Highschool Of The Dead, the DVD

So, my HOTD DVD came last week, and I spent the weekend watching the whole thing in one go — MJ was on a trip, so I didn’t have to waste time discussing the fine line between connoisseurship and perversion. Then I watched it again, dubbed in English rather than subbed. Consider this an update on my previous post (which you really should read first), now that I’ve been able to take a closer look.

JASDF RF4C flyby

My kind of fanservice

The Re-Review
The re-look confirms my first impression, that the fanservice is more silly than offensive — and removing the lens-flare didn’t really do much. I do have to back off a little on my position that otherwise it was a well-told story. In fact there are some flaws. But most of the flaws are inherent in the anime genre, and overall, it’s a reasonably well-told story, too violent for the under-15s (they might not agree), and too boobish for anyone over 25 not living in their mom’s basement.

My first complaint is that the zombies are inconsistent. Sometimes they seem to respond only to sound, but other times it’s hard to believe their actions without some sort of vision. In the scene at the fountain in episode 9, it’s hard to believe the unwashed zombie didn’t have some understanding as well. And if zombies can only be killed by smashing their heads, why does Rei continue to stab them in the chest, and why does it continue to work? My guess is that the producers didn’t let consistency stand in the way of a dramatic scene.

My second complaint is the rather gormless approach that Our Gang takes towards transport. Their trail is littered with busses, motorbikes, amphibs, and HMMWVs in various states of usability. In the last episode of the manga I looked at, they were reduced to bicycles.

Finally, in this re-review, there were too many anime-faces, and too many magical girl leaps and twirls (for example when Takashi roars onto the bridge with the motorbike and swings Busujima around by one hand). Exciting stuff, but a little too cartoony.

Having said all that, what makes a good zombie flick — serious zombies, not campy ones — is how the clichés are handled. I mean, pretty much all the plot angles have been discovered already, and the artistry comes from how you develop them. I still think that HOTD does a good job of it, and having the season (and possibly the series) end with Our Gang arriving at a mall is priceless.

The music is good. I particularly like the opening number (once they get past the heavy metal opening), and in fact, this 1:30 YouTube vid is probably the best introduction you could have to the series (or would be, if it hadn’t been DMCA’d). Each of the episodes has its own ending theme, and they did a good job of matching the ending music to the mood at the end of the episode. The skimpy DVD extras do manage to include a complete set of both the opening and all the endings, text free.

The artwork, now that I see it at better resolution, leaves something to be desired. There’s some good artwork there, but too many shots are of character-sprites moving across fixed backgrounds. Too many of the close-ups are of crudely drawn faces. I must admit, however, that their graphics package has a really good physics-of-fluid-filled-spheres plugin.

Sub vs Dub

It’s always interesting to compare the subtitled version of an anime with the ‘localized’ version, dubbed by American voice actors and based on a script written in the US. Most of the time I prefer the subbed version, because it’s usually done in Japan and captures more of the Japanese meaning, despite the drawback of having to pay attention to the bottom of the screen and not the whole picture. The dubbed version is usually geared towards making the program more culturally palatable to an American audience, and this involves not just different word choice, but sometimes whole meaning changes, and even rewrites.

That’s not to say there aren’t times when the English version doesn’t come across better. In The Big Windup, the Japanese actors come across as just a little too Japanese sacrifice-everything-for-the-cause, even if I can’t understand what they’re saying. The Americans are more laid back, and sound more like a real baseball team. Of course, they probably don’t sound like a real Japanese baseball team!

The localizers for HOTD evidently had the goal of making it sound like a contemporary US high school zombie flick, so there’s a lot more bad language, with F-bombs getting dropped like they were CBUs. There’s also some really current, soon-to-be really dated phrases. When they open up Minami Rika’s gun cabinet, Takagi says “Who is this girfriend, Sara f-ing Palin?”

In some places the localization helps. When Takagi soaks Busujima on the way to the sand bar, leaving her clothing all transparent, the sub says “I am a girl, you know”, while the dub has her saying “You don’t have to stare”, probably a little closer to the intended connotation. Watching the dubbed version also let me pay attention to the entire screen, and I picked up several quick POV cuts I hadn’t seen before.

Other places, the sub changes the meaning. In the bedroom scene between Rei and Takagi in episode 11, the dub has her saying that she knows she hurt him, and she never wants to hurt him again. In the sub, she’s saying that she wants to be with him, even if he’s in love with someone else. That changes the whole dynamic, because we’ve already seen the budding relationship between Takagi and Busujima.

Sometimes the US translators and actors just get it wrong. The little girl’s name is Alice. The Japanese pronounce it Arisu, and the Americans pronounce it something close to to that (well, close to ari-sue), instead of just, you know, Alice.

Sometimes the US voice actors change the character completely. Busujima Saeko’s character is very adult, very zen, very concentrated on her art, and her Japanese voice brings this across clearly. In the English dub, she’s just another pretty voice, and the localization rewrite degrades some of the some of her lines from philosophy to farce.

One interesting example of what you might call circular translation is the name of the dog. He’s named after the primary Japanese fighter of WWII, the Mitsubishi Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter (Type 0 because it was introduced in 1940). The Japanese abbreviation was rei sentouki, or zero fighter, shorthanded further as rei-sen (rye.zen). The Allies started the war by calling it the Zero, but changed that when a standard reporting code was introduced. The new name, used by Allied forces for most of the war, was Zeke.

So in the HOTD Japanese sub, they mention the rei-sen, but end up calling the dog Zeke (jiku). In the English dub, they call him Zero, the English version of the Japanese name, which the Japanese are not using.

I still like it and I hope they decide to continue it. There’s at least a season’s worth of story left in the existing manga, plus they’ll need a third season to wrap up all the plot threads. It seems to be selling well in the US. As I type, it is #1 (blue ray) and #3 (DVD) on the Amazon Anime best seller list. Go buy it. You won’t regret it, unless your mom catches you.

For my other reviews, click on the Anime tag below


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