This Week in Anime
What Makes Zombie Land Saga Special

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Zombie Land Saga has wrapped up its undead production, leaving lots of big emotions in its wake. This week, Nick and Steve share their favorite moments from this idiosyncratic idol anime.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

You can read our weekly coverage of Zombie Land Saga here!

Oh yeah I guess it's just the two of us this time. GOOD ENOUGH!
Two's all we need. While those other suckers are stuck in Netflix Hell, you and I have risen from the grave to talk about the most cadaveriffic show of last year:
The zombie anime so nice, we had to cover it twice! I also reviewed it weekly for three months straight, so I've already devoted more words to undead idols than I ever could have guessed, and it's pretty rad, not gonna lie.
I'm glad to finally get a crack at the show myself, since it came out of nowhere to be an unexpected favorite early in the season. ZLS had me at Death Metal Zombie Idols, y'know?
Yeah, going from hardcore death metal headbanging in the first episode to an idol rap battle in the second really made an impression on me. The show's had its ups and down since then, but I'm kind of amazed that an anime with this premise wrung as much comedy and pathos out of its characters as it did.
Whoever it was at Cygames that convinced the executives to drop some of their endless gacha money on this show, bless them. I've sat through a good amount of idol anime from good to (very) bad, but nothing quite like ZLS before.
Yeah, good work! (Also, nice building.)
I'm glad that such an abject evil as gacha could fund something so, um, blessed?
The Legendary Yamada Tae is very blessed, yes.
Blessed with an ironclad stomach, yes.
Zombies aside, ZLS is an interesting mix of plotlines you might expect from an idol anime with ridiculous body horror humor, and at its best it's absolutely transcendent. I don't care how powerful Aqours or μ's are, they've never harnessed the might of the heavens for pyrotechnics.
Honestly, for all its flaws, one of my favorite things about it is how impossible it is to pin down. Sometimes it feels like a parody of idol anime, and sometimes it plays those tropes completely straight. But everyone is still a zombie. It's just so tonally weird, and I loved going into every episode with no clue about what to expect.
Frankly, I'm glad it never became a straight parody—ripe as idol anime is for mockery, I don't think it would have much staying power. But I can certainly appreciate the honesty that ZLS offers on the subject. Most Idol anime operate similar to pro wrestling; there's a sense that the creators and the fans both know the image of Idolism (idolatry?) is fake, but you maintain kayfabe to keep things entertaining.
ZLS is sincere about how the world of idols can be magical and fulfilling, but it also acknowledges that it's a business selling you a product.

It's an angle I would've appreciated ZLS digging its zombie claws into harder, since the most we get is tongue-in-cheek jabs here and there. But in the end, it's obvious that the series was aiming at being a cartoonish and irreverent idol show, but an idol show nonetheless. And I think it accomplished that well while still carving out a unique identity for itself.
Like, not many idol shows are going to have an undead Meiji-era courtesan doing pole-dancing poses on a rope swing while caked in mud from head to toe.
Speaking of things no other idol show is going to do...
Yes let's talk about our favorite zombie daughter.
She's a wonderful snot-nosed brat and I love her.
No doubt in my mind, her episode was Zombie Land Saga's best. I already said a lot in my weekly review (which is one of my favorite things I wrote this year). But in short, Lily is a trans icon.
Lily's backstory caught me by surprise when discourse about her started spilling into my twitter feed, and it really is something special. Textually trans characters are hard to come by in anime; at most you'll get some some subtext that leaves room for ambiguity, but ZLS just confirms Lily's identity so directly you'd have to ignore half the episode to say otherwise.
And yet, some people still had no problem doing that, but forget them. After that episode aired, I saw such an outpouring of love and fanart on twitter, and it's def one of the best things to happen in anime this past year.
I'm normally a fan of subtle storytelling, but there's something to be said for just having Mamoru Miyano yell the message at the audience.
If even THIS guy is a trans ally, what's your excuse?
That alone would be enough to make Lily's episode stand out, but then the show saw fit to punch me right in the feelings in other ways.
Yeah, Lily's episode is an alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming story about a father and daughter mending their relationship despite the fact that they can never be together as a family again. It's really heavy stuff, and it's a great example of Zombie Land Saga using its bizarre premise in a powerfully sincere way.
All this despite the fact that Lily's dad looks like a sattou drawing.
I love this large man and his tiny daughter. Let's all buy the CD singles so they can reunite in a second season.
I'm gonna cry all over again.
For real, Lily's story is something only Zombie Land Saga could pull off, so it's easily the highlight of the series. That isn't to say the rest doesn't have its charm—I especially liked Saki's bonkers Roadhouse episode.
Following up Lily's episode with Saki's is such a flex.
I think it works well. It's the only other story that couldn't be told without the zombie angle, and it hearkens back to the earliest episodes by committing to a ridiculous setup and just killing it.
In this case, that setup involves junior high girl biker gangs with chainsaws.
It's fitting that the Captain of Franchouchou also embodies the spirit of the whole show. Saki's a ridiculous cartoon character even compared to the rest of the cast, but she's also earnest, with a clear sentimental side.
For example, she's very sentimental about her Tamagotchi.
The entire reason she gets involved with the last stand of her old biker gang's next generation is to look out for the daughter of her now-adult best friend. She doesn't get the bittersweet reunion that Lily does, but you can tell that she's still trying to make peace with her first life.
As someone who highly appreciates the delinquent aesthetic, Saki was my favorite Franchouchou member from the get-go, but she's such a perfect fit for such an off-kilter show.
This whole episode is absurd to the max, but it's also about Saki atoning for what she put Reiko through by doing what she now does best:
Idol stuff, plus a fiery motorcycle crash or two.
Plus her song is objectively the best.
No arguments here!
There was also that Golden Kamuy crossover episode...
Ah yes, the arc that proved Tae is un(re)killable.
I mean, Sakura also survives having her head torn off by a giant boar, so I think that goes for all of them.
Sadly, that invulnerability doesn't transfer over to their psyches. As ZLS's final arc teaches us, even zombies can get depression.
Unfortunately it's not an arc that holds up to the finer moments of Lily's and Saki's arcs for me. It's two full episodes about Sakura losing her memory and refusing to accept that she's become an idol. It worked for me better once I thought of it as a weird metaphor for impostor syndrome, but it's also not the arc I would have picked to conclude the first season on.
My biggest qualm is that Sakura makes Lily cry, and that's unforgivable.
I wholeheartedly disagree. What makes those episodes work for me is that Sakura doesn't get your typical amnesia. Instead of just losing her memories, Sakura regains her memories from life, a life filled (to her) with failures and missed chances. Within the structure of the show, I think it's a great move. While Sakura was always more timid than your Honoka Kosaka types, she often served the same role as the constantly optimistic heart of the group that brought everyone together, because we have to believe in each other and all that. But then it turns out that strength was partially due to being kind of a blank slate.
For what it's worth, it's another example of an arc that only Zombie Land Saga could have pulled off. The climactic performance is totally badass, with the girls rising and singing out of a collapsed stage as a powerful visual metaphor for Franchouchou representing the failures and misfits of the world, inspiring all people to rise above adversity.
It's one of the few idol shows I've seen that managed to sell me on the idea of idolatry. Sakura was miserable and self-loathing, but Ai inspired her to keep trying when she was alive, and that inspiration came back around in a weird undead way to help Ai face her own demons, eventually helping Sakura again when she most needed it.
Zombie Land Saga is basically My Hero Academia, is what I'm saying.
MHA but with one character who likes to chew on all the others.
Oh, so you know about season four.
No spoilers pls, but Tae's Quirk is definitely being hungry.

In the end, Zombie Land Saga is a lot of things. It's a little cynical, a little morbid, a little earnest, a little hopeful, and it all mixes together into a unique exemplar of its subgenre. I would recommend it alongside season two of Love Live! as something to help people "get" idol anime.
Also I hope it gets its own season two, because we need the origin story behind the earth-shattering power of Yugiri's slap.
What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger. And I definitely think that'll be the case for these lovable corpses.

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