Highschool of the Dead is the story of teenagers who find themselves thrust into danger after a global pandemic causes the dead to roam the earth, infecting those unfortunate to cross their shambling path. The drama unfolds not unlike Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, as each issue in the series shows how the survivors of Fujimi High School live day to day in a country swarming with zombies as well as humans who have lost their minds. The main character of the story is a young man named Takashi who leads a rag tag bunch of students who happen to have their own convenient set of skills. There’s Saya, who is both intelligent and strong willed, Kohta, a friendly gun otaku, Seako, the cold, cunning leader of the school’s kendo club, and nurse Shizuka, an adult who is certainly kind but also a bit of an airhead. Rounding out the crew is Rei, Takashi’s lifelong childhood friend and former love interest.
In volume one, the students of Fujimi High School are shocked to see one of their teachers assaulted by a zombie and soon enough, disease and panic causes the school to break out in uncontrollable chaos as students race to safety, trampling those swept up in the swarm. Takashi, Rei, and her current boyfriend flee to the roof and while he saves Rei from being bitten her boyfriend is infected, forcing Takashi to deal with the inevitable change.
Some of the best zombie stories are those that shift attention away from trying to explain the cause of an outbreak and instead focus on the lucky (or unlucky?) few who manage to survive. In that regard, Highschool of the Dead is certainly an engaging, dramatic story and by making students the lead cast, their inexperience and hormones makes for an interesting group dynamic. Because the series is about zombies, expect a large amount of violence, as the undead, in various forms of mutilation, are fond of eating the living. Human-on-human violence plays a large role in the manga and occurs frequently as panicked survivors and hooligans clash with police, resulting in people getting shot or beaten. Rei herself becomes a victim of unwanted fondling while held at knife point by a teen who is a mere empty shell after witnessing the violent death of his family. Highschool of the Dead also has numerous instances of fanservice involving the female characters. Skirts are torn, underwear is visible and women almost always seem to be bending over or shown in profile, accentuating their curvy bodies.
Violence and nudity aside, Highschool of the Dead is a moving story of how teens must work together in order to survive. While the tone is often bleak, between Kohta Hirano’s humorous obsession with guns and nurse Shizuka’s moments of airheadedness, there is enough comedy relief to stave off depression. Each volume holds the promise of danger, drama and excitement and the story of these young survivors is one to follow.