Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 04 – Undeath Metal Girls

Sakura does her level best to cheer Junko up, but her head is still out of it, during another musicmaking practice I can’t help but think is far too quaint against the likes of Iron Frill. She doesn’t even realize her hula hoop has fallen to the ground! Shiori’s harsh and under-informed opinions about Franchouchou build on Junko’s building lack of confidence in any scenario without Ai.

If Shiori, the center of the country’s top idol group, says they’re trash, then they must be. But in believing those words, Junko creates artificial limitations. It’s less about Ai being too good for Franchouchou than Junko not being good enough. When Junko and Ai cross paths, Junko asks if Ai enjoyed being in Iron Frill more.

The way Ai responds by asking why Junko is worried about that when she should be worried about the show just rubs Junko the wrong way. For one, Ai doesn’t even attempt to humor or reassure her she’s happy where she is. But that’s less Ai being insensitive to the moment as Junko being hyper-sensitive to anything that confirms her anxieties.

Junko runs off to cry on the beach and scares the shit out of the local cop (who is never not hilarious in his buffoonery). Koutarou, no stranger to wailing at the waves, confronts Junko back at the house, armed with his trusty old red axe. As he creates wind with some sick chords, he considers it to be his lodestar, as as long as it can keep making music, he can keep moving forward.

He sees that Junko is standing still, unsure if she can go forward, and can see the false limitations she—not Ai ort Shiori—created for herself. Handing her the guitar, he tells her if there’s something she really wants—in this case to keep performing with Ai—she has to keep shining, strumming, and moving forward.

The pep talk not only snaps Junko out of her funk, but gives her the idea Franchouchou needs to create the necessary impact tomorrow. True to their tight-knit family cohesiveness, everyone (even Tae!) waited for Junko to sit down before tucking into Yuugiri’s sumptuous pre-concert feast.

They’re all happy Junko looks more focused. The day of the show, Shiori is disappointed to learn Ai isn’t even going to be on stage, because without her Franchouchou is nothing but “a bunch of nobodies.” Of course Shiori is ignorant to the generational talent Koutarou assembled, just as she’s not aware that Number Three is the Eternal Center Mizuno Ai. Regardless, Ai warns her not to underestimate Franchouchou, a group that’s always striving and evolving.

Shiori agrees to give them a chance, and she’s probably glad she did, as we finally get to see the group’s quaint musicmaking pay off. Tae is given a high-end drum set to start things off with a sick solo, followed by Junko on Koutarou’s red Strat. As I had hoped, she decided to draw upon her talent and ability to enchant with a guitar in her hand.

The group’s top two fans are delighted that the Death Metal Girls are back with a spicy, almost Beastie Boys style rock-and-rap number (I’m told it’s more of a piece with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park).

As usual for the Revenge sequel, both the singing and dancing animation, the lighting effects, the camerawork, and of course the song itself all look and sound fantastic—a serious upgrade over the previous season’s more-than-adequate production values.

I especially liked how Junko finishes the song by smashing Koutarou’s venerable guitar into a million pieces. How’s that for impact?! Her performance moves Ai, watching proudly in the stands, and reminds her of when she’d watch old videos of Junko performing—the very thing that got Ai into the business.

Ai, who at this point understands full well that her resemblance to Frill’s old center wasn’t why Koutarou kept her off the stage. Now that he achieved what he was hoping for, Ai runs to the stage to join her companions. Only it’s quite a leap to manage, and when Junko grabs her arm it starts to come off! When Junko corrects by leaping towards Ai, they both hit the deck hard.

No problem, this just shows Junko that, as zombies, they can deliver a performance living human group never could, by injecting themselves with electricity and literally shining. As they perform a slick autotuned techno remix of “Awaken Returner”, the girls themselves put on a beguiling Tron-like lightshow. Shiori and Yui are suitably impressed, even if they have no idea how such special effects are being done. I don’t either…but they’re cool, so who cares!!

But it’s more than that. Yui told Shiori to be weary of recruiting Number Three due to her resemblance to Mizuno Ai, because as good as Ai was, she’s the past, while Iron Frill is all about the future. But Shiori never stopped being inspired by Ai, just as Ai never stopped being inspired by Junko. Even uif they weren’t secret zombies, Ai and Junko are timeless talents, and AI’s performance transports Shiori back to when she was just a little girl watching Ai on TV.

One of the many, many things Zombieland Saga gets so right is depicting how past generations help shape us. The past isn’t something you can turn your back on and forget about. It’s always there, and it’s why Iron Frill are who they are. Even Yui has someone who inspired her. This is why I believe Shiori decided to give a very particular shout-out to Franchouchou when they appeared on TV for a post-concert interview.

Shiori considers them Iron Frill’s top rival because they let her travel back in time to the genesis of her love of song and dance. That’s hard to do, and she knows she can’t rest on her laurels if she wants to have the same effect on the kids out there who dream of becoming like her, and Ai, and Junko.

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of episode 4 here!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 03 – The Legendary Center Cannot Hold

Saki may be the de facto leader of Franchouchou, but their center has always been Mizuno Ai. While the group now has a radio show and their schedule is starting to fill out, much of that remains odd jobs. Ai warns the others that they can’t be complacent just because they’ve had a little success. Watching videos of Iron Frill, Ai knows the gap between them is a yawning chasm, but the only way to close that gap is to keep grinding.

During that grind, it’s Ai who is most often called upon by the other members for her advice and guidance. Other than Junko, who performed a long time ago in what was a very different idol industry, only Ai has the pertinent experience to help the others. So it’s deeply frustrating when a Kotarou in full drill sergeant mode announces Franchouchou will be opening for Iron Frill at the newly opened Saga Arena…without Ai.

His worry is that her resemblance to Iron Frill’s former center—her—is too risky. The others push back, but he’s made his decision. Ai leaves it to Junko, the next most-experienced idol, to head up the group and whip them into shape. Ai even thinks it’s a good opportunity for Franchouchou to grow up a bit.

Koutarou books a bunch of solo gigs for Ai, while Junko expresses doubt they’ll be able to make an impression on Iron Frill fans no matter how hard they practice. After seeing Iron Frill’s new center Shiori on TV basically declaring war on the opening act, the others put together a dance with improvised instruments in order to make more of an “impact”, when just the night before Junko was trying to google “impact”.

Junko goes up to the roof to play a song to cheer herself up, during which the colors fade and the frame adjusts to 4:3 aspect ratio—a nice nod to the era she’s from. Sakura, who came up to check on her, is so moved by the song she falls off the roof, with Junko only managing to save her head from falling. As such, their lovely dramatic scene together takes place with Sakura in two separate pieces.

Junko is worried that all she can do is demonstrate her own personal appeal, without knowing how to make that performance pay off in a group. I was thinking that she should just do a guitar and vocal solo that the others can eventually join in on, but the two decide to ask Ai instead, noting that Koutarou didn’t bar them from talking. In the meantime Sakura does what she does best: praise, reassure, and encourage.

But in a bit of awkward timing, Iron Frill’s Shiori confronts Ai after one of her solo gigs before Junko and Sakura can approach her. Shiori takes her aside, and after noting how similar Ai looks to her Ai, is very blunt in her assessment of Franchouchou. Basically, she believes the others are holding Ai back, and Ai would be better served joining Iron Frill to meet her full potential.

If Koutarou won’t allow Ai to do solo gigs outside of Saga, he certainly won’t let her go to a Tokyo idol group…or will he? Was leaving Ai out of the Saga Arena show while also booking multiple solo gigs to spotlight Ai all part of a scheme to get her poached away? Has Koutarou decided that the others should no longer rely on someone who, due to her fame in her past life, simply draws too much of the wrong attention (i.e. those journalist guys, who return this week)?

It’s telling that Ai doesn’t immediately refuse Shiori’s offer, but it’s also devastating for Junko to hear what Shiori said, because it confirms her fears she doesn’t have what it takes to lead the group in Ai’s stead. Just when everything was starting to look up, Franchouchou’s two most idolly members are facing personal crises. Can Sakura and the others pull together to help both Ai and Junko find their proper places?