“Truck Stop of the Dead” is one of those episodes that sounds like it has all the right ingredients on paper. Yet, it feels ever so slightly like less than the sum of its parts when everything is said and done. This is far from a terrible entry in the Zom 100 saga, thank goodness, but it certainly feels like one of the least fun chapters the show has delivered so far. Still, I’m thankful that it contains some valuable bits of backstory and character development for Shizuka and Akira, and it gets their story back on track once all of this nasty Kosugi business is wrapped up.
It’s that “nasty” aspect that brings the episode down a bit for me, as both antagonistic forces we have to deal with this week are so cartoonishly despicable that it ended up taking me out of the story a bit. Like, yeah, we knew that Kosugi was a complete tool, but having him sit Shizuka down so he could berate her about how all women are good for is serving drinks and receiving his barrage of sexual harassment took the narrative to a degree of obvious, simplistic storytelling that might be too on-the-nose even for the likes of Zom 100. The same could be said for Shizuka’s dad. I’m not entirely sure how we got to the point where “Overbearing Father Proves that He’s a Bastard by Nonchalantly Killing His Young Child’s Innocent Puppy” has become a genre-fiction cliché, but I could have done without such blatant attempts at emotional manipulation. I think it would have sufficed plenty to just have the elder Mikazuki be a money-grubbing Wall Street type who is consumed with his contempt for the lower classes.
Even if how Zom 100 communicated Akira and Shizuka’s respective traumas ended up being a little sloppy for my tastes, I can’t be too unhappy with where the story has them both end up. Like I predicted last week, the only way for Kosugi’s little empire to crumble ended up being a blood-drenched undead massacre, but Akira managed to maintain his dignity and his humanity by saving as many people as he could after telling his dillweed boss off once and for all. For Shizuka’s part, I appreciated how much she came to respect and value Akira’s particular brand of reckless optimism, and the beat where we discover what she added to Akira’s Bucket List is one of my favorite payoffs of the season so far.
All these successful elements of the episode would likely have landed even better if the show’s visuals were still within the ballpark of where we were when the season began, but alas, therein lies the other major stumbling block of this episode. While the show still looks solid, for the most part, it is impossible to deny that the direction and the animation of “Truck Stop of the Dead” just isn’t as dynamic or compelling as what we got in prior episodes. The storyboards have become less inventive and varied, instead choosing to stick with a lot of medium shots and basic closeups, and the action beats at the end of the episode were filled with a lot of cheaply disguised still frames.
Given how fraught the schedule of this season has proven to be, I’m worried that Zom 100 won’t be able to make it across the finish line without delivering at least one absolute dud of an episode. Hopefully, the series will end up proving me wrong. I’ve been having a blast with Zom 100 this summer, and the last thing I want is for it to end up like one of those poor sods who ends up tripping over their own feet within mere feet of safety, only to be consumed by the ravenous hordes of budgetary limitations, furious advertisers, and mismanaged productions.
Er, I mean, consumed by the ravenous hordes of zombies. Yeah. That’s absolutely what I meant to type.
Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead is currently streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Netflix.
James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.