Medium Matters: Sankarea, Undying Love

What is it with Japanese anime boys and kinky fetishes? First we get Yamazaki from Welcome to the NHK, who prefers his women 2-D, and now there’s Kuruya from Sankarea who gets off on zombie girls.

Maybe it’s like a defense mechanism. You know, “I’ll never get a real babe so I’ll lust for a woman I can never have.” Or maybe it’s just another mangaka looking for just something extra to make their love story different from everyone else’s.

So I resisted picking up or looking at Sankarea: Undying Love for a while. Because it has, you know, zombies in it. Supernatural beings of all sorts do little for me because, not being real, they can do whatever you want.

Now, I’ll admit I’ve just barely started it, but you know what? I’m liking what I’m seeing. I like the bones of this story. It could be a good one.

Let’s see how this is put together:

You’ve got Kuruya, pervert boy who has a thing for zombies.
Pervert boy has a cat named Bub (in the manga) or Babou (anime).
Pervert boy also has a cousin, Wanko, who has an astonishing pair of ahems in which pervert boy is not interested because she’s not a zombie
Then there’s Rea Sanka, who is her family’s princess
And her father, who is an actual, real pervert who has a big thing for his little girl

This all comes together quickly: When Bub/Babou is killed in an accident, Kuruya starts looking for a way to bring him back. Trying to escape her father, Rea helps him. Her father finds out and punishes her again to the point where she tries to commit suicide by drinking Kuruya’s zombifying potion, but alas, it fails. But her father pushes her down a hill, she is impaled on a tree limb, and – SURPRISE! – she is now zombiefied and Kuruya’s dream girl. Oh, and Wanko shows off her impressive talents, but that’s not plot relevant

Okay, those are the working parts.

What I found interesting was that the two creators, the mangaka and the anime director, took those same basic parts and put them together differently.

They’re telling the same story. Not similar stories, the same story.

But within that story they found different ways to tell it.

That’s fundamental to writing: You can tell the same story, say, “Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy gets Girl,” as many different ways as there are writers writing it. It’s not the story, it’s the way it’s told that makes it YOUR story.

Boy gets Girl: Kuruya (left) and Rea Sanka. You can tell she’s zombiefied by the eyes.

When you start with the manga, like I did, the story opens on the first day of school. The boys are checking out the girls, especially the class beauty, Rea. But Kuruya’s not interested. He’s got something else going on … he has to work on his zombie potions because Bub is dead, hit by a car.

As he’s working in an abandoned hotel, he hears Rea outside, regretting her life as the family princess. They talk, and he enlists her help in potion making. A key ingredient is some kind of poison plant, unknown since that part of the formula is missing. She supplies her with some hydrangea, which is not only poisonous but also on her family crest. Kuruya’s granddad – who appears in one frame – is mentioned as an aside, since he munches hydrangea leaves as snacks. (Readers are warned NOT TO TRY THIS AT HOME.)

Oh, and she sneaks herself a dose of the potion, because, you know, it has hydrangea in it, so ipso facto it must be poisonous.

Time out for Wanko’s goodies.

Oops. Rea’s pop sees her with Kuruya. She goes from grounded to double secret grounded (it’s a LOT creepier than that. Rea’s dad is one sick mofo … and wannabe dofo). And Pop orders Kuruya to be CASTRATED for daring to speak to his daughter. Despondent, she drinks the potion. Nothing happens.

Back to Kuruya … BUB IS ALIVE, for a given value of alive. Well, at least he’s undead.

Back to Rea … she and Pops quarrel. Bub/Babou jumps Pops, Pops goes to unsave the cat and knocks Rea over a cliff. She gets impaled on a tree branch. Dead dead dead.

Nope. She drank the potion. Undead. BOOM. This is the inciting incident of the romance plot. Because, right? He’s hot for zombies and she’s a zombie! (Oh, and she likes him, too.)

See it? It has all the moving parts in it. It got us from Point A to Point B.

The anime is CONSTRUCTED in a very different way. Before the opening credits Kuruya is working on his potion in the abandoned hotel. He sees Rea in the courtyard below, screaming out her frustrations.

Note that does the same NARRATIVE job as the opening scene of the manga: It introduces us to both Kuruya and Rea. Right? The beginning of a narrative: Introduce the characters and setting, and hook the user. But it does it in a much more intriguing way. Who is the girl and why is she screaming? Hook.

Now, we’re introduced to Kuruya’s zombie kink and also to his home life, where he has a loving family instead of just a grandfather with dementia. That’s a change that doesn’t affect the story at this point. It’s also a flashback, because we get to see how happy they all are that Babou/Bub is part of their family, so in this version Babou starts the story alive.

Kuruya’s family starts to play a role in Volume 2 of the manga. Here they’re dragged forward to the beginning.

Anyway, happy family? Not for long. The cat is hit by a car.

This sets Kuruya on his path to finding a potion, so that process starts at the beginning as opposed to being joined in the middle as in the manga.

Daytime, though, he goes to school, where he and his chums check out the girls from the girls’ school, a scene that parallels the first scene of the manga, except that when he spots Rea he knows she’s the girl he saw being angry about how her life sucks.

This is another establishing shot. We saw his family life and now we see his school life.

That night she’s back outside the hotel and they partner up. From there the anime pretty much follows the same path as the manga: hydrangea, potion, Babou/Bub back, Pops freaks out, OOPS!, Rea undead.

Oh and we get to see Wanko’s goodies somewhere in there.

But you see what they’ve done there: the anime’s director rearranged the opening to do two things:

One is to create the mood of the story right at the start. Instead of being a school kid eyeing the babes in scene one, Kuruya’s already in full mad scientist role when he first sees Rea. That’s meant as a hook, and I think it works.

Remember, one difference between anime and manga is that it’s easier to turn away from an anime. When you buy a manga and read it, the story can start a little slower because THEY ALREADY HAVE YOUR MONEY. You have an investment, literally, in the story. Anime is on the TV for basically nothing; if it doesn’t hook you right off, hey, there’s always something else to watch.

So “mad scientist and screaming girl” is a lot more visually arresting and more active than boys standing around checking out girls.

The second thing they did was pull Kuruya’s family right out front. Apart from that one frame of his grandfather in volume one of the manga his family doesn’t appear. But in the anime Kuruya has not only school chums but also parents, a sibling, and, of course, the grandfather. And a live cat, although Babou is soon a dead cat.

I think that’s intended to integrate them into the story better. I’ve only thumbed through volume 2 of the manga but Kuruya’s family is all over it, especially grandfather, who despite his dementia appears to know something about zombie potions. So instead of having them appear out of nowhere in the middle of the story (not the physical middle, the narrative middle), the anime writers pulled them into the beginning.

Plus, you know, live cat turned into dead cat … no pathos there, nuh huh.

Each contains all the key elements, and in fact contains them all in about the same order. But the anime open is restructured to be more ACTIVE visually and emotionally, which is something anime does better than manga.

That was fun. Now I’ll go watch/read the rest of both. Or maybe not. As of volume 2 the manga’s turning into one of those “Boy is too dumb to go after his dream girl even though she wants him” stories. Brother, those are tiresome! Plus it looks like they are setting up an Eternal Triangle between Kuruya, Rea, and Wanko. Zzzzz.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

8 thoughts on “Medium Matters: Sankarea, Undying Love

  1. Wanko is best girl. I’ll die on that hill.

    Also, I’ve not read the manga, but that’s an interesting observation about the opening and how the anime has to grab you from the start and keep you there. Obviously, that’s why we have Wanko.

    Also Rea’s parents… they are crazy! Well, her father’s mental. Her mother’s just a neglected drunk.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right: Rea loves him because he frees her, but Wanko has always loved him even though she knows him. But I imagine that if the love triangle resolves in the manga he’ll end up with Rea, who is a much more traditional Japanese “good girl.”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. He definitely gave her the strength to be able to escape from her family so there’s that. Also, Wanko is the childhood friend and therefore doesn’t stand a chance, no matter how perfect she is.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It’s funny because I feel like Western storytelling has made a thing of the protagonist realizing that the one they should have been with is the one that’s been with them since the beginning, only they had to fail spectacularly with someone else before they realize it.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yes, “The Girl Next Door” is hard-wired into our culture for some reason. If you’ve seen The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Asuka is Shinji’s “Girl Next Door.” The Western trope is that he eventually finds that she’s the one, but not in that manga. It’s clear that relational tropes differ between our culture and theirs.

        The only instance I can think of of “The Girl Next Door” winning in anime is Toradora, but Taiga’s not the girl Ryuji grew up next to; she’s just planted there late in life.

        Dang, I love this sociological stuff! Thanks for pointing it out.

        Liked by 2 people

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