Sankarea didn’t have the best pedigree when it came to forming expectations. Studio DEEN had recently drove the Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni series (a similar supernatural and slice of life mashup) into the ground by releasing a string of underwhelming OVAs and Director Shinichi Omata (credited Mamoru Hatakeyama) was a few years removed from the success of Arakawa Under the Bridge. Throw in the tiresome zombie concept and I had already given this series a premature burial. Little did I know, Sankarea was a tiny gem waiting to be watched.
TV; 12 Episodes
Genre: Comedy, Ecchi, Horror,Romance, Shounen, Supernatural
Producers: Studio DEEN
Chihiro Furuya is a boy with an… odd fetish. His room is littered with tokens of his love: a lamp shaped like a rotting hand, a sprawling array of undead plushies and figurines, and a rack of zombie DVDs he has watched countless times. His ultimate fantasy: to have an undead girlfriend.
The story follows his chance encounter with such a girl and the questions that arise in response to his strange desires. It becomes more than just a matter of making love work between the living and the dead but everything else that feeling entails. Ideals of family, strength, courage and identity all come to bear as the protagonists struggle with their emotions. More impressively amidst the exploration of such themes, the series never forgets what it is essentially trying to do, weave a tale of young people coming to terms with young love.
Sankarea knows it is essential to keep a cast small for a short length anime (11 to 14 episodes). This gives this band of quirky characters enough breathing room to be fleshed out. While select members of the cast do get their own episodes, such as an alcoholic stepmother and a deadpan sister, the focus never strays too far from our zombie addicted hero and his undead girlfriend. Their relationship and the uncertainties they feel because of it are believable. It’s not difficult to identify with their insecurities even though I’m pretty sure none of us have had to deal with a resurrected significant other. But we’ve all had to manage with being in relationships that might not work and reconcile our doubts about the future.
The series takes its time to tell its story. Though much might not be happening each episode the series keeps its pulse with witty dialogue and brisk writing. Rather than spelling out revelations for us, Sankarea makes use of subtle visual cues and cinematography to do the talking instead. Every so often the main plot takes a break to bring one of the supporting cast into the fold. These sidetracks are welcome as they expand on the relationships of the characters and give some much needed context to the tale.
Visually the series isn’t especially noteworthy. The animation is simple and the character design is quaint. Aurally it fares a bit better. The closing theme Above Your Hand by Annabel gently tugs at your heart as it slowly builds into a ghostly choral wave. The Opening theme on the other hand is definitely a grower as the child-like vocals can be a bit grating.
Production aside, Sankarea only misses a few steps. It balances its funny moments with the tender ones while never losing sight of the romance at hand. It layers on the folds of its story, building it bit by bit. Before you know it you’re at the end. It’s in the final scenes you realize how much has actually happened and how far along these characters have come. There are no startling epiphanies, just gentle nudges into lucidity. Many will overlook this anime in the wave of great Spring releases but its understated style of storytelling is something that should not be missed.
Story : 9/10
Characters : 8/10
Pacing : 9/10
Production : 5/10
Entertainment : 8/10
Overall : 78 / 100