Zombie Land Saga Revenge
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Zombie Land Saga Revenge ?
After one and a half seasons of patient background grunting, The Legendary Tae Yamada finally shuffles into the spotlight with a full episode of zombie hijinks to call her own. It features, among many other things, a dance battle with a giant chicken man. I scarcely could have asked for more. We know by now that Zombie Land Saga can put together a fine—if unconventionally populated—idol narrative, but this week's misadventures are a far cry from that blueprint. By handing the reins over to Tae, Zombie Land Saga embraces its loosest and most madcap self, throwing off the shackles of drama and common sense while letting cartoony chaos take control. The result is disjointed and all over the place, both locationally and figuratively, and it's also the most consistently fun the series has ever been.
I am first and foremost very thankful that we learn almost nothing about Tae's non-zombie life. Prior to this week, I feared that the eventual most Legendary of episodes would try to “explain” Tae in a way that would remove some of the intrinsic magic of her character. Aside from a shot of her (presumed) family grave, however, the narrative shows no interest in her origins. Tae is Tae, and that's enough. This is also the attitude the everyday citizens of Saga embrace, greeting, helping, and conversing with the nonverbal zombie girl as she takes care of her idol errands.
This is, essentially, the “joke” of the episode: everyone she encounters is absurdly oblivious to the fact that Tae is a zombie, despite her being the most stereotypical zombie in Franchouchou. It's a premise that the episode stretches in a lot of very funny ways, but there's something undeniably wholesome about it as well. You get the sense that the whole town loves Tae and treats her as one of their own, even if she likes to chew on their hair sometimes. You could probably also read this as some surprisingly good disability representation, with Tae's quirks being accommodated while not being condescended to. And in concert with the rest of the series, if we consider Zombie Land Saga to be an idol show for the weirdos and outcasts, then that is harmonious with the unilateral kindness shown to the group's weirdest member. If Saga is a refuge for misfits, then of course Tae fits right in.
Along these lines, I love the revelation that Tae has a dedicated and vocal fanbase because of her unfiltered undead qualities. Tae doesn't sing, and she dances to the beat of her own broken drum. She is, arguably, the least idol-esque out of all of them, yet those idiosyncrasies endear her towards a lot of Franchouchou's fans. It reminds me of the recent headlines about Lelush, the tragic boy band reality show contestant who until recently couldn't get himself voted off no matter how badly he sabotaged his performances. Instead, his unmasked misery backfired spectacularly, and fans of the show (as well as the whole internet now) love him.
This is a tangent, but I love Lelush's story so much. There are a lot of fascinating and complicated psychological and sociological factors you could dig into here, but the issue I want to talk about is authenticity. We understand (or should understand) that the entertainers and artists we enjoy are merely appealing projections of a complete person. We don't know them personally, and that's okay. That's just how the celebrity relationship works. But when someone like Lelush acts so pugnaciously outside the norm, we can't help but feel we're getting a glimpse of a “real” person amidst a sea of performances. In this light, it's no wonder that he amassed so much popularity. And similarly, it's no wonder that so many people love Tae. Like Lelush, she doesn't care about being a perfect idol (albeit for different reasons). She just cares about being Tae, and that's something that can appeal to both idol fans and skeptics.
Anyway, back to the episode, Tae's string of Dougie Jones-caliber luck is buoyed by a bunch of fun callbacks to the girls' first season adventures. Most important of those is the return of the diminutive ex-delinquent Maria, whose job at the grocery store seems to have helped foster a fast friendship with Tae. Maria's episode was a favorite of mine, so I'm glad we get to see her doing well in the wake of Saki's motivation. Through her, we get to see that Tae really does have a kind heart (and working brain) when she tries to give the munchkin her dance-off winnings. It's also funny that, in spite of her straighter laces, Maria still gets dragged into a seedy den of boat gambling by Saga's worst beat cop. Her rivalry with Misa rages on here too, but in a cute way that spurs Misa to finally win the big race. I imagine this subplot is also why they didn't go with the more obvious gambling pastime horse racing (not that a professional teen boat racer is that much more plausible than a professional teen jockey). I confess that my Uma Musume-poisoned brain would have loved a crossover, but I suppose the intersection of those two gag-rich heavy hitters would have proven too chaotic for any single episode of anime to contain.
Outside of Tae, the other thread holding this week's installment together is our intrepid reporter Okoba tailing Franchouchou's most mysterious member in the hopes of stumbling on a big scoop. Naturally, a lot of the episode's humor comes from him just barely missing every piece of evidence that wafts under his nose—again, contrasted cheekily with how ridiculously obvious Tae's zombification is. To that point, the episode indulges in a lot of great slapstick, from her neck-breaking breakdance moves to her fateful sneeze full of pen ink. It's absolute Looney Tunes stuff, and it puts such a big smile on my face. Unfortunately for Franchouchou, however, the shoe drops alongside Tae's head, and Okoba finally gets photographic evidence of what makes Saga's new darlings so unique. It feels weird to have such an important plot development tacked onto the end of Tae's shaggy dog adventures, but that weirdness is part of Zombie Land Saga's appeal.
I loved this episode. They did my girl Tae proud. And I just want to end this review with a reminder that Tae is voiced by Kotono Mitsuishi. The showrunners got the woman who brought to life such titanic figures as Sailor Moon and Misato Katsuragi, and they gave her the character who only speaks in zombie grunts. It's dumb, it's brilliant, and it adds another layer of irreverance on top of Zombie Land Saga's unique idol ethos. Mitsuishi also knocks it out of the park this week, as expected of a veteran professional. I could give a lot of further compliments to Revenge, because here at the midpoint of the season, it's definitely proven itself to be a worthy sequel—and maybe even an improvement. However, my final thought is much simpler. There are plenty of idols out there, and there might be plenty of zombies too, but there will never be another zombie idol quite like Tae Yamada.
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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