To quote another anime, “What, exactly, is the dark emotion swirling inside me?” This anime was wholly disappointing, especially in light of the first two episodes. If nothing else, the writing is notable for knowing exactly how to kill a mood. Being charitable, out of 13 episodes, about 3 of them were solid. The reason it’s in Poor rather than Bad is because it seemed redeemable – it had some glimmer, some spark of humanity left within it. That said, to keep with the zombie theme, my advice is as follows: Aim for the head, that thing is no longer human.
Purpose: Bad. To be more accurate, the purpose was haphazard at best. It was clear that the author had several different things he wanted to do with the subject matter, so he tried to throw them all together at different points. What happened was that different plotlines, character, and world development were taken up and then abandoned when it was convenient, only to reappear later. If they arranged the material differently, perhaps along plot themes, it would have been a competent anime. As it was, they froze plotlines already in progress to create or attend to other plotlines with a wholly different character and feel. The final impression was that the anime itself was a zombie – lively at first, but losing pieces as it shambled forward.
Characters: Poor. The characters weren’t Bad because they had a small spark – something there that represented potential. The main problem was the serious lack of consistency within each character. Many anime mistake mental problems for character depth. This anime mistook lack of consistency for depth. The lack of consistency stemmed from the use of plot as a substitute for character development. In other words, the characters were altered to more closely conform to expected plot trajectories, often ignoring previous development. This is different from solid development because a good character will be impacted by plot, yet retain consistency even as they change. For the good character, plot then becomes a part of the character, helping to move that character forward. For Sankarea, the characters were, instead, wholly part of the plot. The result was that the characters were cannibalized when it was convenient to move to a different plot line.
World: Weak. The first two, maybe three episodes, had a strong feel for the world. They even managed to set up the basic zombie part in a way that made it feel believable. As the anime went on, the world kept becoming more transparent, then inconsistent. Like the characters, the world became the victim of plot, acting as a substitute for proper development. Inconsistencies simply appeared and then disappeared when convenient to do so. Perhaps a good example of this is how the “care of zombies” issue floats around at random.
Plot: Bad. The main culprit behind several of the anime’s weaknesses. Really, the plot was like a vampire, sucking the life out of everything else to keep on going (pardon the mixed horror genre metaphors). It’s hard to exactly pin down what the plot was, because there were several different things flying about. You had a really dark, disturbing plotine, a “care and feeding of zombie” slice of life, a high school love triangle, and a “his family’s secrets” plotline going about. While some combination of any two of these could make a good anime, having all of them in there undermined each other. Strong anime that contain several themes have one main plot theme, and other supporting plot points. This is an approach that treats the sub-plots as facets of the main plot – you learn more about the main plot even through the other points. However, it requires recognition of what the main plot is. In Sankarea, rather than supporting a main theme, each point was treated like a main plot in itself – effectively 4 main plots. As a consequence they couldn’t spend enough time on each of those lines to make them properly interesting. Rather, they undermined each other. Clear evidence of this is how they abandon plot points mid stream to do other things and even leave at least one plot completely unresolved.
Storytelling: Bad. As I mentioned earlier, the writers really know how to kill a mood. Every time, after episode 3, they managed to build good moments, they promptly killed it with the interjection of something completely irrelevant. It was very obvious that they didn’t understand the basics of timing – they couldn’t read the mood. One of the clearest examples is the use of fanservice. Both nonsensical and haphazard in execution, it really served little place in the anime. This goes doubly in light of how disturbing the first two episodes were because it placed the viewer in the awkward place of being almost the same as “Mr creepy.”
On a broader note, the style of storytelling changed wildly, often to the detriment of the anime. Episodes 1, 2, 9, and 13 (OVA) used character-based perspective storytelling. Everything else was more about following the characters around, only occasionally hearing their thoughts. What this did was de-emphasize the characters for much of the anime, instead focusing on their actions. Episode 10 was almost of a hybrid in this respect – somewhat character-based perspective and somewhat following around. Thus, episode 10 was only partially competent because, while interesting, it was more of an information/ backstory dump than what should have been character and world development.
Pace: Weak. Again, the first two, maybe 3 episodes had a really good pace. Everything else was pretty bad. Since the plot was in pieces, the pace had to wildly change to try to keep everything together.