Reviewby Hope Chapman, Dec 2nd 2010
DVD - Part 1
It used to be so rare for the dead to come back to life and hunt the living, but unfortunately for the Kogun Sect, these superpowered zombies, known as shikabane, are on the rise again. When a person dies with strong regrets, otherworldly powers can seize their troubled corpses and bring them back to life as twisted, rotting immortals who despise and hunt the living. Thankfully, the Kogun Sect has a weapon against the shikabane: other shikabane who have made pacts with their monks and become “shikabane-hime” who will be forgiven their spite in both lives and accepted into heaven if they destroy 108 walking corpses in the name of the order, for only the living dead can kill their own kind.
One corpse princess, Makina Hoshimura, couldn't care less about getting into heaven, but holds a personal grudge against the gang of shikabane that resigned her to her fate: the Seven Stars. Her contracted monk, Keisei, assists her in her revenge for his own reasons, while his younger brother Ouri becomes fascinated with Makina and haunted by the world she is bound to by death.
Undoubtedly Gainax's most zombielicious outing, Corpse Princess doesn't do much else to set itself apart from the studio's other formative outings: There are boobs and there are explosions and to try and make sense of it is to miss the point entirely. The only question remaining is whether its razor edge is still sharp…and that's a tricky question.
On the one hand, Makina is every bit the corpse-killing warrior princess her stern image projects, not just another pretty face with unnatural combat skills flashing her underwear in all her close-ups. (Okay, the underwear part is still true.) She's a complex, conflicted and likable ice queen despite, and maybe because of, her faults. When she enters the fray, the results are always mesmerizing rather than cringe-inducing, though no less brutal for it. The undead, it seems, come in all shapes, sizes and gruesome demises. There are corpse nerds, corpse babies, and an SUV that eats people. It's bloody good fun from tooth-and-claw struggles to the blowouts that end with thousands of rounds emptied on the floor. The organization protecting these shikabane-hime is unique, dark and carnal. It's a recipe for a spooky, sexy time.
On the other hand, this show is frightfully boring despite these elements…so something must have gone seriously wrong somewhere. When there's a fight on, the show is alive, from the episodic brawls with rotting bodies to Makina's tortured flashbacks that hint at a far more one-sided battle. Almost the moment the fight stops, the series is at a standstill, a big shambling dead body moaning a lot of inane space-filling lines from its noise-hole. (The fact that Makina explains everything about shikabane apropos of nothing is bad enough. The fact that she does this over and over makes it nigh-unbearable.)
It's obvious where this series excels, and to aficionados of guts-and-glory, there's more than enough here to sate the eyes, so it may be more beneficial to investigate where it went wrong.
The animation for the series is a little under Gainax standard. Much like the duality of the story's execution, it's either fantastic, on fire, rapid, rounded and magnificent or…a few less complimentary adjectives. The budget doesn't devolve into chicken-scratch the further it goes like some other anime, but begins looking awful in episode one and may not look awful again until episode five or six, depending on its mood, perhaps. All in all: attractive more often than not, but it has its noticeable speedbumps that throw it into off-model chaos, even in the fight scenes.
The music isn't really the problem either. It's barely noticeable, slanting quiet when the story is all whispers and shadows, but ramping into choral hysterics when the gunfire is there to drown it out. It serves its purpose well. The voice acting is glaringly better in English than it is in Japanese, not because the Japanese is poor, (well…it mostly isn't,) but because the dub has no business sounding this good considering the dialogue here. Luci Christian achieves a unique timbre for Makina by speaking through what sounds like a clenched lower jaw most of the time. It's hard to describe, but this really does wonders for her character when she wavers, however subtly, and you can practically hear her lips tremble while she feigns being tough. It's unusually good for such run-of-the-mill material and this is true of all the actors in the dub. Even Aaron Dismuke does the best he can with nondescript Ouri. If nothing else, he sounds authentic, despite playing a character bland as the paper he's printed on. The Japanese seiyuu for many of these characters, particularly Ouri…well, if you can't say anything nice…the dub is recommended here.
No, the problem here is that Corpse Princess never really starts. The episode where the otaku with superpowers runs around taking vengeance? It's here. So is the ladykiller who takes his fetish too literally, and so on deep into the show. What isn't here is any direction to it all, or even any dialogue prompted by logic or direction. (Some of the lines…most of the lines?...are painfully bad in and out of context.) It wouldn't be difficult to cut out the characters' names and place any given episode into other demonic adventures like Devil May Cry or Tokyo Majin. (All three series have episodes where rock/pop stars come back from the dead to pursue fame anew…this is actually a cliché now.) Wasn't there some kind of conspiracy surrounding the monks or a personal vendetta Makina had weighing on her conscience? The series betrays its own unique ideas by dumping them in a grave.
Most importantly of all, the story chose its main character poorly. Neither Makina nor her companion monk Keisei are the focus here, despite the fact they are solid foils for each other and compelling in their own right. No, the mantle of protagonist is carried insufficiently by the tween brother, Ouri, and a ghost-cat of unknown nature that follows him around and speaks in riddles. Even as the so-called lead, Ouri is edged out by a plethora of one-note characters that hog half an episode before awkwardly inching aside as if to apologize for taking up space…and they are still more interesting than him. Really, the cat is more useful than Ouri, because unlike his feline friend, it's not clear at all what Ouri's role is here until the end of the season, in an episode where he barely appears.
It is also the best episode of Corpse Princess by miles and almost makes the long journey there worth every minute…almost. Episode 12 here is visually staggering, emotionally raw, and a game-changer in every way for a show that can be stagnant more often than stimulating. It's not a stretch to say it doesn't even feel like it's from the same anime in its exhilarating presentation.
So…is it a sign the second season is onto better things, with new direction and a new (or is it first?) set of definable antagonists? Only Kuro will tell, but until then, this cold offering is an acquired taste…if you like bland, colorful food, that is.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Forays of awesome animation and gore, intriguing mythos and concepts, episode 12
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