Sankarea, Vol. 3Created by Mitsuru HattoriKodansha Comics, 160ppRating: Older Teens (16+)
An odd mashup of horror and romantic comedy, Mitsuru Hattori's Sankarea tells the tale of Chihiro Furuya, a teen whose obsession with zombies has recently led him into experimenting in the necromantic arts, and Sanka Rea, a rich and sheltered school girl who Furuya befriends and who aids him in his first real attempt at creating a zombie. When the potion seemingly fails, Rea returns home and quickly gets on her father's bad side. After the fight she drinks some of the zombie potion she secretly stole in a suicide attempt, only to discover that the potion didn't fail at all.. it works just fine! Now a zombie Rea moves in with Furuya and his family and is determined to enjoy everything she never had a chance to while properly alive!
Sankarea, Vol. 3 picks up from there and introduces further complications into the already tangled web that makes up Furuya and Rea's lives as they find themselves under the scrutiny of a young foreign girl with ties to Furuya's grandfather. A girl who's fully aware of Rea's zombie nature and who just may hold the key to preserving her slowly decaying body! Meanwhile romantic triangles simmer beneath the surface as the duo's friends and relatives begin to deal with the new status quo!
This is one of those strange, quirky reads that takes two disparate genres and mash them together. Sometimes this works, while at other times it doesn't. The zombie aspect, while present, isn't quite what we in the West might think of a traditional zombie story. It's closer to the idea of someone being bitten by a zombie, while we watch the virus over take them. For example, Rea maintains her old personality and consciences despite her corpse like state. Likewise she currently has no hunger for human flesh, instead she eats hydrangea leaves to help maintain her zombiefied state. This volume, with the introduction of the blonde woman, Kurumiya Darin Arciento, does touch upon that aspect of zombie lore and in doing so sets up greater stakes beyond that of maintaining Rea's human like appearance, but it doesn't really feel like an immediate threat. For the most part the volume occupies itself with the developing relationships and on more than one occasion Sankarea feels more harem manga than horror manga. The most noticeable and stand out horror scene comes courtesy of Rea practicing a form of mediation that involves sewing. There's a moment where she loses her focus and accidentally stabs the needle through her finger, and Mitsuru Hattori takes the opportunity to focus on her hand and her fingers, giving us a clear view of every tiny scratch and nick that's been inflicted up on them and how each one remains unclosed. It's a small moment, but one that was incredibly creepy and did a lot to remind readers just how inhuman she is, and it lends a dark undertone to the comedic hijinks which really dominate the manga.
Mitsuru Hattori's artwork is a bit middling and doesn't really do much to stand out or enhance the horror aspects of the series. It looks fairly bland and generic with no really memorable visual moments or designs. Hattori does his best to differentiate the characters through facial shapes and odd hair designs. Furuya, for example, is sporting a hair cut that lends itself to the cat like chibi figure Hattori often turns him into for comical affect. Meanwhile a supporting character sports a rather bizarre and ungainly looking oval face that's virtually unique to him. The stand out visual, the close up of Rea's hand and fingers, was mentioned above and that's really the highlight for me. Admittedly there are a few other visuals moments tied into Rea's zombified state which are clearly supposed to be visual highlights, but Hattori seemingly plays them for laughs which undercuts any oomph they should have. Rea, for example, loses an arm in a tree at on point. It's a rather major moment and one that should even further hammer home how much her body has changed and how inhuman she is, but instead it leads to all sorts of comedic shots of her trying to reach it and large "CENSORED" bars over the wound. It just undercuts the horror, shock and emotional impact of the moment, and that's something that seems to occur far too often in this book.
Sankarea is an interesting little book that might not appeal to everyone. It's full of comedy and there are undertones and hints of incestuous relationships, necrophilia and more, though they're all buried fairly deep at this point. It really shines when it deals with Furuya's determination to save Rea from decay and further zombification fallout, or when showing the little ways in which Rea's body is no longer normal despite all outward appearances. Unfortunately these feel few and far between the humorous over reactions, chibi Furuya and burgeoning love triangles. There's potential though, and hopefully as the series goes on it'll find a slightly better balance between the horror, comedy and romantic aspects and turn into something really amazing.
Sankarea, Vol. 3 will be available on October 19th from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.