Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: High School of The Dead Vol. 1

I can’t help but appreciate how seemingly easy it is to come up with the premise of a zombie story these days. Just think of a noun, preferably one that can double as a setting, add the words “of the Dead” and BAM! you’re half way there.
Comic Shop of the Dead. Library of the Dead. Barbershop of the Dead. Doughnut Shop of the Dead. Precinct of the Dead. Sorority House of the Dead. Girls Locker Room of the Dead. Zoo of the Dead. Museum of the Dead. Circus of the Dead. Amusement Park of the Dead. United States House of Representatives of the Dead. You get the idea; hell, at least half of those are probably comics or direct-to-DVD movies and, if they’re not, then surely some artist is working on self-publishing comics with those titles, or some wannabe screenwriter is polishing up their scripts with the same titles.

Writer Daisuke Sato and artist Shouji Sato went with High School, and thus we get the manga series High School of the Dead, in which a zombie plague breaks out at the gates of a Japanese high school.

Our hero is Takashi Komuo, a somewhat delinquent student who first notices the arrival of the undead because he was skipping class, and he manages to save his one-time childhood girlfriend Rei, whose membership in the school’s spear club comes in handy.

Focus shifts to a few other survivors in the school—an arrogant honors student and her chubby, male helper, a strong and silent member of the kendo club, a ridiculously busty school nurse—fighting their way through the school and to a bus, upon which they escape the school grounds and find things no better on the outside world.

The artwork is sharp and energetic, the kids’ faces cartoony in the expected manga way, while the zombies are rendered a more realistically, giving the gore and violence an appropriate flinchy repulsiveness. I genuinely winced looking at some of the panels, like the one where kendo clubber Saeko Busujima dents the head of a zombie with her wooden blade, or any of the many in which the living dead take big, bloody mouthfuls out of victims’ limbs.

The exploitive nature of the book doesn’t end at the violence; the short school uniforms give Sato plenty of opportunities for panty shots and other fan service-framed page layouts, opportunities that are rarely passed up.

By its end, the characters are on a highway, headed into town—some on foot, some by bus—so I expect future volumes may move the narrative into even more standardized zombie story territory, but for the first volume at least, there was a unique-ish setting and costuming to the inventive writer and talented writers run through the paces.

A few things I saw here that seemed unique to the book.

One, Takashi and Rei fighting off a zombie horde with a high-power fire hose. I haven’t seen that in a zombie movie or comic before.

Two, a character theorizes that the zombie invasion will only last as long as it takes for the dead’s flesh to rot off, as without muscle tissue they won’t be able to move their skeletons. Another counters that would be true only if these dead do rot as per normal, and the fact that they’re walking around gives one reason to think they may not. I never thought about natural forces like entropy and biodegradation putting a time limit on zombie apocalypses. It got me thinking about birds and zombies; would vultures, crows and other scavengers eventually eat all the zombies…? In the event of a zombie apocalypse, would carrion eaters evolve to be the dominant life forms…?

And, finally, there’s a neat bit where the smart girl figures out the zombies can’t really see any more, and thus track their prey by sound.

That’s hardly enough to reinvent the genre or anything, nor do I imagine this turning on anyone already turned off by the deluge of zombie material out there, but it’s different enough that those already into zombies should find something to like in it.

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