The 12 Reviews of Christmas charges on, and today we look at what happens when you try to adapt a light novel/anime series that's nothing but otaku fetishes smash together to a manga, and then try to adapt that to English. What are the results? Well...
IS THIS A ZOMBIE? (Kore wa Zonbi Desu ka?), adapted from the light novel series by Shinichi Kimura and Group Sacchi, and illustrated by Kobuichi Muririn. First published in 2010, and first published in North America in 2012.
PLOT: Ayumu Aikawa is a quiet, unassuming guy. He's also a zombie. Not the brain-consuming sort, of course, he's just the kind who goes about his day normally and is only threatened by sunlight, which tends to sizzle him like steak. He's not quite sure how he ended up joining the undead, but he does know that it involves the strange, silent armored girl known only as Eu who claims to be a necromancer. This would be strange enough, but then a magica-er, "magikewl" girl literally falls from the skies onto Ayumu and accidentally transfers her powers (frilly costume and all) to him. This is shortly followed by a vampire ninja who is looking for Eu. Now Ayumu has to wrangle a household full of girls AND fight giant, talking, intergalactic animals AND somehow find time to fit in school. There's just no rest for the dead in Ayumu's world.
STORY: I don't know what's worse - stupid otaku fetish bait that makes no pretense of being otherwise or stupid otaku fetish bait that thinks itself clever and subversive. I ask this because ITAZ belives itself to be the latter, but it has no idea how cleverness and subversiveness works.
ITAZ's humor is crude and simple. "HUR HUR, HE'S A ZOMBIE, BUT HE DOESN'T WANT TO EAT PEOPLE. HE'S A BOY, BUT HE HAS TO BE A MAGICAL GIRL, HUR HUR." They're not clever jokes, and the situations are not so much subversions as they are ironic reversals. Of course, much of the humor is supposed to stem from the fact that Ayumu can't be bothered to react to much of anything. He's not overreactive and spineless like the leads of so many series like this (thank goodness), but his apathy ends up extending to the audience - if he can't be bothered to give a shit, why should the reader? I suspect Ayumu was already something of a zombie before he died, because he comes off as a dullard in general.
Ayumu is at least tolerable - that can't be said for the rest of the cast. Most have very shallow, gimmicky personalities, if they were given one at all. Eu's gimmick is that she is stoic and silent, communicating only in written notes (although she's much more expressive and cutesy in Ayumu's imagination). Haruna (the "magikewl girl") is a loli and tsundere, and easily the most annoying character in the book. Sera is...honestly, I don't know if we've learned anything about her other than her ridiculous title of 'vampire ninja' and that she has giant boobs. Honestly, just look at that phrase - 'vampire ninja' is something that a 5 year old on a sugar high would come up with and think hilarious. What's next? Will they add a robot pirate or an alien magical gir- oh wait, we already have that one. Clearly they were thinking more of checking off stereotypes and quirks that appeal to otaku off a list instead of creating three-dimension, sympathetic characters.
So how's the story? It's your run-of-the-mill harem set-up. Our lead is introduced, and then the harem members are introduced one at a time, only to join the harem for..um..er...reasons. Surely there must be SOME reason beyond "because the story demanded it." The story's also incredibly schizophrenic in tone, shifting from slice-of-life antics (like buying the girls clothes) to "NOW YOU MUST FIGHT A GIANT CRAWFISH IN A SCHOOL UNIFORM FROM OUTER SPACE WITH A MAGIC CHAINSAW." The tonal shifts are handled with all the grace and elegance of a trainwreck. Of course, it has to find some space for a "tender" moment with Ayumu and Eu to give them both some backstory and attempt to build sympathy for her, but it's far too late to save the story and far too shallow to add anything beyond a bit of backstory to either character.
ITAZ is a shallow pandering mess of story and characters. Tonally, ITAZ thinks it's being wacky and subversive, but instead it's just dumb, random, and dull. In a strange sort of irony, ITAZ is a standard harem that has been made only more confusing and boring by adding its own flourishes.
ART: Hope you like moeblobs, because that's all you're going to get here! Muririn's character designs are very typical of modern moe style, all bobbleheaded with oversimplified faces on top of matchstick bodies (well, save for Sera and her improbable rack). Of course, he also has to go and spice things up through the excessive use of nudity and fanservice. Haruna gets the lion's share of the fanservice moments, and it never stops being vastly uncomfortable as Muririn clearly loves any excuse to show off her little naked loli body, her underpants, or her wee little boobs. You're hit with her fanservice the moment you open the volume. I mean that quite literally - the first proper page of the manga features a close-up of her panty-clad crotch in full color. I've made it more than obvious over the last six month that I am no fan of fanservice, but here the fanservice is downright creepy and gross.
There is a bit of magical-girl-style action, but Muririn clearly couldn't be bothered to draw much of it, as the panels tend to cut away to the aftermath at the start of nearly every fight. There's no flow to the action scenes, either - they're just a mishmash of closeups. Muririn also abuses dutch angles in the panels like nobody's business, but all the extreme angles in the world can't conceal the fact this volume is mostly a lot of talking heads and fanservice.
Much like the story, the artwork is uninspired and pandering, influenced more by what sells to otaku than what looks attractive or makes for good visual storytelling.
PRESENTATION: As mentioned previously, there are color pages in the front that cover the table of contents, some splash art, and the unfortunately panty-filled first pages. My copy appears to have a printing error, where the last page was put in twice, which meant I got even MORE panty shots than intended. Lucky me). There's also the bizarre "Zombie Lovey-Dovey Level Checklist" in the back, which features a blatant typo ("You want to Aikawa's household laundry." This phrase practically begs for Mad Libs-style fun). There's also a brief White Day-centric side story, where the girls fight over what they're getting for Ayumu and whose gift is best. Finally, there's an author's note and a page of translation notes.
Is This a Zombie? Yes, but it's also an awful mess of a manga without the slightest bit of wit, inspiration, or taste.
This series is published in the USA by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 6 volumes currently available. 3 volumes have been published in the USA and all are currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!
Want a chance to win Volume 1 of this and 5 other series? Leave a comment to enter the 12 Reviews of Christmas Giveaway here!