The fifth episode of Highschool of the Dead is a perfect example of how to kill your momentum. Even though I may not have liked all of the previous episodes, I think they did a good job of slowly building the tension and scope of the zombie epidemic. By contrast, this week’s episode meanders toward the resolutions of problems that were brought up last week. It doesn’t help that the writing is a mixed bag of good, mediocre and terrible characterizations. These problems combine to create what is arguably the worst episode of the series so far.
I’ll explain why after the jump.
First of all, the pacing is bad. Not Dragonball Z or Naruto levels of bad, but definitely a step down. For example, the primary conflict that’s resolved in this episode is whether or not Saeko, Saya, Kohta and Shizuka break off from the group the perverted teacher, Koichi Shido, is forming. It’s clear within the first couple minutes that they will leave him, but they still feel the need to spend ten minutes discussing it and listening to the teacher give long, absurdly dramatic speeches. Takashi and Rei’s side-plot, thankfully, is much more brief; but I can’t help but feel like some of this stuff could have been resolved in episode four.
Speaking of Shido, I really hate him. Not because he’s evil, though. I hate him because his dialogue is laughably over-the-top and anvilicious. Jon mentioned in the most recent Bakacast Briefs that the behavior of the rapist in episode four felt less like a normal human breaking down under extreme tragedy and more like a prop meant to show how bad the situation was in the most cliche way possible. That sentiment perfectly describes Shido, too. This is a character who regularly engages in mustache-twirling villainy, complete with dramatic arm-flailing and evil laughter. His facial expressions alone should easily cancel out whatever charisma he might have (which is very little). Yet we’re supposed to believe he can brainwash half the students on the bus? Sorry, but I’m not buying it. He’s not a character. He’s just a plot device.
In contrast to Shido, the two snipers introduced at the begging of this epsisode—Rika Minami and some guy who doesn’t get a name yet—have a believable rapport. So the creative team behind this show can make realistic characters.; they just seem to get lazy from time to time. It’s unfortunate that they get lazy with such prominent characters as Shido, Saya and Shizuka.
Worse than Shido, though, is the fight scene at the end where the kids clear out the bridge. Now, let me be clear: in and of itself, the fight scene is really good. It’s one of the best scenes in the show so far. That said, it feels completely out of place. One of the things I like about Highschool of the Dead is that it attempts to portray a zombie apocalypse in a somewhat realistic fashion. Normal, unprepared citizens are freaking out and getting slaughtered, but the military (who are well-trained and have plenty of resources) is doing just fine. Even our main characters haven’t done anything extraordinary. They’ve manages to survive by using their relatively mundane talents to the fullest…and getting a little lucky, of course. And then without warning, at the end of the this episode, everyone becomes a ninja. Takashi can suddenly pull off complex motorcycle moves, and Rei is almost as good at close-combat as Saeko. It makes no sense.
Honestly, I’m not sure what kind of show HotD is trying to be at this point. Is it a fairly realistic horror show? Is it an over-the-top action show? Is it a harem show that happens to have zombies? I really wish it would choose a path and stick with it, since this indecision hurts the overall narrative.
So even though episode five had the refreshingly competent and jovial snipers and a visually impressive fight scene, it ended up being a disappointment. It did, however, make me realize that HotD is at its best when it focuses on action and building tension, not when it focuses on character interaction. Hopefully, when the show starts adapting the later chapters where action is more prevalent, it will actually be fun for me to watch.