One of the things I believe most attracts to people to anime is the novelty and surprise factor of it all. There are anime about subjects, both the incredibly mundane and the brainbustingly highbrow, which traditional films and TV wouldn’t touch with a Colossal Titan-sized pole. Now obviously surprise and novelty are not bywords for success, there are plenty of nasty surprises after all, but when a surprise hit comes along, it hits all the harder and is all the more memorable for it. And in that regard, I do believe Zombieland Saga takes the crown. Not for this season, nor even this year like you might infer from the title. Ever. I have never been pleasantly surprised harder by any piece of media than I was by Zombieland Saga. And boy did that pay out for the show’s favor in spades.
Keep in mind I know full well that Boku no Hero Academia had one of the greatest shounen battles of all time this year with All Might vs All for One. I cried during that shit, I felt like I could’ve been one of the in-universe spectators watching the live battle on the news, tearing up and almost chanting. I think that All Might is one of the best crafted characters of his archetype in anime history, if not the best. I was more invested in All Might during his major battles than Isaac-fucking-Netero during his big showdown during HunterxHunter’s Chimera Ant arc, and the final battle with One for All was the greatest battle of the year by far. Not because it was complicated or well animated or what have you – but because it was the most emotionally impactful battle, scene even, since… fuck me I don’t think I’ve been that emotionally invested in an anime scene since the death of Ouki (Wang Yi) from Kingdom – and I’m a fucking Kingdom fanatic.
But even with Boku no Hero Academia’s biggest moment to consider, I can wholeheartedly say Zombieland Saga won me over. No other show this year has made me laugh, smile or get pumped like Zombieland Saga has and I swear to God Japan, if you don’t make another season like the ending hinted at I will petition Trump to nuke you all over again. I am that fucking hype for this shit.
So what’s going on here? – Spoilers, Come On!!! – Obviously surprise factor alone could not do this. Certainly the fact that this show exploded onto the scene from so out of left field was in it’s favor but there’s more going on here. I think many others will join me in saying they got hooked on this show despite the fact none of them watch or like idol shows. Fuck I pretty much despise normal idol crap and I know I’m not alone in this. Making the idols into zombies should not be enough to get us past that, and while it did ultimately take more than that, let it be said the creators maximized the shit out of the zombie factor right from the get go.
Sakura’s sudden death after her cheerful morning scene was a pretty attention grabbing way to get the show started but climaxing with death metal idols doing neck-breaking headbanging bashed down any walls of skepticism that still remained and powered it’s way right into my heart. They had me. That is some use of shock factor so good it should go down in a textbook somewhere. More surprising still were the character stories and innovative concerts that were to come.
But before we get there we have to look at what the legacy of that initial shock factor was that serves to contrast with the aforementioned character stories – they made this show fun as shit. Zombieland Saga’s ability to be so brimming with life and energy is more than mildly ironic considering the zombie protagonists, but more importantly it meant I was never bored. Long before the character stories came in to make their fucking fantastic mark on the show, the energy and wild abandon of the show kept me hooked until the creators brought out the big guns. This is best exemplified by the legendary Yamada Tae, followed closely by Kotaro, the idol manager-cum-necromancer apparently. Even though we never really get to their character stories, just a hint for Kotaro, the energy of their movements/actions and speeches respectively do a lot to keep what would otherwise by a drab morning meeting, random conversation or activity fun and/or hilarious. Fuck even during the more somber part of Sakura’s arc over the last two episodes Tae in particular was fucking amazing. There was clearly a lot of heart put into these characters and they deliver for the show.
That being said I would lying if I said the character stories didn’t play a big role. Setting aside the fact that Tae never truly awakens and Yugiri is from such a far removed point in time – 200+ years if memory serves – that her story never gets told, the differences between the girls and the eras they died in really came to the fore in a way that obviously made them clash at first but makes them all the more endearing in the aftermath. Saki is a particularly interesting case because she is the most vocal opponent of the whole idol project from the outset given her background as a biker gang leader. I thought they had more or less nailed her character in episode 2 during the spontaneous rap battle she had with Sakura but fuck me did they really bring on the heat with the biker gang episode. Her saving her best friend’s daughter by replicating the same stunt that actually killed her in 97 was ballsy as fuck and it was really heartwarming stuff. Same goes for Lily’s episode where he is able to mend the emotional wounds of his hulking dad from beyond the grave, it wasn’t quite so ballsy but damn was it a feels train.
The most contentious of these stories is undoubtedly Sakura’s as the tone is far more serious and there’s a lot of nothing happening because the main conceit is that Sakura feels like putting in effort is pointless due the fact whenever she did she would reach the top only to have a random accident ruin things. As much as I can see people not liking this one, since it’s all about everyone else trying to motivate Sakura and the extremes of her bad luck are so played up it’s almost comical, I really liked her arc. Them going in whole hog on the bad luck probably should have made it all seem fake and goofy but I felt that it lent enough weight to her depression, for lack of a better word, to make it totally worth it. Over the span of two episodes Sakura manages to be depressed and somber despite all the efforts of everyone around her to encourage her, and I fucking felt for her. The idea of putting your all into something only to fail due to circumstances beyond your control, it bites, and while I’m sure everyone’s experienced something like that at least once in their life Sakura’s obsession with this idea, with how she believes it defines her life, with her o’er example being her sudden death on the way to her idol audition – it justified all of it to me. And fuck me did it make that last concert lit. With Sakura being all shaky in the first part, the venue collapsing due to the heavy snowfall and then her triumphant return, pushing ahead with a song all about rising up and never giving in – 10/10, would buy all the fucking glow sticks in the world to see that live.
Still I do believe the crowning moment of series goes to the Ai and Junko arc, and of course the lighting concert. Setting the concert aside for a second I really like the base concept of Ai and Junko’s conflict. This is the arc where the age difference, i.e. how long ago they died, really comes into play. Both of these girls were idols before their deaths but they were idols in eras 20-30 years apart and because of that they have very different attitudes. Junko does not like the way modern idols operate, in her time being an idol was a classier gig and there was a much more pronounced gap between idols and their fans. She has trouble squaring the current idol world with her own career and the lessons learned therein. Ai on the other hand can’t really bring herself to sympathize because she has a sort of ‘that’s just part of being successful attitude’ and refuses to compromise. The ironic bit then is that when the concert goes down and Ai is barely able to perform due to the lightning and her crippling fear of it – she died by being struck by lightning at an outdoor concert – it’s the loftier standards that Junko holds herself to which save the stumbling performance and get Ai back in the game so to speak.
Now let’s talk about the lightning concert. It’s a work of genius and I honestly think the thought process had to start from the song. Keeping in mind this is conjecture, follow me down this train of thought. Say an anime studio wants as many cost cutting measures as they feel they can get away with, as they often do, and someone says, “What if we remix one of the songs, that should be cheaper than recording another original one?” Then someone asks: “How can we do that in a way that makes sense in the story?” And then a mad genius goes – “What if we let them get struck by lightning to give their voices electronic effects?” And then the team runs with it and creates a character story based on the lightning strike, so the character can overcome their fear of lightning, the team can remix the song without issue and the show can have the most lit idol concert in human history. I don’t know if that’s what happened but fuck I really want that to be true because it would make the whole sequence even better for me.
Anyway that’s enough of me drooling over Zombieland Saga. I expect that for many it won’t be king of the season let alone king of year. But I say fuck you Goblin Slayer, fuck you Rascal Doesn’t Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai – I like you but you’ve been topped. And yes, in advance I cordially say, with no malice, spite, ill intent or seriousness, fuck all of you who disagree – I’m having way too much fun right now and so long as I have Zombieland Saga there’s nothing you can do to stop me. It is in fact the show the anime community needs and the one we deserve! Happy 2018 and I’ll see you in the next one – whenever that is.