- Titles: Sankarea
- Genre: Horror, drama, comedy, supernatural, romance, ecchi
- Episodes: 12 + 1 (I Too Am A Zombie)
- Studio: Studio DEEN
I remember when twilight came out and a large number of people made fun of young women for finding pale vampire boys attractive. But you know what, it’s not like boys aren’t just as weird. When’s the last time you talked to a teenage boy about what he finds attractive? I’m sure there’s a wide range of things, a few of them may even start with the letter “b”. Some like nerdy girls, some like fit athletic types and some, like Chihiro, enjoy girls who aren’t all hung up about having a heartbeat or a tan. He likes dead girls is what I’m saying. Not corpses, that would be pretty creepy and questionably legal. No way, he isn’t a pervert or anything. He just really likes zombies. He knows it’s a silly preference and it’s never going to happen, but he can’t help himself. But what is he going to do when an actual zombie shows up, one that happens to be very pretty?
I had been hearing about Sanarea by reputation for a really long time. In fact, it’s one of the shows that regularly show up on lists about “weird” anime. Even the comments beneath the episodes on Crunchyroll were all what did I just watch and WTF…
Sankarea isn’t exactly a striking show but I have to say the visuals really grew on me. The character designs were charming and I enjoyed the art style quite a bit. That’s up to personal preference of course but it was my personal preference. The backgrounds are great. The creepy abandoned hospital?, Sanka’s lavish but austere mansion and Chihiro’s warm temple all had loads of personality. And I found all the scenes featuring hydrangea fields to be just beautiful.
Actually, now that I write it out, Sankarea is a visually great show. It’s just that it’s understated with the visuals. There are a few inconsistencies and as the show is borderline ecchi, body proportions are skewed more towards appealing (to the producers I assume) than realistic but it’s a good-looking show with a sustained visual atmosphere and a great sense of visual location.
Story & Characters
Like I mentioned, Sankarea is often touted as a particularly odd anime by certain corners of the internet. I have seen it described as such more than a few times. So going in, I was expecting to be baffled by the romance-horror story about Boy meets Zombie.
There are a few scenes that are right out of a horror movie, complete with buckets of blood and dangling entrails. I say a few but I mean one. That might have been something new for those that have stuck to SOL for their anime pleasure. And I guess the premise could be a bit out there, then again I am only reviewing animes about young men falling in love with monsters this month so I can’t say it’s all that unique.
What I’m getting at is that I know a lot of people find this anime odd, and it probably says more about me than about Sankarea when I say that I thought it was a rather straightforward romance anime. Sure it has a hook that is particularly unrealistic but otherwise, it never struck me as particularly weird or even all that unusual.
In fact, if there is one thing that sets Sankarea apart in my mind, it isn’t the presence of zombies or any of those “weird” elements, but rather the real horror of the story. You see, Sankarea is at times an uncomfortable portrait of parental abuse.
Rea Sanka, the main female character is clearly being sexually abused by her father and completely neglected, and resented by her stepmother. It’s not the over-the-top relentless abuse we usually see in fiction. It’s the more insidious type. The type where she didn’t quite notice for many years. Rea’s father cares so much about her, that’s why she can’t go out in the evenings or on weekends. He worries about her health, and that’s why she needs to be monitored all the time. He wants nothing but the best for her, that’s why he buys all her clothes and toys without her input. And he wants to remember her forever, that’s why he takes a keepsake family picture of her on her birthday every year… naked…
You can clearly see it. But if that’s how you’ve been raised your entire life, it’s going to seem normal. Rea doesn’t get hit, she hardly ever even argues with her parents and from an outside point of view, her life seems perfect. But she’s starting to sense something isn’t right and her father’s need to possess her is becoming so overbearing that it’s driving her to a breaking point.
I didn’t expect that story when I stated Sankarea. And for the most part, it’s told chillingly well. Surprisingly, the entire zombie storyline meshes perfectly and even respectfully with the story. It serves as a great analogy of what we have to sacrifice and go through to overcome abuse. And even the budding relationship between Chihiro and Rea is particularly sweet when you realize that it’s a sign of healing on both their part. Mostly hers. Chihiro has a few issues but it’s nothing compared to Rea and he would be the first to admit it.
So I was actually very impressed by a lot of Sankarea and I would recommend this anime to some people. But there are a few things that annoyed me.
One is the fact that as I mentioned Sankarea is an almost ecchi (actually AniList has it as a full-blown ecchi so there you go). I’m not sure where the line is. There are visible nipples for instance and fully naked characters from the back or waist up. And there are frequent scenes of girls taking showers or getting their tops ripped off. And these are meant to be fun. You can tell from the cinematic language that these are lighthearted T&A moments.
In fact, I have to give some props to Sankarea, that even though it’s such a fanservice-heavy show with a sexual abuse storyline, it never makes the abuse sexy. All those scenes are treated as traumatic and serious and they completely resisted the urge to use those as fanservice.
But it’s still a little difficult to go from one mindset to the other. You have the bad guy of the show, who is shown to be evil because he likes to look at his daughter naked and then you put the viewer in the same situation, where they are supposed to be enjoying it. There’s a bit of a disconnect for me. At one point Chihiro starts filming Rea to document her condition and the difference between him and Rea’s father starts to really blur.
I will say that I remember it annoying me a bit as I was watching the series but in hindsight, most of the fanservice faded from my mind and now it doesn’t seem like as big a deal anymore. Not that it was a huge deal, but I did note it a few times.
The second thing, that really rubbed me the wrong way, is the ending. The very ending itself is bittersweet. I watched the OVA which is from their zombie cat’s point of view and it gives us some extra details. That’s bittersweet as well. I liked the actual ending. Opting out of an easy happy resolution was an interesting move, and I wanted to know what happened next but I was also a little afraid to find out.
However, before the actual ending, they wrap up Rea’s arc with her father and the show seems to give him a soft redemption. There’s this whole excuse that he was so in love with her mother (Rea’s mother) that when she passed away, he transferred all that love to his daughter and it turned into an unhealthy obsession but really it’s because he loves her too much and NO. Nopidy nope nope. That dude is a child abuser, and I don’t care how he justifies it in his head. I don’t sympathize and I resent the series for trying to make me!
Yeah, that part got to me. Now to be clear, the show never excuses him and he’s still the antagonist of the series but I think they should have omitted humanizing him. Especially in the last episodes when there isn’t enough time to do it slowly and let him earn redemption.
Now that’s a big downside in my opinion and really the one big thing that stops me from just recommending Sankarea as an occasionally poignant but generally fun zombie romance for Halloween.
You might like this anime if:
If the drawbacks I mention don’t put you off, you should give it a try. It is a very good pick for the season!
My favourite character:
Mero, the little sister. She had an episode dedicated to her and it’s my favourite. Babou is a pretty close second.
- Every time we hear about Rea’s father’s reputation – take a sip
- Every time there’s a picture of Rea – be worried
- Every time we see the Sanka family maids – take a sip
- Every time Chihiro’s grampa shows up out of nowhere – take a sip
- Every time Rea’s mother is annoyed – offer her a sip
- Every time Mero is surprisingly stoic – raise your glass
- Every time Ranko is used for fanservice – take a sip
- Every time Babou…babous – awwwww
- Every time Mero is dressed in burial garb – take a sip
- Every time Rea wants to be a normal girl – pour some out
- Every time anyone is eating hydrangea leaves – get a snack (not hydrangea)
- Every time Grampa freaks out about food – put the snacks down
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.
6 thoughts on “Sankarea: Undying love – Chihiro and the Dead Girl”
I haven’t got that far in the series yet but I don’t think the similarity between “Chihiro” and “Danichiro” is unintentional. Or maybe I don’t understand the Japanese well enough.
Then there are the nudes. Daddy is extremely possessive and likes to take nude photos of his little girl and that IS creepy. (Daddy and boyfriend BOTH end up photographing her like an experimental specimen.) At the same time, we are treated to some fun fan service-ish nudes for our enjoyment. Are we to compare the two or contrast the two?
Is there really some kind of feminist manifesto hidden in the subtext?
Considering the poor girl has to literally die to regain a bit of control over her life and even then she’s rotting from the inside and the show treats it as happy fun sexy times, I would be inclined to say no.
Disney “Zombies” but an anime and also gender-swapped
Maybe. I haven’t seen it but now I want to
I remember watching this. The first episode surprised me a lot with how sensitively it handled the moments of these two quirky teens meeting. I loved the first few episodes, but then it sort of became your avarage rom com, until the end. I quite liked the ending, certainly more than the middle part, but it never quite reached the heights of the first few episodes ever again.
Anime does like to “humanise” their antagonist patriarchs, which often feels… too lenient to me, too. A show where this particularly irked me was, for example, Kure-Nai. It was less of an issue, ultimately, in Ai Yori Aoshi. I could probably think of more examples. The point? By the time I reached the ending of the show, I had other shows to compare this ending to, and, well, I’d seen worse, and I’d seen better. All in all the ending was fine.
There’s a second OVA out there, that’s about one of Rea’s… birthdays. Stylistically it wasn’t any more sexualised then the show, but the entire episode had no other content than that creepy day, and it being an unnecessary extra… Yeah, if you ever come across a Sankarea OVA you haven’t seen yet… skip it. There’s no point to it, and it’s just creepy. (It being creepy might have the point, but if so it should have been a section on episode, not an entire episode-length OVA. One of the few things I wished I hadn’t watched.
Mero was great. I still remember my heart getting stuck in my throat, when Babou died and she was sitting there with her deadpan expression asking Chihiro if it’s okay if she cries now. Ultimately, the show’s no masterpiece, but when it’s great it can really hit you where it hurts.
It has its moments and I do think it could have been great. There are elements I found inspired but I also thought it just didn’t pull it off