A Living, Caged Songbird… An Undead, Caged Songbird | Sankarea, A Review

Management: Unlike my last two blog posts, which can be found here and here, this one’s a genuine review. An older, cruder version of this review can be found here. My reviews consist of an introduction, followed by a brief synopsis before going to some analytical positives and negatives about the show. “Some,” as I just ultimately tend to talk about what I, as in, in my opinion, find as interesting and hope others keep in mind should my reviews convince them to give the shows I discuss a watch.

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There seems to be a predicable trend in pop culture when it comes to horror when horror icons end up getting their own comedies and romances. Sankarea is undoubtedly one of them. A high school boy dreams to be with his ideal girl. Not too uncommon a romantic premise, but here’s something that might run your blood cold, pun intended. He likes zombies. He really likes zombie girls, and one day, POOF! The plot kicks in, and he gets to live with one.

You’d think hijinks are all that should ensue, and they indeed do, but Sankarea never forgets the actual horror of its origins, and then adds some to make a show that can be terribly funny, but also terribly sad.

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Chihiro Furuya has spent the last several evenings putting his enthusiast facet to work for once searching for a way to revive his beloved deceased cat. During a couple of these dusks, he overhears the strained cries of a girl his age. She’s no other than Rea Sanka, the school idol of the local prestigious girl’s academy and the sheltered heir to a rather wealthy and influential name. And yet, she’s somehow desperate to lead a normal life with friends and outings. From this encounter, the zombie otaku and the school idol begin hanging out and working through the nights on what now would become a joint project to raise the dead, neither being frightened or disgusted by the other. Chihiro’s no longer just a zombie otaku. Rea’s much more than a school idol. Chihiro, outside his odd persona, and Rea, outside her perfect exterior, reveal themselves to us as characters of depth: sensible, quirky, considerate, kind.

This breaking of archetypal casting translates well to Rea’s parents, who the show could have easily written off as unredeemable individuals because of the damnable things they do or not, respectively, towards Rea. Instead, the show bravely portrays them as people that are as much understandable and even pitiable as they are contemptible. But regardless, it’s these two people, among other factors, that make zombie-ism relevant through Rea. And yes, zombie-ism isn’t just a fun, but ultimately needless accessory to the show.

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And while the show, like Chihiro, may briefly revel in the fact that they inadvertently made a hot zombie girl, that Rea is now a zombie is tragic, incredibly tragic for the following two reasons:

One is zombieism itself. The specter of mental health and physical well-being wasting away overtime looms in whatever air our two leads breathe, and while the living dead gain abilities such as super-human strength and insensitivity to pain, they also lose precious things that we, as people, take for granted. The capacity to bask in the sun, to feel warmth, to shed tears.

Two is how zombie-ism is applied to Rea. To live under the confines of a suffocating patriarch who’s, at best, neurotically obsessive and, at worst, possessively abusive to his daughter, where his affection for her is that of a blur between love and lust, and a jealous matriarch who doesn’t give a damn, she’s like a songbird in a cage, crooning for her freedom. And so the songbird becomes a zombie. A tragic paradox rings true: She feels more alive dead than she otherwise felt living, and here’s where everything falls together. No matter how much she aches to be normal, she can’t. She’s cheated out of experiencing life to the fullest because her condition chains her down.

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And it’s these tragedies that make the romance that much more compelling. While the show flirts around humorously with the premise of zombie love, it also holds no illusions to its implications: namely that of wish-fulfillment. But taking care of a zombie girl is plenty emotionally demanding, and an important question is implicitly brought up. Is Chihiro’s affections towards Rea a simple lust toward zombie girls, or a love toward a girl that now happens to be a zombie?

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Any review of this show would be remiss without at least a mention about the direction, which is undeniably Shaft-influenced, as can be seen by the visuals as can be determined from the director’s resume.

Camera angles…

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…theatrical metaphor…

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…abstract imagery…

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…etc.

And when it is not used for the narrative’s sake rather than its own, we get Sankarea. Direction that is beautifully rendered and carries meaning every time is utilized in place of the mundane rather than something that is abused for novelty’s sake.

Something like curtains rising and falling, coupled with specific uses of framing and lighting, lending greater weight and melancholy a midst bitter memories of isolation.

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Something like an arm fading away into nothing in place of a normal slap of the hand conveying far more than a one-fold rejection.

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I suggest checking out this link for a more in depth assessment of Sankarea’s cinematography.

In addition, the pacing goes at a slow, but natural pace embedded with a decent amount of subtly that allows the audience to really know about the characters rather than know of. An example of said subtly can be found in the male protagonist’s usually reserved deadpan of a snark sister, Mero, both in Episode 1 and Episode 9 (Also, if it can be helped, I recommend watching Episode 9 before watching Episode 8, since Episode 9 takes place chronologically before Episode 8 anyway, and has unfortunately been perceived as a rude detour, what with it being placed in a middle of an ongoing crisis, so much so that its beauty and genius has been dismissed as mediocre filler).

All of these wonderful things being said, the show suffers substantially on a few fronts, such as the ecchi. Yes, ecchi. Sparingly, it’s great when it’s used to convey dramatic atmospheres: the frankness of freedom, the desperation for freedom. Sparingly, it’s amusing or at least tolerably used in comedic moments. However, the show also goes somewhat heavy-handed on it for titillation’s sake, something which mars characterization and, in general, is just in bad taste, what with how grim, but well-told the series otherwise is. And while the characterization of the major characters are pretty well done, for the most part, the show also plays up the gimmicky troppiness of the secondary characters, which comes off as sore thumbs, more or less.

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To reiterate, you’d think hijinks are all that should ensue, and they indeed do, but Sankarea never forgets the actual horror of its origins, and then adds some to make a show that can be terribly funny, but also terribly sad.

Make no mistake, comedy is a prominent fixture in this show, and a welcome one at that, characters playing off one another in funny and even clever ways that forgo heavy reliance on exaggerated visuals. In fact, such restraint promotes that underlying sentiment of unease that balances the frivolity and serves to make the show compelling in a meaningful way. It’s this ever-present feeling of tragedy that makes the moments that are meant to be tragic doubly so and the instances that are sweet more bitter than before.

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