Sankarea (Anime Series)
Directed by Mamoru Hatakeyama
Animated by Studio DEEN
Suitable for 17+
So long as there has been death, there have been those with the desire to cheat it. In some cases that may mean immortal life. In others, bringing someone back from the dead. But what are the realistic logistics of someone brought back from the dead? Assuming you reanimate them very soon after death, do they return exactly as they were before? Are they still human, or some kind of undead? Do we consider them zombies? Of course we consider them zombies! That is, if Sankarea is to be believed.
Chihiro Furuya was always a strange child. From a very young age he was obsessed with zombies. Whether it be stubbornly convincing his female cousin to watch zombie movies, or digging for dead bodies under cherry trees, he was certainly an odd ball. As he got older the zombie obsession evolved with him. Now as a teen, Chihiro has become infatuated with the idea of having a zombie girlfriend. Why have any regular girl when you can have a zombie girlfriend, right? Chihiro’s obsession takes a dark turn when his cat Babu dies and he decides to try to bring him back to life. Using a creepy old book, Chihiro works in an abandoned building to try to discover just the right potion to bring Babu back.
One day while working on said potion, he hears a girl in the courtyard below him. Enter Rea Sanka, the most beautiful girl from Chihiro’s school. Rea is from an incredibly wealthy family, so you’d think she wouldn’t have a care in the world. However, a severely unhealthy relationship with her father comes to light. Rea’s father has taken a naked photo of her every year on her birthday, continuing into young adulthood. Only now is she starting to realize that this is unnatural, and she tries to stand up to her father. Through twists of fate, Rea dies and Chihiro unwittingly brings her back to life with the same potion that reanimated Babu. He takes her in at his home and she reveals that all she wants is to live a normal life. Chihiro makes it his goal to give Rea the life she wants, curing her zombification and making her a real girl once again.
The description and beginning of Sankarea makes it seem like the series will focus mostly on Chihiro’s zombie fetish. As it turns out, the father/daughter fetish is really the one that takes the main stage. It quickly becomes less about the spookiness of zombies and more the real terror of incestuous pedophila. Sankarea only ever shows Rea having her naked photos taken, never is there a reveal of direct molestation, but that almost makes it worse. There’s a kind of sick tension where we never know the full extent of Rea’s torturous childhood. Interesting that a series about the macabre reality of zombies finds something even more horrifying to focus on. That point is really what makes Sankarea stand out from other horror anime, as this is a unique take on the genre.
Aside from Rea’s relationship with her father, Sankarea does of course focus on the realities of becoming a zombie. Their bodies continue to deteriorate, so it’s important to preserve them as much as possible. It’s best to avoid the sun, exercise to stave off rigor mortis, and eat poisonous hydrangea leaves to keep themselves “dead,” or undead as the case may be. Mixed in together with everything else are heartfelt and fun moments that Rea and Chihiro have together. He’s made a promise to give Rea a normal life, so they go for walks together, talk, and even go shopping together once. The combination of all these plot factors put Sankarea in a sort of league of its own. There’s something for everyone, classic quirky anime humor, zombie elements, and true horror in the form of Rea’s father. All are mixed together quite masterfully, quite unlike Chihiro’s guessing game of a reanimation potion.
Sankarea has the standard 12 episodes, but doesn’t feel crowded, which is an amazing feat with all that is going on. There’s even time for a filler episode where we get to focus on Chihiro’s younger sister and her friends. A series like this thrives because its cast of characters is a very manageable size. There’s not really any side characters that you have to struggle to remember who they are when you see them again.
One detriment to Sankarea is certainly its ending. Like many anime, it suffers from the open ended resolution that doesn’t give viewers any sense of satisfaction and closure. Sankarea ends very quickly after settling the grand climax of Chihiro facing Rea’s father. They both agree to work together to bring Rea back to life. Thus the series ends with Rea going back to live with Chihiro like she already was, and Chihiro vowing again to find a way to restore her humanity. This reiteration of the already existing goals within the series does not function well for a conclusion. We’re left with more questions than answers. There doesn’t seem to be any plans for a second season, so it’s not like this is an appropriate cliffhanger into Season Two. It just fizzles out.
Sankarea is a series that plays with your expectations. It looks like a cutesy show about a young couple that happens to include a zombie, but quickly becomes something far darker. The mix of plot devices leads to an incredibly entertaining experience. While the end of Sankarea feels disappointing, it can be forgiven considering what a hidden gem the series ultimately is. If you’re looking for a unique take on the horror anime genre, give Sankarea a watch. Maybe you too will become obsessed with the idea of a zombie girlfriend.