Number of Episodes: 13
Production Company: Studio Deen
Brief Overview: Furuya has a fascination with zombies, so when his cat dies he gets it in his head to reanimate it. His meeting with a suicidal girl and her ingestion of a "resurrection potion" come leaps and bounds closer to turning his zombie fantasies into a reality, but now he's being held responsible for his role in creating a monster!
Episode 1 Summary: Furuya Chihiro lives at a shrine with two other generations of priests, as well as his younger sister and their cat, Babu. One day, Babu is hit by a car and killed, and Furuya is devastated. Because of his unhealthy interest in zombies and zombie fiction, he decides to try and resurrect the cat using a potion recipe of dubious origins.
He chooses an abandoned building as the site for this experiment, and inadvertently discovers that Sanka Rea, the daughter of the principal of a local school for girls, is using the location to privately let off some steam. Being lonely herself, she soon gets roped into Furuya's plan. When Furuya teases that she could be his guinea pig and she replies that she'd become a zombie for him, both of them may have been more honest than they intended.
Thoughts: Zombie literature doesn't seem to be as popular in Japanese media as it is in the West, but there have been several examples of zombie-related anime in the past couple of years. While Western undead stories tend to run the gamut in tone from silly to serious and occasionally include some form of valuable social commentary, examples of zombie-themed anime all seem to draw from a similar creative well. High School of the Dead is certainly more action-focused, but a major part of its appeal to fans is its focus on fanservice and the resulting humor that brings with it (or, if you're me, profound sadness at its blatant misogyny). Is This a Zombie? is more humorous overall, but its sub-classification as a shounen romance or harem series also gives it plenty of opportunities to appeal to the teenage sexual psyche even while there are serious, action-oriented episodes. Sankarea seems to fall somewhere in the middle; while there's fanservice, it's not lemons-in-tube-socks blatant, and while there are some serious moments, they pass by quickly. Like the aforementioned TV anime, though, its incorporation of zombie mythology seems more like an excuse to spice up a narrative that would seem much less creative otherwise, rather than an attempt to use the genre for any loftier goals.
Furuya is really just a minor variation on the type of otaku character who would rather spend his romantic energy on fantasy 2D anime characters than real girls, though his desires specify that his ideal romantic partners also be undead. There's something a little bit disturbing to me in the fact that his most desirable mate is a girl who is essentially mindless, but I doubt that this is intentionally misogynist (the key word being "intentionally"); it seems to me that the original creator was attempting to write a standard shounen romance and found a type of female character whose character traits were less common than other moe archetypes. This sadly reveals how stale the genre is; if so many new entries can be reduced to a genre template that contains one or two minor quirks, that certainly says something about the level of quality most fans are willing to tolerate and the creative standard to which producers of media are held. I bet it would be nice for male anime fans to be able to watch a romantic story aimed at them that doesn't portray them as horn dogs or social outcasts. Similarly, it would be nice for me to feel like my existence isn't some great confounding mystery to the opposite sex.
The episode does contain a few things which might end up giving the show a little more momentum. Rea, as she despairs about her life, decries the fact that her father takes nude photographs of her every time she has a birthday in order to "track her growth." I'm debating whether this is meant to be seen as comedic (if so, that's pretty atrocious and reason enough to drop the show here and now), or whether the statement is meant to flesh out the character as a victim of sexual abuse. The latter situation could still be mishandled in several different ways, and establishing a character as a rapist or abuser is often a quick and easy way to get audiences to dislike him or her without putting in much work, so whether this pans out remains to be seen. I also find Furuya's zombie obsession to be kind of interesting in that it almost suggests in the character a fear of death or an inability to deal with its permanence. The way he handles Babu's death, in addition to its weirdness, is actually pretty sad. I can't help but make comparisons to Dennou Coil, which is so focused on its characters learning to deal with the finality of death and dying. Major quality differences aside, I wonder if this series will take a similar route or if the event is merely a minor diversion on the path to more comedic events.
The visuals are about at the level I would expect from an average adaptation like this; competent but not memorable. In fact, the major complaint I have with how the show looks is due to Furuya's character design. Furuya's hair is drawn to resemble cat ears, and the silliness of how that looks in a show where the other characters appear relatively normal is distracting. There's a character with a similar appearance in the anime Shiki, but in that case any character appearing with a distinct character design was most likely important to the plot rather than a random background extra. I fail to see this show's excuse, unless this particular distinctness is meant to represent some character trait that hasn't yet become evident.
The second episode, told from Rea's point of view, confirms that her family situation truly is abusive, which makes the brief scenes between the character and her family in the opening of the show seem extra-disturbing. The character is essentially a prisoner in her own home; anyone who gets close to her or interacts with her in a way that her father dislikes is given the boot... or worse. While this does a good job of getting the viewer to hate her father, the feeling itself isn't ultimately very satisfying. There's no good explanation of why his feelings towards his daughter are so backwards and destructive, so while he's a character that's easy to blindly hate, his actions don't really stand up to scrutiny and his portrayal comes across as lazy.
I'm not a very big fan of Furuya's cousin, who has a slightly more prominent role in episodes two and three. She plays the role of the "sexually-harassing older female relative" who gets too close for comfort and serves as comic relief. The only major occurrences of blatant fanservice revolve around her and her presence is grating and unnecessary. There's also a scene in which one of Furuya's classmates feels up another male friend, then jokes about sexually harassing him, which was uncomfortable to watch.
The first three episodes could be taken alone as a relatively complete story arc. By the final scenes of the third episode Rea's situation is permanently altered and Furuya seems well on his way to getting what he wants out of life. The preview of the fourth episode seems to suggest that the story from that point onward will be more "business as usual," with Rea taking up residence with Furuya. Do I think that living with him is a better solution than living with her father? Yes. Do I think that the sexual hijinks that are likely to result because of her presence in Furuya's life are an accurate reflection of what a life-long sexual abuse victim would want to do with her time? Not really. I can accept that the first few episodes are tolerable, but the direction suggested by the preview scenes makes me feel a little bit ill.
Unfortunately anime is still missing its great anime genre series. While this appears to be a better example than some, its flaws are too obvious to overlook.
- The sexual abuse material isn't played for laughs.
- Furuya's zombie obsession has interesting implications for the story, both good and bad.
- Furuya's cousin is almost a pure fanservice character, and she's annoying.
- Rea's father is undeveloped as a character and that makes him seem like a caricature.
- The preview for episode four suggests that this will become a more standard shounen romantic comedy, with all the good and bad that comes with it.
Recommended? If I weren't obligated to write about it, I don't think I would have given this show more than a brief glance. It has its good points but they're overshadowed by the bad ones.