Zombieland Saga – 07 – A Truly Shocking Performance

(Apologies for the horrible pun that titles this post.—Ed.) Last week’s episode proved ZLS is far more than just a venue for Miyano Mamoru’s manic voice performances or a showcase for idol-dancing CGI. It can also do serious character drama. How would it resolve the generational rift between Franchouchou’s dual aces?

With Junko unwilling/unable to continue in this new and scary idoling world and holed up in one of the mansion’s many rooms, Ai commits to doing Junko’s part as the days to Saga Rock count down, even as the strain causes her head and limbs literally fall off (kudos to the foley artists for appropriately gross sound effects as the zombies move about).

Even Lily admits there may be nothing any of them can to to convince Ai to come back. Sakura asks Tatsumi for help, but he shouts her away. Even so, Tatsumi later breaks down the barricade Junko had built over the door and, surprisingly enough, provides the sober voice of reason. He acknowledges Junko’s fear of how things have changed in the last thirty years, but assures her the calling of idol is no less noble than it was in her time.

He also suggests something Junko didn’t consider a possibility: that if she doesn’t want to get so close to her fans…that she just shouldn’t. She can still sing and dance with the others while continuing to carry the Showa flag and live the life she’s most comfortable with.

He also reminds Junko that she’s not the only one with fears as a result of waking up a zombie in a strange time and place. He informs her how Ai died, and the weather forecast for the festival, and how Ai is going forward to face her fears. Considering she’s already dead, what harm would it do Junko to give this idol thing one last try?

With that, Tatsumi leaves Junko with her outfit for tomorrow’s festival…and a casual order to fix the door he busted (hey, this is still a comedy first and foremost). The next morning everyone waits as long as they can, but then pack into the van without Junko.

Just as they start off, Junko heroically leaps over the mansion gate lands in front of the van…which absolutely pummels her, in such a similar fashion to Sakura’s own demise it sparks a vague memory for her. Like a zombie horror movie, Ai slowly gets up…but not to eat brains; to join her fellow members of Franchouchou, all of whom but Ai run to embrace her.

Still, Ai decides to bury the hatchet as the group prepares for their show, promising Junko she’ll have her back. Tatsumi liberally sprays shoe waterproofing all over the girls so their makeup won’t melt in the coming rains.

The others join Ai as she watches her old group Iron Frill knock it out of the park (without anyone getting roasted by lightning). Why the more popular band would open for unknowns like Franchouchou, I have no idea, but that plot contrivance is only one of a long chain of them that, IMO, somewhat mar the group’s biggest moment yet.

While Iron Frill’s dancing and singing was 2D animation, the show breaks back out the smoother-moving but still far creepier CGI models of the Franchouchou members. I remain mostly unconvinced this was the best way to animate them performing, as it really pulls you out of the otherwise 2D world of the show.

Technical aspects aside, I liked how the storms made Ai so frightened she couldn’t sing properly, threatening to make their big break a disaster right from the start (the rain also forces much of Iron Frill’s crowd to flee, combined with the fact they don’t know who Franchouchou is). I liked Junko having Ai’s back even better, especially when Ai said she’d have hers. Junko may have nerves too, but they don’t relate to performing in a thunderstorm.

The idols regroup and finish out their first song strong, but the entire stage is suddenly destroyed by lightning, making real Ai’s worst nightmare: a repeat of the events that killed her. However, due to them already being dead and zombies (and perhaps the thick coats of spray Tatsumi applied), their exposure to lightning only makes them glow, and makes their voices distorted.

The group proceeds to perform their last song in “autotune” remix mode, their bodies providing the only light on the stage, and occasionally shooting lightning beams out of their fingers. This sequence of events represents a new level of preposterous-ness for the show.

While a show about zombie idols already demands one to suspend disbelief about quite a number of things, the piling on of absurd events culminating in glowing idols shooting lasers while singing autotune…was just a bit much.

The attitude that created this sequence seems to be: “So we carefully crafted a nuanced character conflict between Junko and AI rooted in generational differences…but SCREW ALL THATAnything goes when they take the stage; nothing has to make sense!” Never mind the fact that there were zero consequences for Junko not practicing with the group for weeks. I know she’s one of the best from her time, but no one’s that good!

All that criticism aside, the festival, ridiculous as it was, had the intended effect of getting Franchouchou much-needed publicity, as news of their “illuminating” performance at Saga Rock ends up published in a magazine. We’ll see how that translates into cash to fund their operation, but more importantly how it heightens their statute in the idol world, and how they’ll respond to that increased fame.

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Zombieland Saga – 06 – Not Ready to Be History

Let’s face it: as quirky and hilarious as Tatsumi is, he has technically been holding the zombie girls in a kind of servitude. As such, they find themselves compelled to rebel now and again, as Ai does when she sneaks onto the internet during Tatsumi’s long baths.

She lets the others in on her little act of resistance, and they even find a potential new gig for Franchouchou: the famous Saga Rock Festival. Here, the differing philosophies between Ai and Junko (already shown when Junko can’t quite keep up with Ai’s faster, more modern dance moves) are laid bare.

Junko thinks incremental improvement is better in the long run than aiming too high, while Ai’s past career and present purusal of the ‘net has taught her that you have to strike while the iron is hot; stiving for perfection is a luxury they can’t afford.

The next gig Tatsumi lines up for FSS is the kind of even that is commonplace in the present day for idols: a mini-concert followed by a swag sale and photo-op with fans (and yes, they have a good number of those now, as hilariously reported by an oddly kabukiesque Tatsumi).

Everything goes swimmingly—as their gigs tend to do—until its time for the picture-taking. Suddenly, Junko is completely out of her element. Idols in her time would never dream of closing the distance between their fans to such an extreme. She walks out of the job.

Because Junko and Ai are two idol veterans living in the present, they both believe they are right in their views on what an idol should and shouldn’t be. But because they’re from different eras, they end up clashing, and because they’re both stubborn, it flares into a lasting fight the other girls can’t extinguish.

Junko goes to the beach for contemplation, but Sakura catches up to her. That’s when Sakura learns why Junko is so loath to interact so closely with fans: it would be crossing a boundary and going against what she believes an idol is supposed to be: a timeless dream to aspire to, not a fallible chum.

That brings us to how Junko died: while on her way to her next gig, her plane crashed into the sea. Sakura’s death was presented as a joke, but Junko’s is treated far more soberly.

That brings us to the most tragic (and, incidentally, most metal) death to be revealed thus far: Ai’s. We learn what her fate was when Saki finds her cowering in a thunderstorm. Unlike Junko, in less than a year Ai’s Iron Frill was performing in front of tens of thousands in packed arenas. At her biggest show yet, which happened in an open-air venue, it started to rain.

One moment, she was lighting up the crowd with her energetic performance…the next, a lightning bolt zapped her into a cinder. Her charred remains, still holding her final pose, simply stood there in front of her stunned fans. It was a deeply traumatizing experience for all, and a national tragedy.

Most distressingly for Ai, it was history. She became history because of the completely bonkers, completely heartbreaking way her life was snatched away at the very height of her powers.

She may be deathly (undeathly?) afraid of lightning to this day, but she’s not ready to be history quite yet. She’s back, and she’s going to make the very most of it. I liked Sakura and Saki, who each heard the sad tales of Junko and Ai’s respective demises, meeting up when neither could sleep. After all, being told what they were told would unsettle anyone.

But neither of them have an answer for how Junko and Ai can make up. Right now, Junko isn’t even sure she can be in FFS, if they have to do things like the photo op. It’s as much a question of pride and identity as shyness. But by episode’s end, Tatsumi has already made another decision for them: he’s booked them for Saga Rock, just as they had intended to do anyway.

That means Ai will have to perform in an open-air venue, which literally killed her the last time she did it. Even worse? Her old group, Iron Frill, will also be there. Will they recognize her (if they’re even the same members, which is doubtful after ten years)? Will Junko participate? Can they find a way to put their generational differences aside? We shall see.

Really strong and emotionally resonant outing for Zombieland Saga, showing it can be just as adept at serious drama as madcap comedy.

Zombieland Saga – 05 – Nice Bird!

Considering the more controlled environment and larger potential audience reached, it’s a wonder Tatsumi didn’t arrange for Franchouchou to do a TV commercial sooner. Their first such job brings them to a beloved old hangout of Saki’s, the chicken shack Drive Tori. After they sample the admittedly excellent food, they get into their chicken costumes and it’s roll tape.

There are a few hiccups—Tae trying to eat the aloof official mascot Cocco-san, then marring the vocal performance with her groans. Even after a very good take, Tatsumi isn’t quite satisfied, and lets Tae run loose while the other girls chase her (and the cameras roll). The result is a memorable and catchy commercial, but not cash; they only get paid in T-shirts, something they already have in abundance.

After annoying Ai to the point she snaps and hits him with a baguette, Tatsumi announces their next venture: the Gatalympics, an series of mud-based athletic games. The girls don some truly awful T-shirts advertising their group, but when they get covered in mud, the advertising fails. Worse, when they wash off the mud, the water takes away their human disguises, so back into the mud they go!

After Tatsumi himself wins the bike challenge, the girls each try and fail (in various hilarious ways) at the Tarzan rope challenge. Yuugiri has plenty of style with her dancing background, and Lily gets almost enough distance for the podium, but it’s Tae who comes through in the clutch, getting first place with a truly epic distance. Unfortunately, she can’t speak, so the interview goes nowhere, and the T-shirt she ends up revealing is for Drive Tori, not Franchouchou.

But it matters not; two guys who may well be past or present talent recruits have their eyes on the group, and it would seem that they recognize Junko, who, if they know her, they know she should be dead. No doubt they’ll continue to observe and possibly confront the group…but to what end?

Zombieland Saga – 04 – Relax the Pain Away

Tatsumi informs the group that their budget has run dry, and they need to start earning their keep. To that end, he’s booked them a gig for a pharmaceutical company at the Ureshino Hot Springs. In the ultimate tease, he forbids them from actually going in said hot springs, or from having any fun at all; they’re to practice, then perform, then get paid.

Saki leads a quiet revolt when he leaves them alone for the day (ironically, to go sightseeing), and the girls do the same. It turns out to be a valuable bonding experience, as even Junko and Ai agree that from now on they’ll give the idol group their all—as long as they think everyone else is working just as hard.

The pharma company’s product—Saganship Z dermal pads—turn out to give the zombies an energy boost in addition to soothing their aching backs and limbs, and they put on a splendid show while sharing the pads with all the relaxing employees. Unfortunately, they perform the same interminable song as last week, and the CGI dancing, while precise, still looks weird.

Saki leads another revolt by sneaking into the hot spring with Sakura and Junko, and they almost get away with it until their patron from the pharma company jumps in, and while trying to hide Sakura’s head pops off and floats over to her. A horror sequence ensues, demonstrating just how scary the girls look to humans, even if they look relatively normal to themselves and to us.

As a result of her ordeal, the poor lady forgot everything that happened the previous day, which apparently means Tatsumi doesn’t get paid (though it’s odd; other employees could certainly attest that a service was provided). Regardless, the group is still broke, which means they just have to work harder to excite and inspire audiences, develop buzz, and yes, not terrify clients before they’re paid!

Zombieland Saga – 03 – More than Guts

The group’s next mission is neither death metal nor hip-hop, but your standard spontaneous “guerilla” idol performance in a public place. They only have one night to prepare. Lily suggests they make their group more official by naming a leader (Saki) and a permanent name (Franchouchou, inspired by Tae sneezing marker ink).

Practice is… a bit shaky, as one would expect of a group fielding five amateurs. Matters are made worst by the fact the other two members who are pro idols—Junko and Ai—are contributing nothing but sullen looks and pessimism. Sakura tries to rally the five, but Yuugiri steals her thunder, and ends up more effectively galvanizing the girls (minus the idols, that is).

The day of the performance arrives, everyone is in their human makeup…and Junko and Ai stay in the car. The remaining five have to make do…and they get a crowd to gather. But when Lily trips just like she did in practice and Sakura suddenly forgets the lyrics, that crowd becomes disinterested and starts to disperse fast. Franchouchou needs cavalry, and they get it in Junko and Ai, who do what they do best.

The animation of the actual performance is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s very colorful and stylish, smooth and precise. But the 3D CGI models of the girls are different enough from their 2D counterparts to be conspicuous and distracting, and their motions are so precise they look less like people and more like robots. Execution issues aside, the group ends up putting a smile on the face of the last spectator, a little girl who is soon dragged off by her jaded mom. They were able to reach one person, so there’s no reason to believe they can’t reach more if they get better.

And they will get better, if the change in attitudes of both Junko and Ai are any indication. Junko had never performed in a group and was weary of doing so, but once she got into the spirit of things she had a lot more fun than she imagined. Similarly, Ai could tell from their performance that the others were sincere in their desire to get better and become more legitimate, so she’s now more willing to lend her not inconsiderable talents to that effort.

Zombieland Saga – 02 – Headless Hip-Hop

A show in which Sakura was solely responsible for babysitting six brainless zombies while a manic Miyano Mamoru yelled at her would probably get old fast (though one should never underestimate Miyano’s ability to entertain with his flexible voice). So it’s good to see all of the young women, save Yamada Tae, “awaken”, since it means they now have personalities. And not all of them are fine simply going along with Tatsumi’s plan for them.

In fact, the two famous idols Konno Junko and Mizuno Ai head for the exit almost immediately, wanting not part of the Saga revitalizaiton plan (also, Tae bites and the zombie dog is scary). But like Sakura, they learn that as soon as a living human sees them, they freak out.

In the case of the local policeman, he shoots wildly at the girls, while the three rappers who were cruising for chicks wig out when they see them in the light. Tatsumi is right: if they’re going to live something like normal lives, they have to hide what they truly are. There’s no place in the world for zombies.

While the idols tried to passively avoid their duties, and Yuugiri and Lily are mostly neutral, biker boss Nikaidou Saki is more actively against the whole enterprise, and doesn’t like how readily Sakura takes Tatsumi’s commands while practicing.

Saki thinks that as zombies they should try to take over the country (even though there are a lot of ways to kill them humans are very familiar with). She, like most of the others, think it’s ludicrous to believe they’ll be able to function as an idol group, and don’t much care about the fate of Saga.

That attitude changes somewhat when Tatsumi works his Hollywood makeup magic, returning all of the young women to their “living” looks, much to their surprise and delight. For the next gig he’s also changed the name of their group to “Green Face.” Once again, they take the stage with very little in the way of a plan.

Sakura starts out, but Tae derails things and ends up losing her head, which the crowd takes to be some kind of magic trick. When Sakura and Saki start fighting over whether Tae’s head should be put back on her shoulders, they erupt into a lively rap battle, with Tatsumi providing the beatboxing, Yuugiri strumming her shamisen, and Lily getting the crowd involved.

It’s another instance of making something fun and entertaining out of nothing, and yet again legitimizes Tatsumi’s grand plans as less cockamamie as originally believed. But the two idols still seem awfully hesitant to involve themselves, while Yae and her biting pose a constant threat to their audience. On the plus side, they seem to have gained a couple of groupies!

Zombieland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Little Biting Never Hurt Anybody

Minamoto Sakura is your typical upbeat girl (and aspiring idol) starting her first day of high school. She’s so excited, in fact, she doesn’t look both ways before running into the street, and gets absolutely pulverized by a passing Hijet in a shocking needle scratch.

Just when I was thinking to myself this girl…is a bit much, the show immediately flips the script. Her flight through the sky in slo-mo as the bloodstained, death metal opening credits run definitely hint at a show with some Attitude, as well as one with surprises and a black sense of humor to boot.

Sakura wakes up in, a haunted-ass mansion in the middle of a rainstorm, and almost immediately comes afoul of not one but many zombies. Just as the show proved deft at setting a bubbly optimistic atmosphere that it then tore to shreds inside its first ninety seconds, it proves just as deft at setting a classic horror mood.

Dark and tingly and tense, it slowly reveals the monsters that dwell in that mansion and totally freak Sakura the fuck out. There’s no explanation as to what’s going on; we’re just along for the hell-ride, as she is.

Deciding the best plan is to run away as fast as she can, she encounters a partroling policeman, who pulls a gun on her when he gets a good look at her face. Turns out the rain washed off makeup that only made her look alive.

Her “benefactor”, the effortlessly eccentric Tatsumi Koutarou, saves her from the trigger-happy cop and brings her back to the mansion, where all is explained: Sakura died ten years ago, and he brought her and five other young women back in order to make the ultimate idol group, in hopes of saving Saga, the culturally declined city in which he resides.

His undead dream team consists of a former biker boss, Showa idol, courtesan, child actress prodigy, Heisei idol, Sakura…and Yamada Tae, who he calls “legendary” like the others, but does not explain why she’s legendary. But since Sakura is also far from legendary herself, she doesn’t have much room to complain, now does she?

The others haven’t “awakened” yet as Sakura has, so he decides to put them on stage as quickly as possible in order to “stimulate” them into doing so. He uses makeup methods he learned in Hollywood to make them look alive and ushers them into a packed death metal venue.

He gives Sakura your typical heartfelt pep talk…but Sakura still doesn’t think she can do it, because she has no idea what she’s supposed to do on stage with five zombies and no other direction, besides “trust her instincts.”

And at first, it is indeed extremely rough on that stage, as the impatient crowd awaits the music. Finally, it comes over the loudspeakers, and one by one the zombies start to scream and headbang in a way you only could if your neck was broken.

The assembled metalheads like this very much, especially the fact that the girls initially looked like an idol group ready to insult their beloved genre. It all goes swimmingly until the zombies start to bite the crowds, and the show is presumably shut down. But they certainly made an impression, which is what Tatsumi was surely after. You know, the impression of teeth into flesh!

The next day, more of the zombies have awakened, though Yamada Tae is still a mindless biter. It’s no longer only Sakura’s show, as there will be other lucid zombie characters in the second ep. But this was a great and wonderfully irreverent introduction to what looks to be a very bizarre—and funny—new Fall title.