Zombie Land Saga begins with the sudden death of one of its central characters, Minamoto Sakura; this even thus predicates the developments of the subsequent episodes. A seemingly tranquil day is instantly disrupted by Sakura being struck by a passing truck – the episode frames the moment from different angles, the final one in slow motion, emphasizing both the tragic nature of the accident and the unusual fact that she is somehow still alive, and in an entirely new location, immediately following the scene. A later scene confirms that she, indeed, died as a result of the accident, but her resurrection ten years later makes it appear that death is a minor inconvenience in the world; the man who recovered her body and brought her back to life seems to treat it as such, and would not provide any elaboration on the subject when prompted to explain himself. The accident scene may be brief, but it establishes the fact that death can be subverted – Sakura now exists in a liminal state, her status as nominally alive informed by her new manager’s magnificent ability to restore life. Her awakening occurs in a parallel to her death – she appears in the same position (lying on the floor), but in different locations, and it helps to transition into her surprise to discover herself seemingly alone in an unfamiliar environment. She may not have awakened instantaneously, however; as the final scene shows, zombies may take a while to have their consciousness restored (if it gets restored at all, as another girl does not achieve that result).
Speaking of consciousness, when Sakura regains her own consciousness, she discovers six other girls inhabiting the same building, who act like typical modern zombies – this scene, where she is chased by the girls until she runs from the house, assumes a fairly standard method of presenting a zombie production: claustrophobic shots of Sakura fleeing from the undead, darkened rooms, a rainstorm outside, shaky camerawork. The reaction from the police officer (who even shoots Sakura) continues the horror movie approach, but the scene disrupts the standard formula somewhat by showing Sakura’s awareness of her position; she realizes she is a zombie by looking into a mirror, reflecting a level of consciousness most zombies do not have. The four other zombies depicted in this episode do not demonstrate the same level of awareness; they definitely see Sakura and temporarily pursue her, but they have no ability to speak or recognize themselves in a reflection. This situation changes by the end of the episode, but for now, the girls exhibit the classic image of the zombie as a being without a sense of full consciousness; they don’t really demonstrate a capacity of complex thought like Sakura, who became the first to awaken.
As the first member of the group to fully regain consciousness, Sakura discovers that the man responsible for her condition, Tatsumi Kōtarō, revived her and the others for the express purpose of saving Saga prefecture by recruiting them as idols; he dons the flamboyant persona of an idol manager, complete with cape and dark sunglasses to complement his brash personality. All five girls lived in different eras (one, for example, is described by Kōtarō as one who contributed to the idol boom of the 1980s, while another lived around the time of the Meiji Restoration); they thus represent fairly different historical perspectives informed by their respective periods. Kōtarō’s role as manager and promoter identifies him as the ostensible leader of the group, but he appears rather blunt and overly enthusiastic in his attitude; he doesn’t really answer Sakura’s question about how he revived her, showing him to be fairly defensive when it comes to his abilities. He behaves more like an exaggeration of the idol manager, raising his voice rather frequently; however, he does seem to have his heart in the right place, wanting the girls to succeed on their own merits, even if he doesn’t express that all too well.
His decision to promote his new idol act at an open mic performance night seems strange at first – he’s operating rather quickly, despite knowing that four of the girls remain zombie-like in their behavior and have yet to awaken. By this point, the tone of the show shifted noticeably to emphasize the stresses of musical performance – the shots now focus on Sakura adjusting to a new (undead) life as a zombie idol coached by an exuberant manager who wishes to revive Saga and the regional idol phenomenon. Kōtarō apparently has confidence that the girls (who don’t even have any formal training or experience with music) can perform well – he remains positive throughout the episode, and the girls fortuitously were able to please the gathered audience with their impromptu show. The performance itself is framed with various very quick shots (some not even a second long) switching between the girls singing and the audience reacting – initially, the audience doesn’t seem very receptive (two members even criticize the choice of what appear to be idols appearing in a venue composed primarily of metal bands), but their misgivings disappear when the girls demonstrate their extraordinary ability to headbang.
The frenetic pacing of the performance illustrates the overwhelming atmosphere of the venue – Sakura must adapt quickly to the scene, and she joins her colleagues as they growl incomprehensibly and headbang. As Sakura looks out onto the audience, the scene shows a distinct difference in lighting between the stage and the floor – the stage is bathed in bright lights, while the audience remains somewhat obscured by darkness. The two most prominently-highlight members of the gathered crowd provide the commentary; they can’t believe their eyes as the girls demonstrate a level of headbanging that they themselves cannot achieve (as if their necks are not properly attached). Sakura herself awakens to her memories – she recalls the image of the idol performance she saw ten years prior, the impetus for her desire to become an idol herself. By standing in front of a crowd and growling to a death metal track, she takes her first step into the world of idols; she achieved her dream of singing, even if it took her own death and resurrection to find that opportunity. It will take a while to fully realize her ambitions, however – this is her first performance, at the behest of a man who revived five girls to achieve his own goals to establish Saga’s regional idol scene.