Hapless high school student Ayumu Aikawa (voiced by Junji Majima) was killed by a serial killer but revived as a zombie. Now he's the live-in zombie slave of mute Lolita-like necromancer Eucliwood Hellscythe (Midori Tsukimiya). He looks and acts like any normal teenager but wilts in direct sunlight. Things grow more complicated for Ayumu one night at the local cemetery when he runs across Haruna (Iori Nomizu), a cute chainsaw-wielding, monster-slaying magical girl in a pink frilly dress. Somehow Haruna passes her powers onto Ayumu - pink dress and all! Soon thereafter, voluptuous vampire ninja Seraphim (Yoko Hikasa) moves into Ayumu's house as Eucliwood's new bodyguard. So Ayumu finds himself battling monstrous Megalos as a transvestite zombie magical girl, sharing his home with three boisterous babes and all the while seeking his own murderer.
With rom-zom-coms all the rage post-Shaun of the Dead (2004) little wonder the anime industry jumped on the bandwagon. Actually, Japan was ahead of the curve when it came to quirky zombie movies - e.g. Stacy (2001), Junk (2001) and Wild Zero (2001) - but Is This a Zombie? boasts the kind of bizarre brew one only ever finds in anime. Part offbeat zombie yarn, part fluffy magical girl pastiche, part teen sex romp, this twelve part serial scales the highs of giddy imaginative fantasy but also the lows of asinine sitcom antics. It is a harem anime in the vein of trend-setting Nineties phenomenon Tenchi Muyo (1992) featuring the familiar roster of colour-coded nubile lovelies ga-ga over the handsome, albeit much abused hero. Each girl embodies a specific male fantasy and routinely lose their clothes though once Ayumu cops an eyeful they typically punch his face. Later episodes bring on Yuki (Midori Tsukimiya), yet another cute magical girl who uses tonkutsu soup as a weapon and ends up betrothed to Ayumu in a hackneyed plot twist pilfered from Rumiko Takahashi's seminal Urusei Yatsura (1981). Plus the climactic cliffhanger reveals the shy schoolgirl who appears in the end credits song has been in love with Ayumu all along. Wait, so we're meant to root for a girl who barely figures into the main plot?
None of the relationships really go anywhere. After a while watching an endless line of emotionally constipated teenage girls fall tentatively in love with, berate then beat up Ayumu grows tedious and repetitive. Yet for every instance of fan-boy jerk-offery the plot compensates with a dramatic twist or disarmingly lyrical moment. Though the set-up is sitcom silly, a high rate of gags do hit their mark notably the episode where Haruna has to disable a bomb strapped to her head or when Ayumu is blown apart in the midst of a selfless act then humiliatingly glued back to front. The series' ace in the hole is the serial killer sub-plot, a mystery that develops very slowly yet heads down a genuinely compelling path. Entangled within this plot strand is the deeper mystery of Eucliwood herself. As we come to learn why she behaves the way she does her character takes on a tragic dimension that proves surprisingly affecting.
Though feisty Haruna, flighty Seraphim and tomboyish Yuki all appear to yearn after Ayumu in their own individual ways, for his part our hero seems most enamoured with the creepily, albeit deceptively underage Eucliwood or Eu for short. A laboured running gag has him frequently fantasize about her in various cloying sexual scenarios voiced by different well-known porno anime actresses. However, a plot complication arrives in the form of the King of the Night (Koji Yusa), Eu's former zombie boy toy now out for revenge who injects a note of ambiguity over Ayumu's own future. Production wise Is This a Zombie? boasts eye-catching designs from Shinobu Tagashira and fluid animation with subtle, creative use of CGI. Despite too many scenes of domestic tedium (e.g. Haruna's experimental cooking, an entire episode devoted to the girls shopping for underwear) the exuberant, gravity-defying slapstick set-pieces prove infectious and the various sexy goings on are at least free from the misogyny that mars tentacle porn.