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Lollipop Chainsaw has Grasshopper Manufacture once again forcing an America shaped peg through a Japan shaped whole. A zombie hack-um-up it has surprising depth, though at times it can be hard to find it.
I was not expecting much in the way of heavy introspection or social commentary going into Lollipop Chainsaw. Between its name and the box art I was expecting little more than a mindless romp with a short skirted cheerleading zombie killer. What I got instead was a study of emasculation, underwritten by a nation dealing with social change.
It took some time for me to find those hidden depths. What begins as mindless titillation soon reveals that it is trying to be more, even if the blend of Japanese direction (Suda Goichi) and American writing (James Gunn) sometimes makes it hard to find.
Before we can get to anything more interesting it needs to be said that this mix of creative talent causes many of Lollipop's problems. The heavily stylised Japanese view of Americana sits poorly with the culturally satirical writing. However, if you can separate out the two and appreciated them individually there is significantly more at work.
Superficial is the only way to really describe Lollipop Chainsaw's opening. It shamelessly uses the cheerleader hero Juliet to pander to a young male audience, which when combined with the simple hack and slash gameplay makes a very poor first impression.
Fortunately things improve rapidly with both combat and story deepening with each chapter. Most significant of these changes comes at the end of the prologue as Juliet's boyfriend Nick joins her. Bitten by a zombie Juliet is forced to save him by performing an arcane ritual, amputating his body. Still alive, Nick is attached to Juliet's hip and suddenly along for the ride whether he likes it or not.
Nick's arrival is multifaceted, and hugely beneficial. The back and forth between him a Juliet turns them from carriactures into living breathing young people struggling to come to terms with their situation. He also acts as a handy exposition device as Juliet brings him up to speed with the story so far. It may sound like a silly conceit but it works well.
With each family member Juliet discovers she is given new skills, and Nick has to face another powerful upwardly mobile female. These encounters also offers a range of new chainsaw abilities that build on the expanding move list to give a broad range of combat options.
Many of these acquired skills become increasingly necessary as Lollipop Chainsaw progresses. From playing basketball with zombie heads to Pac-man styled mazes; its almost as if Lollipop Chainsaw knows that at its core it is repetitive and does its best to distract from the fact.
He is resentful of her still being a whole person, but more importantly his own helplessness.
Nick's role builds intensity. Constantly belittled, with Juliet's sisters seeing him more as an accessory that a person, his resentment grows. There is an interesting juxta-position of this emascluated (body-less) guy entering Juliet's family of strong women and having to negotiate his way through these relationships with very little power of his own.
Despite its comical tone, Lollipop Chainsaw becomes quite sinister. As a head Nick has no freewill. He complains about this constantly by questioning the value of his new life, and depression clearly begins to set in. While his feelings for Juliet are clear, he is resentful of her still being a whole person, but more importantly his own helplessness.
His resentment reaches its peak towards the end of the story, where he demands to be left behind. Juliet simple says "No". The exchange really struck a cord with me; the idea of sacrificing my desires for fear of loosing those I love.
It plays to the fears of many young men growing up in modern Japan.
Like much of Suda Goichi's work it plays to the fears of many young men growing up in modern Japan. The changing economic and social situation is empowering women, but for many of them their values and expectations are yet to catch up. Juliet is the embodiment of this, an object of desire; in control of her life and calling the shots -- allbeit in fetishistic style.
Lollipop Chainsaw never quite follows through on these themes. Sadly the mixed sensibilities of its Japanese and American design direction also prevent the game from being enjoyable in its own right.
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