Today’s subject is another zombie manga, one released by Seven Seas Entertainment called Hour of the Zombie. Originally called Igai-The Play Dead/Alive in Japan, this series initially grabbed my attention due to a little twist it has. What is it? Well, let’s find out. Is it good?
Hour of the Zombie Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Written and Drawn By: Tsukasa Saimura
Translated By: Elina Ishikawa
One day at high school, Nikaidou Akira and his childhood friend/crush, Akutsu Kurumi, find their other friend, Umezawa Reiji beating the crap out of some students. Umezawa warns the two that the students have changed and tried attacking him, but unfortunately, both he and Kurumi are bitten by their former classmates. After a series of misses and dodges, Akira eventually corners zombified Kurumi and tries to put her out of her misery. Then the strangest thing happens: the madness stops. All people actually like rage zombies… just go back to normal as if nothing happen and with no memory. Before everyone can figure out what just happened… everyone starts raging out again. What the hell is exactly happening here?
The idea behind Hour of the Zombie is both messed up and terrifying in all the most wonderful ways. It’s an interesting take on the zombie plague, with people acting like rage zombies from 28 Days Later but then going back to normal… and then going back into rage mode again. Plus, the zombies even seem to have some sort of memory of other people when raging out, like when Umezawa, as a zombie, steps in to protect Akira from others. These factors allow for interesting ideas and new directions for where a zombie series can go. How do people deal with this infection? Do we risk killing our loved ones since they can turn back to normal? If people turn back to normal, maybe there’s a cure out there? How do people react to former friends and allies now infected? What kind of discrimination and new hatred is born from this? It is these possibilities in Hour of the Zombie that make me personally want to stick with it to see where it goes.
That being said, there are only a few good aspects to this first volume beyond the premise. One, I like that they try to explain or theorize about the infection; what could be causing it? Is it an evolved form of rabies since it seems to share some similar traits with the disease? Although the disease doesn’t seem to be permanent, the characters are at least pondering the situation and wondering if there could be a way to fix it. Second, there is some intelligence on display here. People not infected do make attempts to scan and look over every person so an infected person doesn’t get into their midst, checking for wounds or looking at their eyes (there’s a slight whiteness to a person’s iris if infected). Igarashi Kaoru, the best character in the book, acts as a leader to fellow infected people and tries to have themselves quarantined so they don’t hurt anyone. It’s sensible and right thing to do.
Then there is Saimaru’s artwork. It’s not perfect by any means, since he occasionally has problems with leveling a person’s eyes and includes fanservice shots that are really out of place. Where his work shines though is in his layouts and the zombies themselves. His layouts are very smooth (outside of one instance) and capture the movement and flow of a character incredibly well. There’s no poor transitions, static images of the action, or disjointed looking scenes here at all. With the zombies, Saimaru is very adpet at being able to shift between the characters appearing normal and then being all crazy and violent. The way the characters hold themselves, their facial expressions, the subtle changes in the eyes, or the overtly nasty mouths complete with bloodied gums being shown are fantastic and really sell you on the transitions in the book. They are vicious, but they still look human to a degree in their zombie mode.
The main problem with the manga lies directly with the characters themselves. Outside of Igarashi, who’s presented as an intelligent and upstanding person, everyone is either a dick, an idiot, or makes a terrible first impression. The main character is Akira, who becomes very irritating at points. He has a crush on Kurumi, who doesn’t return the feelings or even notice, and is jealous of Umezawa, who Kurumi crushes on. He’s a teenager and I can understand his feelings having been there a tad in the past, but it goes beyond that. He remains completely jealous of Umezawa throughout the majority of the volume, gets mad when Kurumi seems to show almost any concern for their friend, stops trying to help her at one point when she calls out for the other guy to help her, and foolishly tries to rescue her and bring her back into a safe zone… even when she’s still infected. It’s so hard to care about him in the slightest since he makes it so difficult.
Then there’s the rest of the cast. Umezawa gets better as times goes on, but his initial appearance has him punching Kurumi for bringing Akari over to him when he’s fighting off zombies. Overreaction much? Kurumi ONLY seems to give a crap about Umezawa, not showing an ounce of concern for her other best friend Akari at any point. She never wonders if he’s okay and even gets mad at him for tying her up when she’s a zombie so that she doesn’t attack him or try to eat anyone (I personally would have been grateful, but I guess that’s just me). There’s Furuchi Madoka, who for his initial introduction is acting like one of those cameramen from found-footage films (put down the damn camera and run!). There’s the side character called Himehana Sara and she comes off as irrational, getting mad at Akari for defending himself when everyone was all zombied out and not understanding his point of view. Finally, there’s Kisaragi Takeru and he’s probably the best of the supporting cast, since he comes across as an intentionally written jerk. He’s only concerned with himself, will sacrifice others to save his own skin, and is willing to kill people whether or not they are acting like a zombie or not. He’s not likeable, but I understand the character and he works well enough as a standard antagonist for these types of stories.
Tsukasa Saimura’s writing is problematic as well. The pacing on this book is way too fast. There should be more downtime between people acting normally and zombie-like so there can be time to develop the characters, let the mystery of what is happening blossom, and build tension (the zombie rage will happen again, but when exactly is up in the air). Speaking of characters, there’s very little characterization beyond a character’s introduction and we don’t really feel any of the bonds between characters, besides maybe for Akari and Umezawa. Given almost everyone’s bad introduction, we really needed to see some characterization that would make them worth caring about. The dialogue isn’t particularly memorable and when it is, it is grating due to character stupidity or asshole-ish demeanor. Also, a nitpick, but something that was driving me crazy during the entire manga: Where the hell are the teachers or adults? Seriously, for a school as big as this, where are these people?!
Is It Good?
Hour of the Zombie Vol. 1 boasts a fantastic premise, with an overall execution that can’t live up. The pacing is awful and only has one mood to it most of the time, while the characters are grating and come off terribly. There are good ideas here for sure and I think the art, even if it has some flubs to it, really helps sell the horror and tension. I want to be able to recommend this, but I think you are better of waiting for the second volume first to see if it improves first.