Based on the manga of the same name by Mitsuru Hattori that debuted back in 2009, Sankarea had a bit of a rough start with domestic fans since there were broadcast and home video versions. It wasn’t a surprise that we got a broadcast edition for streaming but even just a decade ago there was still a lack of clarity at times on what shows had been updated for home video release versus those that didn’t. So this series came with some controversy. This is unfortunate, as I enjoyed the manga that Kodansha Comics brought out. That series wrapped up in 2014 with eleven volumes but the anime adaptation in 2012 had its single season and that’s all we got outside of a novel being released in 2013 in Japan. The property is one that definitely has a lot of appeal with its visual design and concept, which made for something that mostly holds up well and is worth revisiting from time to time.
The series deals with an interesting character as its lead – a young man named Chihiro who as we see right off has an affection for zombie films and shows. Where that stems from is what would be interesting to see really dealt with, but the way his life has gone you can certainly account for some of it on the loss of his mother and then the more recent loss of a cat that the family had. This event really gets to him, so much so that he uses an old wok that he had which he believes would reveal to him how to reanimate something. Suffice it to say, processing grief is certainly a thing and it takes time.
Chihiro’s attempts at reviving his cat Babu don’t exactly go well over a couple of days he attempts it at an abandoned building nearby. It’s an interesting and moody piece when you get down to it and he does admit along the way that there’s only so long he can do this before he has to bury the cat as things would just go from bad to worse. In the middle of these days of attempts, we get introduced to his school life and some of those that have interactions with him, but there’s little that stands out as it’s a plethora of archetypes more than anything else, from the flirty girl that’s a friend to the guys that are pretty normal if a bit overactive.
What’s different, and the main attraction here is that while he’s at the building going through his ritual, there’s an attractive young woman named Rea who has been yelling down a well nearby. What makes things awkward is that she yells down something about being photographed naked to showcase her growth for the family, which is what Chihiro hears. And that makes for an awkward couple of moments before the two find that they can keep each other’s secrets, which leads to them talking quite a lot. Chihiro does have a good bit of fun with her along the way, which is pretty much expected considering his character and the kinds of films he enjoys, but there’s some relevance to it as well since he knows plainly that Rea wants to die and get out of this life.
While the series does it well, it does play to some more standard and expected elements as it progresses from here, especially after Rea makes her first round of recovery and they discover how to manage her zombie condition. His instincts are all over the map at this point since it’s a dream come true, but there’s a whole lot of uncertainty as well. It’s engaging to watch the two of them figure out what works and what doesn’t and how Chihiro manages to get her to stay with him for the time being, convincing his family in a way that makes sense but leaves you a little uncertain. Though the relationship is certainly awkward, particularly since Rea is just enjoying being free, there’s also a good bit of innocent charm about it all that’s very welcome. She may have some good fanservice-style moments, but Chihiro does his best to be respectful to her throughout and is more concerned about her bodily state overall.
The drama that exists between the two of them dominates the series, with some well-placed humor, but it’s the expansion on it that drew me in more as it went along. A lot of Rea’s issues are because of her father, Dan’ichiro, who comes across as a complete and utter creep, to say the least when we first understand the story. But as it progresses, we get more and more of who he really is, what his experiences are, and an understanding of why he’s done what he’s done to Rea. It doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t excuse it, but it at least explains it and makes him a lot more sympathetic as a man who simply broke after a tragic event. Similarly, as we see her mother, Aria, her story becomes even more convoluted and tragic as it progresses and you really feel for her as well because of the isolation she faced and the walls that were put up that she could not overcome, which impacted everyone. We even get an episode dedicated to Chihiro’s younger sister at one point which delves into her relationship with him and their parents, which is complicated enough on top of everything else. She’s not central to things, but fleshing her role out here definitely added some welcome touches, especially on top of all the other more serious material with Rea’s parents.
When I first watched Sankarea in simulcast form, I made it through the first episode or two but didn’t feel compelled to continue. While it has the same mode overall for the first three or four episodes, once it shifts gears into what it really wants to tell, Sankarea becomes a pretty compelling series. You have to suspend disbelief for certain obvious things of course, but the series does some good things along the way with a lot of style and some beautiful designs and animation. The story of love with a zombie girl could be just a simple comedy with little else to it, but Sankarea delves a bit deeper with its cast. It’s the kind of series that I think has largely held up well, and delivered something that visually had some neat hooks for me, and made it welcome to revisit when the opportunity arises. It’s not exactly a diamond on the rough but I find it to be the kind of show that is a really nice discovery for people to make that give it a chance.