Zombie Land Saga
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Zombie Land Saga ?
It's Lily's time to shine! The gang's diminutive starlet takes center stage for an episode focused on her past, present, and future as an idol, which all come to a head when she runs into her father again despite the fact that she's supposed to be dead. Riding the success of their electrifying Saga Rock performance, it stands to reason that Franchouchou's increased visibility would invite such awkward encounters, and in true Zombie Land Saga fashion, the details are predictably unpredictable. It's another wild ride full of genre-hopping, bizarre jokes, and bouts of violence, but I'd also be lying if I said I wasn't tearing up by the end of it. Previously, I would have considered Lily one of the show's less essential characters, with her funniest and most charming contribution being the giant cartoonish heart literally beating out of her chest. After this episode, I'd do anything to protect and support her.
I might as well begin with the episode's biggest talking point: turns out Lily is trans! This revelation and Sakura's subsequent look of shock had me preparing for the worst, since comedies don't have the best track record of dealing with trans characters (just look back at last season's Asobi Asobase). So I'm pleased that Zombie Land Saga does a pretty great job respecting Lily, who makes it very clear that she used to be called Masao but sees herself only as Lily now. (Leave it to a zombie show to take deadnames seriously.) Kotarou of all people turns out to be Lily's staunchest ally, yelling at the rest of the group for putting Lily on the spot like that and reiterating that she's a girl like the rest of them. Granted, I'm sure he'd seize any opportunity to yell at Franchouchou, but it's nice to see his powers being used for good. To the credit, the gang quickly get over their shock and continue to accept Lily as one of their fellow idols, friends, and girls. As Saki so eloquently puts it, it doesn't matter what junk she has—she's still Lily, and they're all still zombies anyway. The gang often repeats “because we're zombies” in comical acceptance of their absurd situation, but in this case, it also takes on a connotation of camaraderie. They all know Lily is just like the rest of them in her heart, which is easy to tell because it's usually hanging out of a hole in her chest.
The most bizarre detail of Lily's past is her death, in which she immediately died of shock upon discovering she'd grown her first follicle of facial hair. It comes across like slapstick, and on the one hand, gender dysphoria shouldn't be trivialized, but on the other hand, this moment might also work as a comically exaggerated representation of relatable feelings trans girls go through. Your mileage may vary. Saki's peals of laughter at the absurdity of Lily's death and the manliness of her old name could also come across as insensitive, but it also fits Saki's boisterous character, and she makes it clear soonafter that she accepts Lily. Moreover, the show ruminates on how zombification was actually a good thing for Lily, since now she doesn't have to worry about growing up and going through puberty. It's an interesting angle, but on the other hand, puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy would have probably worked better than necromancy. So Zombie Land Saga doesn't stand out as a gold standard for trans representation or anything, but it still deserves praise for being kind and unambiguous in its portrayal of a trans character. (Sakura's pajama bottoms in this scene even use the transgender pride flag's colors.) I can't think of many idol groups with trans representation, so that's pretty darn cool.
The portrayal of Lily's gender identity is important, which is why I've written about it so much, but it's not even the real focus of this episode. That belongs to Lily's estranged relationship with her father and the friction between them leading up to her death. Lily's father Takeo is huge, scary, and has proportions like a Sattou drawing, but deep down he's a big softy who loved his daughter very much. Their mutual love of television spurred Lily to become a child actress and Takeo to become her manager. As is often the case with show business, however, mutual support became supplanted by pride and greed, and the two of them grew further apart until it was too late to fix things. It's a familiar story, complicated by Takeo's frankly inhuman proportions, but the pain of his grief breaks through Zombie Land Saga's veneer of absurdity. His first encounter with Lily ends on a joke about how hot Saki looks when she beats people up (and trust me, I understand), but their second encounter is nothing short of heartwrenching. Takeo has to convince himself that this Lily can't be his daughter, while Lily has to keep pretending she isn't. Nevertheless, Takeo's regrets pours out of him, and Lily wants to reassure him that she still loves him, but she can't reveal the truth. They're at an awful impasse.
Lily can't stand doing nothing for her dad, and the rest of Franchouchou (even Kotarou!) refuse to ignore the problem, so they all work together to give Takeo something only they can give: a song. It's a scene straight out of a movie, with Takeo running to join the audience at the last minute while Lily takes over the lead vocals to sing the song she's written for him. “To My Dearest” is pretty rough, with lyrics awkwardly crammed into the bars as pseudo-spoken-word, but its flaws speak to the sincerity of the moment. Lily has too much to say and too much she can't say. With the rest of her friends supporting her, however, her feelings can cross the boundary of the stage and enter Takeo's heart. He doesn't understand the circumstances behind this performance, but in that moment, he knows that his daughter is telling him she loves him and that she's going to be fine. It's a real tearjerker of a moment, and it's enough to let Takeo move on from his painful past.
Zombie Land Saga deftly uses its weird and irreverent charm to tell a healing story about a father and daughter, while also being a solid example of trans representation in anime. It's honestly much better than I expected, and it's great to see an anime that can still surprise me over halfway through the season. I'm impressed at how it continues to use its zombie gimmick as an avenue for both comedy and pathos, and so far this episode may be its crowning achievement. And with next week shaping up to be my long-awaited Saki-focused episode, I don't see the show's momentum slowing down any time soon. I didn't think I'd ever be so glad to have this strange zombie idol anime to watch every week, but it's shaping up to be one of this season's best.
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.
discuss this in the forum (144 posts) |