Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Kore wa Zombie desu ka? Episodes 1 and 2 – Half Life

Kore wa Zombie desu ka? Episodes 1 and 2 – Half Life

Animation affords many possibilities not open to live action—most particularly opportunities for violence. Loony Toons proved long ago the comedic potential in having characters blown up, flattened like pancakes, or otherwise creatively mauled. These influences bleed into anime as well, but Kore wa Zombie desu ka? takes this to the logical comedic extreme.

Ayumu Aikawa, the otherwise ordinary Japanese high schooler protagonist, is murdered by a serial killer and brought back to “life” as a zombie by a necromancer he happened to befriend earlier that day. But while his being dead and zombified does make him better at fighting (since he can push his body past the usual limits of human endurance), he could have gotten such abilities in other ways. Rather, it’s so that he can be brutally killed every episode and “live” to talk about it.

Ayumu's zombie form has several advantages, but he can be easily dried out by sunlight. Naturally, he has a window seat at school

Now living with his necromancer rescuer (Eucliwood Hellscythe, whom he calls Yu for the sake of brevity), Ayumu is still looking for his killer, which leads to his encounter with a magical girl—excuse me, a “masou shoujo” (magically-equipped girl)—named Haruna. Haruna saws him in half with a chainsaw to kill the animal-like monster that masou shoujo like her are supposed to fight in this world, calling it acceptable collateral damage.

She’s surprised when he survives, and even more surprised when her attempt to erase his memory just transfers all her magic to him. Soon realizing that using any of her powers just shifts her energies to him, she commissions him as a masou shoujo instead, complete with costume transformation sequence.

Although Ayumu does feel pain (wouldn't be funny otherwise) apparently it's only from the moment of violence, and not the aftermath. Thus, he can have a coherent conversation even when sawn in half—again, for the sake of humor more than anything else

Of course, she also moves into his house, just as Yu did before the show began, and Seraphim the vampire ninja does in the second episode for equally flimsy reasons. The show isn’t really trying to twist the basic conceptions of either magical girl or harem series, but to amplify them in order to make fun of them.

The show does a decent job at first of being a parody of magical girl shows, particularly when fueled by Ayumu’s continual misfortune. From suffering violence at the hands of, well, everyone, to being “exposed” as a cross dressing cosplayer to the entire school, to the basic mistreatment and disrespect the ladies of the show dump on him regularly, he’s the most luckless protagonist in recent anime history, and the show is effective at making his misery funny.

I'm more inclined to overlook the sexualization of Haruna when nearly everything she suffers through also happens to Ayumu. The point is to mock magical girls, not titillate the audience (although I'm sure some of that is happening too)

Other traits of magical girls shows are mocked as well, such as the tendency for such girls to cause severe amounts of collateral damage only to magic it away later, and the pointless costume changes (Ayumu complains that the new clothes, despite being “magical,” don’t actually do anything). It’s much easier to forgive the show for flashing Haruna’s panties when it does the same with Ayumu half an episode later.

The line between knowingly winking at and mocking common tropes and slavishly following them can be thin, and it’s not always clear on which end of the line Kore wa Zombie desu ka? falls. Were I to take the show on the first episode alone, it would seem to stay on right side of the line, albeit in a crass, moderately exploitative way. But it’s supposed to be crass and exploitative, so where’s the concern?

A running gag is Ayumu imagining what Yu's voice sounds like (with a different voice actor each episode for her). Nearly always it's coupled with his fantasies about how much she really loves him, which stands in blatant contradiction to how she typically treats her

It’s the second episode where the show runs out of gas. The first problem is that the Seraphim, the newly introduced vampire ninja, doesn’t have nearly the stage presence of Haruna, matching neither her ridiculous behavior nor the violence she inflicts on Ayumu. The complete lack of any magical girl (boy) antics from anyone also doesn’t help.

But the real problem comes at the end of the episode, when the show takes a disastrous turn for the serious. After recapping how Yu and Ayumu first met, the show then has Yu, who has been appropriately dismissive of Ayumu before, defend him from mistreatment by Seraphim and Haruna, and rebukes the latter for making light of him dying.

When Yu proves Ayumu's fantasies that she likes him do have some grounding in reality, that destroys half the fun of those scenes. That's the second or third reason why this plot line killed the show's mood

But the entire point of the show is to make light of Ayumu dying, or at least taking damage that would kill a non-zombie. The first episode—which is to say, the funny one—played up Ayumu’s suffering from every angle, and did so for our enjoyment. The second episode not only lacks the violence of the first episode, but implicitly rejects it.

What’s odd is that the more serious moments of the show, such as how Ayumu met Yu, and how Ayumu died and wants vengeance on his killer, are reasonably well done. It’s possible to derive some genuine emotion from those scenes. But a show which is set to run on madcap antics and human suffering can’t empathize with its characters. In order for it to be funny, we have to not care about the cast.

Since Yu doesn't speak, she communicates with a notepad. She really "opened up" to Ayumu in their first meeting in a way she hasn't done since, but a scene like this is entirely out of place in this show

Making us care about Ayumu and Yu’s relationship defangs the misanthropic comedy that a parody series needs to function properly. Parodies can’t have real characters or emotions because they get in the way; stereotypes are the proper order of things. The second episode of Kore wa Zombie desu ka? turns the show into a standard harem supernatural action comedy series set in high school. And as one of those, the show has nothing in particular to recommend it.

Maybe the second episode was a fluke, caused by the necessity to get some expository background in, and the show will go back to being appropriately inappropriate and crazy next week. Maybe the show will actually transition into something quasi-serious, giving a depth to the characters that justifies the turn to drama. More likely, the show will dither back and forth between the two extremes, muting them both so that what’s left is a uninspired hash-up. That final category, after all, is the most plentiful in modern anime.

I sort of have to include a scene of Seraphim (Sera for short), but I don't have much to say about her. She's a buxom ninja vampire who continually (and uncreatively) insults Ayumu for no reason. What more do you need to know?

If you want to see if it does get better, you can watch the show here.

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