Aso Haro on ‘Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead’ and Why the Zombie Genre Still Has Plenty of Life (EXCLUSIVE)

'Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead'
(C) Aso Haro, Takata Kotaro, Shogakukan/Zom100 Project.

Zombies had seemingly been done to death in every conceivable media when a zero-budget Japanese film in 2018 proved that there was still creative life in the genre. Titled “One Cut of the Dead,” this heartwarming zombie comedy by Ueda Shinichiro earned 1,000 times its JPY3 million ($23,000) budget at the Japanese box office, while playing at more than 100 festivals around the world.

Now another comic Japanese take on zombies, the anime series “Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead,” has been unveiled by production partners Viz Media, Shogakukan and Shogakukan-Shueisha Production.

Based on a hit manga by writer Aso Haro and illustrator Takata Kotaro, the series is set for release in July of 2023.

But “Zom 100” is no “One Cut” knock off. For one thing, Aso’s idea for the manga, which debuted in the Shogakukan magazine Monthly Sunday Gene-X in October of 2018, predated Ueda’s smash hit. For another, the comic is a wackily original melding of the salaryman gag manga – a popular genre in Japan seldom exported abroad – with the sort of zombie holocaust story that has become a Hollywood staple.

The set-up: After three years of slaving for a company where insane hours and impossible demands are routine, 24-year-old Akira Tendo is a burnt-out case. Then he wakes up one morning to find himself in the midst of a raging zombie infection, with an attractive colleague he has been crushing on among the victims.

Feeling oddly liberated – he can finally take a break from the hated office – Akira sets out to check off items from his personal bucket list before he too is zombiefied.

In an exclusive interview with Variety at Shogakukan’s Tokyo headquarters, Aso calls “One Cut of the Dead” “an amazing indie movie that has played all around the world,” while adding that he wrote the manga “without being conscious of the international market.” “But from the time I was a kid I preferred American movies over domestic ones,” he says. “So, when I started making my own stuff, it was somewhat easy for me to incorporate those kinds of (Hollywood) elements.”

One element was missing, however: “Japanese zombies don’t have to deal with guns – that’s a big difference.”

The series’ premise – a hero trying to live his dreams in the face of an un-deadly plague – has a pandemic-era relevance, though Aso says it was not his intention when he conceived the manga. But he did want to comment on the current state of Japanese society. “In the sense of not being able to do what they want to do, there are a lot of ‘zombies’ here,” he says.

Aso also felt that the media landscape was over-saturated with zombies, in everything from comics to TV shows and movies. “I wanted to make something that had never been done before,” he says. “I wanted to try a different approach.” But basically, he wanted his audience to laugh. “I wrote (the manga) to be a little offbeat, a little silly,” he says. “I’m OK if people see it as ridiculous. But there’s also a message: Do what you want to do, as fully as you can.”

Aso is also the creator of “Alice in Borderland,” a sci-fi-fantasy survival-game comic that was made into a hit 2020 Netflix series of the same title. Its 2023 follow-up is currently riding high in Netflix viewing chart.