Contains mild spoilers.
Now I like a good animated film, I like a good Japanese video game and I love zombies so this should be right up my street, and for the most part it really, really is. It's Z-day 1 and trouble has reached the gates of a typical Japanese High School. Troubled teen Takashi Komuro (voiced in English by Leraldo Anzaldua) acutely aware of the trouble everyone is in, pulls his ex girlfriend Rei Miyamoto (Jessica Boone) out of class moments before all hell breaks and the school is plunged into the full on zombie spiral of carnage and death. As they attempt to escape the school they team up with three other mismatched high school kids and the enormously breasted school doctor and embark on a highly stylish, highly personal zombie survival story across Tokyo, full of pace, action and teenage angst.
Now you may be wondering why I made reference to the doctors breast size, and I wouldn't normally think twice to but with HOTD it's important. I'd been forewarned of something called fan service and I think we need to discuss it up front. For those that don't know (I didn't), fan service is how it sounds; servicing the fan by intentionally adding superfluous shots and sequences specifically included for the target audience. Sounds OK so far, but, and here it is, common within anime and manga, and specifically in HOTD, this audience I can only assume are hormone bursting, immature heterosexual fifteen year old boys and the fan service we soon discover, consists of constant gratuitous and totally unnecessary crotch shots, bouncy boob cams, inappropriate outfits that leave little to the imagination, and constant innuendo and suggestion. I'll be honest I wasn't really prepared and though it is a little amusing I generally found it all a bit weird and off putting. It also does also seem to steadily get worse, starting with occasional unusual camera angles before building up to two particularly over the top episodes that don't even try to hide their full on pervie intentions. It does temper down again somewhat after these though, and by the end of the series I'd even say, strangely, I'd kind of got used to it all. Whilst I wouldn't argue it actually benefits the show in-any-way-what-so-ever, and can certainly distract from what's going on, I can't argue that it doesn't add something to the unique adolescent Japanese charm and feel on show.
Each episode is short, compact and individually themed, and book-ended with its own quirky upbeat custom pop song performed by Maon Kurosaki with a short scene after that sets things up for the following episode. It's all very well paced and you'll find yourself saying just one more all the way through to the final twelfth episode before you know it. Director Tetsuro Araki, who I understand has quite the accomplished anime pedigree really does have an eye for the artistic with some beautiful poignant sequences interspersing the action and tension and a great score not afraid to mix and match. It really is great animation with lively action sequences, slower more aesthetic panning shots and stop-start all used with impeccable precision.
It also has a very post modern feel too. Set in modern day the students are well versed with zombie mythology and the popular zombie zeitgeist. They know all the right language with which to frame the apocalypse and understand the threat they face as the grown-up all around get themselves killed either through inaction or denial. They 'get' they're dead and not diseased, they know not to get bitten and there's no dilly dallying when it comes to calling them by the z word. It's refreshing and youthful and I wish more films would copy the approach
The gang are very much the 'breakfast club' too; before the end of the world brought them together they were all living different lives in different cliques. HOTD, like many good zombie survival stories understands the need to throw a disparate group together, ramp up the heat and see what stews; add the adolescent coming of age sub theme and one thing I will say the character development and interaction is never dull.
The zombies themselves are the modern Romero stylised sort shambling and dumb though when they need to be and nasty and intimidating. Taking it a little further though and adding a bit to the mix we learn that whilst they have an insatiable hunger for flesh and acute hearing, they're blind with dead senses so if you're really quiet you can sneak past and even brush up against them. In truth they don't really totally stick to this all the way through but it's interesting to note.
Constantly entertaining, stylish and fun HOTD is fresh and enthralling from its first episode to its last. Thematically rich and not afraid to play with some quite dark post apocalyptic topics it's almost as good as it gets for the survival style zombie story. The characters are quirky, their relationships surprisingly deep at times and the English dub is bright, strong and well edited to make it all more relevant for the Western audience.
The story and action is relentless, it's surprisingly gory and violent when it needs to be, and it's full of imagination and intelligence. Maybe if I was going through puberty again it would have been the perfect zombie survival; but unfortunately that was a long time ago, so I'll have to knock a couple off, 8/10.
Unfortunately since buying this Blu-ray Manga have released a new version complete with an additional episode called OVA Drifters of the Dead which is highly acclaimed. It's only on DVD and isn't dubbed but it would be nice to have seen it all. At some point I'll try and upgrade and post my thoughts. WTD