To Your Eternity – 19 – Killing With Kindness

We begin the penultimate episode of To Your Eternity with Hayase…doing a good deed?! That’s right, she’s using her not inconsiderable combat prowess to defeat the Nokker Zombies before they can kill innocent men, women or children. When a Nokker tries to infect her, she flexes—both literally and figuratively.

The Nokker stops in Hayase’s arm and seems to listen when she tells it that appearing before Hoshi in such a gross, unpleasant form is Doing It All Wrong; if it wants Fushi as she does, it will have to treat it with kindness. Their little confab is broken up when Oniguma!Fushi steps on Hayase…but once again stops short of killing her.

While Fushi doesn’t kill her, he’ll wish he had restrained her in some way before the day is out. Perhaps he’s distracted by the fact Tonari and Sander are in mortal danger. He bails them out of a bad way by using his Gugu form to burn the entire corpse pit. But while the bulk of the immediate Nokker threat is neutralized in those flames, his Creator tells him three Nokkers still remain on the island.

Those Nokkers were once Oopa, Uroy, and Mia, but you can’t really say it’s them anymore, as we already saw them chilling in Paradise last week. Nevertheless, it won’t be easy for Fushi to put their overthrown bodies out of their misery.

That’s when Hayase, who as I said wasn’t sufficiently neutralized, scoops up both Tonari and Sander, drugs them both, and threatens to toss them into the flaming corpse pit…unless Fushi accepts her offer. You see, she wants to keep him “clean” and “pure” as a being who can neither kill nor be killed. She’ll gladly kill and sully herself for him.

But Hayase never picked up on the fact that her go-to sedative doesn’t work on Tonari for long, and Tonari decides to pull Hayase down into the flames with her. With three of her friends dead and what she perceives as a lifetime of missteps to answer for, ridding Fushi of his greatest adversary in exchange for her life seems like a square deal.

Fushi disagrees, swooping out to save both Tonari and Hayase from certain death. And for once, he’s the one to knock out Hayase with the same poison he once accidentally knocked out the others.

Speaking of the others, when Tonari gingerly picks up a sword with tears streaming down her eyes, ready to put down the husks that were once Oopa, Uroy and Mia, Fushi steps in to do it, having both summoned the courage and not wanting Tonari to have to do the deed.

During a solemn private memorial, one of the elder islanders asks their ostensible leader if she has any words for the people. Tonari says to stop the killing…especially after everyone saw what became of them making piles of corpses.

After wandering the island offering foot and supplies to anyone who needs them, Fushi takes his leave from the island, knowing it’s only a matter of time before the Nokkers return again. He bids Tonari and Sander an very understated farewell, if you consider how many pitched emotional moments they shared previously. Maybe that’s the point; they’ve been through, and lost, a lot. They’re tired.

One person who is tireless in her obsession with Fushi is Hayase, who wakes up elated to find she’s sharing a boat with Fushi. She confesses to Fushi how much she loves him and has always loved him ever since she first saw him, and offers to show him what that love means.

Fushi is understandably repulsed by Hayase and her offer, and pulls a trick I’d say would be cruel for anyone other than Hayase, considering the shit she’s pulled these last nineteen episodes. Fushi clones the rowboat and paddles away, leaving a tied-up Hayase stranded in a becalmed sea nowhere near land.

But as he returns to the mainland (and to Pioran) guided by Tonari’s owl, a Nokker core—perhaps the very one who spent some very formative minutes inside her arm—hops onto her boat and attacks her. Is this finally the end of Hayase? I’m loath to predict that, but the preview suggests the fighting may be over, even if the dying isn’t. But then death, like pain, breeds growth.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 18 – Paradise Bound

Tonari, who has become somewhat fond of Fushi beyond his utility as a tool for advancing her interests, wasn’t about to leave him to the tender ministrations of the “hag” Hayase. So she rows back to the island to save him, only to discover he already freed himself from the pit, which wasn’t half as deep as Pioran’s prison wall was high. Faced with having to explain why she’s there, Tonari tries out her best tsundere act.

The seas aren’t suitable for heading back out by boat, so Tonari and Fushi spend the night in a cave beside a campfire. Tonari asks about what exactly the man in black is. Is he a thoughtful god, trying to stave off the world’s destruction by creating Fushi? Or is he a demon, and the Nokkers are the servants of the real God(s) tasked with stopping him?

She also owns up to her father having been a murderer, and how she came to see him no differently than any other lowlife on the island: deserving of death. But she doesn’t see herself any differently, as in her mind she kills anyone she doesn’t like. She believes the island has poisoned her heart.

Fushi tries to cheer her up by saying that even if both their “parents” are or were demons, the two of them still do what they want to do. Being in that cave is proof of it: Tonari wasn’t about to let herself be saved at the cost of Fushi, while Fushi wasn’t about to let himself live out his existence as Hayase’s toy.

That night, Tonari dreams a familiar dream of a happy home with a living mother and father proud of her for the books she writes. Upon waking up, Tonari decides she’ll need to come up with a new dream, a new story less grounded in the past. She envisions herself, her crew, Fushi, and Pioran all relaxing and loving life on the beach.

It’s a lovely, idyllic image, and also the last upbeat image to appear in the episode; it’s all downhill from there. That morning when about to cast off, the Creator notifies Fushi that the Nokkers are attacking the town. Despite everyone worth saving on the island already off of it, Fushi heads towards danger, turning his back on an exasperated Tonari.

To his credit, Fushi isn’t doing this because the Creator is goading him to do it—it was Fushi who asked him to warn him when the Nokkers returned. It’s just that Fushi always has and probably always will blame his existence for the death of all the people who’ve died around him. If he can lesson that even a little, he must try.

The thing is, Fushi is cursed to be just too goshdarn likable to be left alone by those who enter his orbit. When he arrives at a hellish scene of corpses being reanimated into zombies by the Nokkers and wreaking havoc, it isn’t long before Tonari comes to help, and the rest of her crew also show up to help the both of them.

It strains credulity just a bit that they not only returned to the island so soon, but knew exactly where Fushi and Tonari were. What should be a devastating emotional climax is once again undermined by the fact barely any of it is animated, as with two episodes left the show is blatantly running on fumes.

Finally, the fact we’ve seen Mia, Oopa, and Uroy as Nokker zombies every week leading up to this episode, so we knew exactly what would become of them. Thile their souls may have passed to a paradise similar to the one in Tonari’s new dream, their bodies remain on Jananda; shambling nightmares Fushi isn’t strong enough to put down.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 12 (Fin) – Not Leaving It Up to God

ZSR’s totally epic saga of a finale starts out very stodgily, at the Saga Prefectural Office’s Special Task Force HQ. There’s a wonky procedural flavor to the proceedings reminiscent of the underrated Shin Godzilla, in that it mirrors the real life Japanese collective spirit of 1.) This Is The Problem; 2.) This Is What We Do About It; and 3.) We’ve All Got Matching Jumpsuits. Honestly I think it’s ultra badass that in dire times, even the government officials start dressing like a bike gang. Or is it t’other way ’round?

It is into this disaster CIC that Tatsumi Koutarou insinuates himself, and despite being held back by police, makes sure Saga’s governor hears his pleas to prioritize restoring the infrastructure around the Tosu area—where EFS happens to be located. Koutarou knows what Saga needs is a pure, uncut injeciton of reassurance into the hearts of every Saga resident. Something to unify them so they can all defeat this horrible disaster together.

That something is, obviously Franchouchou, who are enjoying a well-deserved bath prior to the biggest show of their lives that they’re still not even sure will happen due to the ongoing calamity.

While they rest up and make sure they’re prepared come what may, Koutarou is risking imprisonment to plead his case to the people who decide what happens in Saga, while Ookoba uses all of his media connections not for Koutarou’s sake, but for those girls who give everything their all, no matter how dead they are.

Sakura may get the day of the week wrong—and there were a good eight to ten months during Covid when I lost track too!—fate smiles on the group over at Saga FM, which is not only operational and on the air, but in dire need of personalities to fill that air time. Saki then proceeds to give a vulnerable and impassioned pep talk—one of the best monologues of the whole show—and Tano Asami absolutely nails it.

The next morning, Franchouchou, the Legendary Seven, strike out from the mall shelter they’ve called home the past few days and make the trek to EFS on foot. This offers them and us an opportunity to view both the devastation and the enduring beauty of their home.

When they arrive at EFS, it again seems to mock them with its cavernous emptiness. But instead of oppressive, I saw the venue as brimming with potential. Sure enough, people who love Franchouchou and whose lives they’ve touched start to trickle in, starting with their two first and most loyal fans, the metalheads.

Maria and the delinquents past and present file in, followed by Maimai and her classmates, Iron Frill and their followers, Oozora Light and his encourage, Hisanaka Pharmaceuticals, NHBK Fukuoka news chopper who has followed the group’s story since discovering them at the mall shelter, White Ryuu and a contingent of American troops, possibly from Yokozuka. Even the Dancing Chicken Man shows up!

It’s a beautiful and heartwarming reunion of everyone from Zombieland Saga, and their numerous powerful allies and fans combined with the might of both print, TV, and social media, ensure that this time—even in the midst of what could possibly be Saga’s worst disaster in its history—a packed and positively rocking Ekimae Fudosan Stadium.

The governor’s chief of staff reminds Koutarou that all they did was “choose to prioritize the most effective strategy, after logical consideration”, which is politicspeak for “the people need this right now and we’re going to do everything in our power to see that they get it”—”it” being nothing less than the biggest and best Franchouchou show yet.

No, the zombie idols aren’t coursing with electricity and crazy laser lightshows. Their outfits aren’t over-the-top, but call to mind seven angelic figures dedicated with every fiber of their undead being to make the people of Saga not simply forget their troubles, but to give them the courage to face and defeat them through surpassingly catchy song and dance.

This is not an episode satisfied with one climactic song. It opens with a big-league build-up to the energetic first song, then some call-and-response with the Legendary Yamada Tae (whose gibberish eventually coalesces into a franchouchou chant), which transitions into a slower and more contemplative piece.

Sakura, Saki, Ai, Junko, Yuugiri, Lily, and Tae are all at the top of their games, and the crowd—no doubt still traumatized by current events—are well and truly into it. And while not as important as the revitalizing impact they have on the people of Saga, the group gets their revenge and then some.

Not only is every seat and the entire field packed this time, but while the piddling crowd of their first disastrous EFS show didn’t call for any encores because they thought it would be just too cruel, this time there’s nothing that can stop Franchouchou from heading back out onto the stage after a quick breather.

Before they do, Koutarou prostrates himself before them and despite being a “grown-ass man” starts tearing up at the sheer restorative power of the zombie idols. Silly, Koutarou, being open with your emotions is what makes men grown-ass! As they head back out to hit the crowd with their collective soul, Koutarou tries to scrub out his blood from the floor; a truly ill omen.

Franchouchou’s final song is interspersed with scenes of Saga rebuilding and people overcoming adversity together, echoing their own personal struggles as well as their struggles as a group. Let it be said that both Franchouchou and Zombieland Saga as a series left absolutely everything on the stage in its finale.

In fact, if Saga were to, say, be destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day, immediately after the concert wrapped, I don’t think a single person on or off EFS’s stage who’d deny that they went out on a good note.

That’s a good thing, because immediately after the concert wraps, Saga is in fact apparently destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day. It’s kind of a downer, but it’s also the kind of irreverence and absurdity I’ve come to know and love from Zombieland Saga, and why I will miss it and each and every member of Franchouchou so damn much. What a frikkin’ ending!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Head over to Crow’s World of Anime for the latest discussion on our beloved zombie idols with Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime. Always a great read!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 11 – Mall Zombies

Sakura wakes up in the morning to find she’s not feeling quite right, but it’s not due to her deteriorating zombie body, it’s because the mansion is literally adrift at sea. Yuugiri, master of understatement, declares things seem to have “taken a turn for the troublesome”.

Ookoba, who was about to publish an exposé that could have potentially shut Franchouchou down, is among those Saga residents wandering the muddy flooded streets in a daze. The goofiness of the floating mansion aside, this week takes a frank look at an all-too-realistic disaster befalling a part of Japan.

But when disaster hits, people tend to come together. After the mansion beaches itself and collapses (as flashes of their fun life there flash heartbreakingly by), Ai’s factory co-worker Machiko invites the girls to the Kaiton Mall, which has been set up as an emergency shelter. She finds a quiet spot for the girls to stay at the top of the stairs.

But the girls have no intention of sitting around idly. Even without Kotarou’s masterful human makeup at their disposal, they don’t shirk from pitching in wherever they’re needed, from helping out with cooking and distributing meals, to assisting with the sandbagging, to keeping the kids’ minds off their situation by having fun with them.

When night falls, many of the kids are scared and want to go home, but their tears dry up fast when Lily starts up her infectious scat-singing and dancing routine. The way Lily likes up the kids’ faces, even Saki can’t help but be wowed by Shrimpy’s idoly power.

The next day Ookoba finds himself at the mall, where NBK is interviewing the families who lost their homes and likely everything in them. To a person everyone keeps their chin up and stays upbeat and positive, both for their own sakes and for their children’s. That’s when Ookoba overhears a man being interviewed mention “the girls” who have been doing so much for the shelter.

On a makeshift stage lit by car headlamps, Franchouchou put on a show every night both to entertain the hell out of the kiddies (who are unassailably adorable) and soothe the adults’ hearts. There was more than one occasion when I teared up, their good works were so heartwarming.

The Grinch-like Ookoba was all gung-ho about exposing Koutarou’s “exploitation” of the idols for profit, but being in that dark mall full of people trying to avoid letting their minds stray to dark places, and seeing the light and joy Franchouchou give both on and off the stage, and he finally starts to understand why Koutarou brought them back to life.

And whither Koutarou, you might ask? Like the girls were initially on the S.S. Mansion, he’s in a somewhat ridiculous situation: the underground bar is completely flooded and both he and an ailing Gramps are just barely keeping their noses and mouths above water. Fortunately Policeman A finds them, making the first time Policeman A has done something useful!

Koutarou is freed from Davy Jones’ Locker none too soon, as the girls’ hastily applied makeup finally begins to chip, flake, and crumble. Before long all of them are in full zombie mode, and with a show to put on that night, their options are limited. An eavesdropping Ookoba spots them all with their natural looks, astonished more than anything else.

Koutarou is on his way to reunite with Franchouchou (thanks to a ride from Misa, using her boat to transport releif supplies) but won’t make it in time to help them. No matter; Junko comes up with a rather ingenious solution, using the materials she brought to make Ozaki dolls to make masks for everyone.

Unfortunately, while they’re able to sell the masks to the kids, who notice their resemblance to the dolls, as soon as the idols leap into the air and come back down, the masks crumble and fall away, and the crowd gets a good hard look at their dead gray skin, scars and bandages.

But here’s the thing: the kids are more confused than anything else. When the idols come clean and say they’re zombies, the kids dispute this. They define zombies as being scary. Franchouchou aren’t scary to them, they’re fun and cool and cute. Ergo, they’re not zombies, they’re Franchouchou.

Ai and the others go for it, hardly able to believe their luck. But in a way, it’s only appropriate that their hours of tireless, selfless hard work at the shelter, doing what they can taking care of others because it’s the right thing to do, be rewarded with a pass on their zombie “disguises.”

Ookoba can also hardly believe how lucky the girls are, but now appreciates how many risks they take every day of their existence. Koutarou sidles up to him and declares, simply, that Franchouchou are the [dis]”embodiment of pure idols”, and Ookoba is in no position to disagree.

As he lovingly reapplies each of the girls’ proper makeup to make them look alive again, Koutarou declares that their revenge concert at EFS will go on as planned in sixteen days, with little or no practice. It has to go on, especially now. Saga was hit by catastrophe, but came out all the stronger and closer for it.

As he takes his leave, Sakura tracks him down and thanks him for making her in idol from the bottom of her no-longer-beating heart. Sakura’s words cause Koutarou to recall flashes of his own failed past trying to make it big  when he attended Sakura’s funeral and held her battered, un-mailed audition package. While he knew he couldn’t save Saga on his own, he reached out to Gramps to bring back Sakura and the rest of the best of Saga throughout history.

For what I believe is the first time ever, he fully acknowledges Sakura, telling her she has “it”. She and the others have the potential to become “eternal idols loved around the globe, and being Franchouchou’s manager, he’ll eternally have “it”, too. It all starts with their revenge!

Irina and Crow talk episode 11 here. Check it out!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 07 – We’ve Got a Live One

This week’s opening minutes are very familiar, because they unfold very similarly to the very first episode of ZLS, when a super-chipper Minamoto Sakura’s life was unfairly snatched away by a passing car.

In the case of Yuzuriha Maimai (Hanazawa Kana!), she trips and falls on the way to the bathhouse, smashing her glasses. Undeterred, she accidentally walks into the men’s bath, then slips on a bar of soap that happened to slip out of a bathing Koutarou’s hands.

Cue the death metal and multiple camera angles that, in its first ever episode, made clear that this wasn’t going to be quite like other idol series.

We quickly cut to the briefing basement, where Koutarou, Maimai’s wrapped corpse behind him, announces they have a new member! There’s no doubt that among the many thoughts going through the girls’ heads is Did Koutarou finally go too far and murder someone??

Fortunately, the “corpse” comes to—apparently, Maimai is too dumb to die (either that, or the blow to the back of her head wasn’t as bad as it looked). In any case, Maimai’s series of errors led to Koutarou panicking and not confirming she was actually dead before exposing the rest of Franchouchou to a living person.

Fortunately, Maimai is a good girl, and also a huge fan of Franchouchou and Number One in particular. She has no intention of telling anyone their secret, but since she’s there anyway, she asks if she could join the group anyway! Koutarou, thanking his lucky stars he didn’t accidentally kidnap someone brighter, agrees, and Maimai is christened Number Seven.

While Maimai knows all the words to their songs and all the moves to their dances, her brain and body rarely operate in concert. As a result, her training does not go smoothly at first, but Ai, consummate professional that she is, never loses her patience, and Maimai eventually starts to improve.

When her school’s cultural festival committee is deadlocked on what the big act should be, she says she can get the Franchouchou. The girls are excited to perform there, particularly since they either didn’t spend much time in high school or, in Lily’s case, never made it there. It’s also slightly implied that Koutarou seduces the principal to get approval.

The girls stop by for a pre-festival tour of the festival, and when Maimai tells Sakura how she thought Saga was “done for” until she heard Franchouchou, Sakura can’t help but remember how negative her outlook was until she first heard Ai and Iron Frill. Maimai is shocked to learn of the group’s intention to have a “revenge” show at EFS, but Sakura tells her that’s what Franchouchou is: they never give up.

The big day arrives, and wouldn’t you know it, Maimai doesn’t screw up once! Instead, she totally surprises her friends and classmates by appearing on stage and performing with Franchouchou, announcing after their first song that she’s the newest member…only to then immediately announce she’ll be “graduating” from the group as soon as she leaves the stage.

Her reasoning is solid: while she initially thought she was “one of” them, and they welcomed her with open, caring, and encouraging arms, the bottom line is that other seven have no choice but to do what they do, because they’re zombies. Maimai reckons she needs to live out her life in Saga first in this new Reiwa era, inspired by their dedication to continue rising up and living life to the fullest despite being dead.

After giving a giddy Saki a parting gift of a 20th-anniversary color Tamagotchi, Maimai parts ways with Franchouchou. Part of me is sad Hana-Kana’s time with the group was so brief, but I absolutely understand, respect, and even admire Maimai’s choice.

And while she’ll absolutely never spill the beans about Franchouchou’s true undead nature, reporter Ookuba Shinta has now matched all seven members except Yuugiri to their living counterparts.

Whether he’ll put this scoop on the front page immediately, or go to Franchouchou first for further explanation, I don’t know the guy well enough to say for sure. All I know is, the preview for next week confirms that Yuugiri, the only member on which he has no info, will finally get her own focus episode, which looks to be a period piece. It’s about time!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 06 – Tae-Tae’s Big Adventure

Ookoba Shinta needs a big scoop to maintain his sanity in Saga, and he can’t quite take his eyes of the group of lookalikes of deceased famous people that is Franchouchou. He’s not a fan (though I guess he’s not not a fan either); he wants more answers about who they are and what their deal is.

Well, their deal is pretty simple: they’re 20 million yen in debt, all thanks to Koutarou (who brazenly ignores that fact, thus rejecting reality and substituting his own). They’re out of their creative slump due to the past few events that also didn’t cost them anything, but they still need to get that paper.

He even calls out Tae as someone who really should be at least trying to make some money, though Yuugiri simply sends her on a grocery errand. Ookoba encounters “Number Zero” in a crosswalk and decides to start following her. What he—and we—witnesses is a delightful day in the life of Yamada Tae!

A kind old lady gives her a snack. Some soccer kids give her a snack. She has a snack of edible offerings at the Yamada family ancestral grave. Then she shows up at the supermarket…where my favorite pint-sized bozozoku girl Amabuki Maria has a job trying to pay for a new bike for her mama. Maria can’t help but talk Zero’s ear off whenever they meet; probably because Zero is such a good listener!

Maria and her two BFFs have decided to “tear it up” in a new way, through dance, and invite Zero to a pharma-sponsored dance-off where they proceed to put on, shall we say, a heartfelt and upbeat but ultimately underwhelming performance. They’re no match for the five-time champion Cocco-kun, who is someone in a chicken suit.

Because Cocco-kun represents Tae’s ideal—a chicken big enough for her veracious appetite—she joins him in a breakdancing duel, scaring the shit out of the pharma PR exec but also blowing the top off the competition with her inhuman moves, including spinning on her head so fast her head looks motionless…because it is! Ookoba tries to snap a photo, but Romero ruins his shot.

Tae easily dethrones the fully human Cocco-kun and claims the ¥30,000 Grand Prize, but seems only interested in the Bonus Prize: a 10kg bag of onions—and tosses the cash in the trash. Fortunately, Maria fishes it out and tries to give it back to Zero-chan, attracting the attention of Saga Policeman A.

He recommends she spend it at the tracks…not the horseracing track, as he repeatedly pleads to his chief, but the boatracing regatta. There, like Maria and her little dance troupe, Korosuke’s princess Misa has also found a new way to tear it up, even though she’s yet to win a single race and wipes out almost every time. While the cop is busy, Tae places a bet, demonstrating how easy to use the machines really are.

Misa spots Maria in the grandstand and it lights a fire in her belly, because she’s a Misa on a mission, channeling Saki on her bike and pulling the legendary “eel goby turn” while shocking everyone who bet on her to DNF once more.

Maria and Misa’s Korosuke crew are elated, and then Maria takes a look at betting ticket and realizes to her shock that Number Zero increased her money over six hundredfold with a perfect trifecta (or something…I don’t know all the terminology!)

This means she turned her ¥30,000 into a cool ¥20 million—thus erasing all of Franchouchou (really Koutarou’s) debt in one day, while out on a little grocery errand. She either took Koutarou’s insistence she get out there and make some money, or it happened entirely by accident (after all, she did try to throw that ¥30K in the trash at first).

Zombieland Saga loves the fact that we both desperately want to know and don’t want to know more about Yamada Tae, and spent an entire Tae-centric episode proving that it really isn’t a detriment for her shroud of mystery to remain fully intact, even unto the end of the series. Tae more than proved she can carry an episode without singing, speaking, or her past being revealed, while Ookoba followed her all day only ended up with more questions.

Cheif among those crops up right at the end of his stalking session. When Tae’s head pops off and falls on the ground, Maria just happens to have her back turned, and Saki keeps it that way by pulling her into a romantic embrace. But Ookoba not only sees Zero’s head come off, he snaps a photo of it. Just when he was about to give up, his underling’s joke about those famous girls being revived as zombies suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched…

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

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 05 – Always Be Twinkling

This week is a Lily episode, as she decides she wants to shine even brighter by entering herself in the Saga regional of the awkwardly-titled national TV talent competition Japan’s Got Performance. If she wins, she’ll move on to the finals in Tokyo. I love how the pint-sized Lily announces this by shaking up Koutarou’s usual dungeon briefings. This is a choice she made—not him—and she’s going to do it.

But upon arriving at the venue for the competition, Lily learns she’ll be facing stiff—and very familiar—competition in the form of Oozora Light, the latest child prodigy star. While his meeting with Lily is friendly, Sakura and Tae later discover that unlike Lily he’s an arrogant, cynical little shit, spoiled by and abusive to his manager and expecting an easy win in the “sticks” of Saga.

While much of the competition before him seems to support that assessment—none more than Koutarou’s own baffling impersonation of a mudskipper—Lily brings some class, charm, and heritage to her multi-faceted rakugo performance, proving she can do whatever she wants on stage and excel.

Both the crowd and celebrity judges are eating out of her hand, laughing at the comedic bits and crying at the dramatic ones. Lily is an expert at working the crowd, but it’s always about shining as bright as she can and entertaining them, not manipulating them. If she isn’t having as much fun as they are, there’s no point.

Light follows it up with…sigh…juggling. It’s here where we see that he’s more concerned with tricking the crowd into siding with him with his on-stage performance, since they’d probably loath his true self. He does this by pretending to mess up, only to yell Never Give Up! and get back on track. As juggling acts go it’s pretty good, but in all honesty he’s riding his celeb status here; Lily’s act was far superior.

Unsurprisingly, the two finalists for the Saga Regional are Lily and Light. Lily stops by his green room to wish him good luck, and predictably Light throws her good wishes back in her face, calling her out for putting on such a syrupy sweet and cute act that they both know isn’t going to last once they’re out of elementary school.

Of course, Light isn’t aware that Lily was once a bigger star than him, and also will never grow up, because she’s a zombie. But even if she wasn’t, Lily is still a veteran of show business, and doesn’t rise to his trash talk, keeping things friendly and cordial. Even so, Sakura, who overheard Light laying into Lily, has her back, reminding her all of Franchouchou are with her.

When Light inadvertently steals “Life”, Lily’s signature song from her past, she once again shows what a multitalented consummate professional she is, re-arranging her music for the band and altering her costume, all in the time it takes for Light to perform his song. It’s also not lost on me that her light blue hair and pink and white ribbons match the transgender flag, a lovely personal touch.

Lily counters with “Life”, but rather than the classic bittersweet version, her vivacious arrangement integrates addictive scat-singing and dancing that get all the kids in the crowd and on TV dancing with her. She also basically turns all the adults into kids as the clap along, swept up in her sparkling, twinkling awesomeness.

As I expected, she still loses to the Next Big Thing, but not only is she perfectly gracious in on-stage defeat, but she tracks down Light to cheer up and encourage him off-stage. While he technically won, he knows full well Lily put on a performance he couldn’t have hoped to match, especially in the compressed time frame she had.

Lily reminds him that show business is about who wins, not always who’s best, but all either of them can do is keep shining as brightly as they can. She manages to thaw his cold, dark heart, and when he points out she’s in the boys bathroom, her response is pitch-perfect: “It’s fine…it’s just me after all.”

A lesser show would have had Lily put Light in his place by beating his ass and moving on to Tokyo (something Koutarou wasn’t going to be happy about—Tokyo isn’t Saga!). Instead, Light is given extra depth and humanity, which is gratifying because being a child star in any era is not easy…just ask Macaulay Culkin!

They part ways on good terms, with Light inviting Lily to Tokyo sometime so they can work on something together. And while Lily didn’t make it to the national final, a kid doing her scat performance of “Life” becomes a viral sensation all over the country, netting Franchouchou thousands of new fans. Let it never be said the shrimp doesn’t pull her weight!

Irina and Crow’s discussion of this episode has dropped. Check it out here!

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?

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 02 – Blazing Souls and Beckoning Winds

Franchouchou are training with renewed confidence after Koutarou pulled himself together, with Saki deciding to work on her abs with some sit-ups. Zombieland Saga’s slice-of-life scenes are always full of great little details, from the sound of the zombies’ bodies creaking, to the sound of Saki’s giant ponytail gently whapping Sakura. Koutarou announces their next gig as co-hosts of a TV tourism segment on Saga’s Yutouku Inari Shrine.

He does so in the most obnoxious way possible—thereby proving that he’s back!—by wearing a cardboard TV on his head and aggressively interviewing the idols. The details I loved here included the different ways they reacted to having a mic shoved into a facial feature, the change in the sound of their voice when the mic is close, and Tae’s spinning her head Exorcist-style once she gets the TV box…just ‘cause. It’s also the first time I’ve heard the current Japanese era of Reiwa—which began in 2019—mentioned in an anime.

Koutarou also mentions that they’ll be joined in the segment by The White Ryuu, a pompadour-sporting rock star from Saga who has also hosted a nationally popular radio show called So Saga Can Be Saga since 1992. Of the idols, only Saki shares Koutarou’s enthusiasm, as she’s a huge fan of everything White Ryuu, who is portrayed here by the real-life Hakuryuu, himself a pretty colorful character.

A little after Franchouchou arrive at the shrine and get set up with the TV crew, Ryuu makes one hell of a cool entrance, drifting in lying semi-supine across the hood of a ’59 Cadillac Eldorado. The White Ryuu is showing his age, with deep lines in a face partly obscured by a drooping, graying pompadour. It doesn’t matter; Saki is in awe, as am I! He explains he’s late because “the wind blowing down from Kyougatake gave me pause.” It won’t be his only mention of winds, nor the last philosophical thing he says.

In a refreshing development, the TV segment goes swimmingly, with a camera-shy Sakura bailed out by the consummate professionalism and knack for spontaneity of Mizuno Ai, as well as . The idols’ bubbly happy-go-lucky energy is nicely balanced (and sometimes usurped) by White Ryuu, who is full of bemusing little asides about life, society, and freedom.

In a beautiful little moment I’m glad was captured, Sakura asks Ai while they’re praying at the shrine if “zombie prayers count”, with a smiling Ai saying she’s “sure the gods are surprised we’re even here.” It reminds us something that you sometimes forget during their “human” segments: they’re zombies covered in makeup.

The segment is ready to wrap, but Ryuu insists on a torturous climb to the inner temple, where the zombie idols are fine but he collapses from exertion at the top. Even so, he raises a defiant fist and declares that “grasping hold of something real is never easy”, engendering a primal, avenging “RYUUUUU!” from Saki.

As the TV crew packs up, completely confused by everything Ryuu said, Saki has to hold herself back from picking a fight, just as she asked Sakura if she wanted to die when she said she’d never heard of him. To her, Ryuu’s words are like “fists fulla soul”, running out to say a proper goodbye to her idol and promising to start listening to his show again.

As he climbs back on the hood of his Eldorado (the guy commits), he says won’t be on the show much longer, as the winds are blowing him elsewhere. But he tells her not to sweat it, parting with the refrain “The answers you’re looking for can still be found in Saga.”

Back home, the other idols notice Saki is down in the dumps. The question of whether Saki is in love is brought up, and again we see how the different idols regard romance for idols. Junko is scandalized, even though plenty of her era’s contemporaries had secret love lives, while Lily is all for it, as long as it makes you shine brighter.

Sakura decides to approach Saki to find out for sure what’s troubling her, finding her out on the balcony listening to Ryuu’s show. Meeting him reminded her of how she thought everyone was out to get her, and how whenever she wouldn’t bow and scrape to them, they’d try to get rid of her. Even as a middle schooler she’d get in huge brawls, her victories leaving her lost and alone.

One night while lying on a riverbank she heard So Saga Can Be Saga from a fisherman’s radio, and White Ryuu’s positive affirmations to the troubled souls of Saga and beyond soothed her smoldering heart. Now we know why he said so many offbeat things during the segment: that’s his whole thing. And doggone it, he had some really nice things to say:

“No matter who you are, it’s rough not knowing where you belong. But it’s times like that you gotta keep your eyes and ears open. You’re gonna find somebody you feels the same way you do. Even now, me talking with you like this means you’re not alone.” Ryuu was right: Saki kept her eyes and ears opened and found Kirishima Reiko, jumping into her big brawl and fighting by her side, leading to the complex and deeply heartwarming relationship covered last season.

Saki is upset because she doesn’t want Saga or Japan to lose a voice like White Ryuu’s, finding and saving wretched souls like her. She’s lost enough already, damnit! So she hops on a bike (with Sakura accompanying her) and races to the radio station—utterly destroying the bike in the process—to confront Ryuu and beg him not to quit.

Ryuu welcomes Saki and Sakura (AKA Nos. 2 and 1) into the booth to discuss it. Saki tells him Saga is still full of folks who don’t know what to do with themselves, and even Saga itself doesn’t know what to do. Without him, where will smoldering hearts turn to? But Ryuu says that’s just it: the people need a place to turn to, not him.

He never said the show would be shutting down, only that he’d be departing. But not before finding someone with the passion in their soul to take over for him, and he believes that’s Saki and Franchouchou. He says they have the spark that lights a fire in folks. Brooking no input from the suits, he bequeaths the show to the idol group right there on the air.

Before Ryuu hops on his Cadillac’s hood to be pushed by the winds of Kyougatake, Saki confesses her love for him. He’s flattered, but assures her her passion will be needed elsewhere. Then he says what might just be the saddest string fourteen words ever uttered on Zombieland Saga, knowing what we know: “Look me up when you’re a bit older and have grown into fine women.”

As they watch the sun rise on Saga together, Saki tells Sakura that no longer how much time passes, she’ll never grow up into a fine woman. At first she tries to laugh it off with a brave smirk, but her eyes become flooded with tears and she’s suddenly on her back sobbing. Then Sakura starts sobbing, and I tellya, I had to fight back tears too! Then Sakura starts drying out like a mummy, and I was laughing again.

That’s the beauty and the magic of Zombieland Saga, which is so much more than a show about down-on-their-luck idols. The futures they should’ve had taken from them, and now they must try to build new futures from whole cloth. While initially depicted as “lame” and washed up, White Ryuu was a revelation here, imbuing the episode with wisdom, gravitas and optimism.

I never, ever tired of his entrances and exits atop his ridiculous car, while the episode completely sold Saki falling for him, making his parting words all the more heartbreaking. The only thing this episode was missing was a performance, which is what we get during the end credits, and it’s appropriately a heartwarming cover of a White Ryuu song. The idols’ outfits look great, the lighting looks great, their singing sounds great and the dancing animation is fantastic.

Saki assures the rapt audience that anyone lost out there will be able to see her soul burning, just like Lake Imari’s breakwater lighthouse. Taking over the mic at So Saga Can Be Saga, joined by the rest of Franchouchou, she tells the listeners to find their way back there if they ever feel worried or alone.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 01 (First Impressions) – The First Ragged Cry of Rebirth

After their miraculous show in the snow at Arpino, Franchouchou’s first CD sold like hotcakes, but then Koutarou booked them for the 30,000-seat Ekimae Fudosan Stadium (EFS)…and only 500 fans attended, or 1.66% capacity. They failed to get even a single encore, and ended up in humongous debt.

That would’ve been the end of the road for most idol groups, but the Franchouchou girls weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Sakura, Ai, Saki, Junko, Lily, and Yuugiri all secured jobs with which to gradually pay off that debt, and are working towards a comeback show at the metal club where it all began a year ago. But even a month after EFS, Koutarou remains a drunken, disheveled, distraught, and infuriating mess.

He’s convinced it’s all over for Franchouchou and his Saga project, even dramatically standing on the edge of the water during a horrific storm and ranting incoherently. The girls start to consider that it may not be just about the money, because there’s no way he could’ve reasonably thought they could have sold out a stadium show. They break into his office and find a demo tape of the song they were going to perform as an encore but never did.

After Yuugiri, working at a fancier bar using the skills learned in her past life, encounters a horrendously drunk Koutarou mistakenly sticking his head in, then going outside to vomit. He’s in a very bad way!

The day of their concert arrives, and Sakura tries one more time to get through to him, but ultimately loses her patience. She returns to the others, and they go forward with the metal show, despite the fact almost no one in the crowd wants to see an idol group aside from their handful of hardcore fans.

The girls are confident if they can just take a step in the right direction they can begin the hard climb back to recognition, but the crowd is, to say the least, impatient and hostile. Their performance suffers due to Koutarou not being there, but a grizzled bartender eventually guilt-trips him into running to the venue, where he yells for an encore from the back and starts a huge brawl.

Re-energized by the timely arrival of their eccentric producer, Franchouchou slaps their collective cheeks, bears down, and belts out the encore song with power and confidence. As with the last season, the group is CGI, but I wasn’t bothered.

On the contrary, the performance really packed a punch, especially since the CG looks like an improvement on the first season. Even after that, they only get mild applause, but they managed to pull it off. The zombie idols clawed their way back from the dead…again!

A bit later, the girls assemble in the basement and are further heartened to find that Koutarou, still bearing the scars of the concert brawl, has shaved, cut his hair, and dried himself out. Recognizing how they’ve been able to pull off everything he’s asked for (aside from the totally unreasonable EFS gig). With their producer’s head back—and pocket squid—in the game, the Zombie Land Saga Project continues apace.

Zombieland Saga picks its zany story back up nicely without missing a beat, offering the same wonderful blend of weirdness (the foley on their undead body movements is always great), charming camaraderie, heartfelt drama, and of course, Miyano Mamoru being a completely unhinged lunatic! I for one am overjoyed the zombie idols are back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

You can read Irina and Crow’s discussion of Zombieland Saga: Revenge’s first episode here!

Talentless Nana – 07 – Just Girl Talk

When Yuuka scoffs at Nana’s barb, Nana tries a different tack, stating “Humans don’t believe the truth. They believe people.” Even if Yuuka knows what Nana tried to do, Nana has the trust of the others, while Yuuka is someone who screws her dead boyfriend. So Nana proposes a deal.

She’ll keep Yuuka’s dirty secret and even read her beloved Shinji’s thoughts if Yuuka releases her. Because Yuuka is “a hopeless romantic” she falls for the ruse, and Nana says Shinji is thinking “Kill Nana”, which Shinji later confirms is the true, though Nana was again simply bluffing. Bottom line, she gets the hulking Shinji off her back and flees into the woods.

During the ensuing nighttime game of cat-and-mouse, Nana gains crucial intel on Yuuka’s powers. Yuuka needs a”relic” (an item the deceased has touched) to raise someone. This culminates in her having a whole pile of weird stuff under her bed, and Nana is chased not just by Yuuka and Shinji, but a whole zombie army composed of dead students and teachers.

The presense of so many dead people ont he island suggests that the “Committee” Nana serves didn’t tell her everything, but she’s too busy trying to survive to give that the thought it deserves. That brings us to Yuuka’s other weakness: her zombies, including Shinji, only “work” during the night.

Nana proves that theory by putting her life on the line, locking herself in Shinji’s cabin where zombies are lying in wait. They fall asleep once the sun rises over the horizon, so she’s safe for the time being, but then Yuuka locks her in the cabin for the day, content to finish the job once the sun is back down.

When Yuuka and Shinji return to the cabin after going to class (during which time Kyouya mentions how the clasp of Yuuka’s necklace is damaged and loose), Nana is nowhere to be found. There’s a nice double fake-out when I figured Nana was pretending to be the zombie girl with a similar hairstyle, but that was a red herring.

Nana not only managed to escape from the cabin, but gets the jump on Yuuka as she’s carrying a dormant Shinji during the next sunrise. Then she pulls the real relic Yuuka uses for Shinji from her back pocket. The necklace was a decoy; the scrap of a test is the real thing. And now that it’s in Nana’s possession, Yuuka is in her pocket.

Nana explains that while it looked like she was panicking and barricading the door to the cabin to seal herself in, in reality she was removing screws from the lock, then covering it with tape so Yuuka wouldn’t notice. That’s why she was able to escape the locked room…it wasn’t really locked. She then replaced the screws before Yuuka and Shinji returned.

When Yuuka offers to do anything for Nana, Nana is perhaps a bit too cruel in saying “I’m a cat person…I don’t need another dog,” referencing Michiru. She then has Yuuka return her needles, but drops the scrap of paper off the cliff anyway. With no more relic, Yuuka will be unable to revive her undead boyfriend…he’s gone forever. But that’s not the end of the story.

Nana is curious why Yuuka chose something so flimsy for a relic for someone so important to her. Breaking down the details of Yuuka’s story about their movie date and ensuing fire, she determines that Yuuka and Shinji were never boyfriend and girlfriend; that Yuuka was merely a stalker, and she set the fire to kill the girl he was going with.

This sends an already crazed, despair-ridden Yuuka fully off the deep end, but Nana doesn’t bother pushing her off the cliff. Instead, she kills her with a needle, and the phone confirms she saved 500,000 lives by doing so. Her greatest threat thus far has been eliminated, but in the process a lot has been revealed about just how little she knows about the people who hired her. She could well be struggling and fighting for the wrong side!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 01 (First Impressions) – The Optimism’s Back

We’re big Star Trek fans here at RABUJOI, and while I was both excited and proud to watch its return to TV (albeit streaming TV) in the form of Discovery and Picard, since it meant Star Trek was back and that could never be a bad thing, I’ve been ultimately disappointed in the negative and violent general outlook and worldview of those new shows.

I came into Lower Decks with extremely guarded expectations. I was not a fan of the art style in the previews nor what sounded like a lot of try-hard rapid fire comedic dialogue. Heck, even the logo of the show is ugly, with the words “LOWER DECKS” rendered what looks like a crappy free font, clashing with the iconic yellow/gold Star Trek word type.

Lower Decks is first Trek show since Voyager ended in 2001 to restore that upbeat, optimistic, cozy, joyful Star Trek milieu in which actually want to live and hang out. It felt more like those shows, and thus the Trek that I grew up with and love, than any of new live-action stuff, and pulled off that feat in less than half an hour!

Obviously, a show like ST:LD has the advantage of not having to spend too much time setting up its world—it’s basically TNG-era Star Trek, only animated. If you aren’t a Trekkie, I’m not sure why you’d watch this show, nor could I begin to imagine how it would come off not knowing anything about warp cores or the uniform colors or what-have-you.

LD can immediately focus on its scrappy underdog characters who populate the unremarkable Federation Starship USS Cerritos, starting with Ensigns Beckett Mariner and Brad Boimler. While Mariner comes off as an overly hyper chatterbox (she’s also drunk in her first scene), I’m pleased to report not every character chats at the same pace, and even she calms down for some scenes.

It’s clear Mariner’s authority-bucking, boisterous joie-de-vivre is a veneer to conceal the fact her round-peg personality in a square-hole Starfleet has caused her career to stall. There’s a lot of Tom Paris in her, right down to her admiral dad. She’s the opposite of the eager-to-please, by-the-book Boimler (ahem…Ensign Kim, anyone?), and between his discipline and her experience the two are poised to learn much from each other about life in the command division.

Rounding out the main quartet is medical officer D’Vana Tendi of Orion (hence the green skin) and engineer Sam Rutherford, a cybernetically-augmented human and to me, spiritual successor to Geordi LaForge. Tendi, also like Ensign Kim, is the definition of “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookie” without Boimler’s hang-ups, while Rutherford’s still-buggy implants sometimes add cold Vulcan logic to his human baseline at inopportune times.

There is a mission-of-the-week, and it involves the less sexy but very important second contact with a new purple porcine alien species. An aspect of Trek I believe really translates well to animation is the aliens and their worlds. Since it’s animated, the makeup and production design budgets are only limited by the animator’s imagination, and there’s never a chance of putting off viewers with either unconvincing makeup or falling into the uncanny valley.

Boimler was instructed to “keep an eye” on Mariner by the no-nonsense Captain Freeman, and that eye immediately watches Mariner break protocol by selling farm equipment to aliens on the side. Boimler ends up being sucked on by an alien spider-cow creature for far too long, but the whole incident demonstrated that his green instincts caused him to overreact on more than one occasion while Mariner got the feel for things and was able to improvise them out of peril.

Back on the Cerritos, Rutherford is on a date with Ensign Barnes that, unlike LaForge’s many dates, starts out pretty well! The issue is, the Cerritos’ XO Commander Ransom came back up to the ship infected by a bug bite that turns him into a vicious black bile-spewing zombie, and soon more than half the crew succumbs to the same transformation.

While it could have come off as too-cute-by-half to have the Rutherford and Barnes remain completely calm and even continue their small talk as their comrades start eating each other in the Ten Forward-style bar, the comedy worked for me since it tracks that Starfleet officers would keep their heads even under extreme conditions. Similarly, D’vana enters a gory hellscape of a sickbay, but feeds off the professionalism of her Chief Medical Officer (who is a Caitian) is, and comports herself well in triage duty.

What ties Boimler’s close encounter on the planet to the zombie virus aboard ship is the purple-pink goo secreted from the spider-cow, which cures and de-zombifies the crew. Thus it’s established that despite her refusal to submit to Starfleet orthodoxy, Mariner inadvertently saved the ship by letting the spider-cow suck on Boimler as long as it wanted. I got a really cozy feeling from the scene of the four officers taking a much-earned breather, their deeds going unsung as the senior staff takes all the credit.

While I hope she doesn’t back into saving the ship every week (something that would make her akin to early Wesley Crusher aboard the Enterprise) in a pilot it works pretty well at establishing the value of her approach to a Starfleet officer’s duty. If she breaks a few regulations, she’ll be able to rely on Boimler (who doesn’t rat her out to the Captain) and her other fellow junior officers to rein her in or bail her out.

“But wait, Zane,” you may ask: Why would you want to live in this Trek world—in which the crew turned into vomit zombies and a drunk officer cut another’s leg to the bone with a contraband bat’leth—but NOT want to live in Discovery or Picard? Because the violence, xenophobia, and general lack of human progress is too virulent and unrelenting in those live-action series, while the violence in Lower Decks is more stylized, comic, and by dint of being animated doesn’t feel as real (and thus depressing).

Also, it’s clear Lower Decks isn’t centered around violence, whether it’s threatening to blow up Qo’noS, enslaved androids being hacked into causing a massacre, or beheading people you don’t agree with. It’s far more aligned with the values of TNG. Its goal of being a Trek comedy inevitably bring up The Orville. I actually thoroughly enjoyed The Orville because it too took place in a lighter-hearted TNG-style world that’s futuristic but also bright and fun.

But as hard as it tries, Orville will always be homage with a hint of satire. Whatever else it is, Lower Decks is Star Trek, through and through. Production of live action Trek is delayed In These Times, and no telling if what we ultimately get won’t be filled with more violence and despair, and the further erosion of my preferred Trekkian outlook. I didn’t know this going in, but Lower Decks is just the Trek I need, just when I needed it.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The show’s logo may be hideous, but the opening sequence is beautiful, showing the Cerritos getting damaged in various ways against gorgeous space backdrops. The credits are also in the same font and color as TNG, which is just fine by me!
  • The USS Cerritos is the perfect balance of familiar details (like the Enterprise-D style deflector dish) in a new orientation. While a little awkward-looking, it’s a clean enough design, and I actually prefer it to the Orville.
  • The Senior Staff is mostly in the background, which is how it should be, but I do like the Riker-esque Cmdr. Ransom and the big burly Bajoran security chief. As for the doctor, she’s from a catlike species first depicted in the original Animated Series but a live-action Caitian admiral appears in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He was my favorite Trek alien for a long time, even though he was just in the background.
  • On that note, another great thing about an animated Trek is that you can have as many alien officers as you want without worrying about the makeup budget. Orions, Bolians, Andorians, etc.
  • It’s astonishing how many Trek lore Easter eggs this episode manages to cram into the half-hour, but most of them feel organically integrated, rather than shout out “Remember THIS?” or “Remember THAT?” The old didn’t get in the way of the new, but added texture and color.
  • This is a show that rewards die-hard Trekkies, not just with familiar sights and sounds but in how qualities of past Trek characters and episodes inform the crew of the Cerritos.
  • Mariner’s dad is an admiral, but her mom is also her Captain!
  • Rutherford’s date with Ensign Barnes ends up kissing him in a moment of passion after an emergency EVA, but he’s so preoccupied with a code fault in the airlock, and the fact she isn’t preoccupied with it, he later decides not to pursue a second date.
  • The second part of this joke is that Ens. Tendi agrees with his reasoning. Both of them are total Starfleet nerds and I love it.
  • That was a hell of a battle through the decks of the ship…reminded me of the DS9 Genesis game where Sisko has to run through the corridors of the Saratoga after the Borg attack.
  • I have never seen Rick & Morty, but I think part of why I think I’m okay with the very un-anime character design is that I’ve also been recently watching Avatar and Korra, which features an almost-but-not-quite anime style.
  • Other quick production notes: the voice actors all do great work bringing their characters to life, while the orchestral score does what a Trek score should.
  • I’ll be reviewing this series going forward, but future reviews will be shorter and feature fewer images, I promise!