Being killed by a chainsaw-wielding serial killer was only the beginning of Ayumu’s problems. After being raised from the dead by a necromancer and acquiring the powers of a magical girl, he’s now trying to balance an ordinary student’s life with the un-life of a zombie trouble magnet who can’t be killed … but who sure as heck can feel pain.
After an initial spurt of creativity, this “comedy”—one with too many of its laughs borrowed or phoned-in from elsewhere—becomes an aimless time-waster. It’s all ingredients and no actual recipe.
- Intermittently funny.
- Central idea never gets developed beyond a gimmick for gags.
- Spends far too much time treading water or repeating story beats.
- Director: Takaomi Kanasaki
- Animation Studio: Studio DEEN
- Released By: Flying Dog / Kadokawa Pictures
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation Entertainment
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-14 (violence, innuendo, thematic material)
- List Price: $64.98 (DVD)
It's a zombie -- and a necromancer, and a vampire ninja, and ...
I’ve learned to distrust any show that has a manic, unhinged first episode in which the impossible happens six times over and it isn’t even breakfast yet. It’s usually a sign the show in question is front-loading the bulk of its creativity, so that undemanding audiences won’t complain too much about how lousy it gets later on. Sure, it kind of dragged, but those first couple of episodes were a scream, weren’t they?
Is This A Zombie? does indeed have a first couple of episodes that are frankly hilarious. They start more or less in medias res, with high-schooler Ayumu already dead but having been brought back to life by a necromancer who sports the single greatest name in anime this season: “Eucliwood Hellscythe.” She’s the silent type, so much so that she never speaks but instead writes down her (typically brief and pointed) dialogue on a notepad.
Out of gratitude—or maybe fear of what she might do next—Ayumu has let Hellscythe live with her (ooh, scandalous!) and perhaps find out who murdered him. Could it be the chainsaw-wielding serial killer that has been claiming victims throughout the neighborhood? But before Ayumu can delve into that mystery, he’s thrown another curveball: a “magical garment girl” named Haruna shows up, and has her powers—and her clothes—inadvertently siphoned away by Ayumu. Those zombie powers, they’re a wicked package.
More ingredients than cooking
At first, this material is funny, and the more unhinged the show is with it the better. Seeing Ayumu transform magical-girl style into a pink-skirted cutie swinging a chainsaw at various eldritch abominations that threaten him and his friends is riotous. But then inspiration leaves the show just as quickly as it arrived, and most of the rest of this ten-episode series is a terrible slog. Too many episodes are the kind of aimless milling around that is the bane of anime, where the same jokes are repeated with minimal variation.
The show’s biggest problem is how it doesn’t really do anything with its material. It’s clearly meant to be a free-floating stew of comedic pop-culture concepts, up to and including the vampire ninja (ha! ha!) who later joins their company and treats Ayumu with complete contempt (hee! hee!). But even a show like that has to have a sense of direction—especially when it develops a halfway-serious side, as this one does, although it chooses not to do much with that either. (The sole source of suspense in the series is whether or not Ayumu was in fact murdered by Hellscythe in the first place.)
Look elsewhere for bigger laughs
Is This A Zombie? was based on a series of light novels (not published in English) which have since been given the multimedia treatment in Japan. They were not only re-rendered as this anime, but a manga as well (published in English by Yen press), and as of this writing a second season of the TV series has also come out in Japan.
I mention this because of a pet theory of mine. The material which lends itself best to this kind of cross-adaptation treatment is not the really outstanding, genuinely quirky productions, but things which are all the more middle-of-the-road. They lose that much less when being adapted, and they have that much more of a built-in audience to justify being adapted in the first place. Sometimes a really good property will be given this treatment—Code Geass, Eureka Seven or Haruhi Suzumiya come to mind—but all too often it’s shows like this.
Comedy anime is hard to do well. It takes not just the imagination to come up with an off-the-wall idea, but the imagination to sustain it through any number of plot twists or situational changes. Detroit Metal City did this well; so did Arakawa under the Bridge; ditto Oh! Edo Rocket. But Is This A Zombie? settles for too little, and the results are only funny in a distracted, episodic way.