Spoilers up until episode 10 of Sankarea.
Episode 9 of Sankarea was a bit of a dumb filler episode involving Mero chasing down an alligator. It seemed awfully strange for it to be placed just after a big cliffhanger in the episode before. Now that I’ve watched episode 10 though, I have my theories why they needed to get the information about Chihiro’s mum out of the way first.
My assumption here is that Chihiro’s mum was a zombie. Not for very long mind you, since I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to conceive a child when your body is dead. She died soon after Mero’s birth, leaving the father with two young children and his batty old father to take care of. In a move of desperation, he turns to his father’s Big Book O’ Zombie Magic and raises his wife from the grave. Now as we’re aware, the zombie potion isn’t perfect. Parts of the wife’s body started to fall apart, which is why she’s all covered in bandages. Ultimately it didn’t work so well, so in the end they left her body to rest.
If Chihiro’s mum was a zombie, it explains an awful lot of little details about the series so far (someone who read the manga said that this wasn’t the case, but fuck the manga I’m watching the anime, they’ve been happily changing details about it so far). Obviously the granddad knows how to raise a zombie, as the series has established already. It explains why his father is unusually accepting of a pretty girl in their midst who has red eyes and eats only poisonous leaves. It explains why Mero starts to think Rea is her mother because both Rea and her mother have a little giggle when they realise that their dead body can’t tell her temperature. Most importantly, it explains where Chihiro’s zombie fetish comes from. He was probably too young to remember any of the details, but having a zombie mum will obviously affect him psychologically somehow. In this case, it’s turned into him having weird surrogate mummy issues and a fetishising of the undead.
Then there’s episode 10, which by the way was a bloody fantastic episode. The changing picture frames, the sideways sardonic glances by Chihiro, the way each shot of Rea’s dad was framed, just a brilliant episode. It also explained where Rea’s father’s unhealthy fascination with his own daughter comes from, and did it in such a way that brought more depth and humanity to his character without ever trying to justify his actions. It’s the mark of great villain characterisation. He was always a bit mentally unhinged, brought about by his spoiled upbringing where he never felt any sort of genuine emotion because everyone was sucking up to him. That is, until a pretty girl in a wheelchair, with absolutely no reason to suck up to him, shows him the first sort of no-strings-attached advice and emotion he’d ever seen. His fascination with Rea comes from his ideal purity he saw in this wheelchair bound girl.
Here’s where it gets sorta messed up. As the last episode established, in my own zombie mum version of events, Chihiro’s fascination with zombies, and by extension Rea, comes from surrogate mummy issues. It doesn’t come from anything about Rea as a person, showed by how bored he gets following Rea around shopping. Rea’s dad’s unhealthy fascination with his daughter comes from surrogate wife issues and his ideals of purity. He too doesn’t care about Rea as a person, instead wanting to only see her as this pure creature that he can control the life of. Any sign that she’s making friends with anyone else, he drags her away from it because it doesn’t conform with his idea of what Rea should be. Do you see it now? Chihiro takes voyeuristic videos of Rea because he has to catalogue her zombieness. Rea’s dad takes photographs of Rea because he has to keep track of her purity. They’re one in the same!
As my cohort Dustin said on the Bakacast (which I’m still appearing on by the way, do give it a listen), I’m waiting for the final episode where Chihiro meets Rea’s dad and, after exchanging knowing looks, give each other a brofist.