Review for Is This A Zombie? Of the Dead Collection
I wasn’t expecting great things from Is This A Zombie? when it came to the UK last year. After all, harem comedies are everywhere in anime, and supernatural shows are everywhere in anime, so you can bet that the idea of combining the two isn’t a new one either. But Is This A Zombie? managed to surprise me with its deft blending of story, comedy, character and fan service, getting the balance just right, while truly impressing with its visuals. It maintained that level of quality almost to the end, let down only by the by now obligatory descent into pure fan service that the OVA episodes provide. So quite naturally I was looking forward to the sequel series, which MVM had also announced at that time. And as so often happens with the things that I anticipate the most, the inevitable delays struck. This time it was down to a certain US distributor who wound up late when it came to delivering the English dub. Anyway, Funimation eventually delivered, and what ought to have been an autumn 2013 release, becomes MVM’s second release of 2014.
Ayumu Aikawa is still 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 houseguests, beginning with 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. Then 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 is staying with them until she can get her magic back. Then there is the vampire ninja Seraphim. She needed Eu’s help, but Eu couldn’t be bothered, so she moved 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 off an otherwise splendid day being dead. In the first series, Ayumu may have dealt with the one responsible for his death, and Eu may have reconciled some of the guilty feelings that come with raising the dead, but the trials aren’t over for this supernatural harem.
12 episodes of Is This a Zombie? Of The Dead are presented across two discs by MVM.
00. Yes, Thank You For This Encore
01. Yes, I’m Now Making a Magical Transformation Again!
02. Aah, Farewell to Me
03. Yo! That’s Some Friendly You-nity!
04. No, Get Lost, Good Sir
05. Yes, It Goes Around Every Year
06. No Way, We Were Winning!
07. Mm-hmm, Teacher is the Greatest!
08. Whoo, A Mixer with Kyoko!
09. Ah, My Darling is a Ne’er-do-well
10. Still, That’s Okay
11. Yes, This Suits Me Just Fine
Is This A Zombie? Of The Dead 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? Of The Dead 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 here looks to be 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? Of The Dead 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? Of The Dead 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 present their content with static menus, and jacket pictures for those with compatible players.
Disc 1’s sole extra is the audio commentary on episode 4. It’s a gathering of voice actors without moderation. Anthony Bowling (Orito), tries and mostly fails to get a word in edgewise with Caitlin Glass (Sarasvati), Morgan Garrett (Seraphim), and Britney Karbowski (Tomonori). It’s a total free-for all and I could bear just ten minutes of it before I switched off.
Disc 2 has an audio commentary to accompany episode 10, and moderated by ADR director Jerry Jewell, the chat with Jad Saxton (Haruna), and Austin Tindle (Ayumu) is a lot more bearable; indeed it even offers some interesting tidbits about the recording of the dub.
You’ll also find a video commentary with a little episode 1 playing picture-in-picture style at the bottom right hand of the screen, while you can feast your eyes on Austin Tindle, Jad Saxton, Cherami Leigh (Eu), and Morgan Garrett, as they have a cross dressing free for all inside the commentary booth. This commentary is just as inane as the episode 4 commentary, but it’s a little more bearable as you can actually see the inanity taking place.
You’ll also find the English trailer, the textless credits, and trailers for the Patlabor OVAs, Infinite Stratos, and Linebarrels of Iron.
I thought that 90% of Is This a Zombie? was great. The first series started off on an amazing note, blending comedy, daft horror, a whole lot of fan service and some really interesting narrative to excellent effect. Given everything that it had, it was really the narrative that drew me in, and there were two significant arcs in that first series, one which focused on Ayumu, and the search for his killer, and another that focussed on Eu, her guilty feelings about creating a zombie, and the past that was coming back to haunt her. Of course this was the solid steel core that held the fanservice and comedy together. For the final two episodes of that collection though, the core was removed, leaving just the comedy and fan service, which was entertaining enough, but somewhat deflating, and a thin note to end the series on.
This follow up series, Is This a Zombie? Of the Dead turns out to be all fan service and comedy, and no steel core at all. There is no real drama, or character development in this second series, the story doesn’t really hook the viewer, and the emphasis is more on gags and boobies. And in the end, this isn’t really the disappointment that I thought it would be. That end of season slump in series 1 only came about with the contrast between the final two episodes and the majority of the series. Here it is all frivolity, there’s nothing better to contrast it to, and that consistency makes it more acceptable. Is This a Zombie? Of the Dead is a show that you can just stick an episode on, and just veg out to. It’s silly, daft, and just a little naughty, and it makes for great relaxation.
It does taunt you with the promise of drama and plot though pretty much from the first episode, with the introduction of a mysterious fairy that evidently only Ayumu can see. This ‘fairy’ resides in a school science lab in the form of a small pink haired girl in a nurse’s outfit, and she spends all her time drinking alcohol, vomiting rainbows, and providing an inebriated shoulder for Ayumu to lean on. It’s a little mystery that grown just a little more ominous as the series progresses, but it never really gets truly dramatic, and neither is the story resolved in this series. It’s just another plot line of several that is left hanging when the end credits roll on the final episode, in obvious anticipation of a third series.
This collection starts off with what looks like an OVA that should have been appended to the first series rather than part of the second, presenting a couple of mini-stories that are set in that timeline, and using the S1 theme songs too. It’s the second episode that really brings things up to date, and throws Ayumu’s world for a loop, by revealing his Magical Garment Girl nature to the school when he has to defeat a Megalo in the playground, and he has his cover blown in the most embarrassing way. The problem is that the Garment Girl chainsaw Mysteltainn suffers a malfunction, and is unable to erase everyone’s memory, which cements his status as a cross-dressing pervert to the rest of the school, and also garners him another lustful stalker when Ninja Vampire Sarasvati catches sight of his naked behind, and decides to own it. From that point on, whenever Ayumu encounters Sarasvati, the sight of him fearfully grabbing his buttcheeks is sure to elicit at least a smirk.
The rest of the series really continues with the episodic hits of inconsequential comedy, and it’s really down to what mirthsome moments strike your fancy. The ongoing plot threads of Haruna trying to repair Mysteltainn to erase the school’s memory of Ayumu’s shame, and the drunk fairy in the science lab and a couple of others do give the series a flow and a direction, but it’s nothing really memorable or of import. I loved the scene where Sarasvati gets Haruna and Tomonori as backing dancers for one of her concerts, but it turns out that they can’t dance, but they can do a death chant. Then there is the Ninja Vampire restaurant where masochist customers go for abuse, and they can get a free meal if they can melt the hearts of their tormentors/waitresses.
This season does set up a fair few plot threads as it does draw towards the conclusion, but as it doesn’t do anything with them, leaving them hanging, I find it hard to comment either way on their effectiveness. I just wound up recalling the comedy that happens around them, such as Ayumu getting tested for his effectiveness as a Garment Girl, with the threat of losing his memory if he fails the test. That has the effect of unleashing an unexpected side of his personality. There’s the bit where Haruna absorbs some of Eu’s powers, and winds up losing her voice, and gaining a notepad as a result, while Eu finally gets a rare chance to speak. There’s also the return of Ayumu’s killer Kyoko, who offers them a little insight on the big bad villain in exchange for a little mixer party.
Is this a Zombie? Of the Dead is forgettable fun, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and sometimes it’s just what you need to help you unwind. Just be aware that if you were hoping for the promise of the majority of season 1 to be fulfilled, it won’t be here.