Zombie Land Saga
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Zombie Land Saga ?
I've given up trying to pin down exactly what kind of anime Zombie Land Saga is. We're halfway through the season, and defining it is a fool's errand when each episode has set out to upend my expectations. The tone, humor, and sentimentality continue to fluctuate wildly, and at this point I can't call out Zombie Land Saga for doing anything except being the most Zombie Land Saga anime possible. It's just how the show intends to operate, and I'm content to appraise it on those terms.
The crux of this episode is some passionate philosophical discourse about what constitutes the ideal of an idol. Leading this industry meta-commentary on opposite sides are Ai and Junko, both hailing from different eras and thus holding different expectations for how an idol should function. In Junko's pioneering idol days of the '80s, more emphasis was placed on perfectionism and distancing oneself from the fans in order to craft the most ideal image and performance possible. Ai comes from the more saturated modern era, where fan interaction is key to building a name for oneself. Perfectionism can come later; in fact, letting your fans see your group progress and improve can be part of the appeal.
Neither Junko nor Ai see eye to eye, but more importantly, the show seems to come down on both sides being flawed. Junko even calls out that neither of them are what you could call “modern” idols anymore. I mean, they are zombies, but more than that, both of their philosophies are problematic. Distance and perfectionism propagate unrealistic expectations that no performer can live up to, leading to fans not seeing idols as human beings. The opposite approach doesn't mitigate this either, because that wall between the performer and audience exists out of necessity, and fan interaction can breed expectations of intimacy that will also lead to disappointment. Ideally, idols could be entertainers and still enjoy having an audience that respects them and their boundaries. Zombie Land Saga's answer to this conundrum remains to be seen, but the fact that its unique premise allows this kind of cross-generational analysis of the idol phenomenon is pretty cool. I still think the show's been strongest in its sillier moments, but this kind of ambition is an unexpected point in its favor.
One thing Junko and Ai do have in common is their conviction to use this most macabre of second chances to be the best idols they can be, making up for their previously lost careers. Whether or not you agree that this dramatic direction is the right turn for the show (and I'm still up the air about it), it's good to flesh out these characters more and get a better grasp on the pathos of their situation. Junko walks along a twilit beach that looks like it came out of an entirely different anime, and the nostalgic atmosphere adds to her chat with Sakura. Sometimes you really love being an idol, and sometimes you die in a plane crash. Meanwhile, Ai died in one of the most metal ways I've ever seen—with her finger pointed to the sky in the middle of an outdoor concert when she was struck by lightning. They both have regrets, and they're both fixated on their pasts. I like how this is era-appropriately illustrated for both them: Junko's memories pop up on an old CRT television, while Ai uses Google to look up what her old unit is doing now. But they both don't want to be left behind. For Junko, this manifests as an anxiety that the world of idols has moved too far past what she's comfortable with, and for Ai, it's the fear that she might never have been needed in the first place. Franchouchou's survival hinges on them reaching out to each other, and Saki emerges as a surprisingly thoughtful mediator, but this is a subplot that won't be resolved until next week.
Obviously this episode isn't all about the comedy, but that doesn't mean there weren't understated bits that gave me a good chuckle. Most importantly, there's Franchouchou's amazing official homepage hosted on Geocities (or in the anime's parlance, Geocitys). It's the perfect blast from turn-of-the-century past, from the 3D lettering to the garish tiled background to the visitor counter that just so happens to be at 666. It genuinely looks like something Kotaro would have whipped up himself, and my only criticism is that the showrunners didn't make it into a real website. Speaking of Kotaro, I enjoyed his brief audition for a shampoo commercial, and Tae's valiant but misdirected attempts to bring him more shampoo further cement her legendary status. I'm also coming to like Yugiri's character a lot. Given that she's the farthest removed from modern times, you'd expect her to be the member constantly bewildered by technology, but the show instead swerves in the other direction and makes her pretty chill about everything. Maybe it's due to whatever's in her pipe, but she seems to be committed to having a good time, and I respect that. Saki is still my favorite though. It looks like everyone has figured out that she's a competent and approachable leader (interjections of “you wanna die?” aside), but I love that she can't contain how awestruck she is by Ai's tragic yet ridiculously badass death. Finally, Franchouchou's in-universe merch has an extremely kawaii Romero as their mascot, and that feels equal parts wrong and perfect.
Ultimately, this is a weird interstitial episode of Zombie Land Saga, but it still manages to sink its undead teeth into some unexpectedly juicy idol discourse while setting the stage for Franchouchou's biggest performance yet. Naturally, it's going to rain at the Saga Rock Festival, and we already know that the girls' makeup is anything but waterproof, so that's going to be interesting to see play out next week. Junko and Ai will need to work out their differences, and Ai is going to have to deal with the double whammy of seeing her old group perform without her while also confronting the trauma of her death. I don't know if it's going to be funny. I don't know if it's going to be sad. All I know is that it's going to be about undead girls who sing and dance, and that's not something you get out of every anime.
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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