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Anime series can be well-known for comedy, particularly revolving around sex, and teenage angst. The adaptation of Sankarea: Undying Love provides plenty of that – giving us a fun zombie rom-com.
Chihiro Furuya is a horror fanboy (or otaku, if you will) who fantasizes about having a zombie girlfriend. He lives with his father, sister and senile grandfather in a temple. When Chihiro’s cat dies, he attempts to resurrect the pet from a book he found that tells of a process to create zombies. Chihiro is helped by Rea Sanka, a girl from a wealthy family who is suffering from suicidal depression. Rea uses Chihiro’s experiment to end her life and escape from her overbearing father. When she becomes a zombie it is up to Chihiro to preserve her body, study her and give him a chance to live out his fantasy. But Chihiro also has to deal with Rea’s vengeful father.
Sankarea was billed as comedy, but it’s also a drama and a great examination of depression. The first three episodes were great at showing the mental angst that Rea suffers. The second episode is the one that shows Rea’s upbringing where her father isolated her, prevented her from going out, would not allow her to make friends and took away any joy she could have. Her father was a possessive and took naked pictures of his daughter on all her birthdays, which she realized when she got older was not normal behavior. However Rea keeps all this to herself, putting on a brave face when she’s at school and not letting anyone know what she was really feeling. This is a great representation of what a lot of people with depression do, they hide it, and that episode has a great visualization when Rea visits her one friend – her friend’s family sits in the light and smiling and Rea is in the dark with her head down. It was an image that had everything it needed to express Rea’s situation. There is some artistic license within the piece, as Rea’s father is a powerful man who uses his influence to keep his daughter under control and is able to force anyone to move away if they threaten his control over Rea, but it is still fairly accurate.
It’s not just Rea that gets an emotional episode, Chihiro, his cousin Ranko (also named Wanko), his sister Mero and Rea’s mother get the same treatment. Mero’s episode, “Mother’s… Hand…”, was the best – it broke up a two-parter but it surprisingly worked as a diversion. It was a very funny episode, as Mero speaks in a sardonic monotone – think of her as a pre-teen Japanese version of Daria. Both the Japanese and American voice actors (Yuka Iguchi and Felecia Angelle) were great at portraying this character. “Mother’s… Hand…” was a very funny episode because it relied on witty dialogue and character interactions, Mero being sarcastic and her friends being zombie obsessed and dim-witted. There is a real emotional reveal at the end of the episode when Mero’s mask slips, showing the delicate balance of comedy and tragedy.
Other characters also put on a front to hide what they are really feeling. Ranko acts like a big sister figure to Chihiro, beating him at any given opportunity, but harbors deeper feelings, and Rea’s mother uses alcohol to forget her troubles. Even Rea’s dad has deep-seated issues, which explains why his behavior was so bizarre with his daughter. This is a series loaded with angst.
However, Sankarea is not just angst and depression, the series has a lot of comedy. As already mentioned, Mero brings wit to the series, but a lot of the comedy is physical or embarrassment based. Ranko’s abuse of Chihiro is one of the best example of this. And the major staple of anime, sex comedy, is ever-present – Chihiro gets to lust over his zombie girls and over Rea, he even gets a nose bleed, which is a sign of sexual arousal in manga and anime. However some of the sex comedy goes on the wrong side of creepy – there is a joke where a zombified Rea fondles Ranko’s breasts, and Chihiro’s lustful friend, Yasutaka, was so annoying that you will want to dive through the TV screen to throttle him. There are upskirt shots of a depressed underage girl and images of Ranko’s breasts, all of which are just wrong.
Fortunately, there are more hits than misses joke-wise in Sankarea, with some very funny lines that work in both Japanese and English. Some of the best interactions were when Chihiro is held hostage and has to come up with plans to escape from his captors.
Like many other anime series, the animation is of a high standard. Because of Chihiro’s fascination with the horror genre, the animators were able to sneak in many references. In Chihiro’s daydream, he is dressed like Shaun from Shaun of the Dead and his room was littered with horror memorabilia. The final episode, which focuses on Babu the cat, was influenced slightly by Kiki’s Delivery Service where the supernatural male cats attempt to woo a female of their species.
Most of the characters’ were given realistic proportions and look, but the character of Gramps looked like he came from a completely different show. He was incredibly short, had green skin and, well, looked like a cartoon character. His senility was used for comedy and it was a little crude to do it. Also Chihiro and Mero’s father, who is a priest, came across as a bit too oblivious – for example he never asks why the cat he buried is now walking around like nothing happened.
Sankarea ended with plot threads left hanging, setting up a second season. But the show was originally broadcast in 2012 and it seems unlikely to receive one. But, the show was based on a manga series that ended in 2014, so there is more story to tell.
Sankarea is an amusing series that worked really well as an examination of some mental health issues. Some of the sexualization was a bit troubling, but it is still enjoyable for fans of the zombie sub-genre.