Zombies raised from the dead by a mad scientist to form an idol group? Yep, this is anime.
Overview (Spoilers Below):
Sakura is a cheerful high school girl just waiting for her chance to- Oh, wait, she’s a zombie now. ZOMBIE LAND SAGA starts off with an outlandishly funny (and dark!) opening gag where we see Sakura, our main character, hit by a truck and die. When she awakens an unspecified number of years later, she’s a zombie, and she’s not alone. Raised from the dead by Koutarou, the type of guy who wears sunglasses indoors and never takes them off, these seven girls have a mission: to form an idol group and put the Saga prefecture back on the map.
Of course, things get off to a rocky start. Suddenly awakening as a zombie is bad enough, but also trying to dance and sing in front of crowds of spectators? That’s another thing entirely. It takes the girls time to adjust to their new predicament, but once they do, they find that being idols isn’t so bad. Sure, there might be weird fans and stressful situations, but together, they can handle it!
I’ve got to get this out of the way and say it now: I was pretty pumped about ZOMBIE LAND SAGA when I first watched the premiere. It seemed to have the perfect amount of anime strangeness mixed with musical, intriguing characters and a mysterious storyline. But the rest of the show never could live up to its initial promise. While it has a lot of neat stuff going for it, the plot never kicked into gear and the humor and character development were too inconsistent to work.
It’s a shame, because the zombified gals of Franchouchou really are a unique bunch that were deserving of more exploration. Our lead character Sakura is fine, but comes across as a blandly generic heroine – always positive and helping others, but never really getting much personality of her own. (This is dealt with somewhat in the final arc, but even then, nothing much comes of it.) Almost everyone in the group has some fun quirks, like Saki, the leader and former biker gang member, or Lily, the former TV child star who happens to be transgender. These two both get an episode or so focused on them, but others, like Yuugiri, who lived as a sex worker in ancient Japan, never get a chance to shine. One of the most characters is group manager/motivational speaker/mad scientist Koutarou (aka ‘Shades’). That’s right, most. He’s just so much! And frankly, it gets tiresome. By the third episode, I was wishing his screaming schtick would evolve into something more. There’s a little hint about why he’s so interested in Sakura in the final episode, but apart from that, we really never learn anything about his backstory, how he raised these girls from the dead (not that that’s important), or why he cares so much about Saga.
When it comes to the quality of the animation, it’s generally okay. ZOMBIE LAND SAGA will definitely not win any sakuga awards or anything, but the character designs are inoffensive and the direction isn’t noticeably bad. If I did have a major complaint, it would have to be the use of CGI for the group’s performances. I know that to get the kind of dancing they wanted, CGI is really the only option, but still, it just looks so clunky sandwiched between the traditional 2D scenes.
Musical shows always make it harder for companies like Funimation to dub them. It takes a lot of work to make lyrics match up with mouth movements, while rhyming and sounding in-tune, too! Unfortunately, Funimation chose to forgo an attempt at dubbing the songs for the weekly simuldub release. While the songs will be dubbed into English for the final release on home video, I can only comment on the acting performances for now. The good news is, the parts of the dub that have been completed are really nice! Every actor sounds well cast for their role, and does a good job of bringing their A game. Brina Palencia and Ricco Fajardo especially perform well as Sakura and Koutarou.
At the end of the show’s life, I can’t say I’m going to miss it that much. While it started off on a promising note, I don’t think the series ever really settled into its groove, and for every awesome episode, there was an underwhelming one that would follow. There was never any overarching plot besides generic messages about believing in yourself, and the comedy was never consistent enough to carry the show. An interesting premise, some fun characters and a few catchy songs can’t convince me to raise this show from the dead.