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.
IS THIS A ZOMBIE?, VOL. 1 • STORY BY SHINICHI KIMURA, ART BY SACCHI, CHARACTERS BY KOBUICHI – MURIRIN • YEN PRESS • 172 pp. • RATING: MATURE (NUDITY, LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE)