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Zombie Land Saga: Season One UK Anime DVD Review

10 min read

An interesting twist on the idol group anime with zombies as the band, with girls from all eras and a lot of twists and turns on the way and setting up for later….

What They Say:

Sakura Minamoto is dead. The good kind of dead where she can still head-bang to heavy metal. She and six other long-lost celebs were sprung from the grave to form an idol group that will put their tiny town on the map! But when the crowd comes begging for more, can Sakura and her zom squad put on a show that will knock ’em dead?

The Review:

The sound quality has options of 5.1 English Dolby Surround and the Japanese a 2.0 Stereo option. There were no complications of the audio throughout the release and the 5.1 option definitely comes through well with no need to adjust default settings on the audio system I was using. There were no problems with the video synching in with subtitles as definitely acceptable as a DVD release.

Similar with the audio, and with the series released quite recently (late 2018) the video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format – this is definitely one of the clearer DVD releases I’ve seen in a while – interesting considering the zombie nature of the show is how it contrasts with how colourful they need to be as idols and thus due to the vivid range of colours used it is quite a feast on the eyes – I only got the DVD release which was a shame as would have liked to see how it would have sparkled in HD but not complaining as no slowdown, grainage or other issues I easily could have noticed.

There was no packing for this test release however the Blu-Ray Special Edition version of this will get collector’s packaging.

On each of the discs, the menu is the same – we have all the girls in her zombie look rather than their make up so it is idols that would search for my brains (if I had any) attire…the menu is very basic, with Play All, Episodes and Set Up (no extras on either disc) as an idol like song is in the background. Nothing interesting in the slightest and whilst no issues with it in terms of efficiency and speed, it is rather dull compared to other shows especially considering the concept…

There are no extras on this DVD release (apparently the Blu-Ray has a commentary for episode 2)

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Zombieland Saga originally aired in late 2018, and was definitely a show that caught some people eyes. Whilst it is a take on the idol anime genre, the unique twist of the fact the group in question are in fact zombies and the girls were reborn from different eras raised a few eyebrows of interest. I didn’t catch it on its earliest run but the show definitely had a few of my friends recommending it to me as well as some others going into Japan and shocked by the amount of merch they were.

Of course, several cute zombie girls = instant money for toys, but how is it as a show?

One thing I’ve noticed in recent series reviews are shows that reincarnate or change a lead character from a normal human into something different, perhaps a different time as well – whether it is a slime, an overlord, a zombie or a 11 year old military leader (next review ^^) it seems to be almost a fantasy track to change someone into something and somewhere else. This however is a bit different as it is taking into the future with a young girl – Sakura Minamoto, who wanting to be an idol, is unfortunately hit by the truck in the first 3 minutes of the anime…

…fast forward 10 years and we see her being resurrected and a really strange but albeit entertaining manager named Kotaro, says that she and the other zombie girls have been resurrected so they can ‘revitalize’ the prefecture of Saga. Now, this is the running plot but the fact is it doesn’t really go into that (bar setting up for Season 2) as these 12 episodes are establishing our new zombie girl troupe. Sakura also has suffered memory loss from her time alive, which is actually more of the plot truth be told…

…so we get our cast of idol girls – our delinquent girl Saki, a former gang leader who died in a chicken race about 10 years prior to Sakura, Ai – a leader of an idol group around the same time of Sakura’s death via lightning strike during a concert, (keep in mind Sakura doesn’t remember this as she was a big fan of the group she was part of), Junko – a shy girl who died in the 1980s (and thus has to adjust to social media in this day and age), Yugiri, a high class yamato nadeshiko style lady who died in the 19th century (around the Meiji era), Lily, an adorable former child actress whose reasons for her death I’ll go into a bit later as it is one of the most famous episodes of recent anime history, and lastly Tae – who is the only one who doesn’t regain her memories initially and is the most zombie like…both with pluses and negatives.

So after their first concert which they somehow get through and all but Tae get their memories, the show is basically figuring out the girls and what they are like. For example delinquent Saki is all about taking over the world, whilst the actual idols in Ai and Junko wonder what happened to them in getting a second chance but it’s all really strange (Kotaro also does specialist make up to make sure the girls aren’t obviously zombified – combined with his over the top voice and control, he makes up most of the comedy) – in concert 2 when Tae is accidentally decapitated, somehow Sakura and Saki manage to do a rap battle which makes the audience believe it is all part of the act so they scrape by and Saki seems to approve of Sakura, though Ai and Junk not so much at first…but seeing Sakura trying so hard that when they do a street performance, the two join up and start being part of the group.

Of course, idols need money to make themselves better so Kotaro tries to make a deal with a hot springs resort and using the skin patches the pharmaceutical company gave them as part of the deal, they seem to be getting better (though it ends in tears where they forgot that hot springs + make up = zombie skin) so next comes a chicken advert and performing at a version of the Olympics (a legit thing called the Kashima Gatalympics) – the group by now has been named Franchochou and they start getting a little more recognition…in more ways than one as a journalist noticed Junko looking familiar (all the girls are called by numbers to avoid their real names coming out)….

With different cultures and ages, there are going to be clashes especially between the two former idols in Ai and Junko, one being outgoing to her fans, and the other being very withdrawn from them. It’s here we learn their back-story and they won’t be the only ones as we learn how they die (Junko remembering her plane crash and worried her outdated view on idols is hampering the group, whilst Ai continues to have a fear of lightning) but when Kotaro actually goes from drill sergeant to surprisingly good mentor and after an excellent outing at Saga Rock (including overcoming her fear of lightning – the lightning actually makes it look like they used special effects) they are starting to get more popular.

Which leads to episode 8. Now up until this point, Lily (and Yugiri who sadly doesn’t really do much of importance bar being an older sister like character to the show) has been not really relevant to the show, and seems the token moe blob, their running joke is Saki calling her shrimp and such. However this may have been one of the strongest episodes in anime I’ve watched in a long time especially in this time and climate. The big reveal is in fact Lily used to be known as Masao Go, and is in fact a transgender girl – this episode we see her father seemingly recognising her, as since she died he has refused to watch TV – seeing Lily back-story is actually really tragic as she died from shock as wanted to remain small and cute and seeing her grow masculine traits, facial hair, etc, screwed with her identity and caused her to have a heart attack. With myself having many friends in the LGTBQ community, this one was both sad and yet a joy to watch as not only were all the girls supportive of Lily, but seeing how much her father cared for her (the only thing he was guilty of was overworking her and regretting it after she passed away) the girl perform a special concert inviting him where Lily gives him a goodbye in her own words, whilst still hiding her identity as best as she can. The end part where Takeo watches television again with a smile on his face made me smile and I shed a tear or two as Lily instantly became my favourite character.

Which then brings us up to the actual plot as it were – we get a Saki background episode where we see that her old friend Reiko is now older but her daughter is being as reckless as Saki was and nearly dies the same way Saki does, until Saki takes over for her in a chicken race, and after the gang wars make peace, we see Sakura seems to be slowly regaining her memories. During the trope training of hell montage, Sakura seems to be too focused on performing but also realizes she maybe being selfish, and when distracted, she gets hit by another truck, which brings her memories full circle prior to being alive…but loses her zombie memories. Sakura seems to leave the group as she suffers from really bad luck, but Tae of all people tries to snap her out of it despite not being able to speak, which helps the girl convince Sakura to join the group again, and despite setbacks of weather and stage breakage, Sakura does perform and her memories return….with the final scene hinting at a second scene as the reporter from before now seems to recognise some of the other girls…

The show is really surprisingly good – idol shows are a meh thing for me, I was into the Love Live craze when it started, but died out soon after for me and was never a big thing for me to watch. ZS was a show a few friends definitely recommended but again, as an idol based show, wasn’t a huge thing for me to try. Of course, seeing it now I can see why – the unique setting with the zombie girls with all of them from different times/dates/eras, seeing them adapt to this society as well as being a zombie, coming with some surprisingly deep backstories (especially for Lily) it hits quite hard as they have to work for their success – Kotaro is actually a really fun character as his over the top antics really bring the humour in, but you can tell also he genuinely has talent and wants the best of the girls to get where they are…though you aren’t told exactly why he is doing this yet, which is why this show hasn’t quite hit its peak plot wise yet.

The girls themselves are all individual and fun – Sakura is our lead, a klutzy heroine but a strong heart and belief who has her sad moments near the end, Saki is our loudmouth but her past is also quite tragic and seeing her smile with energy can give you energy, Ai and Junko are idols of different generations and seeing them adapt to the new era combined with each of them having their own personal demons, they grow as characters. Lily of course stunned me as she seemed to see the token cute girl but learning about her past, her previous name and her father, is a really powerful episode with a powerful message in this day of age. Yugiri sadly despite being the most ojou-sama of the girls doesn’t get a back-story as of yet but could definitely be set up for the sequel especially as she’s technically the oldest of the girls era wise, and lastly Tae has a ton of comic moments (the chicken episode in particular) that you wonder what will happen when she does get her memories back…again, something to set up for Season 2…

The show isn’t perfect mainly due to the lack of really explaining or understanding the plot (hence why the Sakura memories mini arc is really the true plot as hinted from episode 1) but it has surprisingly good character development, some good comedy, drama and tragedy, and mixes it well with good music as well befitting for an idol group (the heavy metal fans in the first episode that become their biggest fans are as much as cheerleaders for them as you will be) – a good fun show that has the depth and intrigue that you want to watch more and hope that Season 2 isn’t too far away…

In Summary:
Zombieland Saga seems set up for a typical idol group show but with the first twist of the girls being zombies, the second one between them from different times, and then individual twists for the entire cast (Lily in particular), this is an in-depth and smart show that seems to go for idol tropes and then twists their heads (literally, they are zombies after all) – combined with an incredibly entertaining manager in Kotaro, the show was a surprise hit but not for all the usual reasons – it’s only weakness being that the plot isn’t fully explained or explored as of yet. But with luck, the best is yet to come…

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: January 3rd, 2020
MSRP: £24.99
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen/Fullscreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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