Zombie Land Saga has many special (and some grotesque) qualities that make it stand out from the colorful crowd of idol anime, and this week's episode utilizes nearly all of them. Even though I found the first part of this arc a little uninspired last week, its second half and conclusion hit some of the highest highs of the series to date. I might even consider it the platonic ideal of Franchouchou's ethos: taking familiar beats from other idol properties and infusing them with snappy gags, amped-up drama, deadpan absurdities, and the kind of live performances only a troupe of zombies would have the rotten guts to attempt. It's the kind of episode that will make you believe deep in your heart that Saga can indeed be saved by a dash of necromancy.
I mentioned last week that I couldn't care too much about Iron Frill's attempt to snatch their lead back for themselves. However, this part smartly follows up on the cliffhanger by focusing not on Ai, but on Junko. With my suspicions about Kotaro's true intentions confirmed, this arc is about Franchouchou learning not to rely on Ai's modern idol expertise so much, so they can instead find their own voices and confidence. That's the big picture, but the emotional core lies inside of Junko. Next to Ai, she has the most living idol experience out of all of them (Tae's mysterious backstory notwithstanding), but ironically she's also the most insecure and reliant on Ai. Thus, it's easy to believe she really would tie herself up in knots over the prospect, however slim, of Ai leaving for another idol group, and it's similarly easy to empathize with her feelings of fear and inadequacy.
Zombie Land Saga also amps up the melodrama by leaning heavily into the romantic subtext between Junko and Ai. Strewn throughout the episode are dialogue, facial expressions, and framing indistinguishable from the techniques a drama would utilize to communicate feelings of heartbreak, jealousy, temptation, and romantic reconciliation. Kotaro's motivational speech is a great example, because all of his advice is about Junko standing up for herself and mustering the courage to “take” Ai back. This works both in context of keeping Franchouchou together, and in the context of Ai and Junko as girlfriends going through a rough patch (don't even get me started on Kotaro's repeated and double-entendre-laden command of “smash!”). The series absolutely knows what it's doing; even back in season 1, they were consistently framed as the most canonical couple out of the group. Naturally, I would've liked Zombie Land Saga to be less cowardly and show them kissing at the end—we were but a single dislocated arm away—but it's one of those cases where the subtext is so loud I can't bring myself to complain too much. Junko broke through her insecurities to gain confidence to believe she's good enough for Ai, and they lived happily (and undeadly) ever after as zombie girlfriends. Or at least until Kotaro yells at them again.
The jokes in this episode are consistently on-point as well. I love that even Zombie Land Saga's most serious and sincere moments aren't exempt from a goofy punchline or background visual gag. For instance, consider how Junko's theatric stumble of seaside despair washes off her makeup and leads flawlessly into her withered visage scaring Saga's unluckiest beat cop. That's the entire spectrum of human emotion right there, from lovesick despair to fear of zombies. Pun-wise, the message in Ai's bento is localized so sublimely by the translators that I have little to add besides gratitude for the laughter. Kotaro's motivational speech also highlights how effectively the series can wield deadpan humor. While his words and message to Junko are heartfelt, the unique Zombie Land Saga flavor comes out of his constant and abrasive guitar shredding. Even at his nicest, Kotaro is still a loud (and lovable) jerk, but I applaud Junko for fighting back with her little aside about his own depressive episode. And as soon as he said “smash,” I knew exactly where that guitar was headed, and I'm so glad the anime didn't disappoint me.
Honestly, “didn't disappoint” is short-selling this week's live performance, which ranks up there with Zombie Land Saga's most unhinged and transcendent moments. The premiere proved that these zombies still had life in them, but this concert marks their true rebirth as idols out for revenge. Tae's opening salvo of a drum solo immediately raised my expectations, and the girls followed through with the most perfect and least expected genre I could have imagined: nu metal. We're far enough removed from early 2000s that my prior disdain for the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park has been supplanted by the warm glow of nostalgia. It was terrible music, but it was my generation's terrible music. Who am I to deny its charms when there are six zombie girls on stage rapping over electric guitars? I had the dumbest smile plastered on my face through the whole song. I was in blissful, awestruck disbelief. The only thing that could've made this better would have been a guest appearance by Rob Zombie. The recapitulation of their electrified vocoder light show was a nice encore, but nothing tops the fact that Junko looked deep inside of herself and decided to communicate her feelings to Ai through the dulcet tones of grungy guitar riffs over hip hop.
Franchouchou's finest concert yet impresses not only me, but Iron Frill, who use their own renown and platform to catapult these zombies onto the proverbial national stage. As attention swings back to them, so too will scrutiny, yet that just means we're getting close to figuring out what necromancy and live music have to do with saving Saga. Part of it, apparently, involves Lily doing rakugo, so I couldn't be more excited for next week (and if you don't know what rakugo is, may I implore you to check out the excellent Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū). This concert will be a tough act to follow, though! Zombie Land Saga just gave us its most Zombie Land Saga episode yet. I hope, however, that it has the chops to outdo itself a couple more times this season.
Steve is hungry for anime and on the prowl for Revenge this season. Learn about this and more (i.e. bad anime livetweets) by following him on Twitter.