At a cursory glance, Sankarea sounds like an excuse for an anime series to do the whole zombie thing. I’ll admit I don’t think I quite get the zombie trope movement – I found Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies inane in a kind of internet humour thing, and like the rest of society I enjoy a good zombie movie or TV series, but that’s about as far as I go. With this in mind I went into watching Sankarea with a bit of trepidation – teen male protagonist has a zombie fetish, co-star female is a zombie, what could possibly go wrong, etc. The result is a bit more nuanced thankfully, and proved to be an interesting and focused little story.
Chihiro is a zombie movie otaku with a fetish for zombie girls. This seems somewhat at odds with his family whose father is the priest managing the neighbourhood shrine, thought his sister and grandfather are equally eccentric in their own respective ways. Mourning the loss of his weird-sounding cat Babu after it gets knocked by a car, Chihiro begins searching for a concoction that will bring the fur ball back to life. It’s in the creation of this that he meets Rea who has been escaping to the abandoned building Chihiro has been using as his zombie lab to vent her frustrations and the two socially awkward teens find common ground amongst the morbidity. Things take a turn when Rea steals one of the potions as part of a suicide attempt, with the eventual outcome seeing Chihiro not only get his beloved cat back to life through a stroke of luck, but scoring a zombie girlfriend as well.
The premise kicks off pretty quickly, with the remainder of the season exploring more of the core characters and their interaction in their town, including plenty of historical narrative to fill in some of the gaps. Chihiro concerns himself with determining the right form of sustenance for Babu and Rea, as well as taking responsibility for the latter after she’s banished from home by her creepy father and starts her zombie life. The awkward romance is made all the more tumultuous with the addition of Chihiro’s cousin Ranko who has a crush on Chihiro. The tortured relationship between Rea and her father generally dominates the narrative, with the core characters Chihiro, Rea and Ranko providing situational response.
The scenario sounds a bit formulaic, but its strengths is its ability to drift into tackling interesting scenarios. The relationship between Rea and her father at first arguably comes off as an eccentric black comedy in light of its ridiculousness, but as the series continues to push on we see this isn’t the case and it’s treated as disturbing and twisted, giving it the strength it duly needs. The quieter episodes that focus on some of the fringe characters are also really good – Ranko gets some welcomed screen time when they explore the shared history between her and Chihiro, and Mero’s slice of life episode was also really sweet. Chihiro has more depth than I was expecting, but at the conclusion of the show I’m not sure where that character would go next.
The series’ ability to tell a compelling story also extends to the episode focusing on Rea’s biological and step mothers – Aria’s story was interesting as it created believable links between the main storyline and the developmental elements of Rea’s family composition. Rea herself proves to be arguably a bit more interesting than Chihiro, as it is ultimately her struggle and escape that drives the narrative. The first few episodes in particular do a really good job of setting this up for the series, with the relationship between her and Chihiro nice to watch unfold. Despite the scenario, the fan service is more retrained than I was expecting given it could easily turn into a typical harem/ecchi shounen rom com, though the uncut version released by Madman still takes the time to add in some nudity and opportunistic camera angles.
In terms of the release, as a relatively recent series it looks great on Blu-Ray with stunning clarity and colour. It’s spread across two discs giving plenty of room for the keeping the encoding on the 13 episodes well-provisioned and a handful of extras. The Japanese audio did the job, but it’s only 2.0 so lacks the depth of a surround track, though there is a 5.1 track on the English dub for those who want to give their home theater a bit of excitement.
Overall Sankarea is a solid release – the presentation is top-notch and it provides an interesting twist on what at first glance appears to be a property relying on a zombie fad but in actuality is more concerned with relationships and exploring the sub-surface of suburban complacency. There are areas where it could be tightened up, but I was genuinely surprised with how much I enjoyed this series. Recommended viewing regardless of your stance on the whole zombie thing.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.