Dead Cool – Shikabane: Corpse Princess Part 1 Review
Title: Shikabane: Corpse Princess
Special Features: Japanese Language and Subtitles, english dub, textless opening and closing, commentary on Episode 12 with American director and VAs for Ouri and Makina.
Warning This review may contain spoilers.
Shikabane: Corpse Princess is one of those rare anime I went into without knowing anything at all. The check disks we receive are decoration-free, there is no cover for me to examine, all that I have is a small black-and-white reproduction of the proposed box design, and the blurb from the studio. I hadn’t heard anything online, or from people I’d spoken to at cons. I went into the series totally blind.
The series opens abruptly – a mystic cat wakes up a teenage boy, leading him through the empty rooms of a Buddhist temple. In one of the rooms he finds a dead girl, slashed and bloody. He hides when he hears a noise, and watches his mentor, a young monk, bring the girl apparently back to life. The girl is Makina Hoshino, and she has become the latest Shikabane Hime – killer of restless souls who have become violent. 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.
Of course, you don’t find that out right away. In fact, her reanimation is followed by a simple and very striking opening card, and then the story continues a year after this opening took place, with a very touching scene in the orphanage associated with the temple. The monk who we had previously seen reanimating the young girl – Keisei Tagami – is playing with the younger orphans over breakfast, and Ouri Kagami, the teenage boy, is making plans to move out of the temple.
This scene is lovely. It reminds me a lot in tone, colour and content of the scenes you would perhaps see in something like Fruits Basket – gentle, understated and really rather sweet. There are some ‘saucy’ jokes, but unlike series like Bleach they are not hugely brash, nor do they redirect the tone of the scene or distract from the point. They are simply bits of natural conversation, rather than forced comedy.
Speaking of Bleach, the themes and plots are similar, but I’m not sure that would necessarily mean that Bleach fans would enjoy Shikabane, and equally that people who don’t like Bleach, wouldn’t enjoy it.
The concept of a Shikabane is a person who has died with regrets, and these regrets are strong enough to reanimate their corpse into a monster, capable of killing and basically unkillable, except by the Shikabane-Hime. A similar idea to the ‘Hollows’, or even the evil souls in Soul Eater, but Shikabane are physical beings, inhabited corpses that can be seen and interacted with by living people. And their actions and characters are much more visceral and animalistic. And their death doesn’t ‘purify’ them. Once they’re dead, they’re dead.
Shikabane: Corpse Princess is what I expected Soul Eater to be. It’s what I always wished Bleach was without even really being aware of it. The story of the anime is wonderfully balanced with the action, so understated when it needs to be, but with moments of real emotion and real horror. Stylistically, the animation of the monsters reminds me a lot of Hellsing, and the dark elements explored within the series clearly follow that same pattern. The first episode deals with a murderer who killed his ‘harem’. The second episode deals with three children killed in a bus crash, who deal out terror with a childlike glee.
Within two episodes, Shikabane has shown that anyone can become a monster, established the rules of it, and raised the question: what makes a monster? This is brave stuff for any show, but Shikabane handles it deftly and with skilled narrative. There is hint of a deeper, more sinster plot, of why Makina is the Shikabane-Hime, of Ouri’s fascination with her and what that means for his future, but the crumbs are dropped with more skill than I have seen in a long time, deftly woven in and out of scenes without making it too obvious, or giving too little. The dub is wonderful as well, with very well chosen voices, and a lot of the script’s nuances carefully translated. Interestingly, they keep the phrase “Shikabane-Hime” as Makina’s title, rather than translating ‘hime’ to ‘princess’. This little touch sets the show apart from so many others, it shows consideration in the scripting, that the series has been looked at as a whole before translation, so that the mood can be translated as well. Even the use of colour in the series is crafted, with greys and blacks used with greyed-down colours for darker scenes, whilst happier scenes use a more pastel pallette.
Shikabane is a piece of art more than an anime. At first, I thought it might be CSI: Dead People, but it’s not. Whilst each episode follows a sort of formula to begin with, each story is dealt with independently. The series is not afraid to deal with sex, suicide, child death and murder, and it does so respectfully and in a balanced and serious way. Unlike other series, the tension isn’t broken with pratfalls, which would cheapen the story they are telling. There are jokes, but they are subdued compared to other contemporary series, so they don’t seem crass next to the depth of story which is being told, or the heaviness of the issues being dealt with.
Looking at my notes for this review, the one thing that really stands out to me are the capital letters saying I LIKE THIS. This is the series I have been looking for, as a fan of urban-horror-fantasy, with dabblings in the gothic. And it has lots of guns.
Try this if you liked: Hellsing, InuYasha, Bleach