Friday, March 09, 2012

Confuse-o-Vision Week, #5: Highschool of the Dead, Vol. 5

This particular quixotic reading project ends as it began -- see my explanation on Monday -- with a book solidly in the middle of a series.

But, for my final number, I'm attempting a higher level of difficulty: for the earlier books this week, I'd read some of the earlier volumes (if not for a while). Today, I'm hitting the fifth volume of Highschool of the Dead, written by Daisuke Sato and drawn by Shouji Sato, which I've never seen before. Let's see how much sense it makes to me...

The premise is pretty straightforward: the dead have risen, hungry for the flesh of humans, and everything has gone to hell. A small group of friends from a private highschool -- led by ordinary guy Takashi Komuro -- grabbed some weapons and is looking for a safe place, and has attracted a few others (the school nurse, a cute little girl). As this volume opens, they've reached a mall, after fleeing the compound of the rich girl's parents, and has found more tensions there. (I could have figured all of this out, but Highschool of the Dead also has an excellent recap page up front -- I recommend that feature highly for all manga series.) The featured character this time is an exceptionally high-strung female police officer -- Asami Nakaoka -- who is the requisite borderline-incompetent, in-over-her-head female authority figure who will either be proven completely inadequate by further events or will step up to be actually competent -- which it's to be isn't clear by the end of this one.

This is only almost a harem manga, since Takashi has a chubby sidekick (they're the Japanese equivalent of Pegg and Frost in Shaun of the Dead), but all of the other main characters in their group are female, nearly all of them are exceptionally buxom, and they mostly dress in tight, short outfits which are often school uniforms. This particular volume doesn't seem to live all the way up to the M rating -- there's only panty shots, at worst, and the violence is primarily human-on-zombie, and no more than ordinarily gory for a shonen comic. (So I'm tentatively assuming that there's been worse, probably on both fronts, and/or that there will be worse to come.)

The tone is mostly serious -- except for the sidestories at the end, which include "Cosplay of the Dead," a transparent attempt to get all of those buxom females into even skimpier, odder costumes and poses -- but doesn't reach the level of bloodthirsty nihilism that zombie stories often do these days. Our heroes aren't perfect -- they're all carefully flawed in audience-identification and standard-characterization ways -- but they're, at least in this volume, primarily good people trying to do their best in a horrible and unexpected situation. And the body count isn't nearly as high as I'd expect -- of all of the characters listed in that intro synopsis seem to have survived all five volumes so far, implying that each new book introduces a couple of zombie-fodder redshirts (but not more than a handful), while our main cast continues on, physically untouched.

I'm not a fan of zombie stories -- they encourage lifeboat morality in all of its worst forms, and privilege the raw, rampaging id, besides the usual boring nature of zombies themselves -- but this is an attractive-looking, reasonably well-written (if generic) story, so I didn't mind reading it at all. (And that's pretty high praise, from me, for a zombie story.)

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