Zombie Land Saga
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Zombie Land Saga ?
In the wake of this week's Zombie Land Saga, I'm stunned that this is a real anime that has been allowed to exist—in a good way! After a pair of decent but more conventionally “idol” episodes, this one ramps up the zaniness in its first minute and never lets up. There's more physical comedy, more reaction faces, Tae crows like a rooster, a giant chicken man does the moonwalk, and I haven't even touched the second half of the episode yet. It's a buck-wild return to form for our decaying debutantes.
Part of Zombie Land Saga's central joke is that regional idols have already become passe, so reviving that trend with literal zombies is an ironic and absurd way to go about revitalizing Saga. What's wonderful about this episode is that it takes that joke into the third dimension by having Franchouchou highlight two very real Saga attractions. Seriously, Drive-In Tori (http://www.drivein-tori.jp/) is an actual restaurant featuring yakiniku-style grilled chicken. It even has that ridiculous mascot, and I'm 99% certain that the owner voices himself. The Gatalympics are also just as real (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashima_Gatalympics) and muddy as they appear. So while it's not quite as great as these places unwittingly bringing in zombies to improve their visibility, these are still places that decided they were cool with their brands being associated with an anime about zombie idols, and I respect that. I also think it's cool of the show to highlight these kitschy local attractions that people outside of Saga probably don't know about. They both feel like a good fit for Zombie Land Saga's offbeat vibe.
The cartoonishness of this episode extends to its structure, which splits its block of time between two (mostly) independent stories like most of the cartoons I grew up with. The two halves are structured similarly—Kotaro gives a non sequitur introduction, the girls beat him up, he introduces the next job, only Saki gets excited, and Franchouchou find some way to simultaneously succeed and undermine their success. Incidentally, this lends more support to my assertion that Saki is the perfect choice for team leader, since she seems to be the most familiar with Saga's culture. I'd kill for a prequel series about her gang tearing up the streets of Saga and then enjoying some nice grilled chicken while they feed their Tamagotchis. But for now, this turns into a fine episode of Diners, Drive-In Toris, and Dives, with the perpetually legendary Yamada Tae filling the shoes of Guy Fieri's ironclad stomach as she shovels fistfuls of raw chicken into her mouth. This part is full of great bits, but by far the episode's greatest asset is its rapid-fire comedy, constantly on the move from one absurdity to the next and always upping the ante. Simply putting everyone in chicken costumes and making them do the cheesy commercial dance might have been far enough for a more conventional idol anime, but Zombie Land Saga refuses to stop there. Kotaro wants them to feel a passion for chicken as searing as a yakiniku grill, and the final result finds Tae doing an impeccable impression of a rooster and chomping the plump and probably tasty rump of Drive-In Tori's own mascot. These might not be the idols Saga deserves, but they're the idols Saga needs right now.
Moving onto the second half, the Gatalympics seem like a cross between a Tough Mudder competition and Takeshi's Castle/MXC—basically an excuse to have fun and get very dirty. Again, it's not exactly the scene you'd expect to find a song-and-dance-centric idol troupe at, but that's what makes it work so well for Zombie Land Saga. The girls are there to hock their brand with t-shirts featuring only the finest of rainbow-gradient Word Art, which of course become mud-splattered and illegible almost immediately. Mostly this is an excuse to laugh at everyone's pratfalls. It's juvenile, but it works thanks to everyone's keen sense of comedic timing. Even Kotaro seems in on the joke, sticking his tongue out at the camera and executing a perfect bicycle race while refusing to even mention the name Franchouchou. Other great bits include the girls donning traffic cones as helmets to protect their zombie-fied identities, and Yugiri's superb upper body strength lending to some impressive moves on the rope swing. In a segment full of physical comedy, the highlight is Tae once again, as she swings herself so far that her head and limbs free themselves from her torso while the rest of the gang makes a mad dash to piece her back together. There are a lot of small but nice cuts of animation that help sell these moments, and I'm perpetually thankful that Zombie Land Saga isn't afraid to let its characters look scary or goofy. Arguably, in spite of their undead state, this lets them feel even more authentically human than an idol show preoccupied only with cuteness and beauty.
However, the most shocking development of this episode is the revelation that Zombie Land Saga might have a plot. Someone actually recognizes one of the girls both in the commercial and during the Gatalympics, and he's bound to be asking some questions later. I mean, it's not surprising that one of the girls eventually got recognized, since some of them were actually idols, and most of them died pretty recently. I'm just curious how the show is going to handle it, especially when the next episode looks like a complete 180 from the ridiculous comedy of this episode. So far the show has been strongest when it embraces its irreverent idol humor, but that doesn't necessarily preclude a solid dramatic turn. It's also completely possible that the next episode preview is a big joke in itself. Not all of Zombie Land Saga's experiments have been successful, but if it's committed to keep trying new things, I'm ready to be surprised. In the meantime, I'm gonna keep belly-laughing at Kotaro getting smacked in the face with a loaf of French bread, because I'm four years old.
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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