Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Highschool Of The Dead

Let's talk Japanese high schools.

If reading Japanese comics, seeing Japanese movies, and watching Japanese cartoons have taught me anything, it's that if you haven't saved the world at least once by the time you graduate high school, your life is over and completely worthless.

No, seriously.  In every series I've ever seen, the best soldiers are high school students.  The best pilots of giant robots suits?  High school students.  The people with the most magical power?  Look in high schools.  You need a mountain conquered, a ship piloted across an ocean, or an alien menace driven away from the Earth?  Unless you have a high school student around, your efforts are doomed.

So with that in mind, let's look at the zombie apocalypse.  Who would be the best suited to survive the entire world's social-economic structure collapsing within a matter of days as the undead rise and feast on the living?  The armed forces?  Survivalist nutjobs?

Now, to be fair, the woman on the far left is the school nurse, but, well, she still works at a high school.

Let's jump right in to Highschool Of The Dead

There are very few manga that I feel like I'd ever want to really read again after going through them once.  The short ones either feel inconsequential or are trying to tell a dramatic story in a too-limited format, and the long ones tend to just never know when to stop.  I think Naruto is somewhere in its four thousandth chapter.

Before any of you hunt me down and point out that "American superhero comics are still going strong since the 1940s and before" I'd like to point out two things.

One, get out of my apartment.  I can't believe you wasted the gas to just drive over here and tell me that.

Two, American comics regularly change writers, reformat the story, and don't continue for hundreds of issues with the same creator unless they're some sort of madman.

You heard me.
One of the few I'm willing to leave on my bookshelf is Highschool Of The Dead, if only because it has two things I really love:

A really gripping story.

Beautifully detailed artwork.

I mean, look at that.  That's just a picture of a couple of city blocks, but that's gorgeous.

You can probably guess the main story line:  a group of high school students (and the school nurse) attempt to survive the zombie apocalypse, find their parents, and get to somewhere safe away from the horror the world around them has turned into.

You have a lot of your typical Japanese story archetypes.  There's the lead character, a young man who was rather aimless and directionless before the story's start, the girl he loved as a child who finds herself stuck with him again, the nerdy gun nut kid, the obnoxious "I'm smarter than you" kid, the kid who for reasons unknown outside of Japan just happens to be a master swordsperson, the one with big breasts and an airhead mentality...

However, you spend enough time with these characters, and instead of being boring archetypes, they start to build depth.  The nerdy kid who liked to study weaponry suddenly finds himself important and gets to "man up" at certain instances, earning the respect of his teammates.  The lead character spends a lot of time ruminating on how much humanity someone needs to lose to survive in a world where inhuman monsters roam everywhere, and ponders what lines he'd be willing to cross.

Oh, and because it's Japan, there's also a lot of cheesecake for the eyes.

The writer and artist know who their target audience is, you can't fault them for that.

But much like Ghost Talker's Daydream (more so, in fact), past the cheesecake and inexplicable group bath scene (seriously?), Highschool Of The Dead is an intense ride from start to finish.  The series doesn't shy away from blood, and there are a lot of moments where you see panels cut away to show other people being swarmed by zombies and your eyes want to just keep moving before your brain soaks up too much detail.

No, I won't be posting any of those pictures, but I will post a runaway bus exploding.

It's one of those books that you might will get a lot of really strange looks from people when you buy it in a book store (I recommend Amazon, myself), but if you do like Japanese stories and you like zombies, I can't really think of one that had me enjoying the storytelling ride more.

Now, for those of you who don't want a lot of little books cluttering up your shelves, I recommend the hardcovers. Not only are they multiple volumes tied up in one hardbound book that rests easily on a shelf (even if the cover raises even more questions from a bookshop worker than the smaller ones), but they're also done up in full color, leading to, in my eyes at least, a more enjoyable story since the detail doesn't suffer at all.

Seriously, why does a high school have a "spear club" anyway?

Go read it.  You'll enjoy it.  Just be prepared to build one of those high school book covers to hide what you're reading so nobody can see the cover.

No comments: