Cop Craft – 03 – Tilting at Windmills

We soon find out where Tirana went—to O’Neill in order to get her into the Pioneer Club run by Elbaji. O’Neill makes sure she looks the part with a skimpy cocktail dress, hose and heels, and attempts to walk like an Earth Girl are unsuccessful. But it doesn’t take long for her to find Elbaji, because he comes right up to her at the bar to make a pass.

Once they’re alone in Elbaji’s office (with two of his guards) and he learns who she is and what she’s after, the chatting is replaced with fighting. Tirana pulls a sword out of her purse and relieves the guards of their hands in the blink of an eye, but Elbaji has a sword too, and soon overpowers her (she left her good sword with Kei, after all).

As Kei learns though Wikipedia (natch), a Knight of Mirvor leaves their sword behind when they are taking a temporary step away from their chivalric code, be it temporary or permanent. But it isn’t long before Kei is on Tirana’s trail as she’s captured and brought to some abandoned temple ruins in an undeveloped district of the island.

Chief Roth tells him to hold his position and wait, but things down at the temple are moving very fast. After Elbaji gives Tirana to Zelada for questioning, Zelada, a supposedly otherwise venerable wizard, leaves her alone with disposible guards, which she quickly dispatches and follows Zelada to his horrifying workshop, where she finds thousands of jars containing fairies in various stages of dismemberment.

Elbaji confronts her there, and as before, he shows off some of the noble background he shed in order to find his own fortune in America: the Land of Opportunity where Money is God. Tirana looks like she’s in trouble again with nothing but a stick to fight with, but Kei arrives in the nick and tosses her her knightly sword.

In a wonderfully-drawn fight full of bold flourishes, Tirana shows what a Knight of Mirvor can do, particularly one who was taught swordsmanship from Lord Verada Vreideni. And just like that, a bad guy I thought she and Kei would have to deal with for some time dies right there on the ground in a pool of his blood.

Unfortunately, the “psychic bomb” Elbaji had on him is a dummy; the “fairy” inside is just a doll. Now reunited, Kei and Tirana find a passage out of the temple and track down Zelada, but the arrest is interrupted by the arrival of Chief Roth, which is very confusing for Kei, considering Zelada sure looks like the guy who killed his whole unit in The War.

Roth shoots Tirana and orders Kei to let Zelada go. Turns out he’s a hardcore xenophobe who wants to use the threat of the psychic bomb to re-separate the two worlds, politically and culturally. Never mind if many humans have adapted; he doesn’t want coexistence, period.

But like Elbaji, Chief Roth doesn’t last long, as Tirana’s sword caught the bullet, and her getting back up is enough distraction for Kei to pull a second gun from his ankle holster to kill Roth, who up until tonight had been like a father to him. Roth’s grand plot also seemed a bit too sprawling and ambitious for a man of his relatively humble station. We’ll see if anyone else in his unit or the department harbors similar positions and goals.

The chase for Zelada continues, leading to the tallest building in the city, Forest Tower. The results would be disastrous if a psychic bomb were detonated there. While on their way to the roof, Tirana notices that Kei’s sidearm has a faint hint of latena, created from feelings put into an object or weapon. Thus, he might not be entirely useless in the impending fight with the red wizard.

This was another strong entry from the great-looking and sounding Cop Craft, which really gets its world-building, little details, and combat right. It’s villains have a tendency to drop pretty quick, but its not like Elbaji or Roth were particularly compelling (though Elbaji’s forsaken noble past wasn’t nothing). More than anything, it’s fleet, fast-paced, and fun, and the central partnership is starting to gel nicely.

Cop Craft – 02 – Fearful Kitten

When gunshots won’t bring down one of the zombified baddies, Tirana ignore’s Kei and kills it with her sword. Kei then impugns Tirana’s honor by insinuating she’s working against the case for profit, Tirana puts her blade to Kei’s neck and warns him never to insult her like that again, and Kei points his pistol at Tirana’s face.

At the Medical Examiner’s office (Cecil, Kei’s ex), they determine that Rick’s murderer and the guy Tirana slashed were both dead before they were killed: place under a wizard’s spell and manipulated like remote control zombies. But it doesn’t take an M.D. or Ph.D. to pick up on the fact that Tirana and Kei’s relationship is having a tough gestation.

Kei drops Tirana off at her hotel, but within minutes she’s tossed for not surrendering her sword (indeed a ridiculous request to make of a knight), and she calls his cell. He considers leaving her to sleep on the ground for the night, but reconsiders and picks her up. The moment her face of dejection turns to joy is a sight to behold.

At Kei’s place we learn why he wears a mask: a cat allergy. But he was the only person at the station who would take the cat in, so he’s keeping it “temporarily.” This leads Tirana to laugh and realize Kei is more of a softie than he lets on, and then thanks her for letting her stay. Appropriately, Kei later checks a translator and learns she was flubbing his name intentionally to the phrase “fearful kitten.”

I liked how those neat mini-mysteries were organically solved this week, as Kei and Tirana put down their defenses and act more like the professional partners they’re supposed to be (Tirana also mentions that despite her childlike appearance she’s 26). The veil is also lifted on the identity of the villains and their plan. A club owner from Semaani named “Mr. Elbaji” meets with a “terrorist” named “Mr. Kareem.”

The former demonstrates a prototype “fairy bomb” that enables his on-staff wizard, Zelada the Sage, to control humans without the time and effort of getting them hooked on fairy dust (like the two zombies Kei and Tirana have encountered). They test it on a couple doomed cops who respond to a call. Once the bomb is perfected it could be used as a superpower-threatening WMD.

After Rick’s suitably morose funeral which Tirana observes from a respectful distance, she and Kei inspect the corpses of the cops, which again suggests they were fairy dust users, but since they’re cops, there’s something else in play here. Tirana suspects gold to be a factor, unaware of just how big the threat is becoming.

Kei believes a digitally-controlled manufacturing device is in use, and some digging reveals that a Mr. Elbaji is in possession of such a device. Obviously from a world where justice is dispensed more quickly and the ideals of chivalry still rule, Tirana wants to go after the guy immediately, but Kei tell her they need to find proof and do paperwork first.

During dinner at a diner, Tirana goes to the bathroom, but leaves her sword behind, something she said was as important as her life (and which got her kicked out of her hotel). By the time Kei realizes she didn’t go to the bathroom, it’s too late; she’s in the wind. Just when the two were getting along, Tirana goes her own way, for her own reasons. When Kei catches up to her, he’s not going to be happy.

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 02 – Another Bang for Another Buck

After two episodes, one thing that stands out about MOK is the quality of animation…or rather lack thereof. There’s a number of things drawn in a fast, iffy, haphazard way that all combine to distract from a story that probably needs better production values to hold my interest.

Which is a shame, because MOK is as strong with the Japanese mythology as it is weak in actually showing it, from the nekomata Yuki who reunites with Arata (who thought Yuki was just a regular cat years ago) to a mysterious nine-headed kishi that threatens to cause further Another disturbance.

Arata and the other midnight occult civil servants are putting in overtime to investigate a string of recent burglaries involving very particular magical objects. Arata, with his “Ears of Sand” that can understand Anothers, is immediately one of the more in-demand members of the office, as if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be able to gather the information they need to connect the dots.

There’s also a weird tension between Arata’s desire to reason with all Anothers through dialogue and his co-worker’s belief that’s naive and even reckless. They maintain that Anothers are distinctly another, and that they and humans just aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on things. I tend to side with Arata on this; after all, the position of the others is due largely to the inability to ever properly communicate prior to Arata’s arrival.

Still, Arata manages to do something stupid and touch a magical circle of some kind before determining whether it’s safe. He and Kyouichi are teleported deep beneath a mountain, where the “oni” who was riding the kishi, stole all the magical objects, and created the magical circle, is there to welcome “Abe no Seimei” with a horde of kyoushi, or Japanese zombies.

That last-minute reveal finally introduces some serious peril to what had thus far been a mostly harmless job; the kyoushi can’t be talked to or reasoned with, so Arata had better hope he can convince their master to make them stand down. I bet Arata wishes he’d listened to his grandpa more…

Zombieland Saga – 12 (Fin) – We’re All Zombies, We’ve All Died

Even after Tatsumi’s big speech, Sakura remains skeptical that she’ll be able to pull off the Arpino show, believing she’ll only be a drag on the others, even as practicing reveals she still has the muscle memory of the dance moves. After those demoralizing failures in her life, she’s given up all hope of ever succeeding at anything, and would rather be left alone.

Of course, her friends don’t leave her alone, in large part because she never left them alone. That is to say, she never gave up on them when they were at their lowest. Junko, Ai, Lily, Saki—without Sakura, none of them would be where they are today, on the cusp of their biggest show yet. They fully intend to repay that debt, and a well-timed slap from Yuugiri is the sign they won’t take no for an answer.

They remind Sakura that she’s not the only one who had a rough life—they all died young and tragically—and would rather fail on stage together than have a perfect show without her. If she’s not beside them, it’s not a success, bad luck be damned.

The night before the show, Tatsumi reminisces about the past; specifically, a certain red-haired classmate at school whom he admired. That classmate turns out to be Sakura, which explains why he recruited her. She may not have been a legend in her time, but he’s determined to make her one after her time.

The day of the show, a huge winter storm approaches (thankfully isn’t named, because naming winter storms is asinine). The group rehearses, prepared to perform in an empty venue of necessary, but to their surprise and delight most of the 500 who bought tickets show up; a who’s-who of characters whose lives they touched throughout the series run.

They all go out on stage, with Sakura as the center, full of vim and vigor, and get off to a good start—only for Sakura’s bad luck to rear its ugly head in the cruelest of ways: the snow and winds crash through the windows and collapse the stage and lights, leaving Franchouchou in a pile of debris and dust.

Then Tatsumi starts slowly clapping, breaking the stunned silence of the crowd. Sakura gets up and keeps singing, and the rest of the group follows suit. The techs get enough lights and speakers working so they can continue the show (albeit under extremely hazardous conditions for the still-living crowd).

No matter, the idols dazzle the stage (what’s left of it) and earn an encore, while Sakura gets her memories back. It’s a great victory, but it’s only the beginning of Franchouchou’s quest to conquer Saga—just as the journalists start to connect the dots about their shouldn’t-be-possible resurrection.

Whether that’s a legitimate teaser for another season or these twelve are all we get, Zombieland Saga was a pleasant, at times side-splitting, at times surprisingly poignant diversion. Vibrant, rootable characters, an irreverent tone and Miyano Mamoru made for a pretty solid combo.

I’d have liked to learn more about Yuugiri and/or Tae’s past, particularly the latter’s inability to talk despite nailing all the dance moves and expressing emotion during her attempts to bring Sakura back in the fold. But I’ll settle for what we got!

Zombieland Saga – 11 – The Girl Who Tried, and Died for Her Efforts

In a nearly shot-for-shot recreation of her first night in the mansion, Sakura wakes up and discovers her fellow zombies, only they’re all “awake” now (except for Tae of course). Their roles have reversed; she’s the one with no memories of what’s happened since becoming a zombie.

Instead, she only remembers her life when she was alive. As for that life, well…let’s just say the opening minute of the first episode was not an accurate depiction, except for the getting-hit-by-a-car part.

The other idols are hoping they can get Sakura back on board with the show, but her memories of them isn’t all she’s lost; she’s also lost her will to do, well, anything. Her motivation is shot, as if that truck accident caused it to spill out onto the asphalt instead of blood (as she no longer has any).

She lacks motivation because she remembers her life, which followed a depressingly predictable pattern: she’d always try really hard and give a task or goal her all, only for all that hard work to go to waste due to a last-minute mishap or accident.

The last time she decided to give something a try one last time, it was because she was inspired by Mizuno Ai of Iron Frill, who said she doesn’t hate failures or mistakes, since they help her learn and become even better.

But Sakura was denied the opportunity to even mail her audition paperwork to the idol agency, thanks to that truck. Now she’s dead, and a zombie. Nothing ever works out for her, because, as she says, she doesn’t “have what it takes.” She says this something like ninety times.

And I guess that was part of why I felt kinda meh about this episode. I feel for someone working so hard again and again only to fall victim to impossibly bad luck, but at this point she literally has nothing to lose. I understand the “main” character getting her miniarc last before the finale, but for her dilemma to be couched in such mundane, repetitive angst kinda saps the momentum of the show.

Maybe that’s the point, and maybe Tatsumi’s speech to her about him having what it takes (something, er…”big and impressive”) so she doesn’t have to will snap her out of her malaise and get her back on track. But right now Sakura is the first of the idols I liked better before we learned more about her.

She thinks the universe is out to keep her down, despite the fact she was brought back to life to be what she dreamt to be before she died. If that’s not a sign the cycle has been broken and thus cause for optimism, I don’t know what is!

Zombieland Saga – 10 – Sakura, Hot Under the Collar

When Tatsumi announces Franchouchou’s biggest gig yet will take place at Karatsu’s Furusato Exhibition Hall Arpino (which is, naturally, a real place) in front of five hundred people, Sakura is stoked. Like, more stoked than usual. After seeing her fellow idols deal with their respective pasts and deaths and come out the better for it, the vibes she’s getting from Arpino make her hopeful performing there will reveal something about her own past and death, about which she still knows nothing.

She’s so excited, it affects her practicing, as her pace is way faster than the others. Tatsumi finally announces that the group will spend some time surviving as a team in the mountains to prepare for the show. While there, all Sakura wants to do is practice, but the others are busy doing all the things that are necessary to live in the mountains (if they were alive, of course). Her frustration with their lack of practicing for the Arpino show culminates in her head being ripped off by a giant boar.

Once she pops her head back on, she’s done with the mountain excursion, which Tatsumi brings to a close soonafter.

That makes things awkward when they return to the mansion to practice, and she’s still out of sync, which she lashes out and blames the others for not practicing in the mountains before storming off. Everyone is stunned; usually Sakura is the cheerful peacemaker of the group.

Yuugiri (who along with Tae are the only other two members whose deaths we haven’t explored) meets with Tatsumi at a restaurant to ask what his next move is, now that the mountain thing didn’t work out so swell. When he expresses his worry about Sakura and the others being able to surmount the increasingly high peaks, Yuugiri gives him an epic slap that we’re treated to from several angles and speeds, punishing him for lacking faith.

Before returning to the group to apologize profusely, Sakura catches a look at them in action, both practicing and going over the details of the moves and who goes where, and she’s mesmerized. Without practicing as much as she did, everyone’s in perfect sync. So she admits to herself that she’s the problem, having only thought of herself since learning of the Arpino gig. Of course, the others welcome her back with open arms.

Three days later, with just seven to go until the show, Sakura is in much better spirits. In fact, she’s so chipper she acts out the first scene we saw her in when she was still alive, ending the exact same way: getting struck by a passing Hijet. Of course, since she’s dead already the truck doesn’t kill her, but it does wipe her memory…again. Some of her memories from her life flash by, and then she passes out.

The rest of Franchouchou now has just seven days to bring Sakura back up to speed and get her ready to perform with them in their biggest show yet…provided the Sakura who wakes up agrees to participate! It looks like another tough mountain to climb.

Zombieland Saga – 09 – True Guts

Aw, HELL yeah! Saki is probably my favorite idol in Zombieland Saga, so I’ve been awaiting the telling of her backstory with great anticipation. That telling finally comes this week which opens with her and her right-hand woman Kirishima Reiko having just finished conquering another rival bike gang way back in 1997.

Fast-forward to the present, and Tatsumi deploys Franchouchou to a public park to practice the Kashima dance with some old folks. Since the elderly make up the vast majority of Saga’s population, gaining them as one of their fanbases is key. And as the idols discover, the fogies have quite the moves once they switch on the cassette tape.

Their dancing actually attracts the attention of one Kirishima Maria, who along with her two henchgirls, wears the same long red coats as Saki and Reiko back in the day. It would seem Saki’s bike gang Dorami is still alive and well, but in a kind stunted, pee-wee state (even Lily critiques Maria’s ride, a pink scooter, as lame).

Against Sakura and Lily, who don’t want any trouble, Maria and her goons believe they have the upper hand…until Tae bites one of Maria’s buns. Then Saki shows up, and all it takes is a glare and grunt to scare Maria off. After all, Saki’s the genuine article and they’re just wannabe poseurs.

Maria almost gets herself in some real trouble with Dorami’s perennial nemesis Korosuke, and Saki jumps out of Tatsumi’s van just in time to break up the fight, though predictably Maria is furious that Saki interfered in her business. The leader of Korosuke also promises this isn’t over and will be settled “soon.”

Maria’s eyes remind Saki of Reiko’s, and that connection is confirmed when Maria comes home. Reiko is no longer in the game, having gotten married and had Maria as part of wanting to live a “normal life”, something Saki never knew anything about, and never got to experience.

Saki died riding her bike off a mountain road while playing a game of chicken with Korosuke’s then-leader. She won the game, since she never hit the brakes, but paid for it with her life, and Reiko lost her best friend.

When Reiko discovers Maria has snuck out of the house to answer a fresh challenge from Korosuke (which involves an identical game of chicken) she dusts off her steed and hits the road to stop it. She doesn’t care how embarrassed her daughter gets; she’s not going to let her end up like Saki.

Saki also heads out to intervene (hilariously all she has is a bicycle, so she’s a little late), and ends up reuniting with Reiko, but when she recognizes her as Saki, she pretends not to know who she’s talking about.

Saki appoints herself “Captain for a Day” and assumes the Korosuke challenge, sparing Maria from participating. And since she’s already dead, she can replicate the fiery crash that made her a legend. When she emerges unharmed from the flaming wreckage, Reiko slugs her, showing a side Maria had never seen. Turns out she has guts after all…and always did.

Only she wasn’t a legend; not really. All the dangerous stuff Dorami and Korosue are doing is nothing more than cheating death, and it’s only a matter of time before Death decides to settle the score. Instead, Saki invites Maria, Korosuke, and the old folks to a concert where she and the rest of Franchouchou put on a dynamic biker gang-themed show.

Zombieland Saga – 08 – An Unexpected Father-Daughter Reunion

It’s a Lily episode! By which I mean, it’s a Gou Masao episode, since we learn that’s her birth name. And it’s just as much a Gou Takeo episode, Takeo being Lily’s father. That makes this the first episode of ZLS that is at least partially told from the POV of a person who survived one of the members of Franchouchou.

At first the show plays around with the idea this immense mountain of a man could simply be a creep, but I never bought into that angle. Instead I see his fatherly determination to confirm whether “Number 6” is really his Masao. That enthusiasm earns him a rolling sobat from Saki, protecting her girls. But Lily later reveals to Sakura that the giant was indeed her father.

Lily explains the vast size differential by saying she took after her mother, who died when she was very young. Her father raised her on his own, and when she noticed how much he loved TV, she signed up for auditions, got cast in one thing after another, and never looked back.

However, Masao AKA Lily put so much stock in her tininess and cuteness that the day she found a hair on her leg she refused to go out and perform, and when she found a whisker on her face, she basically died of mental shock.

From Takeo’s POV, he was a bad father, pushing Masao too far. When he saw her smile appear posthumously on TV, he picked up the set and threw it at the wall, and ceased to watch any TV ever again.

Lily and her dad’s next meeting is a lot more cordial as both apologize, but Lily doesn’t betray who she really is, and her dad doesn’t pry, convinced No.6 just looks like his daughter—besides, from where he’s standing, there’s no way she could just come back to life. His daughter is gone; he doesn’t want to cause some girl undue stress or harm just for resembling her.

While Saki is the leader of Franchouchou, she’s always erred on the side of mocking Lily, both for her tiny stature and later for her butch real name and ridiculously vain way of dying. But Sakura has shown she’s much better with Lily, and in Sakura Lily finds the shoulder she needs to cry in after putting on a brave face for her dad.

Sakura and the other girls put their heads together and get clearance from Tatsumi to hold a free public show and invite Lily’s dad, who almost doesn’t attend, but changes his mind at the last second. He’s then treated to a concert in which the other idols provide backup vocals and moves and Lily is in the spotlight.

She sings a song with lyrics that, while perhaps a bit too on-the-nose and even kinda sappy, nevertheless successfully delivers her feelings to her father, even if he still doesn’t realize she’s really his daughter. The next time he’s at work, he doesn’t go out for lunch while his co-workers watch TV, which of course features that chicken commercial in which Lily appears.

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.

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.