Ouri has been fascinated by death for as long as he can remember, and even though the orphanage he grew up in had a cemetery in its back yard, he has never been afraid of death. When he meets Makina, he becomes attracted to her, even though her heart stopped working two years ago. Makina is bonded to Ouri's adopted brother, mentor and father figure Kesei, by a contract to slay the psychotic and powerful undead known as Shikabane. By meeting and pursuing Makina, Ouri has stumbled into a secret underworld Kesei has desperately tried to secret from him.
Corpse Princess starts inauspiciously enough. How many anime have I seen where the Average Boy meets the Super Girl and discovers some violent underworld filled with monsters and fighting beauties? How many more anime have I seen with some monster-of-the-week that will be defeated by the end of the episode? Probably too many, and definitely too few of them made something as compelling as this. Corpse Princess is hardly an organic work, but it is a good one. Gainax and Feel Studio are going over well-trod territory here that they're very familiar with, and using it to flex their animation and storytelling muscles for everyone to see.
Honestly, I'm surprised this series hasn't lit the Internet on fire. It's well animated, has everything most otaku love, and while that sounds like a recipe for a generic, by-the-book seinen series, I actually mean that as a compliment. Makina is a fine femme fatale with some great character design in an involving story with kick-ass action sequences. It's the meat and potatoes of anime done well, and it's a shame more bloggers and forum posters are eviscerating Akikan while more or less ignoring than this.
The Shikabane (who are nothing more than glorified zombies) also have eye popping designs by newcomer Hirokazu Kojima. Fitting for an anime with Buddhists priest trained to slay undead, how the undead are created is a distinctly Buddhist concept. Whenever someone dies with strong feelings or regrets about the world they leave behind, they become Shikabane, and gain powers that somehow symbolize or relate to what made them undead. A good example of this is a playboy who lived with a harem of women whom he constantly abused. After death, he becomes a psuedo-vampire with the ability to hypnotize women by the power of the charisma and misogyny he had he was alive.
The existence of Shikabane is kept a secret from the general public, and the people responsible for exterminating them are a cult of Buddhists known as the Kougun Sect. The priests of this sect each have their own Shikabane known as Shikabane Hime. The Hime's job is to protect their contracted priest and kill off other Shikabane. The details of this are something of spoiler, so even though every press release and Wiki page spoils it for you, I'm going to stay vague here on how these contracts work, or what makes Makina's bond with Kesei different from the others.
I'm resisting giving anything but the most bare bone details about Corpse Princess because this is an anime best watched if you know next to nothing about it. FUNi should package the DVD with a blank disc and wrap it in a brown paper bag. Part of the thrill of the show is watching the anime slowly reveal who the Shikabane are, why Makina fights for the Kougun Sect, and the politics and inner workings of that sect. It resists the temptation to explain everything to its viewers until the very end, and that works out very well.
Corpse Princess may start out looking like an episodic series, but don't let those first three episodes fool you. This is a series that builds on itself, and builds and builds to a big climax in its final three episodes. There's no real "Gainax Twist" this time around; instead, Gainax evolves the story from one well-worn anime plotting trope to another. And even when that happened, I still enjoyed the hell out of it. That's a testament to the strength of this show, and the studios that produced it.
A series that builds suspense, and just keeps building it, and building it, and building it... until all hell breaks loose. Must watch for anime fans who love femme fatale and action. Skippable if you don't care for either of those. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: With some violence and fanservice, this series is appropriate for teenagers and up.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming subtitled video from FUNimation
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Corpse Princess © 2008 Gainax / Feel / FUNimation
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