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Interview: The Cast And Crew of Zombieland Saga

by Kalai Chik,

Unconventional idol horror anime, Zombie Land Saga, took the world by storm with its cute characters and shocking early plot twists. The world of Zombie Land Saga tells the story of a resurrected group of girls who become idols to rejuvenate Saga Prefecture. Despite their cute group name, the girls of Franchouchou overcome underlying issues from their previous human lives through the power of found family.

Fans of Franchouchou spent a fun weekend at Cruchyroll Expo with the voices of Sakura (Kaede Hondo), Saki (Asami Tano), MAPPA CEO Manabu Otsuka, and producer Makoto Kimura. The guests took time out of their busy schedule to speak on their experiences working on season one, and give fans a hint for what to expect in the upcoming season two.

Note: this interview was conducted press-junket style, with journalists from many outlets present to ask questions. "ANN:" precedes the questions asked by our representative.

How did you practice for the rap battle in episode 2? Was there anything in particular you wanted to focus on in your performance?

Kaede Hondo: To prepare for the recording, I researched and watched a lot of cypher battles online. But I didn't practice at home; I'd do it at the studio right before recording. During recording, it was a lot of fun, but I came from a perspective of rage because Sakura had gone through a lot. She's been hit by a car, she's become a zombie, etc. I used that rage as a place to draw from.

Asami Tano: I practiced a lot at home, but then I went to the studio and talked to the producer for tips and tricks. I wanted to know where Saki was coming from mentally and emotionally in her rap, and he ended up throwing me to the wolves. I was left in the studio to start singing, and it was alarming. But the reason why he did that was to preserve the character's sense of surprise; Saki didn't want to lose to Sakura and I didn't want to lose to Ms. Hondo either.

Given the popularity of idol anime, did you expect the anime to become as popular as it is?

Asami Tano: I'm surprised, and I'm happy that everyone enjoys the series. Without their enjoyment, we wouldn't be here. I'd love for everyone to keep enjoying and supporting us into the second season.

Kaede Hondo: I was very surprised too at how popular it became! However, when I thought more about it, I'm not surprised since in Japan it's called the “five-minute anime.” Despite the length of the episode, you're hit with everything so quickly that it feels like only five minutes have passed. I'm happy that every enjoys the story, but I didn't and couldn't have expectations because of how fast everything happens in the story. Personally, I didn't let myself have expectations.

Manabu Otsuka: To be honest, I didn't feel the popularity rise in real time because of all the work involved in the series. To me, it was a slow progression and suddenly I saw that it was really popular.

When audiences first saw the series, it didn't hit them as an idol anime. Many people who weren't idol fans before the series became that after watching Zombie Land Saga. Did you expect Zombie Land Saga to convert people into idol fans?

Asami Tano: My friend, who isn't an idol fan, watched Zombie Land Saga and I was surprised when they became a fan. All three of us agree that the appeal comes from a place of story rather than being a genre title such as Love Live!, where it's straightforward to see cute girls doing cute things. Creating an idol anime wasn't the goal.

Kaede Hondo: We're seeing a trend with idol anime in the 2D and 3D world, where there are deep stories about their bonds and the feeling of family. That hooked me in because it shows me how real the characters feel.

Manabu Otsuka: I'm not actually not an idol fan, and I didn't have any experience working on any idol title. At the time, I hadn't watched any idol anime. I went right for the story and the world building. In order to make the series, I gathered information and my staff did the same on researching how to make an idol anime.

ANN: During the MAPPA panel at Anime Expo a couple of weeks ago, Makoto Kimura and Manabu Otsuka mentioned that Mamoru Miyano, the voice of Kotaro Tatsumi, had ad-libbed some of his lines. As Sakura and Saki, how did you react to those ad-libbed lines and did you have some ad-libs of your own?

Asami Tano: Most of my ad-libbed lines came in during the Drive-In Tori scenes. Mr. Miyano is very over the top and acting his heart out, so I had to change my breathing patterns to match his performance. He's very respected within the voice acting industry, and I was honored to take part in that. His acting is also very infectious; you want to scream along with him! In that episode specifically—which I think is episode five—I was trying to match him at every step and luckily they kept it in.

Kaede Hondo: I did most of my ad-libbing during episode ten with the boar scene, and there wasn't a lot of written instruction other than the boar is charging towards Sakura and her head comes off. I was wondered, “Can I really do this?” I ended up ad-libbing the whole thing and I'm happy that they kept everything in the scene, especially the “bleh” face she makes to play dead.

Zombie Land Saga is very popular in the United States, and this is because of the uniqueness of the story and its characters. What is your favorite aspect of your character and the story?

Kaede Hondo: I really like when Sakura panics, like the moments when she's frantic moment and screaming “Help me, I'm just a head!” There's also a gentle and caring relationship between all of the girls in the show, especially with Tae and Lily. Lily takes care of Tae as best as she can. As we see more of the series, we see more of the negative aspects of each character, and I enjoy that because it makes Sakura more of a character. Seeing her experiences helps the audience visualize how it's shaped Sakura as a person.

Asami Tano: Saki is a yankee, where she's a resident troublemaker and zooming around in her loud bike messing stuff up. Although she's rough through and through, she's also very kind and you see this when she's raising her Tamagotchi!. In that sense, she's very much a typical, cute teenage girl surprisingly. At first, she's hesitant to join the group because she doesn't want to be an idol. There's a coolness to her as a character and in her emotions. In the end, she wanted to join everyone because she wants to be their friend. You see her go through this big journey from her initial yankee persona and that's my favorite part of her.

Manabu Otsuka: My favorite aspect was creating the characters and working on the archetypes: the good girl, the yankee, the teacher's pet, the one that eats everything, etc. When you look at the characters, you can easily tell who everyone is by those types. But those emotions are very pure and that's how you empathize with their experiences. Also, they're all able to hang in there despite everything they go through, and that's what I wanted to focus on while working on the show.

Now that season one is over, what did you learn from your experiences playing your character?

Asami Tano: I learned a few things in the professional sphere, such as creating a cypher and conducting a rap battle. It seems simple, but the rap battle works because you're able to feed off your partner and vice versa. Prior to Zombie Land Saga, I had never experienced that before. Also, being able to work with voice acting veterans such as Mamoru Miyano and Kotono Mitsuishi, who's best known as Misato from Evangelion and Usagi from Sailor Moon, helped me grow professionally. I stopped worrying about form, learned new things, and pushed new voices out of me.

Kaede Hondo: Mine is more emotional. I had a lot of feelings playing Sakura, and I think it changed me. Sakura's story is tragic where she's constantly being challenged, and suddenly she dies. Her story is about challenges and how one overcomes them. To me, this was a touching message and I hope that it was the same for people who were watching.

Did any of you like zombies before you worked on Zombie Land Saga? If you did, what were some of the shows or movies you watched?

Asami Tano: No, absolutely not. I'm so weak to scary things to the point where if I think I see a face in the bath I'll freak out. When I first opened the script, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. Then I found out that there are surprisingly tender scenes and it wasn't all horror. I think this is why non-horror fans can enjoy this anime, because there's a richness of story and an element of friendship and perseverance in it.

Kaede Hondo: I'm the opposite; I love scary stuff! When I opened the script for the first time, I was surprised to see comedic bits in a horror genre. And it's not all comedic either; there are some actual scary parts.

Manabu Otsuka: I'm lukewarm. I don't like or hate horror and that was my opinion while working on the show.

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