Note: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment
Title: Zombie Land Saga
Anime Studio: MAPPA
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Comedy / Horror / Idol
Released: February 13th, 2020
Language: Japanese / English
Bluray Extras: Clean OP & ED, Ep02 Commentary
Sakura Minamoto dreams of becoming an idol. Unfortunately, reality hits her like a truck, and she dies in a sudden traffic accident. Ten years later, she wakes up in Saga Prefecture, only to find herself a zombie with no memory of her past. While still coming to terms with her demise, she meets a man named Koutarou Tatsumi, who explains that he has resurrected her and six other zombie girls from different eras for the purpose of economically revitalizing Saga by means of an idol group. Assuming the role of an abrasive manager, Koutarou begins scheduling events; the girls go along with it, eventually deciding to name their idol group Franchouchou.
At its core, Zombie Land Saga is an idol anime. It has all the things you’d expect from an idol anime: a group of girls who band together to form a musical group, a mix of backstories and character types, and some catchy songs and dance routines. Zombie Land Saga attempts to avoid being just another idol series by hanging its hat on a gimmick: the girls are zombies. Does it work? In a word, yes.
We get a good idea of what we can expect on multiple levels throughout the opening episode. Sakura’s general attitude and subsequent death tell us about the positivity and set up, the scenes when she first meets her fellow band mates brings some horror, and then we get some silly, headbanging humour at the end. In a way, it’s absolutely ludicrous, but somehow, it all fits together really well.
While the girls slowly regain their memories, and so their personalities, we get to watch the group slowly come together and face up to the reality of their new lives. The interesting thing is, while we have some of the usual character types on full show, their backstories make them easy to like. Everything is presented in a very natural way too, and the characters come across as very real, despite the supernatural premise.
The series isn’t above dealing with some tough issues either. Lily for example, is as good a representation of a trans character as you could hope for, and her story pulls in the reality of how those you leave behind after death suffer. Then there’s ex-gang member Saki who is a brilliant mix of a tough exterior, a genuine sense of caring, and a huge amount of love for fried chicken.
Necromancer Kotaro Tatsumi is ultimately responsible for the group. He has noble intentions, of course, but is entirely bonkers. He’s absolutely nuts, and successfully adds to both the humour and the girls’ drive really well. And, of course, there’s Tae. She’s great fun too.
That all being said, as much as I loved the show, it isn’t perfect. While the songs are perfectly fine examples of what they need to be, the dance routines suffer from one of my least favourite parts of idol series: CGI animation. It’s such a staple part of idol anime, but it just feels so off to me. The movements look unnatural – and them being zombies doesn’t counteract that – and it all sits uncomfortably against the animation style of the rest of the show.
I’d also say that, while each character has their own story, not all of the girls gets to deal with their arc effectively. For example, I felt like Tae and Yugiri revealed far less about themselves than the others. They did still remain likable and they didn’t derail the overall quality of the story, but it was a shame not to have seen them explore things in more depth.
Overall though, Zombie Land Saga is easy to recommend. The humour hits home, both the sub and dub cast are awesome, and the story serves up a ton of fun that builds to a memorable performance. This one gets a 4 out of 5 from me.