Sankarea – Undying Love (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 314 minutes approx.
It’s an age old story – boy meets girl, girl dies, girl comes back to life as a zombie, boy falls in love with girl…wait, what?
Let’s go back to the beginning: Chihiro Furuya is high school boy with a life-long obsession for zombies, to the point that he can’t even fancy women unless they are undead. When his beloved cat Babu is run over and killed, Chihiro tries to resurrect him at an old abandoned temple using a potion from an old book he found. One rainy night Chihiro notices a girl, Rea Sanka, shouting into a disused well, letting off steam about her strict home life and offers her shelter.
Together they continue to find the reanimation potion eventually stumbling on what which includes the deadly hydrangea leaves. Rea secretly drinks in a suicide attempt and survives but it was successful in reanimating Babu. But her strict father Dan’ichirō finds out about Rea’s nightly excursions and confronts her, rather unfortunately on a cliff top, from which Rea takes a fatal fall. However the potion works its wonder again and Rea returns as a zombie.
Mitsuru Hattori’s manga puts a unique spin to say the least on the perennial romance story that manages to both subvert the typical conventions while adhering to its basic blueprint at the same time. As contradictory as that sounds it is the best way to describe how this series operates, not in the least as it incorporates many different styles and genres in its 12 episodes run plus bonus OVA.
Chihiro’s zombie obsession and frankly bizarre fetish for what I suppose we can label post-necrophilia is a hook some people may not feel comfortable being lured in by. But to Hattori’s credit, he has created a rather well rounded and likeable protagonist whose actions towards Rea are far more respectful and caring than lustful, denying us the standard relationship traps this story could have fallen into.
That is not to say it doesn’t stray too far from the comfort zone of familiar plot devices, fan service distractions and hackneyed tropes we’ve seen ad infinitum – such as Chihiro’s cousin Ranko Saōji (also called Wanko by Chihiro for reasons I don’t think we need to know), an ebullient (and busty, natch) girl with delusions of romantic attachment to Chihiro. She is more of a comic foil for Chihiro than she is an opponent for Rea, and while a rivalry of sorts simmers tacitly beneath the surface a surprise bond of friendship is the primary outcome.
Despite Rea now fulfilling Chihiro’s dream woman remit of being a reanimated corpse our leading man actually spends more time protecting her then making moves. When he notices rigor mortis is beginning to set in, Chihiro does all he can to ensure the temperature is to Rea’s benefit as well as discerning the best diet for her, which it transpires is hydrangea leaves, which he learned from watching Babu. Chihiro is in fact the perfect gentleman and it is Rea’s playfulness that instigates anything close to physical shenanigans between them.
But it is not all lightness and smiles as you may have surmised from Rea’s initial predicament. Her father Dan’ichirō is strict, joyless man who controls every aspect of Rea’s life, forbidding her from having a social life and from interacting with boys, hence sending her to an all girls school. But this smothering of his daughter runs much deeper than this, taking it to a level of unhealthy obsession that is frankly disturbing to entertain.
It’s a contentious subplot born out of one of anime’s more unfortunately inappropriate fascinations that drives the show into a darkness which ordinarily would have been the role of the central zombie premise. The way the story unfolds initially posits Dan’ichirō as monster, a perverted brute in need of a visit from social services but later chapters reveal the reason behind his behaviour, showing him in a different light that borders on portraying as a pitiful character – only borders though, not everything he does is so easily dismissed.
The show’s subtitle of Undying Love is more than a groan worthy pun, encapsulating the central theme that runs through the show. Alongside the principals of Rea and Chihiro, there is Ranko’s long standing affection for her cousin, Dan’ichirō’s deviant devotion to his daughter and a late entry into the tale, the saga of the cold hearted Aria, Rea’s stepmother.
There is little humour in Rea’s home life resulting in a distinct clash in tone between the episodes focusing on this thread and the majority of the remainder of the show. However the aesthetic and atmosphere remains overtly gothic throughout, due in part to the slinky character design of Rea, Dan’ichirō plush mansion and the horror themed bedroom of Chihiro in which much of the action takes place. Chihiro himself possess a hair style which is shaped into horns for some reason while the rest of the cast are fairly cookie cutter.
With a lot of material to fit into its single season run, the show suffers from pacing issues which becomes evident after the impact of the opening episodes is undermined by the leisurely fall out and teen comedy conventions. Two standalone chapters, one devoted to Ranko and Chihiro’s early childhood days and one about Chihiro’s sister Mero, disrupt this flow further and the show struggles to retain its verve, leading to a decidedly flat open ending.
On the grounds of providing a fresh take on a well worn premise, Sankarea is a show that can hold its head high, earning bonus points for having the central relationship avoiding all the usual clichés. There may be some uncomfortable and challenging content to drive the drama but it is integrated into the main story with rare sensitivity and care.
Maybe a missed opportunity to be a true paradigm shifting series Sankarea keeps its head above water for the most part and is an enjoyable enough change from the norm.
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese Language 2.0
Episode 3 Commentary
Episode 11 Commentary
Textless Opening Song – “Esoragoto”
Textless Closing Song – “Above Your Hand”
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black