The controversial manga gets the royal treatment with this full-color deluxe edition, but is it worth the steep asking price?
The walking dead descend on a Japanese high school in the manga Highschool of the Dead, written by Daisuke Satō and illustrated by Shōji Satō. The story follows a ragtag group of students who band together in an attempt to survive the zombie apocalypse. Takashi Komuro is our hero, whose best friend has just stolen his girl. Rei Miyamoto is the girl in question, who finds herself suddenly single again after zombies take a bite out of her new boyfriend. This throws a wrench into the prototypical manga love triangle trope that one might have expected, but there are plenty more to take its place. Beautiful and ironically-named Saeko Busujima is the school’s kendo expert who fends off the undead with a wooden practice sword. She’s a bit… unbalanced, but takes a shine to Komuro(of course). Shizuka Marikawa is the absent-minded school nurse, and the only adult in their team, though her mental capacity seems to be about on-par with the group, if not lower. Saya Takagi is a prickly honors student with a chip on her shoulder and a thing for Komuro(of course). The final member of the starting lineup is Kohta Hirano, an unpopular outcast who really finds his place in the zompocalypse thanks to his obsession with firearms.
Despite the title, the group evacuates the school fairly early on, and the book follows them on their trek through their city trying to find their families and, ideally, some help. They must contend not only with zombies, but the bad seeds of humanity as well, and along the way they pick up a few strays and meet other groups of survivors.
The book collects the first 4 volumes of the manga(17 chapters in total) and is a high quality, hardcover edition. It’s over 4 cm thick, and is nearly 6 cm wider and 6.5 cm taller than the standard editions of HSOTD. The collection is also in gorgeous color. The coloring is extremely well done and looks completely natural. Though there is a little bit of detail lost in the coloring process, it is more than made up for with the addition of a greater sense of depth from the colors and shading.
The pages are thick and glossy and the book is full of extras. There is all-new full-color art as well as cover galleries, character profiles and more gun information than even Hirano could hope for. This is a whole lot of book, but if you have the room on your shelf, this is the definitive version of HSOTD to own. It costs a little more than buying the volumes individually, but the added cost is apparent in the across-the-board high quality of this printing.
Shōji Satō’s art is finely detailed and quite beautiful, but it may not be for everyone. Shōji Satō is well known as a hentai artist, and it shows. The level of fan service is overwhelming. It permeates every scene and can be quite distracting during those scenes which are meant to be dramatic, or particularly horrific. How much this affects your enjoyment of the manga will depend entirely on your tolerance for outrageously large breasts, torn clothing and panty shots.
If you can look past the fan service, though, the art is quite engrossing. The action is constant in this series and every frame is alive with movement and onomatopoeia. If the content doesn’t offend you too much, there is a lot to love with the art here.
HSOTD never really tries to be more than it is. This is a fast-paced story of action and survival in a zombie apocalypse. While many supernatural mangas take a more tongue-in-cheek approach to their content, this is in no way how HSOTD treats its subjects. The book has a serious tone and tells its story without a hint of irony. There are a few dramatic moments and lots of horror and violence; it isn’t that the book doesn’t have any fun, but rather that it has its fun with its horror and violence rather than in spite of it. There is some merit to criticisms that this glorifies the violence, and that the constant juxtaposition of ultraviolence and overt sexuality is likely to disturb a lot of viewers, but the manga never feels like these are its goals. This feels more like a manga just trying to have a good time by providing action, horror and T&A more than it feels like it is deliberately trying to glorify violence or be misogynistic. This may or may not affect how much violence and misogyny you can overlook in the book, but for me the intent is key to my interpretation of the themes.
Though some characters are as 2-dimensional as the pages they inhabit(such as Rei and Shizuka), many of the characters have some real depth. Komuro struggles with his feelings towards Rei, who he knows views him as a runner-up. He also has to deal with the fact that he was wishing a horrible fate on his best friend just a few hours before he was killed. Saya seems unnecessarily combative towards the others and comes off as a bit of a bully, but meeting her parents later on generates a lot of sympathy for her situation. Saeko seems odd and prone to bizarre shifts in mood. Although her behaviour isn’t given a lot of explanation, there is certainly groundwork laid for her background to be examined in more detail further down the line. Hirano is a standout in the series as an upside down version of a typical nerd. While scenarios like a zombie apocalypse seem to reset the schoolyard back to a time when bullies were strong and the intelligent were weak, Hirano avoids this role reversal by being having knowledge that is useful to zombie survival. He is also surprising capable in a fight, even if he isn’t the strongest member of the group.
Another divisive aspect of the series is its political leanings. Even beyond the general gun-centric action of the series, there is a definitive right-wing affection to the characters. Komuro wears it as a badge of shame that his mother is a member of the evil leftist teacher’s union. In general, leftists are depicted as indecisive, weak, and even “sick-in-the-head” while right wingers are the noble, honorable leaders who would save everyone, if only the leftists weren’t so in the way all the time. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that the only teacher who survives the initial onslaught is a despicable villain whose greatest crime isn’t taking advantage of his students sexually(which he does repeatedly), but of spreading political lies. If you watched the anime before you read the manga(which I had) it can be a little off-putting, as the political message is largely toned-down in the animated series. Ultimately, though, the political message isn’t so prevalent as to distract from the nonstop action and excitement that the manga otherwise provides.
There are some major issues that may hinder your enjoyment of this manga. If you are offended by flagrant and unnecessary fan service, or are bothered by a wholly right-wing political message, then enjoying this series is going to be an uphill battle. If you can look past these issues(or if they don’t bother you) than you will likely find a lot to like here. The art is spectacular and the pacing is pitch perfect. There is a ton of exciting action and some interesting characters to be found, making for a surprisingly memorable read.