What’s popular right now? Girls are popular. But they’ve always been popular. We need something else, something fresh… or maybe… something not fresh! Yes! The unfresh mesh of flesh! Zombies! Those are in! But how do we combine girls and zombies… Wait a minute! I got it!
Unfortunately, the zombie gimmick that appears within Sankarea is nothing more than some bandaged wounds, pale white (whiter than normal) skin, and red eyes. This is not the zombie one would expect from, say, zombie films. The zombified being is nothing more than an eye color change and slight skin discoloration from of the original form. So for those of you hoping to find some sort of glorified horror-romance between a boy and a rotted pile of black bones, moaning to the unnatural instincts of the undead kind, look elsewhere.
However, there are some indications that said zombified female is not totally in control of her actions. There are (very few) segments that portray the girl as a lifeless body controlled by natural instincts; almost animal-like in nature, hungry for… kisses. Still, this kind of behavior, while allowing some unpredictability for the girl’s undead condition, loses any sort of suspense when she looks just as, if not more beautiful than she did as when she was alive. This also rings true for the very last scene in the series, as it left me so confused that I had to consult some anime forums in order to get any sense of closure. Was it supposed to be cute? Scary? Ominous? What it certainly wasn’t was “fulfilling.”
This ties into the underlying issue that plagues this series: it has no idea what it wants to be. Throughout twelve episodes, Sankarea takes on settings of slice of life, rom-com, horror, drama, character studies, and at points, fantasy. There is so much going on within the course of each episode that it begins to hinder the progress of any setting that was thrown into it for the hell of it. The more it focuses on rom-com, the less it feels like a horror. But then it goes back to hinting at horror, which hinders the slice of life feeling. But then it continues to paint a slice of life picture when the previous episode ended with an ominous cliffhanger. It changes focus so rapidly throughout that it’s hard to keep a consistent mood until the end, and it changes so drastically that it feels disjointed. Episode eight ends on a cliffhanger that could potentially mean life or death in regards to the male lead. Episode nine is a character study focusing on the male lead’s sister before the events of episode eight. Why do that?! Why not save that for after an episode that focuses on slice of life? It’s like pushing off the inevitable for an episode that could be saved for the subject of a future OVA. Don’t you love advertisements in-between videos?
Story structure aside, the logic behind some of the things that occur are far too convenient to my liking. It’s enough that becoming a zombie hardly alters one’s physical being, but if one is dead and has no pulse (as was stated a few times in the anime), how is it that the brain is still active? How can one keep their mental state (aside from the occasional side effects) while zombified if the brain isn’t active? And I assume the brain isn’t active because there’s no pulse. If the brain were active, there’d be a pulse, as the brain controls a great portion of the involuntary workings of the body. So how can one keep all of their internal memories, personality, and voluntary control of their motor capabilities? They don’t offer any explanation, but rather hide behind the veil of ignorance. How is any of this possible? Who knows? Let’s just go with it. Aside from that, plot convenience and story clichés that make zero sense are also prevalent throughout the end of the series. It’s rather unsettling.
Those that inhabit the land of Zombie Love High! are rather hit and miss. As a point I made above about “character studies,” Sankarea shows quite a few backstories and focuses on individual characters for various episodes or parts of episodes. One character who is hardly focused on whatsoever is the male lead. But is that really surprising? It’s the male lead. Despite how catty he looks or how obsessed with zombies he is, he’s still the same character as any other male lead in the history of male leads in anime. Aside from him, there’s the zombie girl, the male lead’s sister, father, and grandfather; the male lead’s childhood friend, and zombie girl’s father and step-mother. The most prominent among these characters are the childhood friend, zombie girl, and zombie girl’s father. Unfortunately, what they’re important for is predictable from their very titles. “Childhood friend” is clearly a romantic interest for the male lead. No surprise there. “Zombie girl” is the entire gimmick to the story. And a romantic interest for the male lead. No surprise there.
Zombie girl’s father is a bit of a different case. He is the central “antagonist” to the story. His importance to the plot is noticeably more prominent than others from stories like this, but it’s also riddled with a one-dimensional mindset. There’s the common trope of a father being overprotective of their daughter in a comedic setting, but zombie girl’s father is protective to the point of control. His “love” for his daughter is a means of manipulation and symbolic of his past failures. It sounds good on paper, but the execution is less than stellar. He’s essentially the “meanie-head poopoo-brain bad guy” who needs to be chastised by little kids in order to see any sort of conscious wrongdoing with his actions, despite how “seriously” the entire scenario is played out. As a character, he’s flawed. As a genuine person, he’s hilariously unfit for human emotion.
That isn’t to say these characters aren’t unlikable. Aside from the male lead, because he’s the male lead, and zombie girl’s father, the cast ranges from halfway-decent to relatable. While I personally didn’t get a ton of enjoyment out of the cast, it gives enough effort to showcase the characters in various lights to be enjoyable to many. I suppose “developed” is a word that can be used to consider them, but I wouldn’t quite go that far. I think they’re still within the process of being molded. After all, with all the time spent changing the genre of the show, it’s hard to take these character seriously without a specific mood. How do you like your archetypes? Tragic? Comedic? Dramatic? Romantic?
One saving grace that this anime has going for it is the art direction. While the overall appearance of the show, while flashy here and there, isn’t all that fantastic, the characters at least look distinguishable from other series. Recall that I said the male lead looked “catty.” His hair is shaped as though he has two ears hidden underneath his jet black mane. His eyes are slanted ovals. His pupils often turn quite tiny. If I didn’t know better, he looks like he could have came straight out of Mayoi Neko Overrun!. His sister even has light blue hair. From a practical standpoint, why? In a series with hair colors that range from light brown to black, out of nowhere we have a character with light blue hair. Not to mention their grandfather doesn’t even look human, but more like a deformed human-frog hybrid. The artistic style that Sankarea has is humorous enough to take it seriously as an odd comedy, but, again, it hampers any sense of drama that it periodically enjoys to overindulge in. It also has a tendency to boost up the color and brightness of the screen whenever something profound is happening. Nice to see them working on scenes that actually matter.
It’s a troubling series that took me three and a half years to finally complete. I started this back in late 2012 and got through six episodes before putting it on-hold up until earlier this month. With all the time that had passed, I decided to start the series completely over, and wouldn’t you know it, I got to episode six and suddenly my motivation to continue started to stagnate. There’s really something to say about a series when it becomes so tiring to view halfway through. Whether it was the character interaction, the meager attempts at incorporating every genre in the book, or the stilted chemistry between the male lead and zombie girl, Sankarea is a mess of a maze with an intriguing entrance. It just goes to show you that a hook isn’t always enough to keep someone interested.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.