Hisako KanemotoAi ShimizuIori NomizuKore wa Zombie Desu ka
Is This a Zombie? (2011 anime)
Also known as: Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? (2011 anime)
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2011
Director: Takaomi Kanasaki
Original creator: Shinichi Kimura
Actor: Iori Nomizu, Junji Majima, Midori Tsukimiya, Ai Shimizu, Aya Goda, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Hisako Kanemoto, Koji Yusa, Mina, Noriko Shitaya, Rie Yamaguchi, Yoko Hikasa
Keywords: Kore wa Zombie Desu ka, anime, fantasy, vampires, zombies, ninja, magical girl
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes + a 13th OVA episode
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=11752
Website category: Anime early 10s
Review date: 29 October 2015
kore ha zombie desu ka
It's about an regenerating unkillable zombie who was resurrected by a necromancer after being murdered by a serial killer. He lives with this necromancer (female), a vampire ninja (female, buxom) and a Magical Garment Girl (female, often nude). Somehow he's also stolen the latter's magical powers, so he sometimes cross-dresses by turning into a Magical Garment Girl himself, using a pink chainsaw called Mystletainn.
You can see why I'd been looking forward to this. The reviews were quite good and I even bought the first manga volume when I was last in Japan. However I disliked the first two episodes so much that I decided to stop watching. I only kept going because I'd had episodes playing in the background when I was doing other things on my computer and happened to notice development for one of the characters in ep.4 that promoted her up to "human being".
In the end, I though it was interesting. I'll be watching the 2012 sequel series, although I don't expect it to live up to the darkness of the original. However it's still basically formulaic nonsense that starts badly and goes all over the shop.
EPISODES 1-2
Almost painfully mediocre. The ideas are attention-grabbing. You'd think the episodes would surely write themselves, but no. Everything is less funny, less developed and more forgettable than it should have been. Scenes are perfunctory and characters are underwritten and/or unlikeable.
AIKAWA - He's a zombie, but a zombie who looks like an ordinary human, has super-strength because he can "use 100% of the power of the human body" (or more), regenerates all damage, can run fast and can't go out in sunlight. How is this a zombie? What does it mean to use more than 100% of the power of your body? More importantly, though, Aikawa's an annoying combination of unlikeable twat and formulaic Harem Hero Nice Guy. He keeps having otaku fantasies about girls fancying him. However at the same time he has a habit of using himself as a human shield in situations just a little bit too cliched to ring true. The first is when a cat gratuitously runs out in front of a truck at the start of ep.1, just in order to give him something to save in the cliched anime way. (It's a rule of the universe. Japanese children and animals spend their free time loitering near traffic in order to be rescued by anime protagonists.) He also takes a claw-slash from a giant magical lobster to protect Haruna, which would have worked better if it it hadn't been part of a "Look How Badass I Am" scene in which he brags about his super-strength to a magical lobster while beating it up.
Plus, of course, neither Aikawa nor Haruna are particularly warm characters and there's a hollowness to this would-be heroism. Haruna is the abusive one of the two, but there's enough coldness in anime-Aikawa that his reactions to outrageous things aren't funny. Transforming into a magical girl, for instance, falls oddly flat. It also doesn't help that ep.2 handwaves the end of ep.1 with magic to prevent anything terrible like... oooh, consequences.
EUCLIWOOD HELLSCYTHE - the necromancer. She never speaks, displays emotion or changes her facial expression, instead communicating with a notepad. She's cold and dismissive... but also, scarily, the warmest of the three girls. There's a scene in ep.2 where she tells off the other two for trash-talking Aikawa, because she thought they were making light of death. This is, uniquely so far, likeable. There's also the basic fact that she resurrected Aikawa and will heal his injuries even at personal cost to herself.
HARUNA - the Magical Garment Girl. This is a Japanese pun on "magical girl". She's aggressive, hot-tempered and abusive, but at the same time cold-blooded enough that she doesn't react enough to generate comedy when she loses her clothes. Ep.1's only funny gag involved Haruna pre-emptively giving up on Aikawa for dead. "I'll avenge you. Rest in peace."
SERAPHIM - a big-boobed vampire ninja with apparently no character traits. She's also the coldest and most unlikeable cast member, always calling Aikawa a "piece of shit maggot" or another such phrase. Hellscythe is suppressing her softer emotions, but Seraphim genuinely doesn't seem to have any. The only thing she claims to like is a secret sword-fighting technique.
In other words, everyone's charmless. Aikawa's not even good at the basic function of being the straight man. The first time anyone graduates up to "human being" will be in ep.4. Haruna is cold and irritable, while Seraphim is cold and abusive. If you're still watching in ep.3, incidentally, you'll see rather unpleasant fanservice. That was leering. Oh, and this is going to be a harem show. You can see why I was underwhelmed.
SUBSEQUENT EPISODES
It's dark, but not just the kind of darkness you'd expect from a show with vampires and zombies. It's more fundamental than that. The cast start out as unlikeable loners that made it hard for me to keep watching, seemingly incapable of emotional connection. They'll gradually crawl towards something less dysfunctional, but it's hard-earned. Seraphim never stops hurling obscenities at Aikawa, although they learn to work together. Haruna becomes a tsundere for Aikawa, but it would be reductionist to pin that much-used label on her and not acknowledge that in this show, for once that behaviour is central to its themes. In time she'll even start getting jealous around him, but she'll never admit it or stop hiding behind a facade of rudeness.
As for Hellscythe, her life is a screaming nightmare. She didn't choose to be a necromancer. She was born into it. Any word she says and even any emotion she feels could reshape the world, whether she likes it or not. She can't control this power. All she can do is keep her mouth shut, suppress all emotion and communicate only through written notes, a bit like stroke victims imprisoned inside their own bodies. Ironically she's the nicest member of the cast and her dream is just a life of being happy with friends. Unfortunately she also believes she's a universe-threatening abomination and she might not be wrong.
Then we have the villains. One of them will try to destroy a major population centre as the only way he can think of to force his friend to kill him.
That said, all of this is still just an undertone to silly fantasy. It's still basically nonsense with occasional bits of fanservice and harem formula. The horror elements are even being played down. Vampires don't suck your blood non-consentually and we hardly see any of it anyway. There's almost nothing about them that says "vampire", just as Aikawa is nothing like a regular zombie. Aikawa's the character here with a sunlight allergy, not Seraphim. This clearly isn't a serious take on anything at all. It just happens to have a cast of severely broken characters who, even at the end, only come partway towards finding each other.
This affects the humour. The jokes in this show often aren't as funny as they should be, but its best laughs (for me) tended to come from callousness. There's a good one at the start of ep.11, for instance. "I'll heal him with my village's secret medicine!" Limbs flail, the body spasms and black smoke gushes from its mouth. "Oh, sorry. My mistake. That was my village's secret poison." (If it weren't for the undead cast members, this show would have quite a body count.) I also liked the Evil Santa gag in ep.7, while you've got to laugh at Aikawa being assaulted for what he'd done in someone's dream.
All that I like. It's interesting. It gives personality and means that, despite appearances, the show's saying something. However there are also things that drag it down again.
Aikawa's wife drives me nuts. Yes, he gets a wife. Technically. It's a "custom of our people" that makes no sense and would be laughed out of town anywhere but anime/manga. This is mind-boggling and kind of horrifying for an episode or two, but then the show decides to stop paying it any attention and relegates this wife to a character who occasionally shows up and mentions their married status. She just fades into the background. The show sort of forgets about her. She doesn't give up on Aikawa and she doesn't get any resolution either. It's hard to avoid the impression that the writer just felt like throwing in a harem plot device and wasn't interested in taking it that seriously.
What makes it worse is that she's nice and I quite like her.
The harem stuff barely gets anywhere, thankfully. It's being crushed under the weight of the characters' coldness and hostility. What very little we have actually works rather well as character development. Annoyingly, though, the 13th OVA episode has two more girls confessing to Aikawa out of nowhere, which makes me nervous for season two.
Significant fanservice is scant if you don't count Seraphim being buxom, but there is a scene or two that goes further. I disliked the bowling in ep.3. No particular reason. (Ep.12, on the other hand, is funny. It's also, unusually, a silly pop star concert episode that should theoretically be pointless fluff, but manages to be thematically significant through the twisted ways in which our heroines participate. "Come to the front if you want to die!")
When it's trying to be warm and emotional, I don't think the show ever quite pulls it off. It makes the attempt. It's just not very good at it. However I find that interesting and I think it gives the show a reason to exist. It's about depression. It's about abandoning your friends to go and live forever on your own, or possibly just trying to die. It's about thinking you've been rejected and never wanting to wake up. It's about cutting someone in half with a chainsaw as an expression of love. "Why don't you just disappear?"
And then, after all that, it's also about these people getting a bit healthier and better.
It's not a depressing show at all. It's a laugh. It stars a zombie who's also a magical girl in a pink frilly dress with a pink chainsaw. The most fearsome attack of one of the characters is throwing bowls of noodle soup at magical monsters... which kills them. Describe this show aloud to a friend and they'll have probably started laughing before you reach your third sentence. All that dark stuff I've been talking about is just underpinning and the only reason you'd pay attention to it would be if you were trying to analyse the show's themes or work out if there was a reason all the characters started out so unlikeable. I also don't believe Season 2 will be as dark, since the characters have already come a long way from where they were at the beginning.
It's a bit of a mess. It has some dumb plot points and I really hope they make better use of Aikawa's wife in Season 2. The show starts so badly that I hated it, but improves once the character set-up's out of the way and it can start telling stories with these people. The regulars get closer, or at any rate less distant. There's also a plot, involving among other things Aikawa's killer and some enemies that are playing for keeps. This show's fight scenes have plenty of gore. People vomit blood.
I've also become fond of the cast. Seraphim becomes oddly admirable in her strength of will and refusal to give in to the fact that she's in a harem show. Aikawa becomes a harem hero, which is an improvement. (Yes, I know.) And you've got to love Hellscythe.