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.

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