Through various shows like “Love Live”, “K-On”, “Revue Starlight” and “BanG Dream!” I have a general appreciation for cute, music themed anime and seek them out when I’m deciding what to watch. This is what brought me to Zombieland Saga for the Fall 2018 anime season.
The show kicks off with the viewer following Sakura Minamoto through a morning routine where she establishes to herself the desire to make the most out of her life and be who she wants to be, while an idol video plays on her laptop. It sounded like the obvious setup to an anime of that nature, and I thought I was prepared.
I was not. Moments out of the gate, Sakura finds herself getting absolutely railed by a pick-up truck and dying. The next we’re shown is her waking up as what turns out to be a zombie. This opening made a big splash in the anime community as the show had been shrouded in mystery beforehand and piqued a lot of people’s interests. As it turns out, Sakura and six other girls were resurrected to form a legendary idol group and save the Saga prefecture in Japan by their now-manager Kotaro Tatsumi.
Outside of Sakura, who is a normal high school girl, the zombie idol group was built to consist of people from different eras of time who were all considered legendary at their time. Yugiri dates back the furthest, having been a courtesan over a century prior. However, her calm demeanor keeps her steady despite having to face differences in the world from her 150 years of non-existence.
Also in the group and close friend to Yugiri, is child prodigy Lily Hoshikawa. Her technological knowledge would imply she’s from a recent time. Likely due to acting experience, she is able to balance her usual playful self without the fear of being onstage in front of the masses. However, she does not take kindly to Saki Nikaido, leader of the group, calling her “shrimpy.” Saki has a rough brazen personality in part due to her previous life as the boss of a biker gang that took over the island of Kyushu.
The group also consists of two members with actual experience being an idol. Ai Mizuno died the same year as Sakura and was a member of the idol group Sakura was watching when she died. As the lead of an extremely popular idol group in her day, her confidence shines through in practice schedules and performances, unlike the other idol, Junko Konno. While also a previous idol in the 1980s, what it took to be an idol was vastly different and as a result Junko is used to being by herself. With this comes her reserved and somewhat shy personality despite the desire to succeed as an idol. The group is rounded out by Tae Yamada, who’s entire personality and story remains a mystery. The only knowledge we have of her is that she is “The Legendary Tae Yamada.”
While being the weirdest premise to an anime I’ve ever seen, Zombieland Saga blends the aspects of an idol anime to perfection. The music is incredible and the voices of the characters shine through in vocal performances, led really strongly by Junko. It’s also worth noting that Saki’s voice actress Asami Tano held a supporting role in Love Live! Sunshine! as a member of Saint Snow, a rival idol group. The opening sequence in the show, called Hanebada Necromancy, might be one of my favorite songs to come out of an anime to date.
Zombieland Saga also executes on the emotional inter-character development that idol shows excel at. The members are strangers who are brought together under a common goal and as a result need to trust each other to succeed. Conflicting personalities between Sakura and Saki as well as Ai and Junko bring up moments for other members to step in and bond.
The show also has its run-ins with bad CGI. Almost a staple in idol shows, dance scenes are often done in CGI to help fully capture smooth body movements. However, it tends to be lackluster and awkward. Anime Youtuber Gigguk has a video centered on bad CG and it’s drastically apparent in more than just dance scenes, so it isn’t all too appalling in Zombieland Saga. The first instance caught me off guard after the nature of previous episodes but the subsequent appearances felt welcome with how they were built up and finished.
Where the true heart of the story lies is in its ability to alter between serious and comedic scenes which are largely driven by Kotaro’s role in the show. His constant berating of the idols starting from episode one is creative enough to be funny while sparing enough to stay refreshing. His eccentric personality is bolstered by his appearance in wearing a black coat like a cape and sunglasses that somehow never come off. However, he tends to know more than he lets on a lot of the time and he clearly has enough faith in the girls to drop performances on them at sometimes literally no notice.
Overall, this show sits at a top five anime of the season for popular polls, among continuations of mega-popular franchises such as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Sword Art Online. Its spot is well-deserved as few anime can continually produce such high quality storytelling over every episode. I’d put it personally as a top five anime of the year but it’s likely to sink closer to top 10 barring some exceptional ending. It’s also worth noting that there are no light novels or manga for this to go off, which makes it a purely original story. I’d say it’s worth watching for anybody, regardless of whether or not they’re into anime. Despite being an idol anime it’s easy to enjoy the “normal” parts and in my experience it’s very easy to cheer on the girls in their journey as an idol group.