Zombie Land Saga
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Zombie Land Saga ?
Life often has an odd sense of humor, and apparently so does death. There's dramatic irony in the fact that it's only after she died that Sakura was able to live out her dream of becoming an idol and reaching others. This episode of Zombie Land Saga twists this premise around, giving us a glimpse into Sakura's personality when she was still alive, which is ironically the most dead we've seen her.
I've consistently praised Zombie Land Saga for its willingness to play with or outright eschew conventional idol tropes in favor of its own wacky and wildly inconsistent tone. However, this episode plays straight into the familiar bout of last-minute drama leading up to the final concert of the season, and I can't help but feel somewhat disappointed. It's not that this structure is bad—it only makes sense that you'd want your finale to feel as big and satisfying as possible. It's more that this feels like Zombie Land Saga going through the motions instead of blazing its own path, and as such it also feels incongruous with the anime's overall ambitions. Instead of ramping up to a hopefully explosive finale, it takes an abrupt and slightly frustrating detour.
Part of my frustration lies with the convenience of Sakura's amnesia. By no means am I singling Zombie Land Saga out for this—amnesia is an anime epidemic—but it was easier to brush aside when it wasn't the focus of the story. Taking away her memories of Franchouchou turns her into a sack of sadness, sucking the fun out of the show and leaving the resultant void mostly empty. On its own, Sakura's backstory is fine and even relatable. She was a human personification of Murphy's Law, with her every attempt to accomplish something getting undermined by a cruel twist of fate. With each freak failure, Sakura retreated further and further away from others, and when you're trapped inside your own head like that, it's easy to feel like the entire universe is conspiring against you. But since this is the penultimate episode, we only get the barest outline of this arc. It's literally shown to us as just one memory after another of her failing at something, amplifying the absurdity of her situation rather than the pathos. Some of that is certainly an intentional result of Zombie Land Saga's wry humor coming through, but it doesn't give the episode's dramatic ambitions enough scaffolding to support themselves. I want to care about Sakura's insecurity and fear of failure, but this feels like a roadblock instead of a proper character arc.
Also, Sakura made Lily cry, which is absolutely, positively, 100% unforgivable.
Outside of Sakura's moping, there are some fun bits to this episode. Her re-reawakening is a callback to the first episode with some nicely-animated chunks thrown in. I love Tae's pure and puppy-like behavior, as her response to Sakura's fright and bewilderment is the same as her response to anything else: jump on it and try to bite it. No malice, just Tae. Lily and Saki also deliver some fantastic faces as Sakura stumbles over their futons. Yugiri offers up the infamously healing power of her slap, and her going full oiran mode for seemingly no reason is the perfectly absurd Zombie Land Saga setup for the deadpan punchline of Sakura's disappearance. The veil also parts on Kotaro a bit, as we see him drinking and chatting with an old friend (and because he knows Yugiri, heavy emphasis on old). It's impossible to tell if we're heading for a last-minute left-field twist, but at least now it's clear that Franchouchou aren't the only zombies walking the streets of Saga.
Probably the most affecting moment of the episode is the explanation for Sakura's fixation on idols, and particularly on Ai. It's not a shocking revelation; she just happened to watch an interview with Ai, and her sentiments on accepting failure as a part of growth were just the words Sakura needed to hear. Ai became living proof that Sakura didn't need to be weighed down by her failures. It's simple and a little silly, but when you're in the throes of depression, sometimes it's the silly and simple things that save you. Kotaro is also full of his ever-so-charming blend of poignancy and jackassery while he chats with a dejected Sakura. I just want to say at least one more time what an absolute blessing Mamoru Miyano has been as the voice of Kotaro, second only to Kotono Mitsuishi's generation-defining role as The Legendary Yamada Tae.
There's not much else to say about this episode. Nothing gets resolved, so basically its only purpose is to set things up for the finale next week. Maybe it will work better when appraised as part of the whole, but taken on its own, this is a disappointingly weak installment of Zombie Land Saga, lacking the whimsy and irreverence of the show's better moments while focusing on a half-baked last-minute development for the sake of heightened drama. It's certainly not bad, but I expect better from the series. However, I still have confidence that Franchouchou can put themselves back together for a fun finale full of songs, spooks, and the salvation of Saga.
Zombie Land Saga is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is an anime-reviewing zombie who can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.
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