Hey everyone, it’s Kernook here! It’s time for another anime review. Today we’re diving into an off-kilter idol anime with more than a few quirks. Zombies, singing and more, this is one weird show.
Yep, that’s right, I’m talking about Zombie Land Saga. I am going to try to be as objective as I can in my review of this anime, so I’m not going to needlessly bash the unholy crap out of it. That being said, I flat out do not like this show, and you will never convince me to like this series.
Why? Well, that’s strictly a personal taste in media. I actually loved it on the first watch, believe it or not. It was second and third watches through that left a foul taste in my mouth. Retrospection made me realize just how much I actually disliked it.
On the surface level it has strong animation, decent music, and a fairly strong cast of characters all things considered. So yeah, as much as I don’t like it, the series is far from “bad” on its face, trust me on that.
If it was just awful by nature, I’d bash the series in every unrepentant way possible. There’s no need to do that, because it is more or less a solid show, aside from a few very pointed gripes that ruin it for me on a personal level.
I’ll be fair to the show, but please be fair to me. You’re not expected to agree with me.
As I’ve stated before, one of the key ways I build a “watch list” every season is to pick at least one anime I know I probably won’t like. The link for that post is down below, for reference.
As a refresher for the rest of you, every season that my watch-list isn’t bursting at the seams, I tend to choose an anime or two that I know I’ll probably hate. I do this just to give it a try. As an anime fan, I find that to be a fundamental part of personal growth and broadening my horizons.
I have been pleasantly surprised in the past by this method. On occasion I do get hooked into a series and I truly enjoy it.
This doesn’t always happen though, and Zombie Land Saga is a good example of when that doesn’t work for me. I don’t mind some idol anime, but really if I’m going to enjoy an anime that contains idol culture something more along the lines of Perfect Blue suits my personal tastes far better. Normally though, I’ll go for grittier band anime like Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad or Nana.
So, with those upfront caveats out of the way, let me attempt to review this thing as objectively as humanly possible.
This is only a review of season one, as I absolutely see no reason to ever watch season two.
Okay, strap in and suspend your disbelief right here and now. That’s the only way to make it through a series like Zombie Land Saga, because as much as it’s a commentary on idol culture itself, it’s also occasionally stupidly funny for the sake of it.
When a fandom affectionately names a speeding truck, yeah, you know this is not a series that you should take seriously. Honestly, the fandom’s beloved “Truck-kun” likely has one of the single most hilarious moments in the first episode, not going to lie.
The first season of Zombie Land Saga came out in 2018, during a mild lull in the hype that was idol anime. They were a dime a dozen by this point, but the series promised to offer typical fans of the genre something different.
Directed by Munehisa Sakai and written by Shigeru Murakoshi, this is not their best work for reasons I’ll get into when I discuss the plot.
The music is notably credits two different contributors. The first is Yasuharu Takanashi. This is a composer I actually really enjoy, known for his other musical talents with shows like Naruto Shippuden, Hell Girl, and Ikki Tousen. The second is Funta7 a Japanese rock band that has made themselves a rather decent fan following by writing music for anime such as Zombie Land Saga.
The anime has several good qualities, particularly when it comes to the cast of characters and the representation of the transgender community within it. I can honestly say most of these girls are compelling enough on a surface level to make you want to know more about them instantly.
I can’t speak for season two, but as far season one goes, Lily is by far one of the best written transgender characters ever to be seen in anime. I will stand by that without question. Her existence isn’t defined by her gender performative actions, or her occasional lack of them. We aren’t beaten over the head with the concept either. Lily is who she is, and that’s the way life is. It’s that simple, and I can’t praise that enough.
The fact she’s transgender at all is merely accepted as a fact of life. Her existence is constantly validated by the fact that no one surrounding her makes a huge or complicated ordeal out of it. By and large, the characters don’t find her identity to be an issue at all.
That is worthy of merit for a discussion of representation in anime. Lily deserves a blog post all of her own, because I can count on one hand the number of prolific transgender characters that resonate well within the confines of anime. Lily’s identity is as strong and unquestionable as any other core character within Zombie Land Saga, without being overbearing or seeming like virtue signaling.
One of the nice things about Zombie Land Saga was that it held true to its promises about being different than typical idol anime fodder… at least, at first. Later on it really drops the ball on this, but I’ll speak more on that later.
The series begins with the same sort of cynical outlook that Perfect Blue has. Showcasing the drawbacks of the industry in almost every way. The girls in the series are ones who either want to be idols, or were famous at one point in their lives, only to end up dead in some way or another.
Being brought back to life, these zombie girls are objectified by their producer Tatsumi Kotaro, a guy that literally is just flat out crazy. When he isn’t acting criminally insane, he’s a pure eyesore on screen. He’s played off for laughs, but seriously, it can be hard to find humor in him, at least for me.
The abuse going on in idol culture is no laughing matter. This guy is the long running joke that really isn’t funny. He’s actually one of the reasons why I came to hate the series.
This deconstruction of typical idol anime really is a smart way to do an idol series though, right down to the asshole producer with more ego than common sense.
Tatsumi seeks to revitalize the very fictional “Saga Prefecture” in Japan by putting together the all-zombie idol group, because apparently that won’t just shock and terrify the entire world…
Actually, that’s a commentary that occurs in the first episode when a poor police officer lodges a bullet right into the newly minted zombie girl, Sakura Minamoto. Needless to say, that’s just more proof that the majority of the strong content is in the front of the anime, not the back of it.
Now is around the time when I would discuss the plot, but sadly, there really isn’t one. This is where the series begins to have some real problems.
Revive Idols & Bury the Plot
This is not an easy issue to pin down, but we don’t we have a plot in the first place. I can’t even pin down why we don’t have a plot for the anime. We just don’t, or if we do, it isn’t objectively functional beyond a certain point.
Seriously, did Tatsumi leave leave the story in the ground or blow it to smithereens? Did the show runners just shout “Idol!” really loud into the air, causing a huge scramble during production?
I really do have to ask. What happened here? What impossibly large brain fart caused the plot to go missing?
I just don’t understand how that could even happen. We have in front of us an anime bursting with serviceable animation, decent music, and a fairly strong cast of characters… but we have no actual plot to tie everything into a nice little package. For some people, myself included this will be a huge issue for the show.
First of all, Zombie Land Saga isn’t clear about what the “Saga Prefecture” needs to be saved from, or why anyone needs to save it in the first place. Why bring that up if you’re not going to detail that out? How in the world do idols even “save” anything if the situation was that detrimental in the first place.
You could argue that the vaguely hinted at debt crisis to the prefecture is the problem. However, that’s subtext at best, and you have to dive deep to look for it. The idea of having more idol groups to boost the economy in the area could have some merit, I suppose. Unfortunately, when you have to use that kind of slow and meticulous logic, it clashes with the confines of the show.
Suspending your disbelief matters here, and the lack of a plot is something you will have to shrug off.
The other option for plot only really works when subversion is at play. The fact that Tatsumi is a just a raving lunatic remains a far more plausible conclusion by its nature. Either way, we don’t really get an answer for why these girls have to be in this situation in the first place, only that they do.
All other idol anime have a clear goal, dream, or plot driven reason for why things happen. This series just doesn’t, and while it could also be a subversion of the norm, it is not the best choice from a narrative lens.
Thankfully, on the first viewing the spectacle and novelty of the series allowed me to overlook this. There’s a real charm here, the only issue it doesn’t last after the first time through.
Any subsequent viewing made it impossible for me to ignore the continually obvious lack of plot. Worst still, it’s even more obvious the more times you watch it, which is why I won’t ever watch this show again.
I’m not saying there needs to be a deep or complex story. I’m saying there needs to be a story in the first place to tie up those random plot threads. Otherwise the series comes down to strictly the core cynicism I stated about the show above, and that outlook is a very bleak one.
Speaking of that core cynicism, in the second episode there is an actual rap battle that really highlights all of the things this anime could have been. It’s gritty, it’s punchy, and above all it is very entertaining.
The only issue is, the anime didn’t put its bets on the places it worked, and it lost its way a few times in later episodes. The girls eventually find a fulfillment in being zombie idols, but there was no real weight to that decision, so it’s hard for me to really accept it.
I just don’t find that conclusion to be satisfying on its own. Cynicism and subversion are very strong building blocks to great anime, but they are not the only ones you require unless you’re going to unflinchingly stick to that core ideology for entire series.
To think that was all this show aimed to be, would be rather insulting because it doesn’t stick to that theme. However, we can’t discuss this series without a firm look at its subversive elements, either.
Subversion Takes Center Stage… Until It Doesn’t…
Zombie Land Saga makes you believe it will be nothing but subversion when you get right down to it. The characters, the comedy, the practice montages, and the performances on stage, all of it…
At the start, subversion is all we really get, and its all we ever really need. The anime has one single ethos; to comment upon what it means to be an idol. Subversion and satire of idol anime and the idol industry at large is the main goal of the show.
Early on, the series dives into those concepts so heavily, you just can’t look away from it. Even the characters themselves often come down to subversion of usual tropes found in idol anime.
The fact they are even zombies at all, but don’t naturally air that to the public, is a direct satirical commentary on the idol industry. It basically spits upon the near puritan and painted on culture that surrounds the people involved.
Even the lack of any real plot can truly just come down to “because Tatsumi said so” if subversion continued to carry the heaviest theme in the show. As an idol, you do what you’re told, and that’s the way it is. Objectified, because you are expected to conform to a point beyond reason.
The idol world is often insidious by its nature, but that nature is so grotesque that we don’t often care to think about it. Zombie Land Saga forces you to see the direct metaphor. Furthermore, it doesn’t mind being offensive to get the point across. It never crosses a line, but it isn’t kind in its critiques, either.
Sadly though, the series doesn’t cling onto that cynical metaphor, and eventually the zombie girls decide to work together. They decide to be the best zombie idols they can be, and this is where all of those early episodes give you a bait and switch.
There comes a time when that far more cynical satire is replaced for normal comedic situations. Over time, the subversive performances are forgotten. Instead, we just get more idol anime fare like the rest of the shows out there.
After Zombie Land Saga replaces some of that cynicism, we get some real nicely thought out character moments and decent backstories.
Sadly though, I just don’t think it is enough to carry the show at that point. That’s why the lack of plot I mentioned above bothers me so much. It only really works when you cling onto subversive elements like a vice, but the show doesn’t do that all the way through.
There comes a time that Zombie Land Saga becomes just another typical idol anime with zombie paint over the top of it. While there is nothing wrong with that, in my opinion it doesn’t live up to the genius satirical comedy that preceded it.
In short, this is why I came to hate the series. It really is a letdown for me as I see so much wasted potential.
The best thing about idol anime is to find a character you want to follow and invest yourself into them. You want to watch them succeed. This isn’t too unlike how fans often treat idols in real life. However, following an anime character that avidly typically harms no living, breathing person. After all, it is only an animated character, and there’s a bit of silver lining to be found in that.
Zombie Land Saga has an incredibly strong cast, and really after the satire dies out, that’s the only thing this anime really has going for it. The songs are good, but only because of the characters themselves.
The songs are extensions of these characters, brought to life by their emotional investment in what being an idol really means to them. Each girl has a different answer to that. Those themes are expressed though their personal conflicts and their unified performances on stage. The songs would not hold up well if the girls singing them weren’t characters we cared about.
To me the ideal viewer of this show is what I like to call a “popcorn anime fan”. That means it caters to fans that don’t want to think too deeply upon the anime they’re watching. They just want to watch it and enjoy it. There are a lot of people like this out there, and I myself have a few “popcorn anime” I thoroughly enjoy.
I wouldn’t even call this anime a guilty pleasure, because like I said, there’s nothing god awful that’s wrong with it. There’s no reason to feel guilty about liking this show. However, there’s plenty of reasons to hate the show too, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Zombie Land Saga is an incredibly well made series, at least up until it isn’t. I think the first three episodes are the strongest over all. Episode eight is also a noteworthy one.
All-in-all, it’s fine until you try to really dig into it. While some people probably could, that reach would be limited. I’d argue that only the most staunch idol fan base, or those who have a deep knowledge of idol culture itself would be able to truly study this anime intellectually.
I’m no expert, therefore for me the series misses the mark after the satire slowly dies out. There’s just not enough for me to sink my teeth into without doing a true deep dive on the minutia of details idol culture has to offer, and I just don’t care enough about the series to do that.
If you like idol anime though, Zombie Land Saga is a series you absolutely have to watch at least once. Give it four episodes at the very least, simply for the subversive elements and commentary alone. I’d say that for a fan of the genre it would be considered required viewing, and probably a touchstone for the fan base itself.
For me though, the anime is just mediocre and it can’t live up to my personal test of time. I should never have watched it multiple times, but I did and that perspective is what ruined the experience. To me a good anime is one that I can return to no matter what, and I won’t be returning to this one. Therefore, it fails the most important test I have when measuring for a quality standard.
Fans of the series are entirely entitled to disagree, as there may in fact be something in the series that speaks more deeply to them than t ever could for me. That’s the beauty of anime as an art form. At the end of the day I stand by the ideology that anime will always be artistry, and therefore even an anime that is not for me is capable of speaking to a great many people.
This has been Kernook of “The Demented Ferrets”, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. If you liked this content, please be sure to check out some of our other content below.
I’ll see you next time…
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