Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Apr 14th 2012
Is This a Zombie?
Life isn't easy for Ayumu Aikawa. The first problem is that he's dead. The next is that, while already living with the necromancer who resurrected him, he accidentally strips a magical, excuse me, magikewl girl of her powers (and clothes), so she can't go home to her world. Naturally this means that she'll have to come home with him, and right behind her is a so-called “vampire ninja” who wants the necromancer to come with her. Actually, this part isn't so bad for Ayumu, even if they think him wanting them to address him as “onii-chan” is creepy. Maybe being a zombie magikewl girl/boy with the makings of a harem isn't such a bad deal after all.
Is This a Zombie?'s first volume doesn't waste anytime: the first few color pages of one of Yen Press' most recent offerings show a girl falling crotch first from the sky while the text is in crotch-shaped light bubbles around it. (If this isn't deliberate, then it was a very poor choice of shape, but given the juxtaposition of the images it seems likely to have been an intentional move.) Her underwear is of the pastel blue striped variety, which just adds to the impression that this series knows who it wants for an audience. Mere pages after the falling girl's introduction as a “magikewl girl,” a translation choice well explained in the copious notes on the inside back cover, Ayumu has inadvertently stripped her of both her clothes and her powers, apparently simply by catching her pink chainsaw. Now, the naked Haruna informs him, he must be a magikewl girl in her stead. She's not happy about this, and while Ayumu certainly doesn't mind her nudity, he does feel a little guilty. So he drapes his uniform jacket over her and takes her home.
It is at this point that one starts to feel like the story is charging on ahead with no regard to reader familiarity or comprehension. Ayumu is already living with Eu, a mute necromancer who saved his life, but we don't know how or why until fifty-odd pages into the book. We know that zombies don't deal well with direct sunlight, that none of his friends know that he's dead, and that's really about it. While none of this detracts from the humor of the first chapter's encounter with Haruna and the giant bear monster she's fighting, it does make it a bit hard to concentrate if you are the sort of reader who likes to know what's going on. On the other hand, it certainly does force you to jump right into the action.
Before too many pages have gone by, Ayumu is living with three lovely girls of various moe stereotypes, something that is doubtless deliberate. Sera, the third member of this girl group, says that she's a “vampire ninja,” a name that seems to wink and nudge at popular tropes in pop culture. She fills the “busty” niche in the story, while Haruna is the loli type and Eu is the passive one...nominally. Ayumu, instead of behaving like the usual harem male lead, is pretty keen on having them around, and fantasizes about them all calling him “onii-chan” and putting words in the silent Eu's mouth. These fantasies don't, refreshingly enough, come back to bite him physically, even though Haruna does a fair amount of barely justified beating, and their inclusion adds to the humor of the story. And it is funny – the idea of a boy inheriting a magical girl's powers and outfit is humorous and Ayumu's dry narration gives the series a Haruhi vibe. It's garbled, but nuggets of laughter do shine through.
It is, however, painfully obvious that Is This a Zombie? is but one facet of a multimedia franchise, and perhaps not the best one at that. Originally a series of novels by Shinkichi Kimura and also comprising an anime, the manga by necessity leaves out a fair amount of details, a fact readily acknowledged by mangaka Sacchi. What this means is that one is left with a sense of missing something, perhaps not important, but definitely helpful. People familiar with the franchise's other incarnations will most likely enjoy the manga adaptation more than those coming at it cold.
Yen Press has, as usual, paid attention to detail with their translation and included a variety of notes about some of their word choices and obscure details. The only thing that might have helped the book to read more smoothly – something that Sacchi's layouts and art certainly promote – is that all of Eu's written communications are left untranslated on the page, with footnotes providing the English. This pulls the reader away from the flow of the panels and takes her out of the story, as she is forced to pause and find the translated text. This is one case where authenticity ought to have been sacrificed so that readers could more fully understand the story.
Is This a Zombie? is certainly a fun read and at this point doesn't quite deserve its shrink-wrapped M rating. While it isn't the most coherent or cohesive of manga, it still manages to entertain and get a few chuckles, and though it won't fly with people keen on knowing precisely what's going on, fans of the novels or anime should still enjoy this incarnation of Ayumu and his friends.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Some funny concepts, nice art, and a well put together offering on Yen Press' part.
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