Hell in High School of the Dead

Similarly to digiboy, I like zombies a lot despite of the fact that I don’t watch horror films in general (though the Resident Evil series is an exception for some reason or other).

Zombies are all over the place in modern philosophy, from the philosophical zombies of the Analytic school to the proletarian zombies of the Continental school.  And of course I think this makes them very cool…but the real reason I like zombies is because I’m often tempted to become one.

Wouldn’t it be the most awesome thing ever?  You bet your life it would.  Mindlessly shuffling about, with not a care in the world, chomping along…  I detect happiness in zombie faces.  Incidentally, this is why I think the Half-Life game series messed up their zombies big time: the headcrabs are a cool idea but covering a zombie’s face is an awful decision aesthetically speaking.

High School of the Dead is a pretty show.  It’s also educational.


Episode 01: The class is studying the Peloponnesian War when the all hell breaks loose.  You can see a diagram on the blackboard with circles depicting the conflict between the Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues (of Athens and Sparta respectively).

Peloponessian War Lesson

Episode 03: The dapper prof Shido gets rescued and immediately begins to organize a government.  Taking his cue from his Greek history lesson in episode 01, he campaigns to be elected leader by a majority of the community.  The sequence with the silly students clapping wildly illustrates very neatly the irony of this concept of democracy: the fact that Athens fought aggressive wars to establish “democratic” governments and very forcefully enlist them in the Delian League, thus provoking war (but thank goodness this kind of thing doesn’t happen nowadays) and the weird way in which our own educators teach us that democracy is the best thing that the Greeks bequeathed to us and yet at the same time the Greek men who are considered the greatest by these same educators (Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle etc) were all actually on the anti-democratic camp.

Episode 05: Takagi and Saeko nail it when they talk of Shido’s democracy degenerating into a cult.  Parallel to the fact that the great demagogue and democrat of ancient Greece Cleon was an aristocrat, Shido behaves aristocratically and sports an überly classical, courtly name (Shido = 紫藤 = <shi/murasaki> + <do/fuji>).  To top it off, “shido” written in different characters (=指導) means “leadership”.

Episode 07: Opposed to the Hellas = Democracy image is another image, today out of favor but quite strong in Europe in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th: Ancient Greece as an aristocratic, manly land (think Sparta more than Athens).  This image of the hardy Hellenes had a strong influence on German thought (Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger) and eventually fed into the Nazi movement: Hitler called Sparta the first völkisch state.  The Nazis are of course associated with WWII and the German military that operated under the Party.  And to a Japanese military otaku the absolute obedience to the leader encapsulated in the single word “Jawohl” (Yes, sir) exemplifies this history clearly.  Hirano uses the term and sets up, against Shido, this rival interpretation of the most significant aspects of our Greek heritage.

Episode 09: Saeko Busujima confesses to “a trait of cruelty, a tigerish lust to annihilate” (Nietzsche’s Homer’s Contest) that drives her to ask for trouble, to fight for the sake of fighting.  This will to test oneself and be victorious lies underneath both Shido’s brand of democratic politics and Hirano’s brand of military obedience (to Takagi, in his case).  It is according to some the Hellenic instinct par excellence.

Episode 11: We get a flashback of Professor Shido teaching a lesson on Hellenism and Alexander the Great.  Saeko showed us the roots of Greek thought in episode 09, and we saw the two branches of democracy and aristocracy/oligarchy in episodes 03, 05, and 07.  Now Shido points us to the final fruit of Ancient Greece: the imperial despotism of Alexander the Great.  Alexander believed in force and some argue he had a hand in the assassination of his own father (Philip II), who was infamous for his trickery.  He was an heir to the failed democratic and aristocratic experiments in Greece.  Shido is the son of a corrupt senator and is now obsessed with ruling the world.

Hellenism and Alexander the Great Lesson

Takashi and Hirano make for a great combo.  The show seems to have found a good solution to the plague of crappy male leads in harem anime: the otaku viewer can identify more with Hirano and yet live vicariously through Takashi.  The coolness of Hirano slowly gets built up, while Takashi surprises us after a lot of waffling by actually taking the initiative with Saeko and Rei.  I was surprised by how much this show taps into military culture…in a real sense this is military anime: the attention to detail when it comes to the handling of weapons, the focus on the nuclear issue, the constant reference to perimeters and breaches, and of course the whole samurai thing with Saeko and Takagi’s dad (plus the little dog getting named after the Zero fighter).  The blackboards with the Peloponnesian War and Alexander the Great are just the icing on the cake.

The last episode was great from beginning to end.  They’d better come up with a second season soon!

~ by Haloed Bane on May 30, 2011.

6 Responses to “Hell in High School of the Dead”

  1. God damn I love your existence AK, filling in the blanks that I never even see. I’m all the more impressed with this already great series, seeing it’s not just genre and storytelling smart, but straight-up booksmart as well. I’m so glad this got the adaption it deserved.

    • Well, thank you for your post since I decided to watch this after reading it.

      I think it’s a very, very nice show, and I love the fact that they seem to have had tons of money to make it look great on screen.

      • What had you readin that ol piece of work? Glad it helped though. And yeah, when Madhouse has money, the result is always a great thing.

        • I felt the urge to watch something recent (2010 is super recent for me) and I was snooping around for reviews. Come to think of it Madhouse did Harlock Endless Odyssey, which looked totally beautiful (even though the story wasn’t up to par).

  2. Very glad you enjoyed this show.

    I loved it, all of it.

    Your post blew my mind. The fuck did I expect fucking Greek antiquity in THIS show. Excellent work. I love you.

    • Thanks~

      When I saw the first blackboard I took note of it. Then when Shido showed up and started talking about democracy, I thought “wow, this is a theme here”, and the most common Japanese word for “leadership” or “to lead” is Shido too… At that point I didn’t realize that the teacher in the Greek lesson in ep 01 was actually Shido himself. Only when Shido’s backstory showed up and we got a Greek lesson again, did I go back and check and realize they were setting up Shido as some kind of Greek history expert….son of a Senator to boot, very classical 🙂

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