Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 9th 2011
Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
As he'll readily tell you, Ayumu Aikawa is a zombie. And a Masou Shojo. The latter being his world's version of the magical girl. How does a zombified high-school student become a magical girl when he's not even a girl? Well, that's a long story that involves Haruna, a Masou Shojo who bisects him with a chainsaw late one night in his favorite graveyard, and his master Yuu, a silver-haired lady necromancer of unfathomable power. Regardless of how it happened, it leaves Ayumu with a wealth of girly magic (and the dress to go with it) and a pack of monsters called Megalos riding his frilly behind. As if that weren't enough, he still has to find the serial killer who killed him (yes, he's dead), and deal with a vampire-ninja named Sera who wants to re-kill him. And who then moves in, making his house the harem from hell. Will he ever find time to romance a nice normal girl, like the ones in his class—which he attends despite the mummifying effects of direct sunlight—or perhaps the sweet friend of a friend who was hospitalized by the very killer that once cut his heart out? Probably not.
After watching enough anime you start thinking that you've seen everything. And then some inbred show will come along and whack you upside the head with sights you've never even contemplated. Like an evil magical girl being chainsawed by a zombie in drag. Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? is full of moments like those; reminders that there are still new things to be done with old genres. It may look like your everyday harem romp, but it is anything but.
It is, however, a mess. A tossed-together, haphazard, "what the hell was that?" kind of mess. The series' tone is all over the place: one minute frantic, the next introspective, wandering with no regard for propriety from insanely silly to deadly serious. Blackest humor and emptiest fluff rub shoulders with disturbing gore and intense psychopathy. One episode will be a breathlessly funny and perfectly insane comedy, the following will be a goony harem un-romance, and the one after might be a no-holds-barred chainsaws-and-swords action epic. Details that might or might not be hints will be dropped, only to be apparently forgotten in the crush of blood, nudity, and grotesquely cute cross-dressing. Characters are introduced when convenient or seemingly for the hell of it, to be killed or excised on a whim. Zombies, necromancers, vampire-ninjas and magical girls (pardon me, Masou Shoujos), each with their own separate worlds and cultures, get tipped into the maelstrom, to blend with abandon. There's chaos in zombie-land, and it ain't just the war and gore. The show always seems on the verge of blowing apart under the pressure of its own insanity.
And yet it doesn't. Zombie is actually quite a bit smarter and at least a little more controlled than it first seems. Those details that might be hints usually are, and it has a sneaky habit of revealing very sensible motivations behind what initially seem insensible clichés (there is a very good reason, for instance, why twin-tailed hospital cutie Kyoko has a thing for Ayumu). It also has a bon-a-fide overarching plot—Ayumu's murder—and a way of plugging the most unrelated tangents back into it. Neither the series' fierce midseason finale nor the demented gags that pepper the path leading to it are the products of a sloppy series, merely a crazy one. That said, the series does misstep, and often enough to indicate a certain lack of discipline. The cutesy fluff is bizarrely wrongheaded (Jenga tournaments? Really?) and the periodic heavy scenes suffer mightily for having no characters meaty enough to anchor them. Unpredictability, however, is just another of Zombie's weapons. Failure to get a teary confession to leave its sodden launch-pad just makes it all the sweeter when a blackly funny action set-piece is propelled through the stratosphere.
Zombie is a pretty conventional-looking show, visually speaking—at least at first glance. Its female designs are uninteresting, each conforming to a male-fantasy stereotype of some sort (busty badass babe, feisty loli with the inevitable fang, soft-looking good girl, expressionless bishojo) and with a whiff of eroge about their signature hairstyles, moe mouths and standardized facial features. Male designs are even worse. You'd never be able to pick Ayumu out of a lineup of dating sim heroes, and the other men...well, there's only one really, and you'd lose him in a lineup of perverted best friends. The background art shows a little more verve, mostly when it starts leaking cheeky faux-horror atmosphere (Ayumu's favorite cemetery is great Tim Burton-esque fun). Shinji Kakijima's score is similarly generic: somewhat insistent, mostly nondescript and rarely more than sufficient to its purpose.
What Zombie does with its ho-hum visuals is far from ho-hum however. That suggestive magical-girl transformation that you yawned through when Haruna was doing it? Apply it to Ayumu and you won't be yawning any more. Ditto the way-too-long panty-flashes and cheesecake full-body pans. Start mixing in ever-escalating Megalo attacks and the variety of animation showboating afforded by Sera's lethal swirls of leaves and the shockingly violent magic of the Masou Shojos and you start getting those previously-mentioned sights never seen. Like Ayumu in blossoming drag (the more powerful the magic, the cuter the dress) kicking the head off of a levitating blue whale. Or Haruna in her pink Cardcaptor costume sawing a bear from cranium to anus. Or a fingernail levitating off of a spellcaster's finger as her own spell skins her like a slaughterhouse beef.
Even when it isn't creating something new, the series is animated intelligently enough that it's consistently interesting to look at. The fights are slick and confidently-staged, and even the most inane sequences are alleviated by tiny sight-gags—a comically unsteady "Dr. Poppor" for instance, or any number of grotesque dried-zombie jokes. And that final bloodbath, during which cross-dressing hijinks meet nauseating horror and visceral Akira-styled destruction? Beautiful—in a seriously screwed up kind of way.
You cannot expect consistency or focus from Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?. Nor deep emotional involvement or warm fuzzies. It just isn't made that way. Imagine the unhinged mutant offspring of a gut-crunching zombie flick and a magical-girl romance, conceived during a foursome with a raucous frat-boy comedy and a Hong-Kong sword-fu epic. That's Zombie. It isn't profound and it won't touch your soul, except maybe to soil it a bit, but lord is it fun to watch.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : C
+ While you may have seen its various elements elsewhere, you've never seen them brought together like this.
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