Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Highschool of the Dead"

What better way to start Zombie Week than with a Japanese spin on the survival horror genre with zombies and the undead. Incidentally “Highschool of the Dead” is one of my random manga picks for the Japanese Reading Challenge and can easily fit in Carl’s R.I.P challenge, but let’s not push my luck and stick with this title being a shared submission for just two events.

The great thing about Japanese horror artists and writers is that they are demented, brutal and they seem to be caught in a race to out-scare, out-gross and out-disturb one another, which gives plenty of creative material to take zombies and kick the scare factor to overload. I wish to point out that despite this manga series features a main cast predominantly in its teens, this is seinen manga, aimed for a male audience between 18 and 30 usually. This alone promises no censorship and the output of gore is industrious. The series so far have 23 chapters out with three extras, but sadly has been in hiatus since June 2009, which doesn’t fair well in Japan’s ever competitive and fast paced publishing world.

So, why is this, a perfect choice for the zombie fan? For one, if you are like me, then you most certainly have read and experienced the zombie the way Westerners have so far. The change of scenery, culture and human behavior is refreshing, while at the same it gives the reader the opportunity to enjoy survival horror in a different manner. Japanese tradition in entertainment is marked by over-the-top performances. Westerners enjoy subtleties and gradual building, whereas from my experience with manga, the Easterners magnify every element surrounding a story.

In “Highschool of the Dead” every trip is an ambush of undead, every argument becomes a scandal that reopens old still aching wounds and action sequences toy with what’s believable and what is fairly impossible. The cast is an example of what I am illustrating here. Almost all characters are high school sophomores or seniors, who all have fighting capabilities like the sadistic Saeko, who is excellent at close combat, or Kohta, a frighteningly good and nutty sharpshooter. Although it’s believable that teens in Japan do have useful skills, since there is not a single teen in Japan not enrolled in a sports or arts and crafts or science club, how long can a group of teens last in a metropolis filled with the undead? Not to mention their luck in raiding the house of a sniper in Japan’s Special Assault Team. It’s plausible, but unbelievable at the same time.

I recently started Chapter 14 ‘Dead Storm Rising’ and can testify that as far as plotting goes Japanese manga writers know how to start small and then expand to let the reader see the bigger picture. As it does, the reader sees other survivors, the generational gap and attitude between teens and adults as well as seedy agendas forming. This a dark survival story with a lot of scares, moments of disgust by living and undead alike as well as the typical for horror genre sexual tension. It’s the kind of inner human exploration the horror genres executes in a manner that only can originate from Japan.

A zombie must-read.

13 comments:

dolcebellezza said...

Harry, I love the way you write. You pull us in immediately to what you're reviewing with eloquence, and I always learn something new. For example, "seinen manga, aimed for a male audience between 18 and 30 usually" is something I've never heard of before! Still, I have to admit to being a 40-something year old woman who would be intrigued by this manga series. Thanks for reviewing it!

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Thanks a lot. It's a thing that comes with practice and to be honest I am not that much different from any other experienced reviewer/ blogger. You pen some of the most inspiring reviews ever. :)

And yes it's a good series, though it's not exactly for the feint of heart. You need to have your stomach and nerves steeled to get through some scenes. You can try reading a chapter, just look at the link and test the waters.

And yeah, there are genres for manga depending on sex and ages, so that you know that the manga you pick will catch in the right time of your life and you can experience it at its best.

Suko said...

Enticing review! Harry, I've read some manga in the past but this "zombie must-read" sounds more complex, dark, and riveting. Thanks for your thoughtful review.

dustandspores said...

Wow, this looks cool. I have a librarian friend starting a manga and graphic novel reading group for older teens and adults at his library, and I think I'll forward him your review. Good find.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

It really is Suko, because it enrichens the genre I read in predominantly and that is the collective spec fiction [Fantasy, Horror and Sci-Fi].

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Dust: If the reading group is for older teens and adults and if they like zombis, then this will certainly appeal to them. Thanks for commenting.

Michelle said...

Hi Harry.

Awesome review. Though I can't say I'm all that into zombies, really. But I definitely dig manga, and the couple of scans that you put in are looking very very cool.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

The artist's work is of extreme quality. Manga can often go wrong in the art department with an artist, who just can't get things the way I want. Selfish I know, but when it comes to art I am picky. Here, that's not an issue. Thanks for stopping by.

vvb32 reads said...

Super! Glad you did a review on this I was wondering about it. When enquiring about zombie manga at my local manga store, they mentioned this one but didn't have the English version in stock. Now, I really want to check this series out.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

It kicks ass. So much action and gore and short skirts, it's definitely a keeper.

Mark David said...

Excellent review Harry! I've never tried manga before but almost each time I visit here you make me want to start with one. And I'm sure I will one of these days, as soon as I shorten my book pile I guess.

I agree with you observation that "Easterners magnify every element surrounding a story", and also your thoughts about plot in Japanese Anime. That does seem like the usual difference between Japanese novels and Japanese anime/manga -- the plot in most anime stories are quite thick and they do tend to "magnify" just about anything. It's like they have to explain or give reason to all those stuff simply because it's fantasy :)

Harry Markov: daydream said...

It's never too late to start with these. They are usually running on short instalments and with written words so few, it takes an hour or so to finish 100 pages.

I hoped that I wasn't wrong with my observations, but these are some aspects to story telling I started to notice. Thankfully, it's not all in my head. :)

Harry Markov: daydream said...

It's never too late to start with these. They are usually running on short instalments and with written words so few, it takes an hour or so to finish 100 pages.

I hoped that I wasn't wrong with my observations, but these are some aspects to story telling I started to notice. Thankfully, it's not all in my head. :)

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