Series Premiere: Zombie Land Saga Ep. 1 Review

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To say that idols are especially trendy nowadays is an understatement. Between Love Live, Idolmaster, and the numerous gacha games ready to take your money, there seems to be no end to cute girls (and boys!) filling your heart with song and dance. Numerous variations on this theme have cropped up, but I certainly wasn’t expecting zombies to be one of them — luckily, Zombie Land Saga arrives to provide a fresh experience to fans of both genres.

Surprising no one, this series is produced by Cygames, the game studio responsible for notorious gacha titles like Rage of Bahamut, Granblue Fantasy, and most recently Dragalia Lost. They also produced the anime series Uma Musume Pretty Derby earlier this year, which has an upcoming mobage adaptation as well. It wouldn’t shock me to see Zombie Land Saga get a similar treatment if it does well, so I may need to go ahead and take out that loan now when it comes time to whale. The anime is helmed by MAPPA, which has already made a name for itself with Yuri!!! on Ice and In This Corner of the World in 2016, and is directed by Munehisa Sakai, who previously directed episodes of One Piece, Precure, and Sailor Moon Crystal.

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Mirroring real life, the series opens at a better time: 2008. Our heroine, Sakura Minamoto, gets ready to leave the house, in typical anime schoolgirl style, filled with hope as she prepares to audition for a local idol group. She pauses to glance up at the sun, the metaphor of a brand-new day not lost on her, and barely makes it out of the front gate where she is promptly hit by a truck and killed.

She wakes up ten years later, finding herself in a much worse place (again, 2018). She’s been revived as a zombie, in a spooky house filled with other zombies, all resurrected by a mysterious man for a reason as goofy as his mannerisms. To revitalize the Saga Prefecture, he wants these zombie girls to become the best idol group ever! And while Sakura may just be a typical modern schoolgirl, the others are corpses from various points in history. I’m sure we’ll explore all of their backstories throughout the series, but I’m most excited to see more of:

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To prepare for this undertaking (hah!), the group throws on some Hollywood makeup to hide their necrosis and heads out to the only open-mic night in town, an oddly appropriate death metal event. There are some typical hijinx, with Sakura trying to wrangle her mindless cohorts and the punked-out audience interpreting one zombie’s attack as an attempt to mosh, but we’re treated to some head-banging undead and a flash of inspiration when Sakura briefly recaptures her dream of becoming an idol.

Zombie Land Saga opens with a very strong and enjoyable first episode. The plot, while goofy and cliche, is the right kind of goofy and cliche and has me interested in seeing where MAPPA takes it. The comedy lies mainly in timing and sight gags, which the episode nails all throughout (although I hope the producer eventually does more than just yell). The overall art design is also very pleasing; the color palette is excellent, and the exaggerated character design and facial expressions contrast well with the more macabre elements.

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As a person who has long since grown weary of zombie stories and never really “got” idol culture, I felt Zombie Land Saga was a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is well aware of how silly it’s being, but there is a kernel of characterization in there that I’m eager to see. The end of the episode reveals the other girls gaining their sentience back, so the show will have to work up some new gags, but it will also gain ample opportunity to allow all of our undead idols to grow.

 

Zombie Land Saga is simulcast on Crunchyroll on Thursdays.

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