Memento Mori: How ZombieLand Saga Teaches Us About Our Life, Death, and Living
Studio MAPPA’s Zombie Land Saga (ZLS) is a hilarious, interesting, and refreshing take on two separate yet equally bland and tired genres: zombie horror and idol anime. The fusion of these two genres, along with tackling mature themes such as PTSD, unethical practices within the entertainment industry, depression, gender identity, and of course, death, Zombie Land Saga became a sleeper hit during the Fall 2018 anime season.
With the success of Zombie Land Saga, it’s no surprise that MAPPA is working on a second season of the show, churning out merchandise online, the voice actresses performing songs from the anime throughout Japan, fans globally are giving their own creative spin on the characters through cosplay and fanart, and making analysis videos on the series.
While roaming through the ZLS fandom side of the internet for analysis videos and essays, there was one thing that caught me by surprise: the lack of discussion around the overarching theme of death of the series. Now, I get it: death is a sensitive topic, but I feel that it’s something we should talk about when it comes to this amazing series.
It might sound strange to you readers and listeners out there, but ZLS reminds me of how we need to appreciate life and respect death – not fear it.
Death Has No (Age) Limit
“Death is not a hunter unbeknownst to its prey.
One is always aware that it lies in wait.
Though life is merely a journey to the grave, it must not be undertaken without hope.”
-Igor, Persona 3
Behind the (dark) humor of Zombieland Saga lies tragedy. The tragedy of seven girls who lives were cut short before reaching adulthood; with Lily being the youngest (aged 12), and, if we were to exclude the 20-something Tae, Junko as the oldest (aged 19). Like all youthful girls, Lily, Sakura, Yuugiri, Ai, and Junko were all youths filled with hopes, dreams and ambitions – only to die early deaths.
As a titan of the great idol wars of the 2000s, the prideful and unmovable Ai, along her group Iron Frill, dominated the music charts. No other idol group could reach their level of success. Each venue hall they performed at sold out: proof of their musical superiority. Yet, on the night of her biggest concert of her blooming career, Ai’s life was cut short when she (foolishly) stuck her hand out towards the sky during a thunderstorm (Iron Grill were performing at an open air arena). Ai lived for a few minutes in excruciating pain and suffering before dying on arrival at the hospital.
As one of the founding mothers of the 1980s Idol boom, Junko graced television screens and concert halls throughout Japan with her presence. Her powerful voice and air of mystery would lead her to nationwide popularity and stardom. Sold out concerts. Highly rated TV specials. High volume record sales. Nothing was impossible for the rising starlet. However, her rise to the top came to an abrupt, violent end. While on tour, the engines of the plane she was on malfunctioned midair; causing it to plummeted to the Earth.
Everyone on board was killed – Junko included.
Despite lacking proper training, Lily made it her mission to become an child actress to make her TV loving papa proud. Lily was a natural; an artistic prodigy even. One could always expect to see her on a major prime-time show and big budget film. There was no doubt that Lily could had grow into an extraordinary actress past childhood and into adulthood. Alas, the strain of a brutal workload, coupled mental shock of facial hair growth, and her father pushing her to her physical limits,despite her demands for rest, ultimately killed her. .
Sakura was a young bright girl with both scholarly and athletic success. Whatever she put her mind towards, she would go after it. However, despite her relentless drive towards success, she was met with setbacks and failures; driving her into depression in her teenage years. One day, during a depressive episode, she caught an TV special featuring Ai’s rise to success with her band. During this special, Ai brought up that she doesn’t view failures and mistakes as bad things; as they will help her with whatever comes next in life.
Touched by this, Sakura would attend Ai’s concert in Saga. There, shebecame inspired by Ai’s marvelous performance to the point that she was able to pull herself out of her depression; deciding that she would become a singer like her idol. She applied to join Ai’s group with this newfound inspiration and reason for living.
Sadly, on her way to mail the application, Sakura was hit by a truck and died instantly.
Death doesn’t care if you just pulled yourself out of years of depression. Death doesn’t care if you’ve been happy all your life. It pays no mind to women who are successful and women who are failures. It is merciless to both celebrities and average men alike. Death doesn’t hold biases towards the young and the elderly. It doesn’t matter to death if your smart or did stupid things (like Ai). We are all equal when it comes to death.
As you read above, there were three girls who were celebrities and one girl who was not. In the world of Zombieland Saga, the world once knew of Lily, Ai, and Junko; while Sakura was a nobody. In it , Lily, Ai, and Junko are in the history books while Sakura will forever be lost to it.
But, at the end, death came for all four of them – despite their status and age.
“Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to throw away. Death stands at your elbow. Be good for something while you live and it is in your power.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Memento Mori, or “remember: you too will die/you too are mortal.” Within the Stoic community and philosophy, death is a topic that is covered and approached without fear. The Stoics of Ancient Rome and Greece kept death in mind; not out of some twisted morbid curiosity, but they confidently accepted that it’s a normal part of life. It’s a motto to guide a person to live in the moment and to think about the future: forgoing thinking about trivial, superficial things that will not matter in the long run.
With Zombie Land Saga, I believe we can approach this Stoic ideology with the anime itself. Remember: the ladies of Franchouchou are zombies for a reason; not because of some weird shady music producer, but because they lived and died young. Like you and I, they too, were mortal. We too, will die like our favorite singing zombie girls. With this (and death) in mind, we must be aware of our own morality. We must act that as if each day is our final day. We are not immortal. We not not invulnerable. We are all in the cross-hairs of death; waiting for it to pull its trigger.
As young girls in life, I am doubtful that Sakura, Lily, Ai, and Junko cared about death as most young people do. When we were young, the thought of a possible early death and planning for the future never crossed our minds. We weren’t concerned with taking care of ourselves nor did we want to. We foolishly believed that we had all the time in the world to do whatever we pleased; as if we could live into old age without flaw nor issues. However, at some point , we figured out that we do have to take care of ourselves and that our time on Earth is limited. Sakura, Lily, Ai, and Junko learned the hard way that life is short — as many young people are learning that fact today.
Now, You may be wondering, why did I left out Saki, Tae, and Yuugiri thus far.
There’s a reason for my exclusion of those three.
Saki is somebody I believe took the Memento Mori mantra to the extreme. Saki was a gangsta. She lived the gangsta lifestyle and died because it. In that respect, we can assume she had absolutely no fear of death. As a gangsta, why should you? You knew what you sign up for once you get yourself involved street activity. If you don’t escape it, the gang life will either land you in prison or in a casket. But Saki didn’t care. Hell, she prided herself on having guts and courage and respect people who are also full of courage like herself (as most gangstas do). She probably knew that she would die young from being reckless; which is why she took a game of chicken (way) too seriously.
Tae is an oddball as we have absolutely no information on her. However, according to Studio MAPPA, she was in her late 20s at the time of her death. We can guess that by the time she died, Tae had understand the concept of life and that she will die.
Finally, there is the case of Yuugiri the Stoic (not her official title but bare with me here).
Yuugiri is somebody we can assume clearly understands this stoic philosophy of life, death, and not caring about trivial things. She’s a woman from the Meiji Restoration Era of Japan; an era in which Japan was littered with violence, political shifts, social revolution, social unrest, and rapid industrialization (to name a few things that were going on during that time period). With constant history changing events unfolding in Japan, it makes sense for Yuugiri to have calm, peaceful approach and mindset towards her new life as a zombie and the new era she is living in.
There’s no point in getting in your feelings over simple things when major events are unfolding in your daily life.
Example: During episode 6 of ZLS Lily was concerned that Yuugiri would be confused with everything in the modern world by asking her if she is okay and if she could follow what is going on (in terms of Franchouchou upcoming fan meet and greet). Yuugiri replies that she will accept things as is and as they come; as being confused about anything wouldn’t help.
This is a philosophy we should take to heart as we’re on our life’s journey to the grave. Why waste time worrying about things that you can never change as death lies in wait for us? Is there any good questioning the things that we can never change? Instead, we must spend our time doing things that makes us happy and give us the best results every day. Think back of all the stupid things you had worried back in the past and ask yourself “was it worth wasted effort, and energy, and time directing my thoughts into those pointless things?”. I bet you’re kicking yourself right now over them. Did those things matter still in your current, present life? Of course not! Focus on what’s important for today and for your future.
I’m not saying you should be careless about things nor pay no mind to issues that could result in major harm or disaster in the future: that’s foolish! And I’m not saying you should accept absolutely everything that has an impact on your life. If there’s something that truly bothers you that you think could negatively impact you, do something about it.
Otherwise, don’t trip off the things that won’t matter 5 seconds or 5 decades from now.
Can you imagine if Yuugiri, or any other member of Franchouchou spent their time wondering why they came back to lives as zombies instead of reliving life itself and having fun as zombies and idols? They wouldn’t get shit done. They would waste their and Tatsumi time doing nothing but rotting away for eons.
Aimless wondering and wandering over pointless things doesn’t make you human.
It makes you a mindless zombie.
There Is No Second Chance: Live Your Life
“A zombie that doesn’t dance is just a regular zombie. The others are zombies, but they’re trying to live. Just how long do you two intend to just rot?”
-Tatsumi to Junko and Ai, Zombieland Saga Ep. 3.
“You’ve got all the talent in the world, but the two of you girls are giving up without giving it a whirl!”
-Sakura to Junko and Ai, Zombieland Saga, Ep. 2
The ladies of Franchouchou were given a second chance at life thanks to their shady necromancer music producer who wanted to give seven people a chance to recapture their dreams. Dreams that they were never able to achieved due to their lives being cut short. Through hard work, pain, and relentless challenges, Franchouchou were able to become idols in the country town of Saga, Japan. Of course, such a story is a work of fiction; cute singing anime zombie girls will never exist in the real world. Once you’re dead, you are dead – there’s no coming back – no second chances at life. You do not get a reset. Nor do you net yourself a redo.
With that said, spend your time on earth wisely and work bettering yourself: just like our favorite characters from Zombie Land Saga before their untimely deaths.
Both Junko and Ai became major pop idol stars as teenagers. Can you imagine how excited they were when they got their first record deal as kids? Lily became a sensational television and movie star as a child and worked hard to make her father proud of her. Just think how much her dad smile when he saw her on the tube (as Junko would say). Saki and her biker gang wreak havoc on the streets and highway of not only Saga, but most of Japan itself. She was a street legend. Little is known about Yuugiri’s past life, but we can assume that thanks to her playing her role as the perfect courtier ,she was a legend of her time period. Sakura, despite dying a few days afterwards, was able to pull herself out of and defeat her depression while working on her goal on becoming an idol singer.
And Tae…well, she was the leader of the Sailor Scouts and a pirate empress in her time.
Meta jokes aside, we all yearn to live a great, long life. During our lifetime, we must seek to achieve great things, hit milestones, and make an impact on the world around us. It is important to set daily goals and make a great effort to accomplish them. We must set up targets and aim right dead at the center. Take risks, take a chance, and make things happen for you: You only have one life, one chance at writing the book that is your life story.
One final thing: You reading means that you greatly value yourself and education. You understand that there’s more to life than to a mindless zombie consuming pointless things until death. You understand that each second draws you closer to death and that you find ways to better yourself before death comes for you.
And to you for that, I say, thank you (but also read other people works for self-improvement, not just my essays).
Remember: you are mortal and you will die.
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The Swarthy Nerd Podcast
A Black nerd empowerment podcast where Black nerds (well, all nerds, but Black first and foremost) can get together and talk freely about nerd culture while also acknowledging systematic white supremacy and racism in the nerd and Eastern otaku fandoms. Every Tuesday join @superlostfan108 and @weebtrashyuki the founders of http://www.swarthynerd.com for there very informative podcast talking about all things nerdy. No desperate boot licking self hating negus who were never accepted by Black norimes for being too weird for their love of anime and comic books by the Black community allowed. Go drink bleach.
I post cool pics of my convention travels, weeaboo memes, and make reckless and wild ZombieLand Saga memes using screenshots from the series such as Sakura finding a cure for her depression having Saki steal credit card infomation , and turning Junko into a drug dealing degenerate
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