If you've been keeping a keen eye on Yen Press' release of the Highschool of the Dead manga in English, eagerly awaiting the moment where it carries on from where its anime adaptation left off, then take note - this fifth volume is where we enter virgin territory for fans of that anime series.
Having escaped the outbreak of chaos at the residence of Takagi's parents in one piece, our band of intrepid high school kids (plus one teacher, one small child and a dog) next find themselves holed up in a shopping centre - another clear nod to other works within the zombie horror genre, and also something of a paradise when it comes to stocking up and replenishing much-needed supplies for all and sundry. That said, with no electricity and the need to share the resources the shopping centre provides with another group, this relative paradise is only ever likely to be a temporary one.
Meeting another group of survivors presents new problems for the gang, while even those within this new group have problems of their own. At the forefront of this is a young traffic cop with a penchant for referring to herself in the third-person named Asami Nakaoka, who tries to take control of the situation in the absence of her partner who has gone back to base to seek help. In the face of a largely male group of ever-more aggressive members, Asami finds herself helped out by Komuro and Hirano in particular to keep her authority intact, while a medical emergency sees members of both groups having to make a dangerous dash to a nearby surgery in the volume's only real action component of note.
Having succeeded in moving smoothly and relatively quickly throughout its story thus far, this fifth volume feels a little jarring in comparison - its introduction to a shopping centre environment is disjointed and jumps around all over the place, punctuated only occasionally by moments of clarity when something really interesting is going on. I get the feeling this was all designed to show the dangers of our group of survivors fracturing, but it makes for a less than satisfying read before the story finally regains focus around Asami and the needs (both valid and otherwise) of the group she currently resides within. It's only towards then end of the volume then that we really get to enjoy any kind of survival horror, with a set up that perhaps bodes a little better looking forward to the manga's next instalment.
For all of its continued good looks and ability to find humour in its darkest scenarios, there's no escape that this is a rather weak volume of Highschool of the Dead - it has its moments and offers up enough to feed the hungry fans of the franchise, but only by the skin of its teeth and in small doses. With its next volume promising more, hopefully this is more of a blip than a sign that Highschool of the Dead is running out of steam, but only time will tell.