In the dark of night at a Buddhist temple, a mysterious ritual is performed causing the dead body of a beautiful teenage girl to be brought back to life. This girl is Makina Hoshino, the latest Shikabane Hime (corpse princess), or killer of restless souls. Caught between here and the afterworld, and bound to the monk who reanimated her, Makina can only gain eternal peace by killing 108 fellow zombies before she is murdered all over again.
Mention GAINAX, and the name usually conjures up a history of popular, inventive anime series – but along with that positive image is one of a company that seems thoroughly adept at completely messing up somewhere along the way. Corpse Princess (also commonly known by its Japanese title of Shikabane Hime) is their latest effort, and the premise is certainly sound: school uniforms, big guns and ultra-violence for the win. Hopefully…
Audio for this release comes in English 5.1 surround and Japanese 2.0 stereo versions – I listened to the Japanese track for this review. There’s a hefty dose of action in this series, and even with the limitations of a stereo track the audio does plenty of justice to it (and to the rather good angela opening and closing songs, too) – fairly impressive stuff, with no obvious defects. A spot-check of the English track showed it to be equally competent, although without much use of the rear channels.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect. The show is mostly set at night, so it’s weighted heavily towards darker scenes, with reds also making regular appearances (all that blood, you see) – it’s a combination that DVD often seems to struggle with, and Corpse Princess sadly does suffer from some visible issues from time to time – nothing too major, but hard to ignore once you spot them. Daytime scenes fare better, and the quality of the animation itself is good throughout.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The main menu is a simple affair, with a static image of Makina (guns at the ready) set against a red background setting the tone for disc one, with options for Play All, Episodes and Setup. Some ominous background music completes the screen. Ouri and Keisei appear on the disc one submenus, while the other Shikabane grace disc two with their presence. This disc also has an option for Extras. There are no transition animations, so it’s all suitably quick and easy to use.
Extras are fairly light – along with the traditional creditless opening and closings (both versions of the ED animation get the treatment, and soft subtitles are included), there’s a commentary track for episode 12 featuring the English ADR director and VAs for Makina and Ouri.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Late one night, Ouri Hagami finds a girl lying dead and covered in blood in the Buddhist shrine that’s also his home. Hiding in the shadows, he watches as a monk from the head shrine, Keisei, arrives on the scene and, after performing a ritual on the girl, manages to revive her. Ouri is convinced that the girl was dead, beyond revival – so just what is going on? Meanwhile, a serial killer is reported to be loose in the area – police had uncovered seven corpses in his home, but he’d managed to escape arrest by jumping from the balcony of his 27th-floor apartment – and surviving. Unusual, yes? Just like the girl, perhaps? That’s because they’re both Shikabane – already dead, but not yet ready to give up the ghost, so to speak. The girl is Makina Hoshimura, a Shikabane Hime (Corpse Princess), on a mission to destroy her own kind if she’s to ever find peace for herself. Our serial killer is her latest target, and Ouri’s about to find himself drawn into her world of death and violence…
Makina may be undead, but you’d think that wouldn’t stop her from acquiring a more practical battle dress than her school uniform. Hell, she even goes to the trouble of getting it back into as-new condition before each mission – now there’s dedication for you.
Okay, I’m just joking. Anime fans are a fickle bunch, and one way of drawing us in to almost any new series is to put the heroine in seifuku. Works for me – the show’s promotional imagery nearly gave me a nosebleed, and that’s without anything overly risqué in it. The advantage of being dead in Makina’s line of work is that death doesn’t bother her – she has other things that do, but that’s where Keisei and the other monks come in (with Ouri ultimately getting to play his part, too, as he finds himself drawn to Makina much in the way that a moth is drawn to flame). The shikabane in the series are presented as people who died with strong enough regrets about things left undone or what they were leaving behind that they just can’t move in – and it’s Makina’s role to “persuade” the reluctant dead to do the right thing. It’s a job that she’s particularly adept at doing. That in itself makes her a thoroughly lovable character, in a twisted, anime-fanboy kind of way.
Ouri’s far more normal. An orphan, he’s been raised at Keisei’s shrine, which is also home to a number of other homeless kids. He’s reaching the age now where he wants to be out on his own, and has just arranged an apartment for himself – he’s looking to have a normal life, but talking cats and corpse killers are just the start of a string of events that make sure that he’s not going to get one. Now, I could list off any number of shows where a kid who wants a normal life gets anything but, but I’m 39 and only have half of my life left to me – I’ve got better things to do. So we’ll just say that Ouri’s generally unremarkable, but has one or two unusual attributes that eventually make him very useful to Makina in her battles. Whether that’s enough to make him someone who you’re interested in watching, though, is debatable – and I have to say he’s not a character that’s easy to warm to.
Makina and others like her – and there are several that we get to meet – have been persuaded to do their job by the promise that, if they can kill a certain number of targets (108), they’ll be able to pass on in peace themselves. But there are two problems: First, it’s not just the reluctant dead that are on their radar, as it soon becomes apparent that there are organised forces working for the dead and plotting to unleash havoc on the world. The bad guys are led by the Traitor Monk, Akashi Shishidou, a former member of the Kougon Sect who knows exactly how his former allies will respond to his plans. He’s assisted by the Seven Stars, powerful ‘undead’ who have their own plans on how to deal with the shikabane hime – and once they’re added to the show’s mix, the body count soon begins to rise. Second, the Kougon Sect itself is not all it appears to be, and with that running as an undercurrent through these episodes you know something’s going to hit the fan sooner or later.
The show’s emphasis is heavily on the action, and on that side it really does shine – some effort has clearly gone into making the series look the part, and when the battles start to ramp up it can be almost jaw-dropping to watch. But it also tries to dabble in heavy emotion from time to time, and it’s less successful there – primarily because Ouri’s such an uninteresting character, who we’re still expected to empathise with. Characters in his position need to be stronger, leading events rather than being led by them, and he’s just not good enough to really carry the stories that are being built around him.
What you get out of Corpse Princess, then, depends on what you’re expecting from it. Treat it as an all-action romp and you’ll get what you’re looking for, and on that front it’s easily worth watching. But it has pretensions of being more than that, and unfortunately can’t really deliver on them.
Japanese Langauge 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Episode 12 Commentary, Textless Opening and Closing Songs
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: 23 May 2011
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37” widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.