Author: Daisuke Sato
Manga-ka: Shouji Sato
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: January 2012
Synopsis: “Takashi and his fellow students join up with a band of survivors who have barricaded themselves inside a local mall. Though the shopping center seems a well-stocked place to hide from the undead lurking outside, the policewoman in charge is having a hard time maintaining peace within. The group from Fujimi High would rather not get involved in a power struggle and tries to stay under the radar until they are ready to set off again. But with so many attractive, buxom girls among the students, it may be nearly impossible to avoid unwanted attention of the worst kind…”
I had some apprehension going into Highschool of the Dead. From the art and the write-up, I assumed that the manga was going to be little more than a mix of tits, ass, and gore. While those are indeed the three main ingredients in this volume, the manga has enough going for it that I enjoyed it anyway.
The series follows a small group of high school students (as well as the school nurse and an elementary school kid) as they try and survive a zombie apocalypse. When this volume starts the group has found shelter at a shopping mall, but other people are already holed up there and tensions between the survivors are strained. The only thing keeping the peace is Asami, a rookie traffic cop. Unfortunately, Asami isn’t the most intimidating authority figure: she cries a lot and can barely keep everyone from panicking. When one of the survivors tries to rape Marikawa, the school nurse, the kids realize that the mall isn’t as safe as they thought it was. The group is left to decide whether to get involved and help Asami or to get out of there before everything goes to hell.
What I love about the zombie genre is that it is a genre of ideas. Zombies can symbolize anything you want them to: consumerism, race, religion, mortality. HotD doesn’t cover any ground that zombie grandaddy Romero hasn’t covered repeatedly, but it does set up some good moral dilemmas. At one point in the story a character talks about how the characters always refer to the undead as ‘them’ because it’s easier to fight ‘things’ than humans. But at this point in the series the characters are in danger of dehumanizing even other human beings for the sake of survival. They’ve gone beyond ‘us vs. the zombies,’ and are now veering towards ‘us vs. everyone else.’
But it’s one thing to talk about having such a cold-hearted philosophy, it’s another to live it. When an old lady at the mall falls ill, some members of the group leave the building to get medicine for her. This is one of the best parts of the book and also the only section with any zombies (which is a good thing: zombies are best when they’re not overused). The zombie attack is well staged, but it’s robbed of some tension by the fact that there’s an obvious red shirt in the group.
There are five high school kids in the main cast, plus the nurse, the elementary kid, Asami and all the minor characters at the mall. With such a large cast list some of the main characters don’t get to do a lot in this volume: there are two high school girls who could be totally interchangeable (at least in this volume) as all they do is stand around and scowl. Also, the ‘leader’ of the group, Takashi, is so bland I have to keep reminding myself he’s in this series. There are some characters that are different and interesting though. The two seemingly ‘weakest’ members of the group, Marikawa the nurse and Alice the elementary-school kid, prove to have skills that may make them more likely to survive than the ‘strong’ characters.
And then there’s Kouta. Kouta is an overweight high school boy with a gun fetish. He’s not only knowledgeable about weaponry but human nature: he always knows exactly what to say to keep the group functioning. But Kouta has a dark side, a ruthless streak that allows him to do whatever he thinks is necessary to protect his friends. Kouta almost seems to enjoy the zombie apocalypse as it gives him an excuse to act on his darker impulses. Kouta’s a really interesting character and the best thing in this manga.
The art in this book is not a style I enjoy, but it’s more restrained than I was expecting so that’s something. While the artist clearly put a lot of thought into the various size and shapes of the girls’ boobs and how they move, it’s not as gratuitous as it could be. I guess the girls’ character designs are supposed to be sexy, but I just found them pointy and weird and not very attractive. If the idea of a woman with breasts bigger than her head turns you on, then you’ll probably have a more favourable opinion of the art. I actually liked the design of most of the minor characters more, as they weren’t so overly stylized.
The artist does a great job with the zombies, though the gory scenes look very different from the rest of the manga. The gore looks gritty and realistic while everything else is drawn in a sharp, clean style. I would have liked to see a little more integration between the two art styles.
I was a little wary when I saw the price for Highschool of the Dead: $13.99 USD and $15.50 Canadian. I got my copy from Yen Press, but if I was buying it in a store I’d be unsure about spending so much for such a short volume – it’s barely over 160 pages. Compare that to a volume of The Betrayal Knows My Name, also from Yen Press, which costs five dollars more but is almost three times as long. But I was entertained while I was reading Highschool of the Dead and the story moved along at a quick clip, so even with the higher price tag I’d be tempted to pick up the next volume. Highschool of the Dead isn’t a great manga, but it’s a good read if you’re looking for something gruesome and more than a little bit lurid.
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Book provided by Yen Press for review purposes