Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 24th 2013
Is This A Zombie?
DVD - The Complete Series [Limited Edition]
Ayumu Aikawa looks and acts like a normal high school student, but in truth he's actually a zombie, which means that he wilts (literally!) in direct sunlight but is otherwise virtually immortal; even dismemberment does not put him down for good. He owes this status to Eucliwood Hellscythe, the cute, mute necromancer who saved him after he was mortally wounded by a serial killer and now lives with him. He also becomes a Magical Garment Girl after he encounters the “genius Magical Garment Girl” Haruna, accidentally steals her powers, and uses her sentient chainsaw Mystletainn to transform when a Megalo (an animal-like monster wearing a school uniform) threatens them. Haruna, of course, joins the household, as does the busty, contrary vampire ninja Seraphim (Sera for short), who was sent to retrieve Eucliwood but sticks around when she is defeated despite regarding Ayumu as a disgusting maggot. Further complicating Ayumu's life are a second vampire ninja, whom he accidentally engages in a marriage ritual with (by vampire ninja standards) and who thus regards herself as his wife, and the villainous King of the Night, who seems to have past issue with Eucliwood as is fully willing to harm or kill those around her to get to her. And there is, of course, also that pesky serial killer.
Based on the first six or so volumes of a currently 11-volume light novel series, this 13-episode anime series (the 13th episode was originally released as an OVA bonus with the 8th book) has its serious content – it does deal with a serial killer, after all, and some of the issues surrounding Eucliwood are rather weighty – but mostly plays out as an absurd, sometimes funny blending of common anime elements and character concepts into rather weird combinations. It never achieves quite as many laughs as it seems like it should, but that does not keep it from being a fun, generally entertaining show.
Calling Zombie a parody isn't quite accurate, as it plays too much of its content straight for that, but it definitely takes a bemused perspective on how ridiculous certain common elements are while also generating some extra ridiculousness of its own. The very notion of a zombie boy who also becomes a magical girl (frilly dress and all!) is the series' most inspired gag, one which gets even funnier when Ayumu discovers that further powering up as a Magical Garment Girl involves becoming even cuter or must contend with people considering him a cross-dresser and/or pervert for being in the magical girl costume. (And, honestly, he does look every bit like an unenthusiastic crossplayer.) The ideas that a magical girl's weapon of choice would be a chainsaw and that foes would complain about how Haruna misnames her most devastating attack are also amusingly perverse twists. Vampire ninjas (who all, curiously, seem to be female) are far less original and their odd custom which can allow an accidental marriage to take place is a tired, timeworn concept in anime harems (think Urusei Yatsura and To Love-Ru, amongst others), though one episode where they must dress up in maid costumes and play symphonic orchestra instruments to stave off a threat is decidedly weirder, as is one vampire ninja faction's use of a type of ramen as a weapon. Megalos being giant talking animals who wear schoolboy uniforms (including a flying whale) is also pretty silly. And why not have a moe necromancer from the Underworld who must stay mute and emotionally centered lest she accidentally wreak havoc with her immensely powerful magic, too? (Although this isn't a new twist for anime, either; see Shunki Sa from The Story of Saiunkoku and possibly others.)
Naturally, this is also a harem anime which, in the classic Tenchi Muyo! tradition, is populated with all manner of exotic girls. While Sera despises Ayumu and consistently treats him poorly, Ayumu often fantasizes about Eucliwood, who is implied to at least care for him. He also draws romantic attention from both Haruna and the unsubtly-named Mael Strom (i.e., the second vampire ninja girl), the latter of whom regards herself as his wife after the accidental “marriage” and does what she can to live up to that. Another girl at school also seems to be interested in Ayumu, although this is only touched upon in the late episodes of this season. Some typical harem antics ensue, although these are usually secondary to everything else that happens. Surprisingly, associated fan service is relatively light beyond a distinct emphasis on the full-figured Sera's jiggle and the running gag about Ayumu imagining Eucliwood engaging in sexy come-ons, although it does have a couple of scenes implying a sexual reaction to anal penetration in one episode and episode 13 does put the whole cast in swimsuits.
Artistically speaking, the series does nothing special; in fact, this could be Studio DEEN's weakest artistic effort in recent memory. The only distinctive character designs are Eucliwood in her full necromancer get-up and Ayumu in his Magical Garment Girl power-up; others are fairly typical, with Haruna and Mael even looking a little too similar. Background art is ordinary, action scenes do nothing special visually, and CG elements stand too strongly in contrast to regular animation. The animation is a little sharper. Some parts do get fairly graphic, but the graphic content styles more towards cartoonish bloodletting.
The soundtrack is more effective. Rock opener "Ma・Ka・Se・Te Tonight," which introduces all of the main characters, gets each episode off to an energetic start and a more light-hearted closer with more comical chibi animation rounds each one up. In between the music generally hits the right note, whether for comedy, lively action, or softer and gentler numbers used for key dramatic moments. Episode 12, which features most of the main female characters doing idol singer performances, includes several bonus insert songs, too.
Funimation's English dub script takes greater liberties than the norm even for their dubs. While some of those are used to make phrases sound more naturally casual in English or couch them more in English terminology, in other places characters are actually saying significantly different things in the English dub. Casting choices and performances are solid but not spectacular, with Austin Tindle giving Ayumu an appropriately sardonic interpretation and Morgan Garrett (One Piece's Mozu) being a great fit at Seraphim but other roles being hit-or miss. The songs in episode 12 are dubbed, and the English dub does follow the original Japanese dub's gimmick of having Eucliwood's speaking parts in Ayumu's fantasies being voiced by a rotating variety of guest appearances.
Contrary to the recent norm, Funimation is only making this one available on DVD, albeit its two disks do come in regular-sized cases in a Limited Edition artbox. Extras include audio commentaries for episodes 3 and 7 on the first disk and clean opener and closer and a U.S. Trailer on the second disk.
The first season was successful enough that a sequel series, Is This a Zombie? of the Dead, followed a year after this season's initial run. Funimation simulcast that one, and so presumably will eventually be releasing it on DVD, too. For now, though these 13 episodes will have to suffice.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Some novel twists on common story elements, some good laughs.
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