful juxtaposition between the horror elements, and the characters own desire to find a place to rest.
The opening, which I’ve talked about before, is performed by Kisida Kyoudan & The Akebosi Rockets and is one of the most amazing pieces of OP music music ever. Every episode has a different ending theme song, sung by Maon Kurosaki, which launched her career and lead to her performing both of the ending themes for A Certain Magical Index 2.
Basically, the soundtrack for this show is just mind blowing good, and worth buying, just to have all this amazing music. Which makes the wasted potential of the show all the more glaring.
This is the common theme of H.O.T.D. to be honest. Do something amazing, then undercut it at every possible chance.
As a series, H.O.T.D. is pretty faithful to the manga, so perhaps it’s more fair to blame Sato for his failure to take this concept and really run with it. Or perhaps it’s on Madhouse for not adapting the work in a way that was less faithful, but more dedicating to taking the elements that worked and expanding them.
Regardless of who is really to blame for this wasted opportunity, I will say this. H.O.T.D. is a great show to look at, and even offers a lot for the viewer to get invested in. Unfortunately, it can’t stand to take itself seriously long enough to actually be what it could have been. The greatest zombie story anybody has ever seen.
As a side note, my girlfriend absolutely loves this show and forgives all the faults, because as she said, without them, the show would have been too dark. Maybe she’s right. I don’t know. All I can say is it feels like a missed opportunity to me, and while it has a lot to love, it’s got just as much to hate.
Last of all, this show does have a legion of female fans. Like, a for real legion, who love to cosplay as the characters. So, maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. I don’t know. All I can say is that, in my opinion, I felt like the show missed a chance to do something we’ve never seen, but that is just my subjective opinion.
So, there ya go. There are animes I don’t love to pieces, and I can be just as critical of anime as anyone else. I just enjoy doing it less than most, because I really feel bad when something that has so much potential squanders it.
That’s the writer in me, and the reason I don’t often talk about shows I didn’t enjoy.