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Zombie Land Saga [season one] (2018)

Teenager Sakura is a hard-working student who dreams of becoming a pop idol- until she walks into the path of an oncoming truck. She awakens ten years later to discover that she has been resurrected as a zombie. But rather than becoming your typical shambling undead, she's been recruited by a mysterious stranger named Kotaro Tatsumi to join an idol group- made up of other resurrected girls from different eras.

Zombie Land Saga originally aired between October and December of 2018.  It was produced by MAPPA and written by Shigeru Murakoshi. The English version was produced by Funimation and Crunchyroll and it is released in the UK by Manga Entertainment.

When Sakura is resurrected she finds she can't remember any of her life before the accident. She's put together with six other "legendary" zombies girls- Ai and Junko, two former idols; Saki, a delinquent biker-girl from the nineties; Lily a child star; Yugiri a courtesan from the feudal era and the enigmatic Tae, the only member not to have regained her human consciousness.

It's a compellingly "only in anime" kind of premise. The idea of the combination of the frilly and frothy world of idols and the dark world of the horror genre is instantly funny. Does it deliver on this premise? Results are mixed.

It's fair to say that there are few things more subjective than comedy. There's no right or wrong, you just either find something funny or you don't. Initial impressions were not great- as, despite that fantastic premise, the execution left something to be desired.

I found the series to be light on laugh-out-loud moments- in fact I rarely cracked a smile. It has a tendency to fall back on mistaking loudness for funniness that much anime comedy tends to fall victim to.  The characters don't seem that interesting either. The two most memorable and entertaining characters have no (or barely any) dialogue- Tae and Kotaro's strangely adorable zombie dog Romero.

It really seems to be failing to make most of its premise as well. Other than the fact they have to wear makeup and disguise their true undead nature, the fact that they are zombies barely seems to make any difference at all. They could just as easily be robots, vampires or each be six ducks in a trenchcoat for all it seems to matter. Other than Tae, none of them seem to act at all that zombie-like, and don't eat flesh or brains.

As a musical series, it's also a bit lacking. The voice cast (in either language) are capable performers and gel well as a group. But they are let down by the show's lacklustre animation that fails to give their performances the requisite oomph. A handful of their performances have been rendered using CGI that sticks out like a sore thumb. If they're deliberately trying to make the girls look more zombie-like than ever then its mission accomplished. I suspect that's not what they were going for, however.

Somewhere along the line, despite all its faults- something about Zombie Land Saga clicked. Anime loves to juggle tones in a way that is rarely seen in western animation. So while the show is primarily a comedy, it's also simultaneously a quite earnest idol anime. It's not a genre I'm especially familiar with, I must admit, but the series works better when it follows Franchouchou's efforts to make waves in the music biz.

It's latter half also begins to make use of its premise more. The season never explains the reasons behind their resurrection, but it does eventually begin to delve into the girls' life before they died. As we get to learn more about their history, the show is revealed to have much more depth than the early episodes could have ever hinted at.

There's even an episode that turns out to be an incredibly sensitive and accepting portrayal of a transgender character that comes seemingly out of nowhere.

Zombie Land Saga is something of an odd prospect, then. A show that's sold as a comedy but is still worth a look even if you don't find it funny. But if it does tickle your funny bone- or if you're someone steeped in the world of Japanese idol culture, you might want to whack on an extra star.

If you're a major fan, check out the special limited edition Blu-Ray and DVD Combo-pack release, which includes a 20-page artbook and artcards.


IN A NUTSHELL:  This Saga stumbles in its first half but comes back to life when focussed on its characters. Scrappy, but its (rotting) heart is in the right place.

*Review disc/supplied by Manga Entertainment*