When one thinks of zombies, they think of survival, collapsing cities and civilizations, and of course, swarms of reanimated corpses. The trope remains a timeless one, as zombies continue to be the subject of various video games, anime, manga, movies, books, and television series.
In anime, the zombie trope has seen all kinds of applications and executions, and it is these manifestations, particularly in the last five years that have made for interesting subversions or interpretations of the zombie apocalypse concept. While High School of the Dead may be one of anime’s most famous installments when it comes to zombies, there are several titles from more recent times that will entertain any zombie lover.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (2016)
Emerging from the nexus between zombies and steampunk is the 2016 thriller known in Japan as ‘Koutetsujō no Kabaneri’. The series takes place in an alternate version of Japan, during the industrial revolution. The world is overrun by metallic zombies known as “Kabane” (taken from Japanese word “shikabane”, literally meaning “corpse”). Their only weakness lies in the glowing core in their hearts, but it is protected by their tough metallic bodies, until an engineer named Ikoma develops a special tool capable of injuring them.
He gets no time to test the weapon as his village is overrun by the Kabane on the very day of its completion, but it proves to be a success. Unfortunately, Ikoma does not get through his village’s onslaught unscathed, and the Kabane virus courses through his veins; however, he comes up with a plan to halt the virus’s progression in his body. This is the most outright zombie onslaught series of the ones mentioned on this list, and like the others, there’s a minor twist to the nature of the zombies themselves. The series is also unique for having a soundtrack composed by none other than Hiroyuki Sawano.
Sunday Without God (2013)
This ominous-sounding anime title (known in Japan as “Kami-sama no Inai Nichiyoubi“) is set in a world that has literally been abandoned by God. This has profound consequences – death and birth, once perpetual mirroring cycles have now ceased entirely. walk among the living. Before his departure, God left the world a final miracle in the form of the gravekeepers, mystical individuals capable of putting the dead truly to rest through a burial.
Ai is her village’s sole gravekeeper until a man named Hampnie Hambart, claiming to be her father, kills everyone in the village. With nothing or anybody to keep her there, Ai accompanies him on his journey, executing his gravekeeper duties and learning more about the world that has been left without God. As one would imagine, the zombies in this series are the living dead that gravekeepers must put to rest. That means that in this world without death, the physical repercussions of dying are not suspended, but it is a horrific state in which the dead die, but not the full death that would also have the anima leave their physical bodies.
The Empire of Corpses (2015)
This is an anime movie animated by Wit Studio in which the world has managed to create technology capable of reanimating corpses. The revived are without minds or a will of their own and are used for menial labor in various contexts. While the flesh can be revived, the soul cannot; however, a rumor has it that Dr. Viktor Frankenstein, prior to his disappearance, revived the only reanimated corpse that is in possession of a soul.
John Watson, a medical student from London is looking for Dr. Frankenstein’s notes in order to find some kind of groundbreaking information on the soul, and the technology behind corpse reanimation as a promise to a late friend, but he soon discovers things that will truly challenge him and his desire for knowledge. The Empire of Corpses ,Shisha no Teikoku’ in Japanese) is a subversion of the horror trope that often sees the reanimated dead feasting upon the living, but this movie has zombies used as a kind of resource, or a source of labor, which isnt the most common depiction of them.
‘Gakk?gurashi’known in English as School-Live! is an interesting expression of the zombie trope in anime because it doesn’t lead with the apocalypse like most shows would. In fact, School-Live! being on a list of this nature is actually an inherent spoiler, as the series makes sure to shield the viewer from the truth of the world using the protagonist Yuki Takeya. Yuki’s upbeat personality and cheerfulness are seen as standard for a slice-of-life protagonist, but the most harrowing discovery is noticing all the strange discrepancies between Yuki’s narration of the surrounding events, and the truth.
Most synopses of School-Live! explain that Yuki looks forward to attending her school club, the School Living Club, the rules of which are simply to do all existing on school grounds. The audience realizes during the first episode that Yuki is an unreliable narrator because her perspective is such in order to protect her fragile mind from the zombie swarms that surround them in the greater school building. This kind of execution of a zombie storyline is unprecedented, and it gave a great deal more weight to the crisis, in addition to being a good example of the subversion of expectations.
Zombieland Saga (2018)
This is perhaps the strangest application of zombies in media, and not because comedic expressions of the zombie apocalypse or zombie trope aren’t a dime a dozen, because they are. However, Zombieland Saga is the strange marriage between zombies and idols, somehow finding a nexus between heavy metal, cutesy idols who dance and sing on stage and zombies. When idol-aspirant Sakura Minamoto leaves the house one day, her dreams are unfortunately cut short when she is hit by a truck and killed. She wakes up in Saga Prefecture as a zombie with no memory of her life, with an eccentric man called Kōtarō Tatsumi explaining that he revived Sakura and six other girls from different eras in an attempt to create an idol group that will bring economic prosperity to Saga Prefecture. Zombieland Saga is hence a parody of the idol genre, hilariously using the zombiefied cast’s condition in their performance but also having the girls rediscover themselves through music.
Zombies are a mainstay of survival horror, but anime proves that their use in that context isn’t exhaustive of their potential. Zombies can continuously be re-imagined, and the above five series show zombies in varying situations – as antagonists, as protagonists, and also as objects without any agency to speak of. The draw that they have is eternal, and these shows are some of the most interesting of their kind, well worth their runtime.
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