Mechas..tick! Youkais…tick! Vampires…tick! Card demons…tick! Zombies….? Jumping on Hollywood’s “Zombie hype” bandwagon, Sankarea (2012) is one of Japan’s contemporary anime that has welcomed zombies with fresh blood and open arms. Literally. Produced by Studio Deen — aka the creators of Fate/Stay Night (2006) and Vampire Knight (2008) — have they done zombies justice and satisfied the inner geek within us?
Meet Chihiro Furuya, a high school student who has an unusually bizarre interest in zombies. Yes, zombies. And it’s no casual interest in zombies. We’re talking collecting zombie films, videogames, books, and even to the point of desiring a ‘zombie girlfriend’.
Sankarea has nailed all the elements of a brilliant geekfest. Most anime usually aim for a certain direction with their storytelling but Sankarea boldly falls in several categories including ecchi, romance, comedy, horror, gothic, sci-fi and slice of life. With this strangely obscure direction; Sankarea should have no problem in delighting its audience, especially fans who favour a range of genres.
In true Frankenstein style, Chihiro attempts to revive his family cat, Babu, using an old temple manuscript that describes the process of creating a resurrection potion. At this time, he encounters a girl named Rea, who has run away from her confined home and abusive parents. In the moment of spontaneous curiosity, Rea attempts suicide by drinking a sample of Chihiro’s ‘poisoned’ potion but it fails to kill her. After being ambushed by her father to return home, she accidentally falls off the cliff and dies. But to their surprise, Rea revives as a zombie who eats hydrangea plants to survive.
Sankarea might classify itself as a horror-gothic anime but it’s not exactly on the same wavelength as its hardcore horror rivals like Hellsing (2001) and Attack on Titans (2013). Sankarea sells itself as a faultless package that is transparently simple yet wonderfully directed. Directed by Mamoru Hatakeyama, the anime impeccably captures the spirit of horror-gothic storytelling that should entertain viewers of all ages. Its occasional use of flashbacks, different shades and inversions of colours like black and red, eerie organ music and shaky camera-animation techniques …honestly, it cannot satisfy the audience even further as it has already reached its potential of a successful series.
For an indie series, it has done a remarkable job in attracting and luring viewers with its zombie material. But Sankarea has its own quirky twist going on with its comedic elements. It has guts to satirize the genre whilst mocking geeks in a light-hearted manner and this is majorly evident through Chihiro’s obsession with zombies.
However, as soon as the audience has settled themselves into the pace of the show, viewers will be surprised to discover that first impressions of Sankarea can be quite deceiving. Many would say that the anime gives off an air of romantic-comedy than a horror anime but we slowly come to realise that the horror undertone has always lurking in the shadows.
Sankarea is a gloomy, unsettling anime that dares to confront viewers about death and indirect sexual child abuse. With their decision not to go overboard with the intensity, the anime is to be commended for exploring the issues in a simple yet menacing manner. What better villain than Dan’ichirō Sanka himself? Rea’s father is an absolute madman and his abnormal parental love for Rea doesn’t go unnoticed — the daughter knows it, the wife knows it, everyone knows it, and nothing can stop him from holding Rea hostage.
And of course, it’s difficult not to forget that Sankarea is a perfect appropriation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where Chihiro acts as God and tries to defy the laws of life by bringing things back from the dead. Luck seems to be on Chihiro’s side as his ‘zombie creation’ doesn’t go haywire like the original Frankenstein story, but unfortunately, we do later see the after-effects of the potion.
Even when things seem ‘settled’ in the end, life doesn’t go back to normal. Chihiro faces the obligation and pressure to do everything he can to preserve Rea’s body before it officially rots away — and with his promise to Rea that he will free and treat her as a normal girl (and somehow prolong her life and time on Earth), Chihiro is even more determined to save her. And because of this, it’s hard not to admire his character from afar as he isn’t that ignorant, geeky character that we thought he would be.
Speaking of Rea, it’s very uncommon for viewers to admire and sympathise with the leading female character of any anime series. Leading ladies generally possess qualities that are rather annoying, bland, dumb, selfish and/or ignorant. Rea on the other hand, is a kind-hearted, innocent girl who wishes to live her life like a normal girl. Despite her lively and easygoing nature, for a girl who suffers hardship and living in an unstable household where everything is taken away from her, we immediately fall in love with her. The fact that she also attempted suicide so early in the series, this compels the audience to be drawn to the emotionally-complex character which is a feat that not many characters can achieve.
Verdict: Sankarea is the perfectly ideal horror-gothic anime for geeks. With a brilliantly composed disturbing plot of hybrid genres and unique characters, it’s great entertainment that doesn’t take things too seriously. Yet, it tests the audience’s patience by continuously proving to us that it can play the dark card as well. By having this attitude, we are immersed in its confident storytelling as it knows how to work the horror genre in its uniquely mysterious way. A must-watch for anime viewers out there!