The living dead wear dresses in 'Magical Girl Apocalypse'

The current cultural interest in zombies seems to be, like the creatures themselves, deathless. Rather than abating, the trend simply finds new ways and places to appear, whether that's Archie Comics' entry into horror, a new take on DC's old war titles, or manga-ka Kentaro Sato's bizarre Magical Girl Apocalypse.

A recent import from Seven Seas that gives the zombie-apocalypse scenario the unusual agent of a magical school girl, the series is perhaps well-timed, given the resurgence of interest in Sailor Moon, most Americans' first and strongest introduction to the Japanese trope, that has accompanied her new television show.

Sato's comic is an odd one in how familiar it is ... save for that one big innovation. It's not even the first manga I've read about a zombie apocalypse that starts at a Japanese high school; Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato's superior Highschool of the Dead has a similar premise, and much of this first volume features scenes and character types almost identical to those in HOTD's first volume.

That isn't to say it's a retread, however; it differs in several significant ways — it's far gorier, it's less interested in fan service (and some of what's there seems almost to be a parody of the ludicrously endowed characters that appear in some manga, including HOTD), it's less interested in characterization (the cast expanding only to shrink almost immediately in a series of gory deaths) and, of course, there's that magical girl.

Protagonist Kii Kogami is your typical, completely unremarkable high-schooler, going through the motions of yet another boring day of school. During a test, he happens to look out the window and see a little girl in elaborate black-and-white clothes standing at the gate of the school, holding in her hand some sort of weaponized wand, in the shape of a bomb, with rockets and dynamite attached.

When the petty, aggressive hall monitor-type approaches her—"Is that ... some sort of cosplay?" — she silently touches her wand to his head and blows it off in a messy explosion.

Thinking he's seeing things, Kogami excuses himself to the restroom to get a grip on himself, but returning to classr he finds the Gothic Lolita slaughtering everyone in the room, like a little comet of gore.

The only word she seems capable of speaking is "Magical," over and over.

Seeing the girl he has a crush on cornered, Kogami rushes the magical girl and bashes in her head with a baseball bat, seemingly killing her. Just as the girl he loves is about to thank him, the magical girl raises her wand and blows the girl's head off — immediately nipping in the bud the kinds of events that might happen in other manga, like Kogami and the object of his crush spending the rest of the narrative trying to survive together and gradually falling love.

And then things get weird. Kogami pulps the magical girl's head, so that it's nothing more than a black, grisly pool — this being black and white, the color of blood is simply thickly inked black, making the gore at least somewhat less over-powering. But she leaps up, magical star sparkles appear over her neck, and her head reappears.

Her victims start to rise, too, each transformed into a killer zombie repeating the word "Magical." The one difference between these undead and your average undead? They all now wear black dresses, similar to that of the girl who killed them.

Kogami, a bullied former friend named Tsukune, and a handful of survivors make it out of the school, only to see things are much worse than they thought. A giant pentagram has appeared in the sky above the city, and after a few seconds, it shatters, raining more monstrous magical girls from the sky.

By book's end, the few survivors Kogami has picked up head for and secure themselves in a staple setting of zombie fiction, thanks to 1978's Dawn of the Dead: an abandoned shopping mall.

It's difficult to tell to what degree Sato's comic, originally titled Mahō Shōjo of the End, is a parody of zombie stories and to what degree it's just another celebration of the subgenre. Certainly there are elements of both parody and fidelity, and some truly, if horrifyingly, creative ways of killing large groups of people, as additional magical girls appear.

Ultra-violence is still ultra-violence, however, and, whatever the intention, it's easy to imagine different readers applauding the degree of it simply because they like that sort of thing, and others as reading it so over the top as to be funny (it's the sort of thing where, when a character gets his head cut off, blood erupts like Old Faithful).

Given that the zombies wear frilly dresses, and preeminent horror creator Kazuo Umezu cameos as the victim of a zombie attack, I'm assuming Sato is leaning pretty heavily toward parody, but most of the jokes come from the surreal mash-up of sparkly magic with blood-soaked living dead, and subversion of expectations, making this a tough book to recommend to all but the most strong-stomached horror enthusiasts.

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