Content Warnings: labor exploitation, sexual harassment, gore, and suicide
What’s it about? Tendou Akira spent years working in an abusive company that continuously overworked and underpaid him for his labor. Akira eventually becomes disenchanted with his job and finds life meaningless until a zombie apocalypse helps him feel joy again and want to live life to the fullest.
Zombie apocalyptic movies and shows have always been hit-or-miss for me. With the exception of Train to Busan, there aren’t many zombie stories that appeal to me, but I do appreciate how the trope examines and critiques societal problems. Zom 100 is somewhat unique in the sense that zombies aren’t surprisingly the most horrific things in our world; instead, it focuses on the horrors of working in exploitative companies (which we haven’t seen in a minute). These are commonly known as “Black companies” in Japan, and they’re notorious for horrible working conditions and not following labor laws. These companies are a serious problem and while I’m sure there are people trying to enact meaningful changes, it’ll take a long time to see those results.
The visuals are excellent, as the animation transitions from Akira’s optimistic outlook on life to his miserable state of mind. The first few minutes start off bright and colorful, but gradually as things get worse the visuals become black and white; which feels straight out of a horror movie. By the middle of the episode, Akira is no different from the zombies that attack him later on. Overall, Akira feels trapped and can’t quit his job because he doesn’t have any guarantees he won’t end up in a similar environment. It’s notoriously difficult to pinpoint which Black companies are exploitative or not, so he’s effectively stuck at his soul-crushing job with no way out.
I truly felt it in my spirit when Akira kept chanting “I don’t want to go to work” over and over again. There are so many of us stuck working in crappy jobs trying to survive under the oppressive structures created by capitalism that it sometimes feels hopeless to prevail. That’s why it’s a cathartic moment when Akira realizes he’s free from his job and can do whatever he wants before he dies. To be honest, I think it’s sad that it’ll likely take some kind of apocalyptic nightmare for any of us to truly feel liberated from everything that represses us. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the system will always find a way to get human labor. My pessimism aside, Zom 100 asks the question, “what would you do with your life, if societal barriers were destroyed?” There’s definitely an opportunity here for this show to examine the nuances of living under capitalism and how it’s not sustainable. It’s too early to say how the series will handle its themes, but even so the production is fantastic and dynamic.
The only area of concern is the show’s treatment of its women characters. There isn’t much insight into Akira’s crush, Ohtori Saori, aside from him ogling her when they first meet. Despite their workplace encounters, it’s revealed that she’s in a sexual relationship with her sleazy boss, and they frequently have indiscreet sex in the office. Their “relationship” is a blatant display of the severe power imbalance that exists in the workplace, especially towards women. The boss can easily fire Saori if she refuses his advancements and he can make it difficult for her to find another job. Saori doesn’t have any agency at all, which the show doesn’t spend much time thinking about, and only serves as Akira’s object of affection. She doesn’t even have any consciousness anymore when Akira confesses to her, since she’s turned into a zombie (wearing lingerie, because of course).
I have mixed feelings about this one folks. It deserves the three episode test for sure, however the misogynist undertones are going to determine whether I’ll keep watching or not.