Review for Is This A Zombie?: Series 1
The entertainment industry in any domain loves to milk an idea, or a more appropriate metaphor might be flogging an undead horse. It’s the same in anime as it is in Hollywood. One studio makes a space sci-fi which makes a profit; suddenly they’re all churning them out. Someone gets a hit with a vampire movie, and all of a sudden you’re up to your jugular in vampires, in cinema, in print and on TV. The last few years have seen the entertainment industry jump wholesale onto the zombie bandwagon. The lumbering ambulant corpses that once populated the humble b-movie now even have shows on prime-time television. Once again it’s just the same in anime, and it seems that High School of the Dead a few years ago merely opened the floodgates to a horde of the animated undead. A company as selective in their releases as MVM even has two zombie shows in one year, with Sankarea lined up for later. They start up with Is This a Zombie? however, where it’s the protagonist of the series that is a member of the recently resurrected. This is no ordinary zombie show though. This is a supernatural harem comedy show, where the central male object of affection is a zombie!
Ayumu Aikawa is dead. Oddly enough, this didn’t turn out to be quite the impediment that he thought it would. He has to stay out of the sun to avoid shrivelling up, but he has fantastic strength, and unprecedented healing abilities. So, he’s a zombie, but that doesn’t mean he has to stop going to school. He’s even got a houseguest, a cute, armour clad, tight-lipped girl named Eucliwood Hellscythe, Eu for short. She’s the necromancer that brought him back from the dead, and who he now has to serve. When a magical girl named Haruna shows up, and cuts him in half with a chainsaw, it isn’t a permanent disfigurement, although in the process he does drain her of her magic. He may never live down the fact that now he’s a magical girl, complete with transformation sequence and cute dress. Haruna moves in as well, until she can get her magic back. But then the vampire ninja Seraphim appears. She needs Eu’s help, but Eu can’t be bothered, so she decides to move in to persuade her otherwise. She thinks Ayumu is a disgusting filthy maggot, and takes time out her day to remind him of the fact. That tends to take the shine of an otherwise splendid day being dead. But the one advantage of being a zombie for Ayumu Aikawa is that he can hunt down the serial killer that is preying on his town, the serial killer that murdered him.
13 episodes of Is This a Zombie? are presented across two discs by MVM.
1. Yes, I’m A Magical Garment Girl
2. No, It’s a Vampire Ninja
3. Yes, Hair in Pigtails
4. Whoa, Am I Glowing?
5. Yeah, That’s Kyoto Tofu
6. Yes, I Summon Death
7. Hey, Which Middle School Are You At?
8. Heh, I’m A Schoolyard Wife
9. Yes, When I Strip Down, You’ll Be Amazed
10. No, That Will Explode
11. Yeah, You Stay With Me
12. Yes, There’s Still More
13. Yes, This is a 1% Miracle
Is This A Zombie? gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer in the PAL format, as sourced from Australia’s Madman Entertainment. The image is clear and sharp throughout, colours are strong, and the animation comes across smoothly, without judder, ghosting, or significant compression artefacts. This Kadokawa production really has some visual pizzazz to it, almost coming across as a toned down SHAFT production. It doesn’t get carried away with it, but it does offer a little more in terms of visual inventiveness and energy than the average harem comedy. Taking the spookiness of its premise, it really delivers in terms of design and atmosphere, and Is This a Zombie? is certainly a joy to watch, with appealing and memorable character designs, and a moody world design.
With the show being a harem comedy, it does get a little saucy and ribald on occasion, saucy to the point that censorship is applied. There are usually two kinds of censorship in anime, the kind that is for broadcast purposes where fans are able to get the uncensored versions later on home release DVD and Blu-ray. This is usually in the form of half-screen obscuring bathroom steam or sunbeams. The other kind is censorship for comedy purposes, deliberately applied by the creator as part of the storytelling technique, and this follows through in broadcast and retail release. This kind of censorship is more selective, and creatively applied. The censorship in Is This a Zombie? looks to me of the latter persuasion.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 Surround English, and DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. While I watched, and was very happy with the Japanese audio track, I gave the dub a spin and was pleasantly surprised to only recognise a few of the voices. The trouble with anime dubbing into English is that the talent base is so limited, with companies tending to use the same voices again and again, as they are actors that know the process. That tends to create a greater degree of familiarity in English dubs in comparison to their Japanese counterparts. With Is This a Zombie? it seems that Funimation have a new wave of voice actors coming through the ranks, and I didn’t recognise the names of most of the main cast members. Add to that a witty and off the wall script, with a whole lot of localisation when it comes to the comedy, and Is This a Zombie? turns out to be a show worth watching in both languages. The subtitles are free of error and are accurately timed.
An interesting tidbit is that Eu doesn’t speak in the show, but she does in Ayumu’s imagination and in each episode, that imaginary Eu is voiced by a different guest voice actress. That’s how it is in the Japanese audio, and that experience is repeated for the English dub.
Both discs get static menus, and jacket pictures to look at when the discs are at rest in compatible players.
Disc 1 has two audio commentaries, with Episode 3 seeing host and ADR director Tyler Walker with voice actors Austin Tindle (Ayumu), and Anthony Bowling (Orito) in the booth to chat about the show. It’s a fairly goofy commentary, but fun to listen to, if uninformative.
Episode 7 has Tyler Walker joined by Jad Saxton (Haruna), and Morgan Garrett (Seraphim) for a commentary that is a little more appealing and informative than the first.
Disc 2 offers the US trailer, the so called textless credits with player locked subtitles that render them anything but, and trailers for Majikoi Oh! Samurai Girls, Mayo Chiki, and Waiting In The Summer.
I think the makers of this anime have their zombies and vampires all mixed up. Ayumu Aikawa, the central protagonist in this comedy is a zombie, but he’s a zombie without any green bits, and without any body parts falling off with the passage of time. He still has his mental faculties, and he still goes to school. In fact, he’s got super strength to go with his super healing, and he doesn’t have a predilection for brains in his diet. The only thing is that he has a problem with bright sunlight, which when you think about it is closer to a description of a vampire than it is a zombie. Oh well, technically they’re both undead, and as long as the show is good, who cares if the details don’t match the Western aesthetic of zombies. Besides, anime have been taking far greater liberties with vampires, and we’ve been lapping up their varying takes on bloodsuckers for several years now.
If you’re looking for something new from Is This a Zombie? then you may not be fulfilled by what it has to offer. It’s hardly the first harem comedy that anime has produced, and neither is the first supernatural harem. Only last year, MVM released Rosario and Vampire to the world, where an average human boy wound up going to monster school, and attracting the attention of a beautiful vampire, a succubus, an ice girl, and a witch. In Is This a Zombie?, Ayumu has to come to terms with being undead, and living with the necromancer that raised him, a chainsaw wielding magical garment girl, and a vampire ninja. There’s a little more mix and match in the supernatural definitions, but it is very much a harem comedy, with the requisite fan service, awkward moments, and male protagonist abuse at the hands of whatever tsundere female may be passing at that moment.
Is This a Zombie? does all this in style though. Visually it’s a striking and inventive anime, with cool, energetic animation, and atmospheric world design that really plays on its spooky material. It’s also unafraid of taking its comedy in very black, macabre and uncomfortable directions, and in between the silliness and the harem antics, it also pulls together enough of a storyline to get the viewer interested in and invested in the characters. There’s a lot of sympathy to be had for Eu, the necromancer hiding behind a vow of silence, and even though characters like Haruna the magical girl, and Seraphim, the abusive ninja vampire are really just there for comic effect, and to fill out the harem, the story manages to flesh out their characters as well.
There are two main arcs in this series, beginning with Ayumu’s story. We start with his existence as a zombie a fait accompli, and the story follows him as he tries to find the one that killed him, fleshing out his back story in the process. That he’s a zombie is trouble enough, and the arrival of Haruna and Seraphim only complicates matters. But when there is a serial killer on the loose in his neighbourhood, he has to solve the crime before someone else becomes a victim. The fact that Eucliwood has taken a vow of silence, and communicates only through pen and pad makes her all the more mysterious, and as he investigates his own murder, he starts to question just why she brought him back from the dead. In between all the comic harem antics and spookiness, there’s an undercurrent of tension and mistrust in the story.
The second arc is Eu’s story, where it becomes clear just why she brought Ayumu back. It turns out that bringing the dead back to life is a double edged sword, that not everyone will appreciate super-strength, super healing, and practical immortality. It turns out that Ayumu isn’t the first zombie that Eu has created, and her earlier minion isn’t happy with his existence. He wants out, and Eu is the only one that can give him what he wants, and he turns out to be willing to do anything, however heinous to convince her to do that, including using her friends against her.
Is This a Zombie? was really entertaining me up to this point, delivering its familiar tropes with atmosphere and style, and enough of a twist to establish its own identity. It’s not just another harem comedy. Except that with the final two episodes it went and reminded me that it was an anime, which is probably a little perverse of me to complain about. But with the anime comes the fans, and with the fans come the merchandising, and the final two episodes ought to come with a phone number at the end for fans to place their orders for the tie-in goods advertised within. This is especially true of the penultimate episode, which sees our heroes set forth boldly to the swimming pool, where swimsuits will abound, and fan service will be provided. This accomplished, for no apparent reason, the girls enter into a pop idol contest, more fan service of course, and place your orders for the character song CDs as you exit the episode.
The final episode isn’t as obvious as that, but the anime clichés do abound, what with a summer festival getting the girls into their yukata, and much silliness as Eu and Seraphim become prizes in a lottery. There’s bad cooking to be dealt with in one segment, and fan service combines with a card game to round off the series.
Is This a Zombie? is a strong show with a weak conclusion, but it certainly entertains, and it does enough that is unique to stand out above its harem comedy peers. It’s visually inventive, the stories are engaging, and the characters are likeable. It’s enough to recommend it, and I certainly look forward to its sequel, Is This a Zombie? Of The Dead coming soon also from MVM.