Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: Zombie Loan

Back a number of years ago, I discovered Zombie Loan in English on the shelves of Borders books. (Borders could use a good zombie loan right about now.) There were only 2 volumes out at the time, and the story seemed fairly sadistic, so I decided to not bother following it any further. More recently, though, I noticed that chapters 80 and 81 had been scanilated and uploaded to Manga Fox, so I went through them to see if the story had gotten any better. Turns out that the series ended last May, and the final volume, 13, is now out. There's a break in the fan scans between chapters 74 and 78) and the last four chapters haven't been uploaded yet, but that's just a matter of time. On the other hand, if you're in the U.S., BUY THE MANGA!

The artist duo, Peach-Pit, might be better known to western fans as the creators of DearS, Shugo Chara! and Rosen Maiden. PP is made up of two female artists, and their works tend to be very flowery, with feminine-looking male characters and fairly sexual encounters of both the same and the opposite sexes (nothing overt or hard core, though. Mostly, it's just mildly erotic.) There's a gothic feel to some of the clothing outfits worn by a few of the characters, with lots of frills and lace. The art may not appeal to everyone.


(Image taken from Manga Fox. Used here for review purposes only.)

Zombie Loan starts out rather shakily, with sharp-featured, detail-less character designs, cartoony overreactions and slapstick humor. The background artwork is generally very polished and realistic, but the fight sequences tend to the "posed stance" variety (instead of the characters actually fighting, the panels consist of the characters in a freeze-frame pose in the middle of an attack). Things do improve over time, but the characters continue to look a little too sketchy even at the end at times.

The story is a mash-up of ideas used by other artists, and sometimes it feels kind of derivative. Occasionally, the backstory exposition doesn't make a lot of sense and I just skip over it, but part of that may be because the fan translators aren't very good. On the other hand, I'm just following this title to see how things are going to turn out, so I don't care so much about internal consistency.

Initially, Zombie Loan starts off as just a tongue-in-cheek, half-scary monster hunter romp. The villain turns out to be predictably cliche, but is fortunately pretty quickly defeated. At this point, we have two male high school students, Chika and Shito, that have died and purchased their lives back from a "zombie loan company" (their corpses had gotten mangled, and the guy that reconstructed their bodies got their right hands mixed up, forcing the two boys to always fight together as a team). They hunt others that have died and turned into unauthorized zombies or monsters to collect the bounties for paying off their loan. The heroine and primary story focus is Michiru, a timid girl that can see the black rings around the necks of those that should have died - the zombie targets that Chika and Shito are hunting. The three of them team up to make zombie hunting easier, and from here the plot twists become a bit too erratic and bizarre to be taken at face value. Suffice it to say that the unauthorized zombies are being deliberately manufactured in order to overthrow the rigid hierarchy being imposed by "the other world". In this universe, rather than there being a heaven, we have a kind of video game scenario where the "other world" is made up of data that can be erased or reordered to create new beings. One of the beings designated to maintain the order of our world, a member of the Council of 7 from the River Development Department, is also the head of the Zombie Loan (AKA: Z-Loan) company. (Side note, dead souls are carried across an equivalent of the River Styx by Ferrymen, who are governed by the Council.) Naturally, Michiru has to be more than what meets the eye, and towards the end we find out that she's a critical element to the operations of both worlds.

As readers we're expected to swallow a huge grain of salt with Zombie Loan, and our suspended state of belief gets stretched kind of out of shape. In a way I guess that's because Peach-Pit isn't really trying to tell a linear story ala DearS. ZL is more like a costume drama in the vein of Rosen Maiden. If you just look at the pictures for the outfit designs and occasional erotic setups, you'll be fine.

Summary: An orphaned girl who can see the black rings on the necks of the walking dead gets caught up in the antics of two zombie hunters working to pay off the loans that have brought them back to life. Sketchy facial features, convoluted storyline, nice clothes. Recommended to fans of goth-loli cosplay.

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