Kore wa Zombie desu ka – the genre mash-up genre
March 31, 2011
This post covers Kore wa Zombie desu ka? (“This is a zombie, huh?” hearafter, Zombie?), an example of the Genre Mash-up genre. Every season brings at least one series that features a mocking self-referential appropriation of conventions. I’ll return to conventions and the notion of genre after the jump. I also look at Zombie? as an example of the Genre Mash-up genre, and conclude with the question of whether someone would enjoy watching it (summary: while not great, it has enjoyable moments).
Let me start by unpacking the term “convention” a bit. There are many terms with related meaning, for example “trope”, which comes from literary analysis, or “lick”, which is sometimes used amongst musicians to describe not only a specific melodic concept, but also an indicator of genre, such as “country lick” or “blues lick”. In anime, there are many different types of conventions, such as conventions of character, setting, event, as well as conventions specifically supported by the moving picture medium. A well known example of the latter is the “transformation sequence”; we might call it a “magical girl lick”, because when the animation producer uses it, they are signaling for the audience to think of the magical girl genre.
There is a special genre that operates by appropriating conventions from different genres and mashing them together. Often this can be a vehicle for parody, or at least comedy. Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (season 1) showed that this sort of genre mash-up could produce more than an aggregation of otaku bait.
It is easy to imagine this genre mash-up genre handled poorly, but it has some strengths. For example, the use of character types and standard plot devices has long been used in dramatic traditions (see for example, the Commedia dell’ arte), where the “stock elements” freed the actors up to improvise (offering fresh interpretations of well-known types). In anime, use of these well known character types sets up expectations that can be used (whether by reinforcement, or by contradiction) to give an alternate life to a character. Note that this is not merely ripping off a character and inserting it into a new show. The impact depends on the viewer being able to make the connection in order to generate the expectations.
So, does Zombie? deliver more than the collection of its parts? I would say it does. At times the show is very clever, this is apparent in the very first episode when the show’s take on magical girls is revealed. Also, some of the characters were well handled. In particular, Haruna (kind of a combination of Haruhi Suzumiya and Cardcaptor Sakura) had some depth to her portrayal, and this offered a compelling alternate life to her character type predecessors.
Unfortunately the overall storyline falls apart, so the show does not live up to its evident potential. If you like the sound of the Genre Mash-up genre, by all means give this show a chance, but be prepared for a disappointing second half, that wavers between being overly serious and not quite taking itself serious enough.