Anime Review: Zombie Land Saga

By Drew Hurley 21.04.2020

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Zombie Land Saga (UK Rating: 15)


Sakura Minamoto always dreamt of becoming an idol, and now that dream is going to become her life, or rather, her afterlife. As she's about to embark on her second year of high school, she grabs an envelope with her audition to join an idol group, when life smashes her in the face with a truck. Literally. She's soon returned to the world alongside six other teenage girls under the watchful eye of an abusive, psychopathic manager, in an effort to save the quiet little land of Japan's Saga prefecture. Coming courtesy of Manga Entertainment, this complete collection contains all 12 episodes and is available from February 10th.

Sakura awakens after her death a complete amnesiac. Remembering nothing of her life before her death, or even of the death itself. She instead awakens into the world in her very own Spencer Mansion, with rotting schoolgirls popping up in every direction, all trying to take a bite out of her. As she sprints out into the night in hopes of being saved she manages to bump into a local bicycle riding officer. One that immediately shoots her through the chest thanks to her undead complexion.

Thankfully the cop has apparently never seen a zombie movie, hence the lung piercing. Just before he's about to finish her off she's saved from the double-tap to her pretty green face by a man so cool he's wearing sunglasses in a thunderstorm. This man is Kotao Tatsumi and he is somehow responsible for Sakura's resurrection along with the other six girls in his mansion. He has raised this all-star group of legendary ex-idols in hopes of combining them into a pop idol group that will somehow be able to save the Saga prefecture. There's no real logic or explanation behind how this group will save the prefecture, nor is there any explanation as to how he managed the necromancy involved or how he stole the bodies.

A group of teenage Japanese girls from different generations of Japan, all brought together as zombies to try and form a music group - but it's not just as simple as the other idol anime out there, it's not just a group of girls learning to become friends and learning how to perform, they also have to deal with the fact that their bodies are rotting away, and they have to ensure no-one actually realises that they're the living dead.

A comedy at its core, there are tons of funny moments throughout the entire series. The girls quite literally falling apart becomes a running gag in the vein of Death Becomes Her, and land some of the funniest moments in the whole show. Tatsumi somehow has some expert makeup abilities which can hide the rot, stitches and general pallor of the ladies, but there are always the risks of loose limbs, rainwater removing the makeup, or sudden, accidental decapitations. Of particular note, is an episode where the girls decide to sneak into the hot springs without their disguises. When a fellow bather happens to join them all she sees is a bunch of rotting bodies in the water. It's not just the slapstick comedy either, there's some smart and hilarious writing throughout.


 

Being a comedy show, the simple premise would be enough for a show, certainly enough for the 12 episodes that make up this season, but the show does something special. It makes the audience actually care about its cast. This depth and heart is almost insidious as it slowly bleeds into the show over a few episodes. The ironic parody of idol tropes gives way to genuine growth of the characters and real friendships developing between them. Every one of the seven girls in the group that comes to be known as "Franchuchu," each receive at least an episode to look at their lives before their deaths. Each girl is highly likable and is easily going to draft up a fanbase. Take, for example, one girl who managed to drum up the public interest in the real world. Her name is Lilli. A girl who died at 12 thanks to a heart attack after just embarking on a career in TV. Also, one that was born a boy - a  trans idol. While many shows would use this as an opportunity for the familiar "Okama" jokes, Zombie Land Saga actually explores the topic and leads to a touching moment when it comes to Lili's father.

Then there's Saki, the group's '90s girl. She's got a Tamagotchi, loves to fight, and is part of a biker gang. A classic Yankee. Possibly best of all is Tae Yamada. A girl who never regains her personality, instead becoming a moe version of Bub from Day of the Dead; a mindless monster munching on the innocent, but slowly being trained by her fellow bandmates. She's responsible for some of the very best comedy. Then there's the eldest girl, Yugiri, an Oiran from the Meiji era. Oiran were much like the Geisha of the time, only with the addition of also being prostitutes. They could be considered the first-ever idols, and it's an interesting counterpoint to today's idols. While Yugiri embraces and celebrates her sexuality, today's idols have to hide theirs, living a life of forced public chastity.

That counterpoint on sexuality is not the only one within the show. As funny as it is, it's just as smart too. Another major point of the show is how the girls have to hide their true selves from society. Never letting the fans see beneath their make up to the flesh-eating creature beneath, while young idols in Japan have to hide their real selves, forced to live their persona, never having boyfriends, living to a set diet, no social media, amongst much more. While idols aren't literally killed in the real world, their careers die a quick death should they slip up.

Zombie Land Saga is a completely original show, not an adaptation of a manga or light novel like so many of its contemporaries these days. The show comes from studio MAPAA, who has a history of producing quality original works such as Yuri on Ice, Punch Line, and Terror in Resonance. It's directed by Munehisa Sakai, a name familiar to One Piece fans. Sakai began his directorial career with the legendary One Piece. Beginning in the Water 7 arc, going all the way through to Thriller Bark, before then going on to direct the movie One Piece Strong World. While Sakai also acts as the sound director of the show, there's a bigger name producing the music, that's Yasuharu Takanashi. Takanashi has had a huge career in the field, producing music for anime for over fifteen years, including series like Gantz, Fairy Tail, Naruto Shippuden, and more recently it's successor series Boruto. Obviously, being an idol show, music is a huge part of the production, and it manages to include some toe-tapping beats, in numerous genres, from Metal and Rap to the usual J-Pop goodness.

The music performances do have one issue though, like many other idol series the performances use CGI animation and it's a rarity for these types of animation to actually work. It's understandable why it's used, it's much easier (and cheaper) to motion capture and use CGI than actually animating idol dances, but it always looks awful. It's especially noticeable here since the first few episodes actually have 2D animated dancing performances, and then it switches to the CGI.

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
There are so many idol girl anime out there now that it's hard to find many fans that haven't seen some of them. Those who haven't avoid them deliberately. It's a subgenre some fans have no interest in, and now here comes a series to change things. Zombie Land Saga starts out as something of a parody of shows likeLove Live and Idolmaster, but after a handful of episodes it performs a masterful transformation, maintaining its legitimately damned hilarious nature, but also injecting a ton of heart. Funny, heartfelt, charming, and wonderful. Everyone needs to give this one a shot, but be careful, it's a slippery slope to glowsticks and VR idol performances!

 

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