I was kind of baffled when I came across Is This a Zombie? and read its premise. It seemed to me like a mash up of a bunch of different ideas that read more like a lead up to a joke rather than an actual story. A lot of comedies use a sense of variety in order to keep its episode to episode basis interesting to an audience, and something that uses elements never really thought of in the same sentence before certainly sparks intrigue. Usually we see shows and films travel along this path to less than stellar results, often creating a mess of ideas that never mesh together leaving an incoherent mess in its wake. Films like The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice suffer from being bloated messes overstuffed with too many ideas. Now what does that mean for a show like Is This a Zombie? and its attempt at creating a comedy from mixing in elements randomly?
Is This a Zombie? starts off with the death and resurrection of high school student Ayumu Aikawa, as he is turned into a zombie by the necromancer, Eucliwood Hellscythe. Insert numerous other girls from different origins, like the hyperactive chainsaw wielding magical girl, Haruna, and the aggressively cold vampire ninja, Seraphim, and already you have one of more creative harems seen in anime. It creates this weird niche to focus its comedy on. A weirdly absurd scenario that involves supernatural beings housing together for no really good reason. The show neglects to really delve into the reasoning of its characters except for Eucliwood, and why they are in the story interjecting more arbitrary than fleshed out motivations. Why this whole set-up happens is more a comedy of errors on every characters part than any one in particular, even if they try to push in a meaning later on about a power vacuum caused by one of the core members of the cast.
What seemed like a punchline quickly turned into a welcomed cast of characters each with their endearing qualities and jokes. Eucliwood is probably the most fleshed out character in the series. She starts off as a soft-spoken and adorable character, which is at times played on for gags by Ayumu, yet she holds a tortured past and a terrible power. The story builds directly off her as a character creating a reason as to why each of the other characters are there even if it’s never explained in a particularly convincing fashion. Essentially it boils down to, “I need Eucliwood to help my clan. Oh she won’t come with me? Well then I shall stay!” or the even better “Eucliwood stole all my powers and now I won’t leave until I get my powers back. But even then I won’t leave because I’m a part of this harem.” Eucliwood is often used as the McGuffin in this series creating character motivations out of thin air. In a way a comedy doesn’t need a solid progressing story to make it shine, i.e. KonoSuba, yet the show continually attempts to take itself seriously. The serious plotlines swirling around Eucliwood often clash with the comedic tone of the series making a jumbled and jarring mess of comments like “Are we supposed to laugh at that or is that supposed to be sad or uplifting?” Often moments like that will spawn from Eucliwood’s story being told and while she may benefit from having her character fleshed out, the others for the most part never reach three dimensional.
The other two members of the harem are less important to the story, but arguably more important to the comedy. Haruna is a hyperactive magical girl who wields a chainsaw has a few rotating jokes to her. She only cooks eggs but they are delicious, the obvious love angle and her aggressive nature towards him, then the whole magical girl schtick. Haruna is fun in small doses, and probably would’ve worked if we either understood her character more or she was relegated to a supporting cast position. Seraphim is a character that we never see break down her guard throughout the show and thus we honestly don’t understand much if anything about who she is besides her background and how complex her vampire ninja culture is. Seraphim is really one note and often is only found giving Ayumu profane nicknames or just calling him profanities. By the third or fourth episode this little schtick quickly gets overdone as it happens more than once per episode and on a regular basis whenever they interact. My main problem with these two characters is that there is potential for both being fleshed out and having great comedic effect, potentially creating a great comedy of errors due to significant culture shocks, yet we never leave a comfort zone with them. The repetitious nature of their characters, and a lot of the cast is common for comedies hitting different strokes with the same joke, makes them particularly bland when you look at the end product of a comedy show with serious plotlines that try to invoke emotion.
Most of the cast falls under this pretense, some to more effect than others. Either they feel like cameo characters (the girls in Ayumu’s class), poorly done comedic sidekicks that are progressively given less screentime and less inventive comedic dialogue, or edgy villains. The supporting cast often is introduced and never given much time to really sell the audience on their character, this is primarily the problem with Ayumu’s classmates. It is hard to remember specific characteristics beyond maybe the stereotypical personality trait they have, like Ayumu’s best friend is a pervert. The antagonists of this show brings everything to a grinding halt, making the latter half of the show feel like a completely different tone than the first. This drastic change can be effective, especially if we look at classics like Trigun which starts off light-hearted and comedic but descends into darkness the further it continues. Is This a Zombie? however loses all of the charm it recently built up forcing us to watch gory battles of over the top proportions. Random gore invades the comedic tone previously used, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it was used in moderation…but some of the fights drag on with this type of strange cruelty that clashes with the show.
Ayumu is probably the best handled character besides Eucliwood, in both comedic moments and more somber ones. Well in the context of this show he is a good character, yet his harem life reminds me of Love Hina from time to time. And yes that is a bad thing in my books. Love Hina wrote the book on by the numbers harems, especially in the regards to aggressive personalities. The way Ayumu comes off more on top is the ludicrous notion of this show as a premise. Ayumu turns into a zombie, trying to figure out a new life and what its disadvantages are. He is constantly thrown into situations where his personality as a snarky loner takes flight, especially when he becomes a magical boy. There are moments of pure gold that hits Ayumu in the beginning of the story, engaging us to the comedic side of him being a zombie or him trying to deal with three supernatural girls and the worlds they come from.
The first few episodes of Is This a Zombie? starts off at a breakneck pace introducing its cast in splendid fashion. It establishes their character quirks early on and uses them and the absurdity of the situation to excellent effect. Forcing Ayumu to be the average joe in this scenario certainly brings forth interesting interactions as his off-colour personality overblows each situation to hilarious extremes. His moaning as he transforms into a magical boy and his reactions to others seeing him in the frilly get-up can cause some excellent moments of comedy that benefits from the situation’s extremes. It seems to understand that it needs to consistently ramp up the insanity each episode, consistently growing the interconnected worlds of magical girls, vampire ninjas and the underworld. Bringing out creatures, more zombies and insane magical girls out of the woodwork, yet the show loses something the more it trails along. The comedy starts to become exceptionally repetitious with numerous mentions of the same joke happening in the same episode.
What Is This a Zombie? boils down to for me is whether or not it manages to stand out from its initial interesting premise and come into its own. The problem with most comedies is the repetition of a couple of jokes that are done to death before the halfway point. Adding little to no variation, Is This a Zombie? manages to do just that creating a large slog out of something that screamed potential in its very first episode. The antagonists create this serious plotline which combats the comedic tone of the series with a more jarring somber tone that can become over the top with the amount of blood it decides to showcase. We aren’t here to watch battles, there is nothing in the outset that showcased that these battles would overwhelm the comedic aspect of the show turning it into yet another action harem show alongside ones like Gakusen Toshi Asterisk. It is disappointing to me since I found myself still loving some of its characters despite the problems I had with them. The energy of the cast jumps off the screen creating some unique moments of comedy that is hard to find in many other anime comedies. It created something distinct even if it couldn’t keep itself together until the end and for that it is well worth a three episode watch.
My first television show reviewed! Wow that took a while to finish. Will you believe me if I said three weeks? Alright fine…a month. Either way it is finally done and this marks the start of finally offering my thoughts on some anime or television series in general. So what did you think about Is This a Zombie? What was your favourite part of the series or perhaps a favourite joke? Feel free to leave a comment down below and have yourself a great day!