Throughout the last decade there was a resurgence of zombie media spawning through films and television. Series like The Walking Dead are staples of the phenomenon, and as that show approaches its final season it is a possible sign that the phenomenon is losing its edge. That is not to say everybody is going to stop making zombie content as we recently had Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, but maybe there is not as much of a mainstream appetite for the genre. This brings me to the manga Crueler Than Dead.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Maki Akagi, a college freshman, wakes up in a lab full of corpses without realizing the world is going through a zombie apocalypse. Finding that she is the result of a last-ditch experiment to cure humans of a virus turning them into the undead, Maki, along with by a young boy named Shota, travels to reach Tokyo Dome, which contains the last survivors of mankind, with the hope of curing them.
From the above paragraph you can check off the story elements that you often associate with the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre, because this volume, which covers the first half of the overall story by Tsukasa Saimura and Kozo Takahashi, is saying nothing new. Now this may not be the case when the second volume comes out, but until then the main characters go through one cliched set-piece to the next, whether it is a chase through wrecked vehicles or being confronted with the worst of humanity that are usually males who have nasty eyes towards the heroine.
There are moments of characterization, but because the story moves at such a quick pace there is never enough time to really know any of characters since the creators are more interested in reaching the next suspenseful set-piece. We don’t really see how Maki adapts to the new norm as in-between the first two chapters she goes through a transformation from college freshman to a gun-toting survivor. The final chapter of the volume takes a step back in time where we see the initial outbreak in Japan, and despite an exploration of politics and a relationship between two brothers as soldiers it still doesn’t feel as meaningful.
The book’s saving grace is Kozo Takahashi’s artwork which seems inspired by the work of Junji Ito. This is not only evidenced through the grotesque designs of the zombies, but also through the human characters who look like they are on the brink of insanity. The horror element is definitely there with plenty of bloody content to go around, but it’s a shame that the storytelling doesn’t really sell it.
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