Anime Reviews

The girl who became a zombie

I’m utterly torn by Sankarea. It has beautiful art direction and some fascinating ideas, but it’s also about as exploitative as anime gets. There’s just so much to like about it though, starting with the girl who became a zombie.
Of course, to become a zombie, one must first die. Sanka commits suicide because her father is a massive creep (and, I would argue, a moe otaku,) so obsessed his daughter’s innocence that he’s stopping her from setting foot in the outside world.
There’s a twisted logic to the metaphors being spun here, where a decaying body and spilt guts is symbolic of a girl’s coming of age. She’s happy to be damaged and sew-up the gaping tear across her stomach if it means being able to live a normal life.

She’s no longer human, though. Her body has lost all feeling and she can’t sleep any more. In the last episode, she’s just laying on a bed by an open window whilst others are sleeping. Later, she expresses her affection by biting her crush’s lip. His blood trickles from her mouth and in Sankarea‘s weird way, it’s a beautiful expression of feeling, but there’s a sad undercurrent, too. Love is a messy thing.

Indeed, I’m so close to loving this series, but there’s no denying that it too often feels exploitative and gross. It’s not just the fan-service (of which there’s many a scene full of jiggling breasts and panty-shots) but how it exploits Sanka’s zombified state as a cheap excuse to have her be molested (or molest others!) The first three episodes are some of the best anime I’ve seen for a long time, but after them, I came close to giving up. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t do it.
This was directed by first-timer Mamoru Hatakeyama, whose resume suggests that he’s a protegé of Akiyuki Shinbo and Studio SHAFT, and just like his mentors’ use of abstract art, this is laced with so many beautiful shots that my heart was stolen barely an episode in. There’s a lot of Revolutionary Girl Utena in here, too.

I’ve got so many screenshots, so many, but I still can’t recommend Sankarea. Alas, it remains one hell of an interesting failure.

6 replies on “The girl who became a zombie”

It’s odd. This show didn’t feel too exploitative for me. Maybe I’m deadened to it. My complaints about the show are more to do with execution, like the character-specific filler eps they put in right during a cliffhanger.
But I liked very much the contrast between Rea’s former household and her new one, the first one twisted, empty and dangerous, the other one goofy and full of fun, though in a way her new life is as much as a prison as her old one (though at least now there are supportive people who try to solve that for her, by letting her go back to school, for instance). It was summed up for me by Chihiro’s verbal smackdown of Dan’Ichiro in the dojo. Instead of fighting a ridiculous duel that proves nothing, Chihiro relentlessly mocks Dan’Ichiro, who has no defense except to run Chihiro through.
BTW if you liked the visuals you might enjoy Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, though it’s probably just as exploitative.

There’s a few things that pushed me into calling this exploitative. That random moment when Sanka seems to be trying to rape Wanko: a scene so weird and out of the blue that it took on an almost pornographic tone. Also, those few episodes when Chihiro is leering through his video-camera at Sanka. Just the general tone of those scenes were, again, weird and creepy.
Although it’s not as overtly sexual, Sankarea sits right along-side Highschool of the Dead as “grind-house” fare for me. Both are fun to watch, but yeah, they can be exploitative too.
Interestingly, the director of Sankarea has actually worked on porn! A lot of Japanese talents started out this way. One of my favourite live-action directors is Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and he began by working on cheap “skin flicks” to develop his style.

But Chihiro recording Rea isn’t for perverse reasons, he was only studying her to try to help her. It was like a normal couple outing, lots of couples record each other smiling, shopping.

If you’re interested, here’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa on pinku:

I was able to shoot a pinku right away.
Obviously, the genre imposed specifications and certain constraints, but since I was being given carte blanche and especially the assurance of shooting within a month, I didn’t hesitate for an instant. I remember very well that a lot of my colleagues at the Director’s Company told me that it wasn’t a good idea. Especially Hasegawa and Somai, who were worried about my future; they were even asking themselves if I would continue afterwards. That’s when Banmei Takahashi angrily intervened, coming from pinku himself. He asked them where’s the harm in making a first film such as that. It was with such an argument that Hasegawa and Somai accepted my decision.

Fascinating how even erotica seems able to nuture such creative talent in Japan.

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