Zombie idol group Franchouchou are back for this second season of the excellent Zombie Land Saga, and we start with a massive failure that could have spelled the end for any lesser group. The girls play at a huge venue, and only draw a tiny crowd. This leaves their manager hugely in debt, but more importantly knocks their confidence, and this season is about their journey back to success.
For a while it looks like the group’s line-up might change, with the talented Ai pursuing a solo career and then being asked to join a rival group, while Lily (the best speaking character in the show and the most positive transgender portrayal in any television series I have ever seen) has success on a television talent show, inspiring children with her scat interpretation of a popular song. Later in the series, a fan of Franchouchou briefly becomes an additional group member after an accident is mistaken for her death and zombification. So the path back to success is about reaffirming the bonds between the seven girls, and what makes this particular group of individuals so much stronger when they are together.
A show that is supposed to star seven characters equally is always going to end up disappointing some of the fans, because it’s not practical to strongly focus on them all in just 12 episodes. For the second season, a couple of the girls are frankly relegated to little more than supporting characters, while Ai, Lily and Saki to a lesser extent are the focus of an episode each, and Yugiri gets a two-episode examination of her backstory. She is one of the oldest zombies, alive during the 19th Century, so these couple of episodes will be especially enjoyable to anyone who is interested in Japanese history, but I did feel like it was a bit late in the season to be abandoning the ongoing story arc and completely writing six of the seven girls out of the series for two episodes. It didn’t help that Yugiri is by far the zombie I find the least entertaining, so I have to admit to being biased in terms of who I want to see getting a bigger slice of the narrative.
You might have noticed that I qualified my description of Lily as the best speaking character, and that’s because of the hilarious Tae, who remains an unrecovered zombie and is always doing something funny in every scene she is in. The eye is drawn to her all the time, which can be a bit of a distraction from the story being told, but who cares when the distraction is this fun? Instead of a backstory for her, which probably wouldn’t be appropriate, we instead get an episode that shows us a day in her life, going off to run errands and having an accidentally magnificent day. It’s the highlight of the season. I’ve tried to figure out just what makes her such a brilliant character apart from the obvious humour, and I think it might be simply that she is a representation of the absence of inhibition, embarrassment or self doubt. Her character could also be interpreted as somebody with special needs; during the performances she cannot sing but joins in with the dance moves, and for the big performance at the end of the series she hypes up the crowd with an attempt at speech (which mainly comes out as roars) but they love her for who she is. So this is actually a series that shows entirely positive portrayals and universal acceptance of a person with what we might term learning disabilities, and also a transgender character. I love this series.
The last two episodes show the group dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, with their huge planned show turning into a benefit concert and all the community coming together to get things ready in the wake of the destruction. It’s heart-warming stuff. My only real complaint about the first season was the CGI for the dance sequences, which looked a bit cheap and not particularly well-integrated. I am pleased to report a huge improvement for the second season. We are not quite up to Love Live standards yet, but the CGI sequences for the performances are much more impressive, and the CGI versions of the characters look a lot less soulless than they did the first time round.
A subplot featuring a reporter who gradually uncovers the secrets of the zombie girls rumbles along throughout this second season but amounts to very little in the end. Hopefully something will come of that in the forthcoming movie. The coda ending to the final episode is a big shock but doesn’t bode well. I wonder if this show is about to “jump the shark”. I hope not, because it’s better than that. Much better. Against the odds, a show featuring singing zombies has become one of the best ongoing anime series at the moment. That’s appropriate for an anime that is all about beating the odds, defying expectations, and being the best version of yourself you can be. RP
Animation is always special when it dramatically specifies beating the odds and being at your best in the most realistic sense. Thanks again, RP, for reminding us all of how special Anime can be for that kind of genre.
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