Welcome to October in the Junkyard, the month of Halloween, of course. All this month I am going to be writing about anime series at the more creepy end of the spectrum, starting with the zombie romance (yes, really), Sankarea: Undying Love.
There are many, many anime series that feature a male character who is for some reason irresistible to all the females. Whether this functions as a fantasy fulfilment thing for viewers or not is a matter of interpretation, but either way there is a right way and a wrong way to do that kind of story, and that all comes down to the male protagonist. Basically, it depends if he has a personality or not. For a good example of the genre, take a look at Clannad. The main character is kind-hearted and goes out of his way to help people. You can kind of understand why he might be popular with the girls, especially in comparison to his idiot best friend. Sadly, that kind of series is probably in the minority, and there are far more like this, where all the female characters are inexplicably drawn to the male lead, despite him being basically a jerk with little going for him. Maybe that’s a reflection on what the animators think of their audience. Chihiro has little to make him stand out other than a hairstyle that oddly looks like cat ears, and a weird obsession with zombie girls. He is not interested in normal girls at all. He just wants a zombie girlfriend. So it’s hard to understand why anyone would be attracted to this kind of a loser character, least of all his beautiful cousin (fulfilling the current trend for a bit of edgy incest in some of the more lurid recent anime series). Chihiro’s best friend constantly questions why he is the centre of attention of so many girls, and he’s echoing our thoughts right there.
Even more off-putting, this is a series that is intense with the fanservice, and at times it is extremely clumsy. Again, there is a simple distinction between a series that does this well and one that does it badly, and it’s all to do with the perspective of the characters. If we see something that a character sees, that works and can be justified. If the animators offer up a perspective that is a “camera view” rather than a character view, and it’s pervy, then it becomes much more gratuitous and uncomfortable to watch. There are examples of that here, such as a shot of Ranko’s underwear when she is climbing on a wall, despite Chihiro being unable to see it from his perspective. The “camera” follows her along the wall like a pervert, and that makes a pervert of the viewer.
And there is a larger problem with the fanservice here. Several of the episodes centre around the relationship between Rea, the girl destined to be a zombie, and her father, and it’s actually incredibly brave and thought-provoking, because her father has been photographing her in the nude. It’s a horrible, twisted, controlling relationship, and the series portrays the horror of the situation very effectively and without glorifying it or revelling in it in any way. So far, so good. But then as the series progresses Rea is increasingly used for fanservice, which is a very odd thing to do. What message are the makers of this trying to get across? It’s ok to be a pervert if you’re not a relative? Perhaps it’s meant to challenge fanservice and question this sort of thing, drawing a parallel between the father and those who watch anime for fanservice, but I suspect the thinking behind it isn’t quite that clever. It actually comes across far more as an awkward moral contradiction that nobody really noticed or cared about. On one occasion the fanservice troublingly extends to Chihiro’s 12 year old sister Mero, although the scene is also an example of the arguable validity of the inclusion of this kind of thing. Her two friends disrobe, look each other up and down, and then start giggling. There’s a childish innocence to it that comes across as very truthful, and it’s actually a really funny moment.
So far I’ve done a lot of criticising, but that’s basically the bad stuff out of the way, and this is actually a series that is well worth watching. The aforementioned Mero is a very entertaining character, deadpan in her reactions at all times. The “next time” post-credits sequence at the end of each episode features Mero gloriously breaking the fourth wall and criticising the script she has been given to read, while amusingly and childishly self-promoting: “tune in next time to see MERO!” It’s unusual and very funny.
Chihiro’s grandfather is also a great character, senile to the point where he forgets what he has just said (and Mero is beautifully patient with him), but he also holds the knowledge that Chihiro needs to keep the zombified Rea from decaying in front of his eyes. I haven’t mentioned much about the whole zombie thing yet, but it does make a lot more sense than it sounds, and centres around a concoction she drinks before her death.
The series ends with a new character being introduced, who is apparently central to the continuing story, but you will have to read the manga series to find out about that. I’m tempted to do that myself, as the story of Sankarea is interesting enough to justify further reading, despite some disappointing elements. Somehow I doubt we’ll ever get a second series, so the books are the only option.
I have to have one final gripe. The UK DVD release is marketed as the “complete collection”. Three OVA episodes were made in 2012, all pre-dating the DVD release, but unless I’m clumsier than I thought with DVD menus only one is included (oddly the middle of the three). It’s a common frustration with DVD releases of anime series, and I can understand that there might be rights issues or whatever, but I don’t think something should say “complete” when it’s not. However, a quick read of the synopses for the missing two OVAs reveals that I’ve probably not missed too much.
I’ll leave you with the trailer. It’s not the greatest trailer ever made, but it will give you an idea of the series visuals. It does contain some violent images, so be warned. RP