Well, I might as well keep this zombie train rolling with another review. Unfortunately it's not about the recent show that actually did have zombies, trains, and zombie trains. No, instead it has zombies, boobs, and....no, that's pretty much it.
HIGHSCHOOL OF THE DEAD (Gakuen Mokushiroku: Haisukuru obu za Deddo), written by Daisuke Sato and art by Shouji Sato. First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2011.
Takashi Komuro was already having a bad day. He's bitter because his childhood friend Rei is dating his best friend Hisashi, wondering why childhood pinky swears don't automatically translate into promises of commitment. Then strange people start attacking his school and it seems that no one is safe from the onslaught. Now Takeshi and Rei must team up and find any remaining survivors if they want to stand a chance.
Highschool of the Dead has a reputation for trashiness, and it's not completely unwarranted. It's not for nothing that the most memorable moment from its recent animated counterpart was an enormous pair of boobs performing a sort of bullet-time jiggle around a high-caliber bullet. If reading the manga has shown me anything about it, though, it's not that Highschool of the Dead is inherently trashy. It's just a very formulaic zombie survival tale.
A big part of what makes great zombie films great are the living people at their core. While what makes those character great varies greatly, most can be said to be memorable. That's not the case here, as the main cast has no more personality about them than the zombies that chase them. Takeshi is a moody little bastard, Rei alternates between crying and yelling at Takeshi, Saya is your standard snooty rich bitch, Kouta is a feeble geek, and Shizuka is a flat-out ditz. Takeshi and Rei's quasi-relationship is about as complex as things get, and it's hard to not get choked up over the tender moments the two share. How could you forget moments like the time where Takeshi slapped Rei to stop her from crying? How about all the times he saves her because every time Rei tries to fight on her own, she ends up falling down and crying even more? It's really quite beautiful, if by 'beautiful' you mean awful and more than a little bit sexist.
Otherwise, there's nothing in this particular plot that you couldn't find in a million other zombie movies. The undead uprising begins, the cast is pared down to the primary group, and they end up teaming up to fight zombies more effectively. They try to reach out to the authorities, but fail in their efforts. Those in charge either start to break down under the stress or exploit their power for gain. Not even the zombie attacks onto themselves possess any novelty. People get bitten and torn apart while zombies get stabbed, shot, and clubbed. The craziest things ever get is when the feeble nerd turns a nail gun into a rifle, and that's far too little insanity to make up for what is otherwise a bog-standard narrative. What on earth could be drawing people to this otherwise mundane story?
Oh, how could I forget the real draw of this series: the fanservice. Shockingly, there's not nearly as much fanservice here as there was in the animated series. That being said, there are panty shots a-plenty and I'm sure are purely prurient reasons that all the women keep getting their clothes torn off from low, exploitative angles. I'm sure it will not shock you to learn that the Sato brothers got their start in hentai, as one glance at how they draw boobs will give that away immediately. Shizuka in particular has a set so big that sometimes they hang outside of the borders of the panels. The porninesss also shows up in other weird little ways. I swear that Rei's screaming face is always drawn in a weird, open-mouthed way that normally isn't seen without the subject being covered in drool and semen.
Beyond the lewd elements, there isn't much to the character designs here. They tend towards the long and gangly side of things, with lots of floppy hair and pointy chins. They also don't have much of an eye for the violence, as the violence usually ends up reverting to extremely high or low angles and filling up the panel with flailing bodies and sprays of blood. It's also quite stiffly drawn, and more than once the Satos draw bodies twisting and turning in ways not possible in nature. You'd think that schlockmeisters like these guys would revel in the chance to draw some extreme content, but instead they just settle for drawing some extreme boobs and slacking off on the rest.
I don't know how on earth the Satos managed to make a zombie apocalypse boring, but they found a way with Highschool of the Dead. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I would much sooner watch the TV series, Stephen Foster dub and all, than I would reread this manga.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is currently on hiatus, with 7 volumes available. All 7 volumes have been published in print, in e-book, and omnibus form and is currently in print.