Ayumu Aikawa is not a normal kid: he is cursed to spend his afterlife as a zombie, but he suffers a fate worse than that. After accidentally stealing the power from a Magical Garment Girl, he becomes a chainsaw-wielding, cross-dressing warrior in her place. Is This A Zombie? puts a fun spin on the magical girl genre. I wish the show did more with the idea, but Ayumu’s Sailor Moon-style transformations are limited to a few episodes, pushed aside in favor of the show’s harem sensibilities.
Ayumu’s zombification doesn’t follow the rules established by George Romero. Instead of shuffling along in an unending quest for brains, his life is mostly stable so long as he stays out of the sun. He is accompanied by a woman named Eucliwood “Eu” Hellscythe, an armored necromancer who was present when Ayumu was murdered by a serial killer. Eu’s defining characteristic is her inability to speak, and her communication with Ayumu is limited to scribbled notes that express her thoughts and desires, which are mostly related to food. The story kicks into high gear when Ayumu crosses paths with magic school student Haruna as she engages a Megalo demon in battle. Ayumu is caught in the crossfire and finds his body cut in half by the girl’s chainsaw. Before Haruna can leave, her powers are accidentally siphoned by Ayumu, giving him the ability to transform (albeit reluctantly) into a Magical Garment Girl. As Haruna is now vulnerable for the first time in her life, the fiery young girl takes up residence with Ayumu until they can figure out how to transfer her powers back. The number of women in Ayumu’s life increases when Seraphim enters the picture. The busty, raven-haired vampire ninja—try saying that one with a straight face—arrives on a mission from her clan to locate and keep an eye on Eu, for reasons Seraphim declines to reveal.
Is This A Zombie? solves the mystery of the serial killer too soon for its own good. Six of the thirteen episodes in the season are devoted to finding the perpetrator. For Ayumu, this means discovering who killed him. The search is complicated by attacking Megalo demons that assume ridiculous forms like giant lobsters and stuffed teddy bears. But when the killer’s identity and motivations are revealed, an even greater villain steps out from the shadows and declares his malicious intent. The remainder of the season revolves around Eu’s disappearance and her possible connection to the increase in Megalo attacks. A new character is introduced, though her presence feels like a ham-fisted attempt to shake up the group dynamic.
Beyond fighting demons and satiating Eu’s appetite, Is This A Zombie? explores Ayumu’s relationship with the women in his life. His living arrangements may be the envy of his pervy friend Orito, but the truth is that Ayumu is always at their beck and call. Eu communicates a constant desire for food. Seraphim is never very far from Eu’s side, and having been bested by Ayumu in combat, she treats the boy with pure contempt and addresses him as “lowly maggot.” Haruna is a hot-tempered young girl who spends the day preparing meals and running errands for the head of her magic school. Extraordinarily self-centered, she exhibits feelings of jealousy whenever a new woman enters Ayumu’s life and vents her aggression by beating him to a pulp.
Aside from the cute girls, the hook in Is This A Zombie? is Ayumu’s role as a Magical Garment Girl. After muttering an incantation, an unseen force sweeps him off his feet in a whirlwind of neon pink, blue, and green. His normal clothes are replaced by a pink-and-white Lolita outfit, his name written in pink across the blade of his chainsaw. His innate power is dramatically increased in this form, making him more than capable in a fight against Megalos. However, the show plays Ayumu’s circumstances for cheap laughs and it is irksome that he doesn’t get any slack for his unwanted predicament. As soon as the transformation is complete, the people around him point and laugh and call him a pervert, even the girls who are supposed to be on his side. The show’s repeated use of the word “tranny” as a humorous pejorative is a bit much.
Violence is frequent, so viewers sensitive to such material should be warned. Battles do not skimp on blood, and between Ayumu’s chainsaw and Seraphim’s blades, combat often leads to severed limbs and torsos. When the serial killer is confronted by Eucliwood Hellscythe, the killer goes mad with the promise of power and puts her body at risk by increasing her own attacks. Her power is so strong, it rips the flesh from her arms, leaving behind exposed muscle and intense bleeding. Of all the characters in the show, Ayumu tends to sustain the most bodily harm. The fact that he’s undead doesn’t mean he can’t bleed or experience pain. However, he can push past physical limits, allowing him to perform great feats of strength without much thought to its effects on his body. During one encounter, he unleashes a fury of attacks so strong, he breaks his own arms. On the other side of the content spectrum, the fanservice is rather tame for a show that prominently features an array of cute girls. When female characters are shown in stages of undress, there is always something on hand to cover up their naughty areas. Some characters experience sex dreams, but they always stop short of any real action. While most harem shows don’t waste any time before showing bare breasts, Is This A Zombie? is surprisingly subdued.
The English dub is competent, though I was driven nuts by the frequency with which Ayumu reminds the girls—and the viewer—that he is a zombie before he does something that promises great bodily harm. I know he’s a zombie, it’s in the title for crying out loud, and the girls should know full well after everything they’ve been through together.
Is This A Zombie? offers a fun experience, but the second half of the season left me wanting. Eu’s story isn’t as interesting as the arc that precedes it; a contrived new character and a less-than-exciting battle with a mysterious supervillain are not nearly as compelling as the show’s initial murder mystery. While the show may not be perfect, it certainly has its moments, and the next season may prove more engaging.
Is This A Zombie?, Season One
directed by Takaomi Kanasaki
325 minutes, Number of Discs: 2, DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: 17+
Related to: Is This A Zombie? by Shinichi Kimura and Sacchi