This week on Zombie Land Saga: Yugiri kills a man. Hell yeah. I will review the rest of the episode, but that’s the most important thing you need to know.
The second part of this Meiji flashback crescendos melodramatically towards its tragic and bloody climax, supported by the series’ brazen sense of moxie and not much else. Still, while jokes have taken a leave of absence during this expository arc, there’s something undeniably amusing about the goofy zombie anime committing so hard to something this dour. It’s ambitious. And although I don’t believe Zombie Land Saga needed to explain itself so thoroughly—to entwine its necromantic fantasy with genuine history—I can respect its devotion to idiosyncrasy. We will not see another idol anime like this one.
The plot more or less follows the trajectory I expected from the snippets of history I cobbled together last week. Kiichi’s progressive idealism quickly gets overwhelmed and coopted by the violent bitterness of leftover samurai hung up on the Meiji Restoration and the failure of the prior revolts. Itou, meanwhile, can see the writing on the wall for them, as he’s been working for the Meiji government to rout the remaining dissidents in the area. His cynical attitude reflects the inherent hypocrisy of his job: Japan is supposed to be leaving feudal rule behind, but he can only bring about that future using these “twisted and barbaric” methods. He’s a surprisingly compelling character! The subtext reads that Kiichi most likely reminds him of his younger self, and Itou neither can stand to confront the optimism he once bore, nor can he stand to see Kiichi give into violence like he did. These are broad, melodramatic strokes in the context of the limited time these two episodes have, but they color Itou with just enough depth.
Kiichi’s characterization, on the other hand, suffers from this side story’s abbreviated length. The narrative is aware, clearly, that his ideals are childishly optimistic and in conflict with Saga’s harsh reality. That’s fine, but his motivations are just too nebulous to carry the emotional weight that Zombie Land Saga tries to lift here. It’s usually not an issue with Kotaro’s similar attitude, because his undefined absurdity tends to be the butt of the joke (especially in season 2), not the dramatic locus. It’s a different story in the context of this straightforward period drama pastiche.
However, one legitimately neat thing about Kiichi is that he seems to have been based on a real Saga resident at the time. His flyers double as the preview snippets for episodes 8 and 9 on the official website, and they’re attributed to an anonymous youth’s memo on file at the Saga Prefectural Museum. Now, I can’t exactly visit this museum to verify the existence of these memos, so it’s possible this might be a tongue-in-cheek fabrication to add a veneer of authenticity to these events. Considering Zombie Land Saga‘s history of highlighting real Saga people attractions, though, I’m inclined to believe they did their research. This would also be consistent with the rest of this arc’s gestures to history. In the middle of the episode, Yugiri writes three letters to Takato Ooki, Shigenobu Ookuma, and Taneomi Soejima, who were all prominent Meiji statesmen at the time. Ookuma even became prime minister later in his life. She wasn’t kidding about knowing people in high places!
The legendary courtesan also, thankfully, gets a lot more to do in this episode compared to the first part. Yugiri secures Kiichi’s safety after providing him with her patented slap, pours some medicine down the old man’s throat, fights like a badass with the blade hidden in the neck of her shamisen, kills a man (as mentioned), and sacrifices herself to save Saga (which she had done metaphorically by saving the old man’s life earlier). For better or worse, though, she remains Franchouchou’s most ethereal member. While the other girls’ arcs (Tae excluded) explore what makes them tick, Yugiri’s interiority takes a backseat to the plot. This doesn’t make her any less of a character, since her personality is, in a way, defined by her gentle otherworldliness, but I’m still a little disappointed.
Nonetheless, Yugiri carries this episode’s back half, proving her legendary status with her perspicacity and with her blade. Her fight with Itou is her backstory’s highlight, with both combatants silently acknowledging their tragic circumstances, yet stubbornly refusing to acquiesce to each other. There’s no victory on the line; they only decide who gets to die first, and who gets to take the fall for the failed revolt. By winning, Yugiri gets the “short end of the stick,” which ends up being the sharp end of a military blade. Itou would have done the same had he slain Yugiri, but she’s the pariah who clears Kiichi name, paving the way for Saga’s reemergence a few years later. While it’s an undeniably bittersweet end, it does bolster the emotional resonance of her resurrection—Yugiri doesn’t just get the chance to enjoy the Saga she helped create; she also gets the chance to save it again.
And I cannot stress this enough: Yugiri, canonically, has a body count. You can’t say that about most idols. That’s why she’s good.
This makes for a pretty satisfying conclusion, but Zombie Land Saga takes it a step beyond and caps the episode with a Yugiri-led performance that plastered a huge smile on my face. The song “The Saga Incident” is suffused with the smokiness of a cabaret, presented with Luhrmann-level excess, and seasoned with Yugiri’s sultry vocals. It feels just like the end credits of a musical, down to the Meiji characters joining in on the fun and dancing to the music alongside everyone else. It’s downright goofy, and I love it. This is the spirit of Zombie Land Saga, willing to try and do just about anything, good or common sense be damned.
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.