Review: Sankarea: Undying Love

Better pack a nutrious meal of hydrangea leaves.

Sankarea poster

A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Based on the manga by Mitsuru Hattori, Sankarea really puts a spin on the usual romantic comedy. How, you may ask? Why with zombies of course! How does this love story that lasts till undeath do we part fare? Will the intersection of zombie and romance fans rejoice? Find out!

Sankarea - Zombie education

Chihiro Furuya is your average high schooler, but unlike your normal teenage boy he only has eyes for the undead. After accidentally turning the well-known Rea Sanka into a zombie with a makeshift zombie potion, it’s like a dream come true. Well, if not for the fact that Rea’s creepily overprotective and obsessive dad (who by the by takes nude photos of his daughter) now wants Chihiro dead dead and not undead. And to complicate things further, Chihiro has all the fun and awkward situations of living with a decomposing dead girl.

Sankarea - Rea's smile

I was personally looking forward a little to reviewing this series because it has fairly solid premise. However, where I was expecting shenanigans and lots of Rea dealing with “#ZombieProblems” in creative ways, I got a lot of other messy plot threads. First of all, the pacing of the show is a lot like a zombie, in other words sluggish. While it’s great we get to see Chihiro and Rea bond in the early episodes, it’s not until episode 4 does Rea turn into a zombie, and even then we don’t get much of her zombie action until an episode after that, only to be interrupted again by some unexpected backstory. By the time we get some proper exposure to Rea in her newly-dead state we’re up to episode 8 out of 12, not good.

Sankarea - Dysfunctional Sanka family

When Rea finally does get some action in the spotlight, you kinda barely notice that she is a zombie. You don’t see her dealing with having to preserve her body (bar eating some hydrangea leaves) or contending much with a desire to feed on flesh. All you see is her pale complexion, red eyes, and superhuman strength. With the exception of two or three short scenes, if anything you kinda forget she IS a zombie while we’re busy seeing Chihiro deal with her old man.

And speaking of Chihiro’s parents we have some heavy themes of emotional abuse and obsession between Rea’s obsessive dad and alcoholic mother. Now not that these themes are untouchable, but that their execution is somewhere between awkward and poor. For instance, after Rea becomes a zombie, we see a scene with Rea’s father in a bathtub surrounded by photos of his daughter seeing his sanity erode for a rather serious scene, but then the intentionally disturbing mood is curtailed when the maids barge in and he stands proud and tall with his member conveniently censored. Were we supposed to laugh then or take it seriously like the rest of the scene? True there are some good gags and the witty dub writing helps, but there are frequent moments where the comedic timing is flat-out bad, making a joke fall short, seem tasteless, or just confusing.

Sankarea - Convenient fanservice

The other party that’s cutting in on the main story of this entire anime is Chihiro’s cousin (and fanservice target) Ranko, who has feelings for Chihiro. Yes, let’s add incest to the party mix, but then again assuming the viewer was here for zombie girls maybe we can expand our umbrella of… err… progressiveness to other parties too? While we do have a whole episode dedicated to Ranko’s backstory timed a little too soon once Rea becomes a zombie, we don’t really get to see as much conflict or tension bar a couple introspective scenes lost in-between the other plot threads of the show.

In fact, I’ve once again sort of forgot the main premise of the show. Chihiro had some good moments trying to find a way to perfect his resurrection potion but with little on-screen reason to be concerned with Rea’s condition, he ultimately comes off more like a nagging mother. We don’t get to see the gravity of the situation Rea is in with a body that is slowly breaking down so we don’t really get to relate with either of the main couple.

Sankarea - unexpected results

The biggest sting though is that there are those moments when the show does play its zombie cards and plays them correctly. Once we were dipped back into those moments with Chihiro trying to improve Rea’s condition, you really do get into the mystery of the potion. There are also some really interesting moments with Rea’s zombie condition, but unfortunately those don’t really get to go anywhere. Finally, the last episode has a big hook for a second season, which seems to hint at some really promising plot development, but by this time I’m not too sure many viewers have stuck it out to be on board for season 2. At least the manga kept going and actually just ended in September. So if you want something richer, there’s that.

Sankarea - budding romance

On the production side of things, we have Studio Deen at the helm, and it’s a more typical Studio Deen job, so nothing too special to write home about. The same can go for the soundtrack but at least the OP is somewhat catchy. As for the voice work, the dub isn’t too bad. Astute zombie fans will be able to lift allusions to famous zombie films and lore, so good job Funi for capitalizing on that in the script. Sadly, the Inverseman isn’t much of a horror buff, but it is appreciated.

We have Aaron Dismuke playing Chihiro and he can do awkward teenager nicely. Tia Ballard as Rea can give a nice creepy air when she needs to but does the impetuous girl as she does. Then we have power hitters Monica Rial and Mike McFarland taking some minor roles, a cat and a senile old man. Seeing faces old and new always puts a good smile on my face. The DVDs come with the light commentary and OPs/EDs, very typical.

Sankarea - fun poses

Overall, I did want to like Sankarea but it doesn’t really deliver. The plot is slow and messy, the comedy is simply awkward in a show that I anticipated to be lighthearted. There are good moments but they’re buried and you kind of wish you got to see more of them. In fact, awkward just might be the best description of the show, but if you’re a zombie buff or have a thing for monster girls you might get a kick out of it as a “there’s nothing else better on” kind of show. Though I will say I might check out the manga though, since it is complete and might be a good romp to see what the directors were planning to adapt in the season 2 that never was. The Inverseman gives Sankarea: Undying Love a so-so 3.0 out of 5. Join me next time when you can tune in for Mero.

Pros

– Interesting premise

– Fairly likable main cast with a good joke or two

Cons

– Somewhat questionable comedic timing

– Poor pacing

– Disorganized plot

Rating: 3/5

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Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

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