Sankarea – 02 Review

Sankarea – Episode 02

Once again, Sankarea manages to deliver some high quality entertainment. This episode was a little slower and darker than last week’s, since the primary focus was on showing a little more of Rea’s difficult past.

Synopsis:

The majority of this episode is spent giving some background for Rea, and it’s presented as a series of flashbacks while Chihiro and Rea work on the zombie potion. It’s really well done, and doesn’t have the cheesy or jarring effect that most flashback-sequences have.

Essentially, it’s revealed that Rea has had a messed up life and her dad is a creepy, nasty, scary sleaze-bag. Her dad is violently possessive and has some really messed up notions about fatherly affection. We get to see the story of Rea’s one and only friend – a nice girl with a normal, happy family who innocently becomes Rea’s confidant and advises her to stand up to her father’s inappropriate behaviors – whose family was ultimately sent away by Rea’s terrible dad. Anytime Rea gets close to anyone, her father intervenes and gets rid of them, leaving Rea feeling powerless and frightened. And of course, there’s the whole taking naked pictures of her against her will thing, which is not good. It’s not explicitly stated that he is sexually abusing Rea, but I say that it’s pretty much implied. There’s also a short little bit about Rea’s mother, who is cold and unloving towards her, presumably because she knows about the whole daddy-daughter situation.

Meanwhile, Rea and Chihiro are working on the resurrection potion to turn Babu the cat into a zombie. It’s been 5 days since Babu’s death, and Chihiro is feeling pressured (or perhaps he’s just feeling the rigor mortis) to either succeed or give up trying. When it seems they’ve run out of options, Rea has a sudden inspiration and runs out (and up a cliff) to grab some hydrangea flowers she’d seen earlier. She’s not wearing appropriate footwear for climbing up a cliff, but conveniently, Chihiro manages to prevent her from falling and really busting her ass. Chihiro gives Rea a bit of an earful for being an idiot and almost getting herself killed or injured, and Rea retorts by saying she doesn’t care if she dies and would Chihiro please resurrect her if she does. It’s an interesting scene, and the “resurrection talk” in a lot of ways feels like a DTR conversation as well as a window into the depth of Rea’s unhappiness.

Chihiro prepares the potion with the hydrangeas, and full of anticipation, they pour it down Babu’s throat. And then…. nothing happens. Sadly, Chihiro decides to give up on resurrecting Babu, and the two plan a funeral for Babu the next night. Chihiro gives Rea a lift home on his bike, and Rea sneaks back to her house via a trail in the woods. The bad dad is waiting though, and he catches Rea and presumably beats the ever loving crap out of her.

Chihiro has made it back home, and his cousin Wanko is waiting for him. There’s some Wanko fan-service while she interrogates him about his nightly whereabouts and their relation to the dead cat. Wanko is determined to figure out what’s in Chihiro’s mysterious cooler (actually, Babu’s in there on ice) – and she manages to get past Chihiro and open the lid. Zam! Out jumps Babu, very red-eyed and very un-dead.

Meanwhile, Rea is at home, having a very rough time of it. Her father has forbidden her to ever leave the house again, and with that her depression reaches its max. She proceeds to drink a little of the poisonous hydrangea potion that she had swiped earlier with the intent of killing herself. What a cliffhanger!

Review:

Before I really get into the review, let me just reiterate that I think Sankarea is great.

Not everyone seems to agree with me though (ahem, M0rg0th), and when asked why they don’t like it, the haters tend to respond with something about how the manga sucks. Well, I took it upon myself to read the manga (yes, the whole thing) just to see if there was any legitimacy to these claims. Don’t worry, I’m not going to throw any spoilers at you guys, but I will say that the anime is worlds better than the manga so far. I’m not saying that the manga is bad, but it’s kind of one of these trope-happy ecchi-harem-rom-com deals where the main-chara is a total dufus and the main chick is madly in love with him for no apparent reason…. with zombies thrown in for some shits and giggles. The manga is cute and fun and somewhat entertaining, but is sorely lacking in depth and adequate characterization.

That’s not so much the case with the anime. Hardly any of Rea’s background as presented in this episode, was in the manga, and the little that was in the manga didn’t impress me as being very compelling or serious. At first it seemed to me that all this life story stuff was making the show lose some momentum, but after thinking about it a bit I decided that I really appreciate giving Rea some depth. As of this episode, she’s about 1000 times deeper and more interesting than 90% of the generic main-female-charas in most animes. Don’t worry, she’s still cliché in plenty of ways – like being the pretty rich girl who is overly naïve and frail and blushes too much – but by going into detail about how screwed up her family and her life has been, she gains a lot of believability. It seems like in many animes, a character trait like depression is regarded with the same attitude as having any other random trait, like red hair or big boobs. It’s just something that’s there for no reason that, at best, serves as a fast and easy way to communicate a stereotype or conveniently advance the plot. I’ve never really seen things like depression, physical and/or sexual abuse, and suicidal thoughts explored in an anime without a lot of humor and silliness involved, if they’re even explored at all.

I’m not sure how the show will continue from here. I have my doubts, because the source material really isn’t all that promising of anything other than a mildly fun time, but so far the anime has done a superb job. It’s almost like it’s an entirely different story. Well, it’s the same story, but the approach in the anime is so much more polished, subtle, and mature… They’ve essentially taken this manga which was full of comedic and ecchi material suitable for horny pre-teen boys and transformed it into something that adults with brains would enjoy. I’m impressed, but I’m hesitant to make any predictions about the future quality of the series.

I’m really digging all the technical aspects of the show. The animation is awesome, with tons of great lighting, little details, and well-placed vibrant colors. I’m a fan of SHAFT (who isn’t?) and I’m appreciating the SHAFT-esque visuals and direction. The BGM is also outstanding – it’s tasteful and it enhances the story. For example, the creepy/sad music playing throughout the bad-dad sequences really helps convey Rea’s emotional suffering. I don’t usually get too hyped up about BGM in animes… Either it works or it doesn’t – but there was this one little riff when Rea’s only friend is leaving and chewing her out – with a cello and some groovy downtempo beat behind it that was great. I’d buy the album.

I liked seeing Rea and Chihiro interact in this episode – they’re good together. Chihiro picking on Rea is super cute, and Rea watching zombies eating brains is priceless. Sankarea is ultimately a zombie rom-com, so of course there’s a little too much of the cliché and convenient in Rea and Chihiro’s budding romance, but it works. At least we now know enough about Rea to understand why she might like a guy like Chihiro (because she’s a little deranged and so is he?), and although Chihiro is obviously attracted to Rea, he isn’t doing the usual head-over-heels nose-bleed-madness that one might expect from his type of character. The relationship between these two is so much better than say, something like in AnoNatsu, where the main-charas just instantly fell in love forever without ever having spent time together or knowing anything about each other. Rea and Chihiro are good characters, but I do hope we get a little more background on Chihiro beyond (and hopefully explaining) his obsession with zombies.

Aside from all those other good points, Babu is sooo cute! 🙂

I was not expecting to enjoy Sankarea this much. While it’s highly unlikely that this is going to be the anime of the century or anything like that, it’s surprisingly insightful and fun and it’s got great production values. For pure entertainment, Sankarea is one of this season’s top three. I’m curious to see if the series can continue on this level, but two awesome episodes in a row is quite promising. If you aren’t watching Sankarea yet, I encourage you to give it a shot and I assure you that it will exceed your expectations. If you are watching it, leave a comment and tell everyone what you think about it so far. See you next time!

Rating: 8.5/10

About kelfio

Keepin' it real down in the sweet sunny south.

Posted on April 15, 2012, in Anime, Reviews, Sankarea and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I’m a little confused by what the tone of this anime is supposed to be. The opening and first episode makes it seem like a light hearted comedy about a mysterious girl and a guy’s ‘quirky’ (quirky is a little charitable for necrophilia, but I digress) obsession but the second episode took a turn for disturbing. In one episode we have both big booby fan service and the suicide of the female lead. While Chihiro thinking dead chicks are moe could be passed off as dark humor, I can’t say the same for Rea’s father being cruel, violently possessive and borderline incestuous. The contrast from Chihiro being traumatized about the loss of his pet and then getting excited about all the dead-raising opportunities it presented was also a little jarring.

    I’m guessing the death of Babu and Rea (presumed) is the convenient lead up to the main characters zombie obsession. The main character who just happens to be obsessed with zombies, happens to have his cat die, happens to find a book on necromancy (necro romance?) and then happens to meet a girl who likes him for no reason and just happens to want to die and be reborn herself. I can handwave some things if it’s a comedy but the writing is kind of lazy. Maybe the next episode will be less grimdark, I just can’t reconcile how twisted Rea’s situation is with how carefree Chihiro is.

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    • You bring up some really good points… Not to mention the awesome necromancy/necro-romance pun. 😉

      And the question of tone is a good one. The manga is really just a run-of-the-mill rom-com-ecchi with zombies being not much more than the “hook”. The anime is a lot darker, especially with all the bad-dad stuff. Honestly, I’m not sure where this series will go from here on out… Whether they will take the time to decently characterize Chihiro, if things are going to downgrade into pure ecchi-slapstick, if the series is going to continue to diverge from the original material, etc.

      As for Chihiro, to me it seems like he’s not so exuberant about resurrecting the cat. While he does seem to have more reservations and a more reserved attitude towards the resurrection project than Rea does, he’s into it for sure. but it seems more like a specific sort of madness stemming from grief and emotional/childhood issues, similar to how Rea is attracted to Chihiro presumably as a result of her isolation and traumatic family stuff. That’s purely an assumption of mine though, and it’s a distinct possibility that Chihiro won’t get developed any more as a character. At this point, I think that’s the key to making this series really good – more background on Chihiro’s zombie-fetish. At least maybe showing some of the fallout of his zombie thing… stuff like being ostracized as a freak at school or something, really anything to make his bizarre and (as you said) “carefree” behavior fit into the grim/dark setting that’s been presented with Rea.

      I do really appreciate your thoughts. You brought up a lot of stuff I hadn’t thought about, and that’s always good. And, ummmm… Maybe it says something more about me and my sense of humor than about Sankarea, but I hadn’t really even noticed that this series was quickly running headlong into being a black comedy. Maybe that’s why I’ve been enjoying it so much.

      And is it technically necrophilia if the person you’re doing it with is *un-dead*? 😉

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      • I think you might be giving the series more credit than it’s due in terms of characterization. I can’t really see Chihiro having any backstory that could logically lead to thinking zombies are cute. The fact that other people barely acknowledge his obsession (which would be rather creepy in real life) makes me think that the writers don’t want you to take him seriously. Rea is a little different because she is given a backstory that could plausibly define her behavior but it’s still a little forced. It seems like her experiences would make her emotionally distant and not want to provoke the wrath of her bad dad on others. Why would she suddenly be attracted to Chihiro in particular? No reason other than the plot calls for it, I expect. That’s why I’m confused about the direction of the show. Half of it points to a quirky love comedy that you aren’t supposed to take seriously, and the other half points to a dark drama.

        Also, if you ever have to ask yourself “Is this technically necrophilia?” STOP, this is a line of questioning people with normal romantic aspirations should never need to consider! 😛

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  2. About anime being darker and edgier than manga…

    After two chapters of manga I also had a feeling that manga will be more serious. After few more chapters it became obvious what is it.

    Anime is still in darker part of the manga story, that is why it may be too early to throw praises at it.

    Oh and about Rea, I am quite sure she is not abused beyond what is shown- beyond been controlled and have naked photos taken. Her father is quite clearly shown as obsessive, because of the reason explained in manga. He loves her, so he controls every aspect of her life and naked photos are simply means of control- he “controls” her growth. He is not sexually abusing her. Anime is just overpresenting it (there is no such a word, is there?), to make it “darker.”

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  3. @ Nekoknight and Buli – you two may be quite right in that I am jumping to conclusions and giving the anime far too much credit. As Buli said, the anime is still in the darker and more dramatic part of the story. I’m not going to be overly surprised if this series does a 180 and -becomes a generic-ecchi-rom-com, I’m half expecting it, really.

    I am really enjoying it for now though. For me it’s one of the more entertaining watches of the season and I think it’s well put together.

    @Nekoknight- Well, I’ve honestly never ventured down that line of questioning before, but it is 2012 you know. 😉

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  4. Two episodes into this and other shows and I’ve noticed a trend of quirky shows this season. I’d call Sankarea the most interesting so far after this episode, but I am hoping that it doesn’t get too bogged down in the daddy issues. Personally I hate it when anime and manga use physical/sexual abuse of women to create sympathy for the character, or to define them as a character but so far, assuming that the extent is only what they’ve directly shown, I’ll deal with it.

    That aside, I do like how they didn’t just jump in and make her a zombie from the start, but instead took the time to flesh out the character dynamics, so that it will make a little more sense when she becomes a zombie and suddenly the two of them are mutally interested in each other to a greater extent. Another series that kinda surpised me by having touches of sensitivity before devolving was MM, and I’m pretty sure thats the path this is going to take, but hopefully itll prove me wrong.

    and as far as other quirky shows this season, mysterious girlfriend, is this a zombie, and the amnesia are all turning out to be oddly watchable.

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    • “…so that it will make a little more sense when she becomes a zombie and suddenly the two of them are mutally interested in each other to a greater extent.”

      One thing I can say about Sankarea that makes it stick out from the vast swarm of harem-rom-com shows (where hot girls always love the dull main-charas for no reason) – when she does become a zombie, Rea’s dating pool will probably shrink dramatically. So, if nothing else, at least she will have a good reason for being interested in the zombie-obsessed-boy.

      And you’re right about the large number of quirky supernatural romances this season. It seems like there’s always at least one of these types of series being aired, but four is a lot. Thankfully though, they all seem to be quite different from each other. I hope they all turn out to be enjoyable. 🙂

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  5. I’m actually in agreement with your assessment and enjoyment of this series. I wrote my own blog post after the first episode because I found this show to be a bit deeper and the backgrounds of the characters darker than most. It has a ton of typical anime stereotypes, but it also manages to give them a slighter fresher feel and rise above most of the mediocrity out there – so far at least. I too fear it will devolve into the typical ecchi rom-com show we’ve seen a million times, but as of the first 2 episodes it has been pretty solid with exploring the characters’ backgrounds and making their actions and motivations believable.

    As someone else pointed out above, I also don’t feel as though Rea’s father is sexually abusing her but simply controlling her and taking pictures of her naked. There seems to be a repressed incestual sexual desire there, but the gloves and his hesitance to touch her face except for when he slaps her later give me the strong impression that it is nothing more than a repressed desire and not one that has been fully carried through. In terms of fleshing out Rea’s past though, it clearly demonstrates that Rea lacks the physical or emotional comfort or support a child needs, and the fact that her father destroys any relationships she does create while her mother treats her as though she doesn’t exist only serves to further isolate her and intensify that desire for human contact. I believe this is one of the key reasons why she has clung to Chihiro; partly because he has quirks like her and understands her plight somewhat, but mostly because he was there. The whole zombie-obsession and her eventual zombie status are just conveniences to the plot, but what show or movie doesn’t have those conveniences? Sometimes you just have to let those things slide because there would be no story without them.

    Chihiro on the other hand, while perhaps not as well characterized as Rea or given a dark background to really justify his zombie obsession, is also one of the better male leads this season. Some have pointed out that he has a good family life, so why the strange quirks? I honestly believe his dead mother has something to do with that (some morbid Oedipus Complex maybe?).The photo we saw of her in the first episode actually reminded me of Rea, so I wouldn’t rule it out. I would also not be surprised if his desire to keep his family together has a lot to do with the fact that a very important member of that family dynamic was lost years before, to the point where even the desire to not lose the family cat is important to him. If the show is to continue at the quality it has, I hope this is addressed or some rational explanation is given.

    Either way, I am quite enjoying the direction and the combination of quirkiness and darkness involved. I certainly hope it can maintain this level of quality over the long haul.

    Great post and I look forward to more.

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    • Thanks! I enjoyed your post too. 🙂

      As for the abuse/bad-dad stuff, you’re right that it’s not clear to what extent Rea’s dad is going. It hasn’t been explicitly stated that he’s abusing her, but I would imagine that an anime/manga probably wouldn’t go somewhere quite so taboo… I mean, in nearly every anime, when underage characters get drunk, they make a huge point of saying that it’s only soda or something that’s non-alcoholic. Considering that, it doesn’t seem too far fetched to me to make the assumption that some stuff beyond nude photos is going on.

      Regardless, what Rea’s dad is doing isn’t appropriate, incest or not. And ultimately, it has the effect of making Rea very confused about how family dynamics are supposed to be and what is and isn’t cool. It’s made clear that Rea is very afraid of her father and she mentions being concerned about her physical safety… and on top of that, dad’s destroying all of her relationships… Details aside, I think what has been shown is sufficient to make Rea’s depression and suicidal tendencies totally believable.

      I also hope that Chihiro gets fleshed out a little more, but even if he doesn’t, I agree with what you said in your post about how he’s miles better than the average dimwitted harem main chara. He’s got principles and he sticks by them… even if those principles are just code for necrophilia…. Hehehe.

      Sankarea has been so entertaining to watch, and I really hope they can keep it up for the rest of the season. I look forward to it as well as seeing you around more! 🙂

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