#1 Undead idols
Sakura used to be your everyday happy-go-lucky teenager who enjoys life a lot. A shame, because it was about to be cut really damn short by a reckless truck driver going 80 through a street that would barely qualify as a mid-sized alleyway. With no isekai world available to her, Sakura remained dead for a long time, until suddenly awakening 10 years later in a spooky mansion.
She and 6 other girls have been abducted there in their afterlife, only to now finally regain their consciousness. A mysterious man called Kotaro Tatsumi is there to watch over them and forces the girls to become idols, for reasons only he seems to consider important. With some hesitation and a lot of make-up, the girls give it a shot anyway and slowly find themselves getting invested in the project.
Having an undead idol group is a novel little idea and it conjures up a lot of scary questions. What exactly caused all these girls to die so young, and what has Tatsumi done to “acquire” them? The group’s members are also very different from your typical idols, as it includes a Meiji-era courtesan, a biker delinquent, and one zombie girl that hasn’t regained her sanity at all and just tries to attack everything.
#2 Horror parody
The early half of Zombie Land Saga mostly has the girls trying to get their new idol group growing in popularity, with storylines about them practicing, getting their first few gigs, and trying to pull of publicity stunts. If you are looking for an actual idol show, this one does have the appeals of one.
However, it also makes clever use of the girls being zombies to throw in a bunch of cool “horror” scenes. Episode 1 is really good with this, as it goes from Sakura’s moment of death straight to her awakening in a house full of zombies. Similar scenes occur often enough and feature some lovely horror-style directing with a tongue-in-cheek touch to them.
Besides mimicking actual horror scenes, there is also plenty of comedy involved as the girls have to somehow try to keep their undead status a secret. They have to wear elaborate make-up to appear alive and often get into altercations with an incredibly unfortunate constable. You’re always aware that they are just one downpour away from turning back into wandering corpses or could fall apart in public if something were to happen.
#3 Lunatic manager
Managers can be horrible people. There are good ones out there, of course, but they can be pushy, unreasonable, egocentric, and even manipulative. Kotaro Tatsumi is all of that combined.
The moment he first starts speaking you realize he is completely detached from reality. Most of his dialogue consists of barely-coherent screaming and him “managing” the group mostly comes down to planning last-minute gigs and leaving it to Sakura to work out the specifics. He is barely involved in any of the group’s struggles to bond and can’t even muster an ounce of understanding for their confusion at being undead. He does end up coming through for them sometimes, but those few occasions are easily overshadowed by how often he ends up being utterly useless or actively detrimental to them.
He belittles the girls and wants everything the moment it comes to mind, and God have mercy on you if you don’t understand or question his reasoning. Mamoru Miyano does a fantastic job with the role; just the way he speaks is already entertaining, which is a rare case of a subbed anime where it’s very easy to pick up on how special the deliveries of the actor’s lines are.
#4 Troubles in life
To become undead, there has to be life before it, and for our cast of teenage/young adult girls, it had to end tragically early. I alluded to this before and the show does go into depth about what these girls did when they still lived and how that ended for them.
Many of these girls still carry lingering regrets or struggle to keep up with how the world has changed since their demise. Junko is an early example of this, as she died in the ’80s and can’t quite accept how the modern world treats idols compared to her time, especially when it comes to interacting with fans. Lily Hoshikawa and Ai Mizuno get similar character arcs, with the former being a child star with parental issues, and the latter being a former professional who is desperate to let the world know she isn’t history yet.
Watching the girls deal with these issues was the real appeal of the show for me. I am not that into idol anime and the performances in this particular show are pretty bad, so I am glad Zombie Land Saga makes the most of its storytelling potential to compensate on that front.