Is there any worse fate for mankind than a zombie apocalypse? Well, how about a zombie apocalypse and nuclear Armageddon rolled into one? This is the threat that faces not only our gang of high school survivors but whoever is left across most of the planet as the fourth volume of Highschool of the Dead rolls into town.
Luckily for all concerned most military defences aren't entirely out of action at this point in time, putting a stop to the worst of the potential carnage as warheads are fired hither and thither. This still isn't enough to stop the detonation of a HANES warhead over Japan, adding yet more problems to those remaining as the resulting EMP blast takes out electronics and engines with merry abandon.
It's this occurrence which stokes a fire under this latest volume of the series, effectively taking away the comfort blanket offered to our group of lead characters by their stay at the impressive residence of the Takagi family - although the loss of physical power also diminishes the security of the compound, for Rei Miyamoto in particular there are other threats to be dealt with, while Saeko and Takashi find themselves teaming up for something of a separate adventure of their own.
As you might have expected from previous volumes of the series, all of the events depicted here are delivered with pace, gore and fan service aplenty, while also taking some time to delve a little into the back story of a couple of characters for effectively the first time - a slightly downbeat but otherwise necessary addition to flesh out (with every pun intended) the potential zombie-fodder in front of us.
The downside of these events is that they still struggle to live up to billing of the manga's earlier volumes - we're still yet to return to the frenetic pace and tension that volume one in particular offered up so splendidly, and for all its brief moments of well-depicted action the overall flow of things stutters somewhat. Thankfully, the end of this volume suggests that we might see a return to that action-oriented tension in the next instalment, although it has taken us a little while to get there.
Overall, Highschool of the Dead remains as visceral and broadly entertaining as ever, blending just enough realism into its outlandish drama and action to keep it on the rails but without ever entering the mundane or getting bogged down in minutiae. If you're a fan of the zombie horror genre then this series continues to hit the spot, but it still has a few gears to move through if it wants to return to its peak.
It's as skilled as ever at delivering its tale, and the added layer of characterisation is welcome, but you can't shake the feeling that this series still has a lot more left in reserve.