I have to admit, zombie BL is a new one for me. And I’ve read a lot of BL. I’ve read time-travel BL, Hell BL, angel BL, glasses BL, cross-dressing BL, stalker BL, centaur BL, and so, so much more. But zombie is new. And I have to say, I’m into it. The thing I love maybe the most about BL (aside from the guy-on-guy action) is that the genre allows for anything and everything. I once translated a book about an accountant.
There are, of course, rules for the genre—the central plot point of a man in a relationship with a man is the most basic and most important of them—but there is a surprising amount of freedom afforded to BL artists. So I guess it’s no wonder so many of them go on to work in other genres. They’ve already drilled themselves in all the possibilities of any story, so if the shojo editor is like, can you give me an alien abduction romance across the stars, the artist is like, yes, do you want it to include a space battle?
Asada Nemui is one of those artists that is always in my peripheral vision. I think they first came to my attention when they were serializing My Little Inferno in onBlue (still the greatest of the BL magazines). Their pen name obviously caught my eye (literal translation “It’s morning. I’m sleepy”), so I flipped through the chapter and enjoyed it. But then the book came out and was aggressively marketed in every BL section I visited, and my perversely stubborn streak kicked in, much like it did with Harada’s Color Recipe. When the whole world seems hell-bent on making me read a book, I become very determined to do the opposite. I don’t claim that this is a good thing about me. But I have yet to find a way to overcome it. Hype is the most deadly thing a work can get when it comes to me actually wanting to pick it up and read it.
Fortunately, I had seen no such hype around Sleeping Dead, just the obi’s promise of high-school teacher plus mad scientist equals zombie BL. So I put it in my virtual shopping cart and had it whisked across the ocean to me here in stormy Toronto. (I really wanted the snow to be kind enough to wait until I was safely on the other side of the ocean before it began in earnest.) And wow, I think I love it? I mean, I’ll have to wait to see the second (and presumably final volume) before I pass definitive judgement, but this first volume is amazing in pretty much all ways. Top notch storytelling, incredible art, great cover. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
The whole thing kicks off when young and handsome high-school teacher Sada takes over for another teacher on night patrol, that Japanese custom of teachers wandering the neighbourhood around the school and its nearest station in the evening to catch students out too late. (Can you even imagine this level of teacher involvement in your life??) He catches some karaoke-goers and tsk-tsk’s then into heading home. But when he turns the corner, he finds an actual murder of one of his students. He tries to get help, shouting and screaming, but the murderer is on top of him in no time flat. (And while this is a BL manga, no, not that kind of on top of.) Soon after, a mysterious van collects poor, stabbed Sada and our story really begins.
The long and short of it is that the mysterious van was piloted by what is colloquially known as a mad scientist. Mamiya has developed some kind of fungal cell something something that can revive the dead. Only the dead are different once revived. Like they can only eat the dead of their own kind. And they show no vital signs. Yes, we are talking about zombies.
It’s a slow burn after this initial burst of action, mostly Sada and Mamiya getting to know each other in their new mad scientist-zombie relationship. This power structure is important to keep in mind because it leads to some non-consensual situations, and if that is not your jam, tap out now. But there is no real hot and heavy in this first volume. Instead, the focus is on establishing the world and Sada’s new reality. The way he befriends a lab monkey is particularly charming.
There is so much movement in Asada’s art. No character is ever in the same pose from panel to panel. A hand is lifted to a chin, a head is turned to one side, arms are thrown into the air. I can’t express enough how much I love their style. It reminds me of Ono Natsume in a way, the thicker lines, the older balding guy in glasses style. There is also an incredible neatness in the looseness of the lines and drawings that I can’t quite express because I am not an art person. And the way Asada panels the work, I feel like they are seeing the story as something almost like a movie in their head. There is such a fluid shift from panel to panel.
I honestly love every page of this. There’s really not a wasted panel, and while I’m not one hundred percent on board with the explanation for the zombie effect, I am here for the actual zombie action. The developing relationship between mad scientist and zombie is fascinating, especially with the bumps in the road as they each discover things about themselves, and I seriously can’t wait to see how this story resolves in the second volume, which came out only recently. So it will be one of the first books I pick up when I am back in my precious Tokyo bookstores in another couple of weeks. Along with some other Asada titles because clearly the hype was on point and I need to be reading their work.