A Tale of Two Harems: Kore Wa Zombie Desuka? vs. Infinite Stratos

WARNING: Spoilers.

When the Winter 2011 season of anime began I saw two harem anime on the schedule. One was Kore wa Zombie Desuka?, which apparently being zombie-themed I wrote off as something to skip. The other was Infinite Stratos, which, while likely not to set my world on fire, had mecha and SF elements that I wanted to check out.  But thanks to a tip from Sub, I decided to check out Zombie after all, and now that I’ve finished these dual harem series, I find that my relative opinion has flipped. Kore wa Zombie Desuka? is a pleasant surprise, while Infinite Stratos‘s faults far outweigh its strengths.

First, let’s actually list the highlights of Infinite Stratos.

  • Good character designs, better than Zombie
  • Charlotte Dunois
  • The fact that it did not turn into a tournament fighting series

In contrast, I feel that the strengths of Kore wa Zombie Desuka? are substantial enough that they shouldn’t be listed in bullet form, but to sum them up, Zombie does a good job of playing with the conventions of the harem genre and bolstering many of the areas where harem shows tend to be weak. The main character in a harem series tends to take a lot of physical damage, so the series incorporates that into the basics of the setup. The hero Aikawa Ayumu is made undead, so that he can take abuse far beyond what is normal and regenerate. Whereas most harem protagonists tend to waffle and lack motivation, we see that from the very start of the series he has an initial goal to spur him on: to find the person who killed him. He’s still your Average Japanese Guy with Extraordinary Circumstances, but just by having drive and personality, you can see why more than one girl might take an interest in him.

Harem anime are really all about the girls. It is something I gladly accept when watching harem shows, but I prefer to see that the girls have fallen in love with the main character for something resembling a good reason. It helps that Ayumu has something called a personality, as well as traits that are actually admirable instead of vague “nice guy” characteristics, but Kore wa Zombie Desuka? also shows the girls actually developing feelings for him. Seeing the female necromancer Eucliwood’s first meeting with Ayumu, we can see how he charms her with a goofy and well-meaning attitude. Haruna, a chainsaw-wielding magical girl, is witness to Ayumu’s continuous noble actions and sense of self-worth. We can even see where feelings don’t develop with Mael Strom, who does not have feelings for Ayumu but actually works to go from indifference to affection-after-the-fact in some kind of twisted parody of an arranged marriage.

The girls of Zombie are not particularly well-developed in terms of personality, but they have a manic edge to them where their simple traits are pushed to the extreme without having them become tiresomely one-dimensional. This is probably most evident with Seraphim, a deadly vampire ninja not unlike a couple of Axe Cop characters, whose hobby, talent, and favorite word are all the same thing: Tsubamegaeshi, a sword technique, and whose catch phrase, calling Ayumu a “piece of shit,” feels delivered with sincere malice instead of being there to compensate for any sort of weak, fragile interior.

Infinite Stratos fails to convince me that most of the girls have legitimate reasons to be interested in the main character, Orimura Ichika. Looking at four out of the five girls in IS, two of them are childhood friends and two of them fall in love with him after a single fight. With neither situation are these explanations given time to develop. They just are, as if their purpose is to get Ichika in the harem situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead of further flattening the characters as Zombie did, IS sees fit to give them contrived flashbacks where a girl will literally narrate to the viewer as to why her life is tragic. Ichika does this as well, and it doesn’t happen until half-way through, so when we first see him, he’s just a bland fellow who draws all the ladies for Some Reason.

This is actually why I emphasized Charlotte Dunois as one of the highlights of Infinite Stratos, because she is the only girl among the five whose eventual attraction towards Ichika was given room to develop. Charlotte Dunois starts off disguised as a boy, and as the only other guy in the school, Ichika finds a comrade in “Charles.” Their friendship grows through this “male” bonding, and with Ichika talking to her closely and comfortably, it makes sense that she would develop intimate feelings. If more of the girls in Infinite Stratos had this sort of portrayal, instead of having their affections develop out of un-reasons, then my opinion might have very well been more even between the two shows.

The essential strength and flaw respectively of each show is that Kore wa Zombie Desuka? creatively manipulates the harem genre conventions while Infinite Stratos feels beholden to them. This is evident even in each show’s approach to the dramatic. While neither series excels in this regard, in Kore wa Zombie Desuka? the dramatic elements are continuously built upon and reach a fairly satisfying conclusion, while with Infinite Stratos, much like the flimsy bases for affection, the drama just seems to appear instantly and recede just as quickly.

Overall, while I would say that the girls in Infinite Stratos are more attractive, it does not feel as complete a product as Kore wa Zombie Desuka?, which is able to show that a lot can be done with the harem genre without completely subverting it School Days-style. In doing so, Zombie winds up being the better anime.

12 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Harems: Kore Wa Zombie Desuka? vs. Infinite Stratos

  1. The main character in a harem series tends to take a lot of physical damage, so the series incorporates that into the basics of the setup.

    Somehow this hadn’t quite crossed my mind, but I like it. It certainly is the logical continuation of the “horrible injury visited on protagonist by girls” thing.

    I too enjoyed it as a fun contemporary harem — it feels like the (quasi) genre hasn’t developed much in a long time. Apparently there’s still some juice left to squeeze out of it.

    Zombie also played the absurd humor angle quite a bit better than a lot of comedic anime. A lot of so-called “comedy” anime creators forget the basics like timing and delivery, just assuming that wacky situations will let them skate through.


    • The absurd humor is something I did not touch on enough, but I would agree that it is one of the strengths of the show.

      The best example I can think of is Ayumu’s masou shoujo transformations, which aren’t played for “trap” points, but is literally just a fanservicey transformation sequence only with a guy’s ass covering the screen at certain moments.

      You often see harem heroes briefly emasculated, but not in such an amusing fashion (particularly because he starts to run with it).


  2. “Infinite Stratos fails to convince me that most of the girls have legitimate reasons to be interested in the main character”

    We’ll assume this first: women are interested in men no matter what.
    Now consider the setting: Ichika is the only male in the series. Naturally women will flock to his side. While Ayumu lives in a city where there’s plenty of men to be seen, and would have to somehow convince his potential mating partner that he’s a better choice than say, Orito.


    • While that could make for a situation where the “odd man out” becomes more attractive, the issue that I have to be “convinced” about is not whether the circumstances can be explained away in a logical fashion, but in what way the guy’s own personal qualities make him attractive to those girls, whether it’s a charming personality, a sense of humor, a hard-working nature, rebellious attitude, or even just surface good looks. These are qualities that don’t have to impossibly unattainable, but it still makes a difference that they do not simply come from the character’s circumstances.

      Of course, it also depends on the girls as well, and what they may find attractive in the main character.

      If the only viable explanation is that the girls are in a situation where they HAVE to like the guy, that doesn’t seem terribly good for either the male main character or the girls around him. It makes for overall lackluster characterization and doesn’t send a good message either (not that I look to harem anime for important advice on human relationships).


  3. I really enjoyed reading this. Great comparisons, good points, etc etc. Very well written.
    Thanks. Please do more of these if you can/want to/have the time. There really aren’t that many good anime reviewers out there, and this comparison of the two shows has done more for me than any review I’ve read since I’ve started watching anime.


  4. Gonna add this show to my list. Just remembered Love Hina and it’s absurd humor, so a harem with a zombie and girls with magical powers seems nice =)

    Bwt, one thing I’d really like on your blog is a “watching now” bar. I find your reviews and commentaries really interesting, and that’s what makes me seeing a particular anime (like how I hadn’t seen Star Driver nor had any interest in seeing it until I read your review).

    I don’t know if you always write about the shows you like. Until now, every anime you recommended I’ve enjoyed as much as you (and disliked things you pointed out just as you, but that may be review poisoning).

    Anyway, seeing the things you don’t write about or just watching them before reading your posts would be really good.

    Forgive me for my off-topic, btw.


  5. There’s no doubt about the relative quality of the two shows. It’s just, KoreZom, while undeniably better, still isn’t good enough for anything other than a few minutes’ entertainment. It doesn’t leave me much to think about after each episode. IS, on the other hand, simply has too good a premise, with great potential both in making money (i.e. granting the otaku their wish fulfillment) and in doing something beyond that. The fact it becomes a success despite the original novel’s idiotic plotting and the anime’s rushed storytelling and erratic animation is a testament to this inherent strength.

    IS’s premise essentially says, “your beloved big sister and other family members invented a mecha that changes the world for the better by granting great power to teenage girls, and you are the sole and rightful king of the new world.” It’s already full of adolescent angst and libido, and cuts directly into the geopolitics and gender politics of the world. The original author did it with the vanilla male chauvinism and “Japan is the best” isolationistic nationalism of an unthinking otaku; I couldn’t help but wonder what a smart leftist creator who has keen understandings of geopolitics and gender politics AND moe and mecha can do with this premise.

    Admittedly, that ideal creator probably has yet to exist.

    Note: Chifuyu is 24 years old, and Tabane was her classmate. This makes them 15 years old when they invented IS, same age as the main characters. I find this brilliant and consistent with the underlying theme of adolescent megalomaniac (中二病).


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