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Suffer little children: the naive unease of the anime zombie

Zombies provide an outlet for that most mortal of fears and fascinations; death, and what comes after. It’s a universal thread that’s tugged by all cultures, linking all human thought. This gives the walking dead a power that transcend interpretive borders; for instance, between anime and the western viewer. Subtleties of language and cultural significance are bound to be lost in translation, but that gulf of the unknown, the ongoing argument over the ‘soul’, what it is and whether it survives without the body, is immortal, amorphous and interchangeable for fear itself. While we still live, we can love the undead as something that makes death unreal, something that can be decapitated by shovel or by bullet so, for a while, we can pretend that death can be stopped in its shambling tracks.

That integral drama in the familiar and beloved becoming monstrous means that undeath, in its most evocative readings, becomes about life. School-Live! put the emphasis on this drama in much the same way the AMC series The Walking Dead is celebrated for. In the onset of the apocalypse, there are palpable holes in the world the girls of the School Living Club loved being part of. For most of them the impact of this loss was only made real in hindsight, but Yuki adored her friends, her school and its teachers who helped her whenever she needed. She fills in those spaces with her imagination, patching her world with such deep desperation that it still feels real to her, building an emotional reality to an Armageddon occupied by the dead.

Image result for school live episode 1

Perhaps what makes School-Live! most grounded in humanity is that the tension doesn’t reside in finding ways to escape, at least not in any physical sense. Instead, Yuki’s personal escape is balanced by her friends’ responsibility for holding some safe ground while working around her delusions, and trying to accept the rules of a new, more vulnerable way of life. Yuki is the metaphorical representation of this coming to terms, learning that she can’t get through by pretending the rest of her life away. Grief is a means of healing, making physical sense of suffering, and stopping that process is as soul-destroying as any zombie’s bite.

Much like the evolution of the anime vampire, the moe ‘n’ zombies aesthetic reflects the clash of the immature and advanced in Japanese society. The grief post-World War II that left Japan’s cultural identity fractured created the fear of a world forsaken, as in the series Sunday Without God. As Japan re-asserted itself as pacifist, this series adopts the Biblical roots of the undead, and light novel author Kimihito Irie mocks their nation’s naivete with the idea that, in one deciding day, heaven and hell ceased to exist, leaving humans unable to die. Putting a young girl at the heart of such stories, like Sunday Without God’s Ai, reflects a simultaneous sexualisation and nostalgic regard for her purity, especially in this anime’s reality, where humans are not only doomed to succumb to Half-Dead Fever, but can no longer procreate. This focus on such girls being the last of the innocents expresses a desire to protect that purity, as in School-Live!, when it’s under severe threat of contamination.

5 Comments on Suffer little children: the naive unease of the anime zombie

  1. Nice article. I’m just kind of glad that anime hasn’t become oversaturated with zombies at this point. While there are some prominent zombie titles, there are still plenty of other monsters showing and threats showing up. To be honest, I’m a little over zombies for the moment.

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  2. Interesting article. I haven’t seen everything mentioned but really liked School-Live and would love to watch Train to Busan sometime.

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  3. Train to Busan is finally arriving in theatres here somewhere next week. I have heard so many great things about that film, and me being an enormous Korean movie fan, I simply can’t wait for it. As for my favorite zombieseries it is The Walking Dead. Yes I know, it isn’t really original, but I justvsi only love that show. Anime wise I have yet to see a lot of zombieseries most notably Tokyo Ghoul and School-Live. So far I have only seen Highschool of the Dead, but I would rather forget about that series 😂😂

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  4. I’ve been meaning to check out Train to Busan which recently arrived on Netflix, and now it is at the top of my list thanks to this post! You really do tackle well the entire purpose behind what zombie stories should be, not about the gore or the literal horror but more about the people and what this new situation describes and critics about our own lives. All great zombie stories remember that as the core, and you touch base on some very interesting ones. My only major sin as a horror fan is I haven’t watched many classics such as George A. Romero’s Living Dead trilogy. Though I would have to say my favourite zombie flick so far that I have seen is Zombieland or 28 Days Later (I haven’t seen too many zombie films or series).

    What I find interesting is I don’t know if anime has found the right way to execute a masterpiece in regards to zombies. One that stands as a groundbreaking piece of work, but some that are adequate or even good (as you pointed out with School Live!). There isn’t a Dawn of the Dead for anime to call its own as of yet and I hope that changes soon.

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  5. Another fascinating article, Elisabeth. I’m not the biggest fan of zombie literature or shows, but I do watch them. Indeed, it seems that everything is sexualized. First vampires and then zombies. What’s next?

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