Zombie Land Saga Revenge
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Zombie Land Saga Revenge ?
Don't let her cute face and diminutive height disarm you; Lily Hoshikawa is the most powerful zombie in Franchouchou, and she will destroy you if you get on her bad side. Need I remind everyone of that time she riled up the transphobes in British parliament? It's absurd enough to sound like a cockamamie scene cooked up by the Zombie Land Saga writers, but that was a real thing that happened on our real planet. And if Lily has that much power as a fictional character, it's staggering to imagine how much in-universe strength she's hiding under all that hair. We need look no further for proof than this week's episode, where she renders even the human megaphone Kotaro speechless. My dude saunters in with a whole scuba scheme for the gang, and Lily ices him without batting an eye. Don't mess with Number Six.
Zombie Land Saga returns with another Lily-focused episode this week, and it's hard not to compare it to her episode from the first season. With its heartstring-yanking father-daughter plot, as well as its frank and surprisingly respectful acknowledgement of Lily as a trans girl, that ended up being one of the series' most lasting impressions. I think it was also the point at which I realized the show had the potential to be not just a goofy idol parody, but an idol show for the masses—potential that this season has been pretty darn good at fulfilling. By comparison, this episode is a lot more rote, exploring well-trodden themes about show business and the people navigating its many toothy gears. That's still a worthy topic that Zombie Land Saga explores satisfactorily here, but it's not on the level of the bold mission statement Lily's story provided last season.
Lest I sound too disappointed, however, I must stress that this is still a good episode that gives us many good things, including Lily performing rakugo. For those unfamiliar (which means you ignored my plea to watch Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū last week, for shame), rakugo is a style of traditional Japanese theater, in which one person performs a story by acting out dialogue between multiple characters all by themselves, with no accoutrement besides their voice and a few props. It's extremely minimalist in presentation—the performers don't even stand up—but it has a rich history as entertainment. It's also kind of old-fashioned, so Lily's choice to do it on a nationally-broadcast talent show is a weird one. On the other hand, weird choices are what Zombie Land Saga is all about.
Lily's choice of tale, though, is actually a very fitting one for the episode. Rakugo utilizes a large library of established stories that performers will memorize and recite line by line. Lily picks one called “Kowakare,” in which a child helps his embittered parents reunite and reconcile, with the signature blend of humor and sentimentality common to many rakugo yarns. I actually don't know much of the story's specifics; I only recognized the punchline about the hammer and nail from the beginning of Rakugo Shinju's tenth episode. However, considering this episode revolves around the appeal—and limitations—of childhood innocence, it makes sense that Lily would choose a story with a child as the hero. She is eternally young thanks to her premature death and zombification, and while she embraces her new lease on life, it's not without its complications.
Light acts as a foil to Lily in that regard. Like her, he's a beloved child actor prodigy climbing up the entertainment ladder. Unlike her, he's pampered and acerbic behind the scenes, and he can't wait to grow up into a proper actor. He sees gigs like this talent show as nothing but a means towards that end, and he purposefully milks his cherubic façade for all that it's worth. It's a very familiar archetype. But while the episode focuses on his two-faced cynicism at first (including a laughably blatant shout-out to his namesake from Death Note), it softens its perspective as his contest with Lily progresses. After all, there's nothing inherently wrong about him wanting to grow up, both as a person and as a professional. Neither is there anything wrong with Lily embracing her cute and twee self. They're different people with different aesthetics and different goals—as well as different capabilities. Light's moment of bathroom despair turns into a touching acknowledgement of that, with Lily reassuring him that it's okay they'll be going down different paths. Light can grow up. Lily will always stay Lily. There's euphoria and melancholy alike in both situations.
Furthermore, I think it was a pretty smart decision to give Light the character arc this episode, as opposed to Lily. Lily's already plenty content and confident with where and who she is, and in fact, that's a big part of her appeal as a character (and especially as a trans character with a big happy trans pride hairdo). This also means the episode can spend time on more important things, like Lily embracing her inner Ella Fitzgerald. Her bouncy scat singing and bouncier dance moves are infectiously jubilant, and another iconic embodiment of Franchouchou's outside-the-box philosophy when it comes to performance. And even though she loses the contest, it turns out to be a big hit with kids. Like Saki with her radio show, Lily seems to have found her own unique niche as a one-girl version of The Wiggles, and that's honestly perfect.
Still, much of this episode feels like it could have belonged to any other series doing a one-off episode about a reality show talent contest with a precocious frontrunner rival, and that ends up being its biggest weakness. Zombie Land Saga's appeal lies in its defiance of the generic, so it's a little disappointing to see it color so neatly in between the lines. Nevertheless, even by-the-book Zombie Land Saga is pretty good, and this week definitely has its moments. Lily's effortless neutering of Kotaro will be remembered as the stuff of legends, and Kotaro's bonkers disaster of a mudskipper impersonation will not be leaving my mind anytime soon (regrettably). There's also plenty to look forward to next week, with the legend herself, Tae Yamada, finally getting her own episode. Or so it appears, anyway. In the meantime, it's always nice to see Lily loving life. Whether it's a meticulously honed craft of storytelling, or an improvised eruption of jazz vocals, Lily is a powerful little polymath, and I adore her dearly.
Steve is hungry for anime and on the prowl for Revenge this season. Learn about this and more (i.e. bad anime livetweets) by following him on Twitter.
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