Sunday, 13 March 2011

Anime Review - Shikabane Hime: Aka (Corpse Princess)

Yes Makina, horror!
Something strange has happened to me as of late: anime is starting to lose its shine a little. Whilst a 13 episode series used to take less than a week to finish, Shikabane Hime: Aka stretched out just over six-weeks from the first OP to the final ED. Far from being a terrible series, it simply failed to grip me in a moment of personal animated weakness. But hey, you can’t go wrong with pretty girls and a healthy dose of horror, making Shikabane Hime: Kuro look extremely tempting.

Opening with a somewhat confusing episode in which teenage boy Ouri watches a dead girl being brought back to life by his “brother” Keisei, Shikabane Hime: Aka doesn’t pull the punches as it draws the viewer into an alternate reality. The zombie girl Makina is kept as a mystery, with information released sparsely such as the reasons for her battling monsters or her why she plays such a large part in Keisei’s life. Frequently playing out as a monster of the week show, there is not the predictable over indulgence of power-ups and the good guy does not always win. This fresh approach to a typically trope-filled shounen genre stops the mundane predictability found in so many other titles.
Random topless lady.... um, yeah...

Taking a step back from the bizarre premise, the narrative resonates with the distinctive style of Masahiko Murata, director of the love/hate Gilgamesh. Moments of character-centric dialogue is punctuated by increasingly brutal fight scenes that are a delight to watch. That said I have to point out that this is the first in a two season show and used primarily to set the scene. Ouri isn’t a typical hero who receives amazing powers from a beautiful yet mysterious female; instead he is tugged along as clueless as the viewer for much of the show, being primed and developed to come into his own by the climactic finale.

It is difficult to talk about the story without involving spoilers, so I have kept things intentionally vague. To summarise, those looking for all-out action may find the long spells of character development very dull, as Gainax dash all hopes of this being the next Tengen Toppa-tastic battle porn. However, those with a little patience and who enjoy a complex tale unfolding like an intricate origami toy will lap up the difficult blossoming relationship between Makina and Ouri. The internal fighting between the dead-babe controlling monks, although brief, promises much for season 2.

Weird colours, angular faces - definitely Gainax
Making a name for daring to be different, Gainax certainly doesn’t disappoint with clean and bold visuals. The characters are not shoehorned into the boring, wide-eyed mould that has become wide spread recently. Angular faces suit the fine lines used in their creation whilst innovative artists ensure each distinct personality is housed in a fabulously distinct body. Living up to its horror roots, much of the colour palette used consists of dark reds, browns and black and this brave choice ensures the show is certainly a winner in the atmosphere stakes.

Playing up well to the horror tag, both the opening and closing credits blend together haunting vocals with adrenaline pumping pop-rock. I had never heard of the artist Angela before this, but I will definitely be looking up more of her material in the near future. Both the background music and general noises are suitably creepy, successfully making the ever ominous atmosphere sit uncomfortably with the viewer.

Girls with guns - a winning combo
Featuring the vocal talents of Keiji Fujiwara (Kimura from Hajime no Ippo), his two co-stars are relatively unheard of in the seiyuu world. Interestingly, although inexperienced both Tatsuya Hasome and Nana Akiyama create two very believable, emotion-filled protagonists. Although the whining can get a little grating at times, it is worth reminding you that the pair are simply kids thrust into a horrific world that neither of them asked for.

Big bro is the true hero - especially on
his scooter
As a bit of a wet lettuce, Ouri isn’t the most likeable hero in the world; failing to live up to Keisei’s legacy of badassery, he is seemingly dragged along as clueless as the observer with the information overload. That said the climax of this first season sets him up perfectly to come alive and shine in season two. His onscreen bubbling romance with Makina is the highlight of many a dialogue-filled scene, especially as his leading lady exudes a cold, impenetrable exterior. Whilst she is a gun-toting, demon slaying zombie, the starring Shikabane Hime frequently reverts back to the scared little girl present before her brutal murder. This glaring contrast is what makes Makina such a strong female lead and able to hold the viewers interest to the end.

Handsome beastie
Although Shikabane Hime: Aka suffers from many flaws, I can honestly say it was an enjoyable ride for me. Looking over other reviews for the show, it seems to have incensed many of the anime watching community who were expecting the second coming of Gainax’s previous title, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Bearing in mind that this hit our screens at the same time as the atrocious Akikan, I find it quite surprising that there were not more fans that stumbled across this relatively unknown series. Although the anime shine still isn’t completely back for me, I am looking forward to continuing the story with the second series: Kuro.

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