What They Say:
From the studio that produced Attack on Titan comes The Empire of Corpses, a captivating historical action thriller based on a Phillip K. Dick Award winning novel by Project Itoh. In an alternate version of 19th century London, the world has been revolutionized by “corpse reanimation technology” creating armies of undead who serve the living as laborers across the globe.
In an attempt to revive his dearly departed friend, young medical student John Watson becomes obsessed with replicating the work of Dr. Victor Frankenstein – the legendary corpse engineer whose research produced the only re-animated corpse to possess a soul. But when his illegal experiments put him at odds with the British government, Watson is drafted into a worldwide race to find the lost research notes of Victor Frankenstein before the secrets of the human soul fall into the wrong hands.
The audio presentation for this release is a very good one as we get the original Japanese 5.1 theatrical mix as well as an English language adaptation in the same format. Both are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec that works to give this some pretty good life. The film works as a rather straightforward adventure story so there are some really big moments of action throughout that hit some great swells when combined with the music. It sticks to the time period well but has some very engaging effects throughout that give it a movement and fills the space well. The dialogue side is a bit more subdued for the most part and that has some solid placement and occasional depth as needed, but there are also some bigger moments that click well in making the action scenes stand out more. Dialogue for both mixes is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2015, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Wit Studio, the feature has some fantastic visuals and designs to it in presenting this late 19th century time period and all the quirks that arise from it. The level of detail in many of the sequences both in character animation and backgrounds is fantastic and the fluidity of so much of it is strong as well. The color design gives it a very rich feeling even as it works in mostly dark colors, often spending most of its scenes in dark interiors or night time sequences, but that in turn makes the few outdoor and daytime sequences stand out all the more. The film has a very rich design to it and the payoff through the transfer is most definitely there. It’s a great visual experience overall.
The packaging design for this release is interesting in that it uses artwork that other regions are not using, which I’m usually in favor of just to have something different. While this one works and presents a distinctly interesting design, I’ll admit i prefer the theatrical poster key visual over this one. This release is in a standard sized Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the case artwork itself that has Watson and Friday together set against the machinery of working with corpses. It’s done in a really shadowed sepia tone to give it an olden days feeling that works, but it’s almost too depressing in a way, too murky. The back cover goes for a little period traditional gear work for the background to give it some nice design elements. Layered over that we get the premise for the film and its origins as well as a few shots from the film that won’t sell it too much. The bottom works the familiar with the technical grid for both formats but also has to give a decent chunk of space for the UltraViolet branding. The discs extras are clearly listed while the technical information covers everything cleanly and clearly. While there are no show related inserts, we do get the theatrical key visual artwork on the right side that bleeds across both panels with it going to black along the left. It’s definitely a more eye-catching visual for me compared to the cover we get, and at least here it’s unobscured by logos and the film’s title.
The menu for this release works about as I expected and it’s a decently done piece that works the thematic elements nicely. With it utilizing various clips from the work that are slow pans with some bigger moments mixed in, it’s all done in the similar kind of sepia tone as the cover to give it that olden feeling. The logo is kept through the middle and with the thin font it looks good by not obscuring much of anything and feeling appropriate to the design. The navigation strip along the bottom works a similar color tone with thin and small selections in white against black that’s quick and easy to move through and problem free.
The extras for this release are minimal but I’m glad a little original material was brought into it. While we get the couple of promo trailers for it from the Japanese theatrical release, the big extra is an eight minute piece with the four main voice actors where they talk about their roles and views on this particular worked for a bit. Like most English original extras, there are sadly no subtitles for it.
Based on the novel work by Project Itoh which in turn has some of its origins in Philip K. Dick’s classic works, The Empire of Corpses is the first of three films bringing Itoh’s work to life. With Wit Studio animating it, it’s one of those works that just dazzles with the quality and really reminds you what they’re capable of. There’s a lavish amount of attention to detail and design here that just makes it a compelling viewing experience even if the story itself is fairly straightforward. The trappings are what sells it and I can imagine the original work exploring the themes and concepts more of what this world would be like. But as a way to connect with it and have an adventure within it, director Ryoutarou Makihara keeps things moving very well and engages you constantly, both in the big moments and the quieter ones as well.
Taking place in the late 1870’s where it’s a hundred years after Victor Frankenstein succeeded in creating “The One” that came back with a soul, the world has embraced reanimated corpses in a big way. Frankenstein’s creation is something that hasn’t been able to be recreated as he and his notes, along with his creation, disappeared all those years ago. The world mostly looked unfavorably at what he did, but over time more and more people came around to the usefulness of it all in bringing corpses back for various uses. The montage works through it well, talking about how it was pushed forward with the event idea that wars could be fought with them, keeping mother’s sons alive instead of sending them to their deaths, though some of the consequence is that it turns war into more of a game than some might care for. A lot of everyday applications entered into the world as well with people using them as laborers and servants and more, essentially normalizing it.
The film revolves around John Watson, a young man that has been working on following Frankenstein’s work alongside many others around the world. He’s re-animated a corpse of his own with someone he names Friday that he has a deeper connection with and is looking to unlock the secret that will bring their soul back. His passion has caught the notice of others higher up in the chain and he becomes a very useful tool in being sent out into the world to find Victor’s Notes about The One, which they believe are in the hands of Karamazov, a Russian corpse engineer himself who has fled into Afghanistan. It’s the start of a journey he does with Friday, who serves as a butler/servant of sorts, and a British Secret Service man named Captain Burnaby. He provides some of the muscle and worldly knowledge needed to survive as they end up over the course of the year traveling to India, Afghanistan, Japan and eventually San Francisco in search of the notes and those that may be involved in it.
The film is a fairly straightforward piece but it’s one that works well as we see how the corpses are utilized throughout the world and the way they’ve become so normalized in society. It’s admittedly a bit of a superficial look as you’d expect strong strains of groups opposed to them, but there are some neat blocks against that which we see early on such as how the mothers are the strongest force in normalizing all of this. I’d also want to see more on how bodies are preserved and the like, but that’s just my curiosity coming off of similar stories in Penny Dreadful to some degree. But in moving throughout the world as the film does, we see how it’s become a connective tissue culturally throughout the lands and that it smooths out a lot of other things, though there are certainly plenty of quirks in each of the regions and the people that we meet across all of it.
What I like about the film is that it does play with history in some fun ways as it brings in all sorts of characters of historical note and fiction. Watson is the obvious Watson and seeing how that eventually gets tackled is neat. I really enjoyed seeing how Ulysses S. Grant ended up becoming a minor but key player for a while as it touches upon how America advanced the corpse technology after the Civil War. We get someone related to Edison moving into the story, the only female character unfortunately, and just the use of Frankenstein on some level as well as his creation just delights even if plays with the time period a bit. It’s the kind of rewriting and blending of past works through a modern lens with more detail and engagement that allows it to click, presenting something familiar yet new in all the right ways. And wrapped up in some beautiful animation.
I had no idea what to expect going into the film and ended up coming away pretty happy with it. While the structure is familiar and the overall execution of the storyline works as expected, it’s the kind of work that brings a lot of great elements with it to work with. With fantastic visuals that merit several viewings alone and some great reworking of history and historical fiction to come up with something new, The Empire of Corpses presents a fascinating world that you want to know more about and dig into in a big way. This release is fairly straightforward since there’s not much there outside of the film itself, but it’s presented very well and will make fans of the work very happy. Definitely recommended for those looking for something that’s taking a serious approach to storytelling without inserting problematic kids or animals along the way just to add a moe factor. Solid stuff.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Funimation Short: Empire of Corpses, Promo Videos, Trailers
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: July 5th, 2016
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.