High School of the Dead: Indoctrination
I’m not very well-versed on cults. Sure, I obviously know they’re around, but I’m not exactly familiar with which ones are currently active, what names they go under, what technical terms are used to identify the tactics they employ to rope people in, etc., etc. That said, I think I can say with near 100% certainty that most cults portrayed in fiction are laughably preposterous, and that doesn’t exclude anime by any stretch of the imagination. Too often, fictional cults are these half-dimensional caricatures shepherded by malcontents with eyes the size of planets. Too often, fictional cults are populated by feverish, homicidal psychopaths so lacking in basic reasoning that even calling them an exaggeration of real life humans is a joke. I get it, though. It’s easy just to throw in a group of people with permanent O faces shouting patently absurd platitudes in trembly voices. Why exactly are those weirdos cannibalizing their children and performing rituals to that block of tofu? Well, they’re a cult, and that’s what cults do! Okay, if you say so…
That’s not to say more grounded depictions don’t exist. They absolutely do. Highschool of the Dead shows us one such example. No, I’m not talking about these guys:
They’re the kind of clowns described above. No, I’m referring to our main survivors, headed by the show’s protagonist:
Uh… o-okay, that’s true, yes, those are very prominent and charismatic fan-favorites with a lot of character agency, but I actually meant this guy:
A moody kid. Kind of a loner. Ah, but aren’t they all in anime?
It doesn’t take long until the undead start attacking. However, I think it should be noted how it initially plays out. The highschool high school where things kick off is first seen conspicuously gated off from the rest of the city. Even more noticeable is how startlingly lax the rules in this place are. Takashi, our “hero,” is first seen ditching class to reminisce about his arranged marriage…er, “marriage promise” to his childhood friend, Rei. Shortly following that, he proceeds to stride into a classroom without warning or permission and physically abuses Rei in public.
I’ll elaborate on that part in a minute, but the point is Takashi’s actions are a blatant disregard to both school policy and common decency, yet teachers do nothing to stop him. In the real world, this wouldn’t fly. But it’s almost as if this school exists more as Takashi’s own little world, a cloistered space where he does as he wishes without fear of repercussion.
Soon, zombies come a’knocking, and the virus infiltrates campus grounds.
As a direct result, Takashi witnesses the crumbling of society from atop the roof, the world outside having swiftly gone to shit in the blink of an eye. We never get an explanation in the show as to the origins of the zombie virus. Who created it? Who spread it? How did it spread so quickly? We are simply made to automatically accept that the outside world is a hostile and dangerous place to navigate. Plus, it doesn’t strike me as an accident that the undead first start attacking from the outside and violate Takashi’s very own sanctum sanctorum. Perhaps we can say this world is a projection of how Takashi sees everything around him; society is some sort of evil and harsh environment where the “zombies,” i.e., well-adjusted citizens who have fully integrated into the community, sleepwalk through life, occasionally invading his turf only because reality constantly presses in on Takashi’s own little world (in this case, losing Rei to another man).
Thus, it’s no coincidence that most of the normal, eligible male bachelor population in HOTD are quickly killed off. And why, out of the remaining few who aren’t, the ones who don’t immediately side with Takashi are crazy zealots, crazy disgusting rapists horning in on Takashi’s harem, or just plain crazy evil. Like the President of the United States!
Takashi resents everything. He resents the world around him, he resents the people in it, he resents his lot in life… Look at how bitter he is when we see him early into the first episode, where he broods over Rei apparently breaking her childhood promise because she grew up and got herself a real boyfriend:
Of course, we can’t have our harem lead’s main squeeze be NTR’d. That simply wouldn’t do. So luckily for our dear main character, the world around him exists to validate his worldview, and a zombie attacks at the school’s front gate. Seeing this, Takashi immediately becomes paranoid that the entirety of his school is in danger. Why? Well, as we’ve established, the school is his own personal haven, and seeing a “zombie” trespassing from the outside world instantly causes him to fret. He’s so worked up that he interrupts a classroom to retrieve and flee with Rei and her boyfriend. Understandably, Rei doesn’t comprehend why he’s so panicked, and so resists him…
BAM! That’ll teach the bitch to talk back! Now she knows who’s really in charge.
Naturally, the teacher present doesn’t say or do anything about the savage physical assault that just occurred right in front of him, or about the fact that a group of students just decided to desert class in the middle of the day. In fact, Takashi didn’t think to tell any adults about what he saw, or even shout for someone to call the police. Again, this school is more like a reflection of Takashi’s state of mind, so on and so forth. And as luck would have it, Rei’s boyfriend contracts the “zombie virus” – or to continue to play along with the metaphor, he graduates to being yet another cog in the machine called the real world. This suddenly gives Takashi the magical excuse to kill him, thus opening up another chance to claim Rei for himself.
As an aside, the zombies are referred to as “Them” in the series. Takashi literally has an “us VS. them” mentality.
In Rei’s grief, she spits nasty (and remarkably on-point) insults at her boyfriend’s killer. However, instead of giving Rei space…allowing her to vent…providing her with due patience…or emotionally supporting a girl he cares for, Takashi threatens to abandon her by killing himself during her hour of need. In no time flat, he has her successfully wrapped around his little finger.
Takashi makes a point of displaying this sort of emotional and physical abuse with stunning regularity throughout the show. For example, when Rei brings up her boyfriend who literally died not twenty-four hours prior, Takashi enters into a blind rage and begins to shout her down. Seriously, look at Rei’s reaction up there!
Rei and Takashi then immediately have a moment. Because she recognizes his pain in having to kill his supposed best friend? That’s probably what the show intended. But the way things progress, I can only assume the poor girl is attempting to mollify this hot-tempered jackass by laying on the woman charm.
Similarly, when another member of his harem confides in Takashi that part of her takes a sick sort of pleasure in slaughtering the zombies, he kisses her while she’s in a state of confusion and self-doubt…
…before molesting her and demanding she fully dedicate her life to him. Seeing that Takashi has no qualms about accepting her sadistic side with open arms, it’s no wonder that she agrees. Who else would do the same so readily?
And when yet another harem member admits her conflicted feelings of frustration over her parents’ decision to help random citizens instead of looking for their own daughter, Takashi charges in to literally shake all the inner turmoil out of her and guilt her into making the issue about himself. All while his other followers passively lower their heads and avert their eyes from his behavior.
Throughout their ordeal, Takashi repeatedly hammers it into our brains and theirs how much they’ve changed in a single day. He continually talks about their need to stick together, the necessity to fight, to keep to themselves. It almost sounds like brainwashing or something.
And whenever individual members of the harem are feeling left out, Takashi is quick to throw them a bone in the form of passing compliments. Just enough to placate them.
Occasionally, he even goes out of his way to rescue lolis. But what about their poor fathers who stuck their necks out to deliver their little daughters to Takashi’s doorstep? Well, the answer lies in another question: are they weak-willed females easily swayed by Takashi’s wooing tactics? No? Oh well.
But he’s a savior, a hero even, for protecting all these girls at the risk of his own life. He even allows lolis to piss on him when they just can’t hold it in anymore. For their benefit, of course. Can’t have these lolis straining their bladders. That’d be, like, bad for their health.
In his anime Manson family, Takashi gathers about himself a group comprised of emotionally vulnerable, impressionable young women and children by actively setting himself up as a central figure they must all depend on. Sure, he has that fat nerd hanging around, but he’s a beta. No threat to Takashi, the alpha. He’s certainly not stealing any of Takashi’s women.
But sometimes, they do run into those types who try, and Takashi responds accordingly. Like when he fired at a would-be rapist at point blank despite the fact that a gas pump was standing directly behind him. He basically risked them all dying a horrible fiery death, and what was his justification for it?
Most importantly, it should be pointed out that he murders the would-be rapist not necessarily because rape is wrong, but specifically because the would-be rapist almost violated “[his] girl.” His property. The would-be rapist was encroaching upon Takashi’s turf.
And so we finally arrive at the fanservice, and doesn’t it make sense why it’s heaped upon the show so heavily? If we’re going with the initial premise that HOTD is delivered primarily from Takashi’s warped point of view, of course the most striking thing about these ladies would be their sexuality. He’s a hormone-driven teenager, after all.
But it also goes deeper than that. The hyper exaggerated breasts and the overly curvaceous hips (spines be damned) are so flagrant because those are the only things that stick out to our protagonist. As the audience, our eyes are drawn towards these parts of their bodies the same as our main character’s. We’re overly concerned with all the bouncing bits because Takashi is overly concerned with all the bouncing bits. See, Takashi doesn’t really care about his harem or their personal issues. They’re possessions to him. Objects. Good for only two things: sex and undying loyalty.
That’s why it’s so easy for him to prey upon whatever insecurities they have to obtain their love. And once they’ve wholly dedicated both mind and soul to him, that’s when he finally proceeds to possess them physically, as well.
Yeah, I can already hear it. “Protto, you’re reading too much into it! This is just trashy wish-fulfillment where you’re surrounded by hot babes kicking zombie ass!” Of course I know that, I’m not completely blind and stupid. Maybe I’m just being a pedantic asshole again. But still, it’s hard not to notice how weirdly cultish this whole situation feels.
“Look, my lambs. Look at the treacherous outside world. Day in and day out, the masses shamble their way along their entrenched nine-to-five routine. So immovably single-minded are they that they can’t even turn their gaze from their pursuit of mundane daily living to appreciate the world around them. They may as well be the living dead. And the men just want you for themselves. To them, the only important thing is your body, your flesh. They see that you’re all at the peak of your youth, ripe for the picking. Don’t let them. I’ll keep you safe, my doves. Yes, bring your children to me too. I shall change you. Then you’ll know how the world really is and how to survive in it. We have to fight against it. Always keep within our little family. They’ll try any tactic to get to us and make us into mindless drones like them. Don’t worry, we’ll stockpile weapons …
…in case they ever try to break us up. Forget all your past troubles, just keep living for my sake. Don’t question me. And don’t ever abandon me, or I might be forced to end my own life. Just you watch, when all the governments and all the masses eventually destroy themselves as a result of their own vices, we will be the only ones left standing.”
Either way, what a miserable anime that was.