Zombie Land Saga
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Zombie Land Saga ?
Emotions run high in this week's Zombie Land Saga, as we pick up right where last episode left off, in the middle of a ton of angst. Junko has barricaded herself in her room, no longer believing that she has the chops or desire to be an idol in the modern age. Ai has tunnel-visioned her focus on to the upcoming concert in an attempt to distract herself from both Junko's absence and her own trauma. Their troubles are self-explanatory, but I like how the show continues to use the plasticity of their zombie bodies to hammer these points home, with Junko literally growing depression mushrooms out of her head while Ai overworks herself to the point of literally falling apart. The rest of Franchouchou is similarly in disarray, unsure of how to help their friends and even less sure about their future as idols. Saki continues to be one of my favorite characters, taking charge and asking everyone (even Tae!) for input, but she's such a good leader that she takes everyone's conflicting input to heart and ends up unable to do anything. These are dark times for undead idols.
Luckily, Kotaro comes to the rescue! He's still a mystery wrapped in an enigma clothed in a red vest and sunglasses, so it's hard to tell if he's doing this out of kindness (perhaps spurred by Sakura's request) or if he's just sunk too much time and effort into this to have the girls ruin his master plan (whatever it is). For now it doesn't matter, because he flips his usually abrasive personality and gives the most genuinely heartfelt motivational speech we've seen come out of his mouth. It's a sight to behold, and it also covers pretty much everything I talked about last week in terms of how times have changed for idols. I wasn't expecting such an explicit acknowledgement of the difficulties idols face in the social media age, with potentially every aspect of their private lives under a microscope. It's nice to see that the show's absurd premise does let it address the industry frankly, and Kotaro's solution is also pretty much what I expected. Junko can do what's comfortable for her in terms of fan interactions while still being the best idol she can with the support of her friends. It's a little treacly, but Zombie Land Saga can't help but throw in a quick cynical jab that her desire for privacy can just be explained as part of her “character.” Each member of Franchouchou has their different quirks, and that's okay—as long as they're still marketable.
Junko's chat with Kotaro seems to reassure her, but what really spurs her to return to her friends is her desire to help Ai. Lots of idol shows go into how difficult the job can be, especially physically, but it's nothing quite so grotesque as the sight of Ai's limbs and head sloughing off in the middle of her practice routine. Overworking herself is her way of coping, which fits her personality but it's a destructive habit, and her arc this episode is about learning to rely on her friends. No man is an island, and neither is an idol. When the big concert finally arrives, all the practice in the world doesn't help Ai when she breaks down out of fear and desperation. What does help her is Junko's outstretched hand and the declaration of their promise to back each other up. Like Sakura said during the opening recap, their relationship with their fans isn't as important as their relationship with each other. Junko and Ai are different people with different approaches to their passion, but together they can help each other be their best idol selves.
Okay, now that the serious character arcs are out of the way, this was another ridiculous and fun episode of Zombie Land Saga. This episode nails that balance between serious idol discourse and absurd zombie shenanigans, and it feels like a good encapsulation of the tone Zombie Land Saga is going for as a whole. Kotaro delivers possibly my favorite joke in the show yet as he breaks down Junko's door and points out that it's typically the humans barricading themselves from the zombies, not the other way around. It's made better by the fact that Junko doesn't even hear the joke, because she got knocked unconscious by him kicking the door in. Besides the obvious zombie gags, the show also lampoons more universal movie tropes, like Junko waiting until the last minute to rejoin Franchouchou. It would've been a classically dramatic moment, with Junko stopping the car just in the nick of time, if Kotaro were a better driver. Instead he plows straight into her and sends her flying (which also gives Sakura some understandable déjà vu). And I have to give Kotaro credit for refusing to apologize and even twisting the situation into another opportunity for a motivational speech. After all, what power does vehicular manslaughter have over the strength of idols?
Somehow, the episode only gets more ridiculous from that point. I thought for sure the show was foreshadowing the rainstorm at Saga Rock as the way the public would discover the girls' undead state of being, but nope. Kotaro is nothing if not staggeringly resourceful, and it turns out weatherproofing zombies is as easy as weatherproofing shoes. I also respect the anime for traditionally animating Iron Frill's routine and then having the gall to bring back the 3D rigs for Franchouchou's performance. It has to be a deliberate aesthetic choice at this point; the audience even comments about how stiff and awkward the girls look when they start performing. Ultimately, it's still a time-saving measure from a production standpoint, but it fits that Franchouchou are probably not the best dancers (excluding Tae who I swear dabs at one point). The big climax is that Ai's worst fear comes true! Everyone gets struck by lightning—and they're all fine. Of course they are, they're zombies. What are they gonna do, die? It's a big beautiful punchline to two episodes worth of anxiety, and then to cap it all off, the girls perform an encore to an enraptured crowd because the lightning gave their voice boxes natural auto-tune. That's how that works, right? It's wacky, funny, and triumphant: the perfect crystallization of Zombie Land Saga.
Overall, this was a weird and delightful episode! I haven't even had time to go into all the little details I enjoyed, like Tae mimicking Saki or the little flourish with which Kotaro catches the megaphone. I've been apprehensive about the show's premise running out of steam, but this episode sees Zombie Land Saga settling comfortably into its odd sense of comedy and sentimentality. It has humor, it has heart, and it has things to say about idols.
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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