It’s difficult to remember of any zombie films or TV series where the coming end of the world at the hands of the undead was received with a jubilant spirit. There have been plenty of zombie comedies in which our expectations for how this is meant to go are shattered just as much as the characters’, but the prevalence of this concept means there is always a need for something with a little more bite.
Enter Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, an adaptation of Haro Aso’s manga of the same name, in which the end of the world is just the start of an initially sharp but more vapid entry in the genre. It’s a picture that sets out to be something a little deeper and more innovative, only to provide an experience with nothing to chew on.
The youthful Akira Tendo (Eiji Akaso), who we first meet after he has taken a new job, is the one performing the chewing while also striving not to become a meal himself. While he is initially excited about the chance, he is given a harsh awakening when he is forced to labour for days on end under a dictatorial supervisor who takes him for granted. Any passion and enthusiasm we witness are quickly extinguished as he begins stumbling through life.
He doesn’t want to resign, but he is thinking of various methods to get out of work. This features a bleak scene in which he considers suicide after being pushed to his breaking point. As a result, when the zombie apocalypse wipes out everything he’s ever known, this is precisely what he’s been yearning for. After his shock wears off, he rejoices at the idea of no longer needing to labour himself to the bone, even if those bones may be pulled from his body.
It’s a promising start that gives way to a typical plot that’s occasionally silly but ultimately insignificant. While not every effort is going to transform the way zombie films are made, this one had the potential to be far more than what it really delivered.
The film’s opening hook, in which Akira goes about crossing off his bucket list and living life to the fullest even though everything has gone to hell, is full of promise. In many ways, simply being with him alone might be quite enjoyable if the film had the patience to sit with them. Just witnessing him have fun is enough of entertainment, and this is where a more inventive plot could have begun to carve out something spectacular.
Unfortunately, this is temporary as the film successfully rushes past its more fascinating beginning to get down to zombie business as usual. There are survivors to be reunited, travels to be taken, and communities to be discovered. Rather of turning zombie horror on its head, as some other innovative entrants in the genre have done, and as this one appeared to be doing, it gradually devolves into uncomfortably familiar ground.
Even when it physically takes to the skies, it is a montage rather than a primary component of the experience. Everything else remains grounded, with the hilarious moments eventually seeming buried beneath the film’s general tepidness.
The most depressing aspect of the whole affair is that Akira is a fantastic character to construct a story around. Even his first transformation from bright and full of life to being battered down by his profession is well completed as we watch the light begin to leave his eyes. The scene where it returns as he cries out before the title drops prompts a smile as we see that happen in the most improbable of circumstances, the zombie apocalypse, and it works because of how it is set against what came before it.
The fact that he is happiest when the world ends is a fantastic comedy, but it is something the rest of the picture lacks. Some of it is tonal, with it abandoning its more biting humour for forced emotional beats, but most of it is structural. For every crazy aside, such as one about a prior football game that eventually transitions into a decent humour about tackling a zombie, most of the remainder feels rehashed from previous zombie films.
At one point, it appeared like this may have been a one-time episode of The Walking Dead. It isn’t always like this, with the film displaying enough flare here and there to avoid being constantly poor, yet it is generally dull.
This reaches a breaking point at the finale, which feels shambling along with little of the delight of what came before it. There is a perplexing point when a crisis is constructed in a way that makes no sense in terms of how poorly staged it is, but the biggest issue is how its early conceptual promise is mostly abandoned. Even the most absurd final zombie creation can’t provide enough spark for it to catch fire.
Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead is basically just poor for a film about breaking out from tradition and attempting new ways to make the best of a bad situation. It gets the checking boxes portion right, but the experience lacks vitality. There are several scenes in which characters make great pronouncements about the significance of living life to the fullest and not merely going through the motions. Rather than feeling triumphant, one wishes that the film had followed its own advise.