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Corpse Princess (Shikabane Hime) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 22 September 2010 00:00
Corpse Princess (Shikabane Hime)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 (originally streamed under 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...

Ouri Hagami finds a girl lying dead and covered in blood in the Buddhist shrine that's also his home, late one night. 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 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 lay his part, too, as he finds himself drawn to Makina much in the way that a moth is drawn to flame). Quite why the dead seem unwilling to go on their way in peace is pretty much left as a mystery throughout the series - all we know is that it's Makina's role to "persuade" the reluctant dead to do the right thing, and 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 38 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 targets (108), they'll be able to pass on in peeve 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 force 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 him - and once they're added to the show's mix, the body count soon begins to rise. Add in a good amount of betrayal on both sides and the eventual realisation by the shikabane him that the Sect has been lying to them on some fairly major issues, and the scene is set for the mother of all battles.

I won't discuss the details past that for fear of spoilers, but as you'd expect from a show where GAINAX are involved (albeit playing second-fiddle to co-producers Feel, there are... issues with how the plot is tied up at the end that left me rather dissatisfied come the final roll of the credits. That said the vast majority of the series is an enjoyable, action-packed roller-coaster the even uses a decent dose of humour to lighten the mood when that's required. The end result, while it has its flaws, is a series that's great fun to watch for the action junkies amongst us.

Rating - ****