by Rebecca Silverman,

Sankarea: Undying Love

GN 11

Sankarea: Undying Love GN 11
Rea's back from ZOMA, but she still doesn't remember her time with Chihiro, although Bub lingers in her memories. Now, however, her terminal eater stage seems to be upon her. Chihiro learned from Otoki that what all zombies desire (to eat) is that which they love most...but Rea doesn't remember who that is. Can Chihiro save her? And will saving her mean giving up his own life?

Somewhere in the back of our minds whenever we read a romance is the question, “Will this have a happy ending?” With some stories we know the answer immediately; others, like Mitsuru Hattori's Sankarea, make us question that answer constantly. The truth lies somewhere in-between in this case: Hattori maintains that the ending is happy, and in large part it is. But Sankarea never quite loses its ineffable sadness, making this, while more sweet than bitter, still a finale that leaves a little bit of sorrow in the heart.

Events have been escalating dramatically since Rea, Bub, and Chihiro went to ZOMA's secret zombie facility on a small tropical island several books ago, and not only have we witnessed Darin's change of heart, but also learned the truth about Grandpa and his elixir, partly from him and partly through the zombified remains of his second wife, the irrepressible Otoki. The two most important things that Chihiro and Darin learned from all of this is that Grandpa's body had become “impervious to death” through repeated small doses of the elixir and that all zombies desire to eat that (or whom) they love most. As Rea's mental state deteriorates at a rapid pace, Chihiro is faced with the question of how much he would sacrifice for her continued well-being. He could, of course, just let her be put to final rest...or he could offer himself up as a meal and hope that it will return her “special zombie” status and give her back the (un)life she is finally having a chance to live. Either way it looks as if a happy ending is not in the cards for the two, and it is to Hattori's credit that he manages to work within the restrictions he placed upon himself to make things worthwhile for readers. After all, he made two basic promises to both us and his characters at the start of the series: Rea would get to live a normal life and Chihiro would get to be with his ideal zombie girl.

Among the clever usage of misdirection (and then a much less clever use of the same technique later on), Hattori largely fulfills both of those promises. More of an issue is the return of Rea's father. When we last saw him shortly after Rea had been zombified (and actually, we learn that all eleven volumes take place over the course of a month), he had tried to kill Chihiro before leaving to research cures for Rea's undead state, preferably one that would return her to life. Now he comes back at the end to redeem himself for his treatment of his daughter for most of her life. While it is difficult to argue against his actions now that he's back, since they are crucial to the story's resolution, it also is a little hard to accept that his years of abusing his daughter are swept under the rug and he is allowed to become a good character. While I'm all for forgiveness in theory, this is the man who caused his daughter to try and commit suicide because he made her life such a living hell. It was his actions that caused her death, and while the argument can be made that if she hadn't fallen off that cliff after drinking the potion we wouldn't have a story, I find it difficult to let him off so easily. Not only does he not really have to live with the knowledge that he helped to kill his daughter, because she's right there walking and talking, but he also becomes a major facilitator of the happy ending, which just doesn't sit quite right. It feels too much like an excuse for a reprehensible villain, a get-out-of-jail-free card created in order to manipulate the story. The short story included in the back isn't particularly good, though it does show once again his willingness (and ability) to play with what's acceptable to draw in a shounen manga: you've never seen so many erect, naked penises in non-hentai manga. They all belong to one little boy, of course, but he still got them in there, similarly to how he snuck in hints of pubic hair in earlier volumes.

Issues aside, this is a fitting end to the tale. Hattori's art has improved over the course of the story, and the juxtaposition of creepy zombie images and traditional shoujo-style romantic embellishments at key points of the story work very well at creating a slightly unsettling tone. Hattori also uses line thickness to good effect, allowing the strength and thickness of the lines to help create mood. If nothing else, we can rest assured that Rea is out there somewhere getting to live the life she was initially denied, proving that death cannot stop everything – just delay it for a while.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Satisfying conclusion, some good artistic touches. Nice use of misdirection and balance of happy and sad.
Redemption of Rea's dad is a little problematic, another of Kodansha's tight-binding releases with issues reading the parts closest to the margin. Short story isn't very good.

Story & Art: Mitsuru Hattori

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Sankarea (manga)

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Sankarea: Undying Love (GN 11)

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