~by Mitsuru Hattori
Mitsuru Hattori's Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 was originally published in Japan in 2000. The manga was licensed in English by Kodansha Comics and released in 2013. The English release caused a small amount of controversy among some fans of the series as Kodansha used a significantly different cover than was used for the original Japanese edition. Personally, I like the English cover which emphasizes the series' horror and zombie elements, downplaying the romantic comedy aspects. Granted, this does mean that unsuspecting readers unfamiliar with Sankarea may be surprised by the series' less serious nature and fanservice. To be honest, I wasn't planning on reading Sankarea; lately, I've become a little burned out on zombie fiction, even if the manga promised to be an atypical take on the subgenre. But when a review copy of the first volume unexpectedly showed up on my doorstep, I figured I may as well give Sankarea a try.
Furuya Chihiro is obsessed with zombies. In fact, he loves them. When his beloved pet cat Bub is hit by a car, he decides to try to reanimate the corpse by following the instructions in an obscure tome he found. Unfortunately, the book is falling apart and difficult to read; Chihiro's attempts at bringing Bub back to life have all ended in failure. He's about to give up when he meets Sanka Rea, the daughter of a prominent local family who insists on helping him. She also makes him promise to bring her back as a zombie should she ever die. It's an odd request, but Rea feels trapped in a life where she is expected to be the perfect daughter. Chihiro and Rea develop an odd sort of friendship as they try to revive Bub, but it becomes even stranger when it looks like Chihiro might actually need to make good on his promise to her. He might not have much interest in the living, but the undead are another matter entirely.
Sankarea leans more towards dark romantic comedy than it does towards horror. The creepiest part of the manga actually isn't dead cats or Chihiro's zombie fetish, it's Rea's over-controlling and abusive father. Fortunately, their relationship doesn't seem to be played for laughs. It does, however, serve as the catalyst for Rea's despair and her desired and ultimate transformation. Wanting to become a zombie is an absurd way to escape her circumstances, which is where some of the humor in Sankarea comes from even if Rea's situation isnt' all that funny in and of itself. Chihiro, too, is rather absurd and a bit of a space case. Although he admits what he's doing is shady at best, it becomes very clear that he hasn't thoroughly considered all of the implications of bringing someone or something back from the dead. Since he's such a zombie aficionado, I would think he would be a bit more concerned, but it doesn't seem that he has put much thought into what would happen should he actually succeed. But this, too, is a source of amusement.
It's probably not too surprising, but Chihiro and Rea are easily the most interesting characters in Sankarea, mostly because they are a bit odd and just a little off from what would be considered normal. (The undead little Bub is pretty great, too, though.) Chihiro's older cousin Ranko does at least share a passing interest in zombies with him, but after only one volume it seems that she's included in the series to provide a little extra fanservice more than anything else. Yasutaka and Mogi, two of Chihiro's friends and classmates, haven't gotten to do much yet either except be astounded at how their weirdo buddy somehow manages to make friends with all these cute girls and amazed that it hasn't occurred to him to care. Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 is an unusual take on zombies with a few nods to some of the classics. It has yet to be seen just how much trouble Chihiro's abnormal but earnest proclivities will get him in. I'll admit, I actually am a little curious to find out.