Content Warnings: Sexual harassment/groping as comedy, gore, body horror, nudity, suicidality
What’s it about? For the longest time, Andy, a man with the unfortunate skill of “Undead,” has been searching for someone who can gift him a permanent death. In comes Izumo Fuko, a girl cursed with very real bad luck–i.e. “Unluck”–strong enough to bring misfortune to anyone in her life, including herself. When Undead meets Unluck, only chaos can ensue…right?
I’ll admit up front: I really like Undead Unluck, at least what I’ve read of it. It’s quirky, it’s easy to sink into, and has really engaging tidbits to it. But it doesn’t start there: in fact, Undead Unluck starts off pretty low, making its rise from out dated sexual harassment “gags’ to be something so much more impressive, but also…well, honestly pretty problematic.
But before I wax too poetic about this series and why I think it’s pretty cool, let’s dive into the premiere and talk about some very real issues, even if I still come out on the side of liking it.
The premiere starts in medias res with two youths in the snow yearning for one another, intercut with images of a young girl watching her family depart on a weeklong trip. Only the latter isn’t fiction: it’s the birth of a mysterious ability that will haunt a young woman until the day her luck turns against her.
Hardcut to Izumo Fuko trying to die and accidentally stabbing a shirtless dude. It is…jarring, but I think that’s part of the humor here: it’s a juxtaposition that’s genuinely funny in all of its black humor, and is great table setting for exactly what Fuko and Andy–our shirtless dude–can do in terms of their innate abilities.
From there, the premiere ramps up as Fuko and her unwitting, undead companion get tossed into an all-give, no-receive relationship where one wants to die and the other…just kind of wants to figure out how to exist without harming others.
SHAFT put their everything into this premiere: it looks crisp as hell from the moment you push play on Hulu. I really like how the manga has been translated to the digital big screen: all of the drama and fast-paced, frantic beginnings of Andy and Fuko’s relationship carry over so well. Paired with the soundtrack, this is a very evocative premiere that is gut-wrenching, engaging, and easily one of my favorites this season.
That said, there’s a big issue here, and it’s how the story starts.
You see…Andy is not a good guy at the beginning: in fact, I’d say he’s a really shitty guy. A lot of it is because of his desperation to finally, finally find his permanent end. You see, a lot of the “comedy” from Andy is his combination of his regenerative “Undead” ability combined with his sexual harassment of Fuko. (Also, he’s nude quite a bit in this premiere, though his Undead genitalia is censored.)
This sexualization happens via him groping Fuko constantly to get “direct contact” and trigger her Danganronpa-level bad luck. This is a running gag that grows from Andy wanting to viciously and non-consensually grope Fuko to try and finally end his life to…wanting to undress her (Fuko runs away at this and Andry gives chase) to…him declaring they should have sex to trigger a massive amount of unluck (She runs away again). Unfortunately, the implication is she doesn’t have a choice because he’s trying to seek his own demise, so…she’s just gotta deal with it, right?
Bad motive, even worse behavior. And y’all?
It’s just not funny.
Speaking honestly, it’s why I initially put the manga down: I just couldn’t stomach Andy shoving his hands everywhere on Fuko. It felt deeply uncomfortable and had my stomach in knots. I’m surprised, in many ways, that I’ve read as much of the manga I have: it’s an almost impossible recommendation because of its opening chapters.
Now, I have the awareness that Andy’s very gross treatment of Fuko’s bodily autonomy eases up a great deal as the manga goes on: however, that’s not necessarily knowledge everyone has, and I don’t think it should matter if everyone comes to this informed or not. This is, by far, the weakest part of Undead Unluck’s premiere: the fact that it has to carry over Andy’s genuinely shitty behavior. It’s not enough to know that things are going to change eventually. If this is your first introduction to the series, then that’s where your impression is going to be made, and I think that’s what’s gotta matter in the end.
Undead Unluck is a curious premiere: on one hand, I like it because I know where it’s going, but on the other hand, if I didn’t have all of that context, I think I’d absolutely be on the opposite side of things. I think I wouldn’t be continuing my watch, nor would I be even mildly in favor of this series. It’s got amazing action, stupendous music, and a really interesting relationship between Andy and Fuko: but it’s also got a boatload of comedic sexual assault and harrassment.
Even the seemingly sweet moments between them are ruined by Andy groping Fuko or just opening his mouth and being inappropriate. It’s…really upsetting because yeah, I’ll be honest and say that I think this is a good story without those parts. But the reality is is that Undead Unluck doesn’t function, at least initially, without them. I can’t just excise them because I don’t like them: both the anime and manga use them as parts of its foundation, and to ignore them doesn’t change their presence.
Here’s the realistic middle: pre-informed knowledge isn’t enough to negate the fact that Andy’s behavior here is wholly inappropriate and not funny. Even me telling you that “it gets better” or letting you know that the worst parts of this premiere are quickly done away with isn’t enough. It’s 2023: that doesn’t cut it anymore.
In a time where marginalized genders have to constantly navigate a society of sexualization and gendered sexual harassment and abuse, Andy kind of just feels like a joke that never quite strikes me as funny. Even knowing that he grows far beyond this isn’t enough: it just kind of sucks. Honestly, it really sucks.
Ultimately, I’m going to keep watching because I do genuinely like where Undead Unluck goes. I’m all in for it and for witnessing the adaptation grow beyond its initial tropes and difficulties. But I would also be remiss if I didn’t take it to task for the fact that yeah, it has a really yucky running gag that’s probably going to be off putting to a substantial amount of viewers who don’t want to spend their finite moments on this earth waiting for this fraught series to get better, which I complete respect.