Monday, January 30, 2012

Gakuen Mokushiroku: Highschool of the Dead

The Short Version? Highschool unDead
What Is It?Action Horror T&A Cartoon
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No.

Back in October when the second season of The Walking Dead began airing, AMC also ran a Halloween-themed movie marathon (if a movie a day qualifies.) They were going to show Survival of the Dead, which I had yet see, hosted by George A. Romero. After the season premiere of Walking, and probably during my chilly reception to The Talking Dead, I decided that I would finally stream Survival off Netflix instead of bothering with the edited broadcast version with its commercial interruptions. As tends to be the case with Netflix, as soon as I decide to watch something, it's no longer available, and I was instead left with Highschool of the Dead. Like most people, I have the lifelong scars from those days that still allows me to love Heathers and Brick, so I decided to check it out.

I have tried to get into legitimate anime (as opposed to the Americanized stuff I grew up on like Battle of the Planets and Robotech) since the early nineties, but what little tickled my fancy tended to be the most prurient in nature. Zombie fiction though, I've loved since grade school. I'll give even the most rotten looking zombie shit half a chance, and combining flesh eating with somebody's freshman year seems like a chocolate and peanut butter combination. It was the anime part I had the most reservations about, since I find the stuff that gets animated in Japan and shipped to the U.S. tends to target the lowest common denominator in both cultures. Gakuen Mokushiroku: Highschool of the Dead is a rare and spectacular work of agitprop artistry, in that in manages to synthesize the very worst aspects of every genre it approaches to simultaneously serve as the nadir of each, tacitly proposing the abolition of all three.

For instance, I'm a big supporter of the shambling undead, as I prefer the psychological impact of creeping inevitability over the adrenaline rush of fast zombies. Gakuen Mokushiroku mostly favors old school shambling, but only in the form of lackadaisical predictability, repeating every hoary cliche and rendering the undead's victims painfully incompetent non-entities. However, these guys will get their run on occasionally, and with one exception, they're all of the bite-beat-turned variety. You don't get to see the slow, painful deterioration of bite victims, but even after they go all "rage virus" on you, they're pussy imbecile zombies that can easily be outrun, outsmarted, and outfought. There's no emotional component-- they're video game cannon fodder.

Gakuen Mokushiroku also represents the worst in anime. The "humor" is so painfully sophomoric and obvious that it's nearly invisible, beyond the tropes signalling "this is humorous," like nosebleeds in sexual situations and reaction shots to a sarcastic "burn." There's a ton of violence, but not a bit of it has any more impact than, again, the 8-bit bloodletting of an "edgy" eighties video game. Everyone turns out to be some form of archaic weapons master, and swordfighting with the living dead seems like shooting fish in a barrel. The character designs are totally prefab, seen countless times elsewhere, aside from maybe the chubby dork sharpshooter. The characters are completely shallow, and the plotting is mind-numbingly by the numbers. If you've seen one episode, you've seen them all. Adding to this feeling is that each twenty-five minute installment includes three minutes of obnoxious credits that you have to sit through to get to epilogues whose substance is largely reiterated in the next episode. Hell, there was even a "clip show" about four episodes in the catch up all their latecoming viewers.Finally, aside from one nude sequence midway through the twelve episode run, the sex here is all sizzle and no steak. Every bit of cleavage bearing, pantie flashing fan service is packed into each episode, without any of it being remotely titillating. I was shocked by that nude sequence, but only because I thought the show was designed for twelve year olds without internet access, because even the most desperate pubescent could scrounge up better stroke material out of Sears circulars or daytime television. The excesses of the show destroy any stroke value (for instance, the internet gif where a bullet in Matrix-style passes between a woman's individually swaying breasts.)

In the high school sub-genre, there has rarely been a less appealing gag than having one newly hunky fan-insertion protagonist lusted after by girls from every (hair) color in the rainbow. There's a mean bossy girl, an ex-girlfriend next door, the mystifying femme, the dumb blond bimbo-- all with tits bigger than their heads. They have names, I suppose, but they're all just types defined solely in one dimension. The voice acting is performed by the same faceless, indistinct lot behind every forgettable anime, and their performances are broad, flat, and grating. While there are students and teachers, the action leaves the actual high school fairly early, and there's little about that setting that impacts on the semblance of a story. It's every crappy teen flick in set-up, but in execution it's just every crappy zombie movie and/or anime.

Gakuen Mokushiroku: Highschool of the Dead is so wretched, I took finishing it as an endurance test that took me several months and the threat of lapsing off Netflix to complete. Unsurprisingly, while a few subplots are resolved, the mini-series is left wide open for a continuation. After slogging through the banality of this farce, you can't even expect the satisfaction of a complete story with any sort of finality. This is like one long introduction to the most tired franchise characters possible in a genre mash-up that makes potted meat product out of the detritus of its influences. I watched the whole thing, and my life was lessened by the time flushed away during my malignant exposure.

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