I know that a final in-depth glance at Sankarea has been long overdue, especially by my otherwise loosely standards of puctuality, but I like to finish what I start, and I think a fun weekend at Anime Expo is a fair enough exchange for actually writing about shows on time. Ordinarily if the final episode was complete crap I would have ignored it in favor of getting a running start on the coming season, but I’ll be damned if Sankarea doesn’t pull through again with a poignant, if abrupt finale.
There are so many reasons to crucify the ending of Sankarea, or the show as a whole for that matter, and set its splayed corpse as a warning for all prospective writers to see. Most grievously it ends on a terrible cliffhanger, one that most assuredly points toward a second season, though there are so many other niggling things that take away from the show’s whole that I can’t in good faith recommend it. But at the same time I can’t help but marvel at how such a decent, if unspectacular manga ended up with as visually creative animated adaptation as it did. Most of all, I’m surprised how well the relationship between Rea and Chihiro was handled in the finale, far and away different from Sankarea’s almost cringe-inducing romcom antics.
Since Rea’s zombification, there’s always been the question of “What now?” hanging over the series. First it was resolving Rea’s problems with her overprotective father, then it was finding ways to keep her from becoming moe jerky, and then it finally came to the logical conclusion of finding ways for her to resume her normal school life with the slight problem of not having a pulse. What Sankarea does is, ultimately, question the selflessness of Chihiro’s actions post-zombification; it asks whether his intentions are truly for her to live a relatively normal, stress-free few years, or if he’s motivated by zombie lust to keep her all to himself.
What adds another layer of intrigue to the dilemma is Chihiro doesn’t even know which side of the debate he falls on. When he gets news from Rea that she wants to resume a normal school life, he’s visibly distressed and confused by the situation. In the end, in a bid to keep her safe for his own sake and as much as he doesn’t want to, there’s a possibility that he’ll take the same thorny path as Danichiro in keeping her safe at the cost of her remaining humanity. But before the show looks at this internal conflict more in depth, a zombie-dazed Rea tackles Chihiro to the ground and starts gnawing him, ending the episode.
Sankarea brought to light several brilliant characterizations in the entirety of its run, helped in part by wonderful visual direction. However, none of them aside from Danichiro’s obsession with his daughter were developed to a large extent, and even that was awkward at best. While the entirety of the previous episode was one big miss after another as far as development and mood go, most of the series at least made an effort at leaving how the characters would act up to the audience; either that, or give them that final push to read the manga. Still, the anime sets itself apart from the manga in many regards, at least from what I’ve read. I’d hesitate to just leave the anime with the description of “having potential,” but that’s pretty much the best way to sum up where it goes wrong.
No matter how many interesting plot threads it weaves together, none of them mean anything if they aren’t built on or used for the sake of tangible character development. It’s a show that doesn’t manage to satisfy, no matter how great the direction is, and the fact that it’s most likely for a sequel hook only makes things worse. It’s a real shame, because this indeed had the potential to be one of the best shows of the year, instead of just good. That’s Sankarea in a nutshell—Good, intelligent, but nowhere near approaching excellence.