Europe has been the center of a lot of controversies in recent times because of the refugee crisis, as nations like Italy, France, and Sweden have become the hotbeds of influxes of refugees from African and Asian nations. Set against the backdrop of such a refugee crisis in Rome, Italy, Zerocalcare brings to life his graphic novel collection about the observations he’s made in his town about all the things that strike him as odd. Michele Rech, under his pen name Zerocalcare or Zero, gets a show on Netflix where his comics are presented as animations, and it’s a short and entertaining ride, but it leaves you thinking by the time the final episode ends. Titled This World Can’t Tear Me Down, the 6-episode comedy series showcases themes of an identity crisis, the evils of addiction, internal struggles, and how friendship is the most important bond that we’ve got in this life. With each episode stretching around 25–30 minutes, this is one show you should definitely invest your time in if you’d like a few chuckles as the cartoonist presents to you the bitter reality of modern-day Europe.
At the forefront, we’ve got Zerocalcare, obviously, and he serves as the mouthpiece of the entire series, but there are a host of other characters around him who come together to form an important part of the story. Zero is riding the wave of success thanks to his comic books, which have been adopted into a Netflix show, and one might guess that the makers were going for a rather meta-perspective where this show itself is This World Can’t Tear Me Down. Zero is rather bothered by the fact that the fascists of Italy, with Nazi symbols tattooed on their foreheads, are bent on throwing out some 30 Libyan refugees from their town because, well, they’re fascists. Zero prefers calling them Nazis because fascism isn’t frowned upon as much these days in Italy. Now, Zero wants to express his displeasure at the ones who are making life difficult for the refugees, but the only way he can protest at the moment is by tearing down the propaganda posters that the Nazis are putting up on the walls.
Meanwhile, there’s a new situation at hand because Zero’s childhood friend Cesare returns to the dingy hometown where Zero, Secco, Sarah, and all his friends live. Cesare was a big, burly kid who towered over his fellow kids back when they were snotty middle schoolers, and he had quickly formed a friendship with Zero. The cartoonist, as a kid, would be protected from the bullies thanks to Cesare’s massive frame, while Cesare found Zero to be the only person he could be vulnerable around. However, Cesare had to go away for a long time because of his addiction issues, and he spent two decades in rehab. When he came back, he was a different person altogether. Not only did Cesare not interact with Zero for very long, but the cartoonist was upset to find that his childhood friend had joined hands with the Nazis and was shouting slogans about removing the refugee center from their town. The matter came to a head when the Nazis and the protestors clashed in episode 6 in front of the center, leading to a lot of punches being thrown and faces being smashed. The series opens with Zero narrating the whole story in a police station, and it ends with the same, so what happened at the clash? Were the cartoonist and his friends arrested, or did the Nazis face justice? You should definitely check out the series to find out.
The tone of the show is very didactic, make no mistake, because Zerocalcare adopts a preaching ground in the beginning and appears to be on his high horse, which the show itself ridicules. For a while, Zero considered himself the only moral warrior, but his misconception was shattered by the people around him, including Sarah, Secco, and even Cesare. However, the show will surely make it a point to remind you of the things that are real issues in this world, with Zero himself coming out the TV screen quite a few times to explain things to a couple watching the show. As was stated before, This World Can’t Tear Me Down really goes for the meta-approach, replete with fourth wall breaking and having Zero’s consciousness engage in full-length discussions with himself. His consciousness, an armadillo that at times looks like a croissant, gives him detailed explanations of how to escape certain severe situations, most of which are hilarious.
However, despite all the jokes and goofiness, you can’t ignore the fact that there are so many things wrong with this planet, like hatred for others because they’re from a different part of the world, and people will go to any lengths to showcase their hate. But the worse reality is that the Nazis who protest and make a scene in the streets aren’t even aware that they’re being used as pawns by the government itself, which wants to make profits off the plight of the have-nots. Meanwhile, the peacekeepers of society, i.e., the police, are just mute spectators until someone speaks in favor of justice. The show makes it very clear what its standpoint is and how it views itself in this world of hatred, where nature itself is suffering from melting glaciers and wildfires. Thus, Zero’s character serves as the speaker to remind the audience of what they should do when they’re faced with a situation where they need to choose between human rights and keeping their city free of refugees.
The animation is intentionally made in a certain cartoonish style, making the characters look rather silly, but that was probably the goal. Here’s a show that doesn’t take itself very seriously in how it presents itself, but the views it showcases are ones of grave importance. The audio, when heard in English, makes for a much more enjoyable experience, especially because British English calls for a very Cockney accent, whereas Italian seems too haphazard. Additionally, the show shall remind you of Bojack Horseman because of the several anthropomorphic animals and birds in the show, and in some ways, each animal represents a particular personality type or a doctrine they believe in. For example, Zero’s anxiety-prone mother is presented as a chicken because of how easily she’s scared of the events she sees on TV. So, for what it’s worth, give this series a go if you want a cartoonish look into Italy’s refugee crisis while having a few laughs at the expense of Zero and his friends.