Is This A Zombie?, Vol. 1

Here’s a tip for aspiring manga artists: if you’re going to spoof a genre, your jokes should be poking fun at said genre’s conventions, not slavishly adhering to them. Is This a Zombie? wants to be a send-up of magical girl manga and harem comedies, but focuses so heavily on panty shots, “accidental” nudity (of the “whoops, my clothes disintegrated!” variety), and girl fights that it’s easy to forget that the story is supposed to be a cheeky riposte to Cutie Honey, Sailor Moon, Love Hina, and Negima!

The other great problem plaguing Is This a Zombie? is focus. From the opening pages of volume one, a reader might reasonably conclude that the main plot revolves around teenager Ayumu Aikawa’s quest to find out who killed him. The sudden arrival of Haruna, a self-proclaimed “magikewl girl” who wears a maid’s costume and carries a pink chainsaw, complicates the picture, however. By means never fully explained, Haruna’s powers are accidentally transferred to Ayumu, who undergoes a full Sailor Moon-style transformation into a dress-wearing, weapon-wielding magical girl in the presence of other supernatural beings.

If Haruna’s arrival provided genuine comic relief, or advanced the plot in a meaningful way, the resulting horror-magical girl mishmash might not seem so incongruous. The lame cross-dressing jokes, however, do almost nothing for the story except reveal Shinichi Kimura’s steadfast belief that if a man in a frilly dress is hilarious, then a male magical girl in a frilly dress is exponentially funnier. And if the guy-in-a-dress gags weren’t tired enough, Kimura gives Ayumu a full-fledged harem that includes Eu, a necromancer, and Sera, a vampire ninja. True to harem comedy form, the three girls live with Ayumu, clamoring for Ayumu’s attention, bickering with each other during meals, and seeking his approval on outfits. Whatever “comedy” results from their competition is of a meager sort; Kimura seems to think that that the girls’ catty put-downs have sufficient zing to generate laughs. (They don’t.)

The artwork does little to enhance the story’s comedic tone. Ayumu is as generic a hero as they come, with a carefully tousled mop of hair, a standard-issue high school uniform, and a nose that’s ever-so-slightly larger than the female characters’. Of the three magical girls, only Sera is drawn as a mature teen; Eu and Haruna each look about ten or eleven years old. The girls’ youthful appearance would be less unsettling if they kept their clothing on, but Haruna’s frequent costume failures put an icky, exploitative spin on a sight gag that’s clearly meant to be sexy.

The backgrounds and action scenes have the same perfunctory quality as the character designs. All of the settings — cemeteries, schoolrooms, apartments — look the same, a collection of simple, square shapes that barely establish the location. And while that means the fight scenes are lean and mean, unburdened with excessive detail, it also means that the combat seems to be taking place in an alternate universe from the main story, one that lacks any meaningful visual continuity with the other scenes.

I wish I could find something to like about Is This a Zombie?, as the story wants to be the Naked Gun of manga spoofs, a naughty but good-natured comedy that invites readers to laugh at tired tropes. The resulting story, however, feels a lot more like Epic Movie, a scattershot, semi-exploitative grab-bag of superhero jokes, Pirates of the Caribbean gags, and sword-and-sandal send-ups; substitute “zombie manga,” “harem comedies,” and “magical-girl manga” for the aforementioned genres, and you’d have Is This a Zombie? in all its awfulness.

Review copy provided by Yen Press. Volume one will be available on March 27th.


17 thoughts on “Is This A Zombie?, Vol. 1”

  1. Sara says:

    I don’t think I’d like this manga… Anyway, Haruna reminds me of Card Captor Sakura: both the her always hairstyle and the outfit from the opening ‘Catch You Catch Me’ are quite similar. Do you know if it is a reference? (Unfortunately, CCS has been an icon of lolicon through many dôjinshis. U_U) I hope it is just a coincidence.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruna’s appearance was influenced by the Cardcaptor Sakura anime and manga; Haruna and Sakura’s costumes are similar, even if their magical weapons of choice aren’t.

  2. Maty says:

    I’m new to manga, and don’t have a lot of resources to point me in the direction I’d like to take my manga ‘consumption’. Thanks for the honest reviews.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Hi, Maty—thanks for the feedback! Glad to know that negative reviews are useful, too. I’ve had some readers complain that I don’t seem to like anything!

  3. Manga Therapy says:

    It continues to boggle me why manga fans in Japan liked this series, especially the anime version. This is just High School of the Dead with Magical Girls.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Actually, Highschool of the Dead with magical girls sounds like more fun than Is This a Zombie?.

      1. Manga Therapy says:

        I think that would please Japanese otaku manga readers even more. 😀

  4. Aaron says:

    I suffered through five episodes of the Anime the manga sounds even worse and the Anime made me scream out “I wasted a half hour of my life on this!” It’s when titles like this get released that I want to bludgeon Yen Press’s lisinceing department to death with a copy of Omari Himari. Detours Ly why does this garbage get put out?! I realize people got to make money and the Manga publishers don’t run on rainbows and unicorn tears but seriously this just depessess me and really how much of a market is their for this? Was their really that much of a need for this title I mean really?!!

    (end of rant)

  5. Ahavah says:

    Aww, that’s not fair.

    I enjoyed the anime as a parody and a comedy. I love humorous looks at supernatural characters, especially immortal ones like Yakumo in 3×3 Eyes (Ayumu’s immortality has a similar “he can get hurt, but he can’t die!” aspect to it). It’s lack of focus disappointed me, but when it stuck with comedy, such as Ayumu awkwardly breakdancing to impress a girl he just met, his magical girl transformation sequences, and the girls’ antics with one another, (they settled an argument by playing Jenga!) and its surprisingly well-done action scenes, it was a lot of fun.

    The loli content was off-putting, but I found that it didn’t spoil the majority of the episodes. By the end, however, the show seemed to run out of plot by ignoring whatever plot (few) loose plot threads it had established.

    I don’t know how it will fill a sequel series, though.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Hi, Ahavah! Good to hear from someone who liked it—it’s always helpful to hear a dissenting opinion, even if it doesn’t persuade me to revisit the material.

      I admit that the loli elements were a deal-breaker for me, especially since they didn’t serve any kind of obvious satirical purpose. I also found the panty-shot-to-joke ratio too heavily canted towards the former — another deal-breaker for me. Not having seen the anime, I have no basis for comparing the two, so it’s hard for me to say if these elements are as present in the TV show. If they were, it’s doubtful I would have enjoyed it very much.

      1. Ahavah says:

        From your review, I got the impression that the loli pandering is either more frequent or less easy to ignore in the manga version than in the anime. I was invested in the comedy and the mystery of who killed Ayumu and his parents at the start. After the mystery was solved (halfway through the show, IIRC) I started to wonder what could keep the show running….It was only after I read some other reactions to the show that I realized that the “moe factor” takes over things. I assume that in the manga (to paraphrase many a pop song) it’s *all* about the moe! 😉

        1. Katherine Dacey says:

          Hi, Ahavah! In the first volume of the manga, the mystery gets lost in the mix; the authors are really busy trying to introduce all of the principle characters and their magical abilities, so there isn’t much discussion of how Ayumu died in the first place. There is tons of fanservice, however; the opening two pages alone (which are in full color) feature several close-ups of Haruna’s underwear as she falls from the sky.

  6. JRB says:

    “magikewl girl”

    That has to be the lamest excuse for translating a pun I have ever, ever seen. The original pun is “magical clothing girl” (which sounds just like “magical girl”), thus explaining why what’s-his-face has to wear drag to access his powers. Not that I had any interest in reading this mess anyway.

    For crossdressing magical girl parodies, I like Brocken Blood on JManga; plotless gag humor and random violence, and almost all the panty shots are of the guys. In their cute dresses, of course.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, JRB! I like the idea of equal-opportunity fanservice.

      1. JRB says:

        Oh, I don’t think Brocken Blood is equal-opportunity so much as pandering to guys who like pretty boys in dresses (which is a thing at the moment), but there’s a fair number of boobs too. It’s only intermittently skeevy, and frequently hilarious (if you find non-sequitur gags and over-the-top violence hilarious). I recommend it, if just for the “WTF?!” value.

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