First off, it's an anime about the zombie apocalypse. That was enough to get me to look it up on Netflix and start watching it. But, just in case just the concept of an animated series about some high school kids in Japan getting caught up in the zombie apocalypse and fighting for survival isn't enough...
Saeko is one of the students at Fujimi High School, where the series begins. She is a third-year student and is part of the school's kendo club. She's a very skilled fighter, especially with swords. She begins the series using her bokken, or wooden training sword, but eventually receives a katana from Soichiro Takagi, the wealthy father of fellow student Saya Takagi. She's a total badass and just about every boy (and girl) that interacts with her ends up with a crush on her at some point. It's not just because she kicks so much zombie ass, either...
Ah yes, "fan service", a term in anime and manga circles which basically means sticking in gratuitous sexual titillation for the enjoyment of the fans. HSotD contains copious fan service and even though Saeko is not the lead female character in the series, her contributions are arguably the most impressive.
Rei is the female lead in the series and the romantic interest of the hero of the story, Takashi Komuro. As children, Rei and Takashi made a promise to one day marry each other, but Rei ended up dating their mutual friend Hisashi, which created friction between the two that is shown in the series' first episode. However, when the zombies overrun the school, Hisashi is bitten and Takashi must kill him. Rei is furious with Takashi at first for this, but quickly changes her attitude and eventually realizes she has always been in love with him. There is some jealous competition between Rei and Saeko, especially as Saeko too finds herself attracted to Takashi and wins his attention with her zombie-slaying badassery. This all gets resolved somewhat during one of the best scenes in the series...
Saya is the angriest, bossiest and bustiest member of the HSotD cast of students. Her father is Soichiro Takagi, a wealthy and powerful right-wing nationalist. She has the stereotypical attitude of a girl who has grown up with wealth, privilege and favoritism from adults who respect and/or fear her father, although it is revealed in the story that her attitude is fueled by frustration that she is constantly treated differently because of this fact.
Saya is very intelligent and is the first one in the group to discover that the zombies are actually blind and attracted to sound rather than sight. She and Takashi have been friends since kindergarten and there is a brief moment where it seems that she, too, is developing a crush on him, but it quickly passes. She is also the object of hopeless romantic affection for fellow student-survivor Kohta Hirano.
Saya's relationship with her parents is mixed. On the one hand, she has a great deal of respect for them for their strength and the way they converted their estate into a makeshift base to fend off the zombie invasion and protect their staff and some other survivors, but on the other she is resentful of the fact that it seems they did not make any effort to locate her when the chaos began. She ends up leaving the estate/base on relatively good terms with them, taking a pistol from her mother for protection.
Shizuka is the nurse at Fujimi High School. She is initially saved from the zombie attack on the school by Saeko and the two eventually meet up with Takashi and the rest of the group. Although she is the oldest, at 26, she's very ditsy and naive and often acts as if she's a fellow student. There is a lot of contextual evidence that Shizuka is lesbian, or at the very least bi-curious, starting from her obvious attraction to Saeko at the beginning, fueled by Saeko's impressive fighting skill.
Oh yeah, there's guys in this series too...
Takashi is the hero of the story. He loves Rei and will do anything to protect her and that, more than anything else, is what drives him to keep fighting and searching for a safe haven from the zombie apocalypse. Takashi was the first character in the series to notice the presence of zombies when he witnessed one at the school gates that ended up biting a teacher. Takashi tries to get Rei and Hisashi to safety, but in the ensuing melee Hisashi is bitten and Takashi has to kill him when he turns into a zombie. At one point, Takashi and Saeko are separated from the rest of the group and while fighting their way back to the others, they find themselves attracted to each other, which creates obvious tension with Rei.
Kohta is an overweight, bespectacled geeky student with an uncanny skill at firearms, which he credits to a year spent in America studying under a Blackwater military contractor. Kohta is first introduced in the story when he is discovered by Saya Takagi, whom Kohta has a huge crush on. Kohta fashions a makeshift rifle from a nail gun and uses it to fend off attacking zombies until the two manages to meet up with Takashi and the others. Kohta is an expert marksman and when the group decides to leave the Takagi compound, Soichiro Takagi entrusts Kohta to protect his daughter, a task Kohta happily accepts. By the end of the series' only season produced so far, Saya begins to express some mutual attraction to Kohta, though the manga series finds Kohta temporarily wooed by another girl.
Overall, High School of the Dead is a good series. It's unfortunate that it was not better received in Japan, which all but guarantees that only one season will ever be produced. The manga writer, Daisuke Sato, has also suspended work on additional chapters to the story, and it has been speculated that this might be due to the generally tepid reception it has received. HSotD was voted one of the worst mangas at the 2011 ComiCon. However, I liked the anime series a lot. I thought it was better, in fact, than many actual zombie movies that have been made recently. The storyline is derivative of many other zombie apocalypse stories, ranging from Max Brooks' "World War Z" to George Romero's legendary "Dawn of the Dead". The execution of the story is fairly original, though, and the characters are well developed. It's a shame that there will most likely not be a second season of the series, where even more character development and storyline evolution could take place. Fortunately, the first season ends without a cliffhanger, so it does function as a stand-alone single series production. Unfortunately, there is a lot in this series that leaves you wanting more, from the great zombie action to the story and characters. Oh, and the fan service...
...Speaking of which, let's get to that legendary bathtub scene!
Ahh, fan service...