Chika FujimuraAoi YukiTatsuhisa SuzukiSumire Morohoshi
Corpse Princess
Also known as: Shikabane Hime
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2008
Director: Masahiko Murata
Writer: Shou Aikawa
Original creator: Yoshiichi Akahito
Actor: Aoi Yuki, Aya Endo, Chika Fujimura, Chise Nakamura, Fuyuka Oura, Hidetoshi Nakamura, Junichi Suwabe, Keiji Fujiwara, Kiyotaka Furushima, Masaki Terasoma, Masayuki Shouji, Michi Niino, Mika Kikuchi, Miki Maruyama, Mitsuki Saiga, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Nana Akiyama, Nobutoshi Canna, Saeko Chiba, Sumire Morohoshi, Takaya Hashi, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Tatsuya Hasome, Tokuyoshi Kawashima, Tooru Nara, Toru Ohkawa, Yui Horie, Yuki Hayashi
Keywords: anime, horror, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 25 episodes + a 26th OVA
Website category: Anime late 00s
Review date: 28 March 2018
I randomly bought this on DVD. This is often a road to disappointment, but this series surprised me by being better than I'd expected. It had looked like schoolgirls in short skirts shooting zombie-monsters. Admittedly that's accurate, but this also happens to be a Gainax show that's quite serious and dark. (Well, Gainax and Studio Feel. It's a co-production.)
The show's set in a world where people who die violently don't always stay dead. If they had strong resentments or unfulfilled desires, they might come back as a shikabane (literally "corpse") and turn into a monster that kills people. Fortunately, though, there are also people who try to stop shikabane. The Kougon Sect are a bunch of monks who create Shikabane Hime (literally "corpse princesses") and turn them loose on their fellow zombies. These are always young and female. There's an in-story reason for this, but the real one is audience appeal. Anyway, every Shikabane Hime must have a psychic bond with her Contracted Monk, who has the job of keeping her under control and stopping her from reverting into an ordinary shikabane.
There are problems with this set-up. Firstly, the Kougon Sect are dicks. They're doing an important job, but they're also narrow-minded, pompous jerks who don't listen to you and think the Shikabane Hime are defiled and subhuman. They talk a lot of bigoted nastiness about the Shikabane Hime that they create, which unfortunately often gets believed by the Shikabane Hime themselves.
Secondly, this status quo is fragile. Shikabane Hime need a Contracted Monk, or else things can go amazingly bad. The Contracted Monk needs his Shikabane Hime, who's the only thing standing between him and a five-minute life expectancy. (They're in the zombie hunting business.) Now consider the possible emotional and relationship complications, bearing in mind that one or both parties might be emotionally needy, suicidal (e.g. if their death was suicide), abusive or just plain stupid. Oh, and there's also love. This causes problems too, since everyone agrees that Shikabane Hime are nothing more than an abomination against nature who wouldn't even have the right to attend their own funerals. No, I'm not joking. If there's a funeral, any Shikabane Hime will be sitting outside in the road because the monks haven't let them in.
There are three main characters. The first is an orphan called Ouri, who was raised at a temple and knows nothing of the supernatural. The second is Keisei, the Buddhist priest he calls "brother", although they're not blood related. The third is Makina, who has a short skirt and twin machine-guns. You already know what she is.
It's a good story, I think. It's got a bit of horror and a bit of action, but it's more just a (violent) character study of the people in this world. Some of them are trying to be good, some of them are very, very bad and some of them have deluded themselves into worrying beliefs. Mind you, even the baddies think they're the good guys. In a world containing people like the Kougon Sect, it shouldn't be surprising to find eventually a sort of Shikabane Rights Association. I can even sympathise. I just wouldn't like to be on the same planet as them. The show's first half might look as if it's falling into "Shikabane of the Week" episodes, but it's become a properly serialised ongoing story by at least ep.8 and the second half in particular is all tied together.
There's fanservice. It could have been worse, but there is. Makina's knickerless and prone to clothing damage, while lots of other girls have big boobs. Rika Aragami must be proud of her assets, because she never does up her shirt. In fairness you never actually see anything and there's only one brief-ish bit of actual toplessness (the onsen in ep.16), but the closing credits in particular are shameless. The first set of closing credits are merely bad, but the second set will make you hope no one sees you watching this. That said, though, the show itself is a lot more restrained and they never let fanservice affect the show's tone.
It's a good show, I think. It's full of action, guns, zombie monsters and intensity, but underneath all that is a strong, dark story with bare-knuckle themes. You can take it seriously. The fanservice doesn't help, but this is a series I'd say deserved serious critical attention. The ending doesn't feel like a complete resolution, but that might be because the anime was made when the original manga was only halfway through its 2005-2014 run. It's found a good place to stop emotionally, though. Things had been said and discovered that really needed to come out. Note incidentally that ep.25 is the ending, with ep.26 being a flashback OVA episode about the life and afterlife of what's probably the most horrifying Shikabane Hime of them all. She went from an abusive relationship in life to another one in death. Some of the character work in here is horrible in such a subtle, everyday way, e.g. the woman continually having to run to catch up with the man who keeps thoughtlessly leaving her behind. I was waiting to see if the show was going to retcon her final tragedy... but maybe that happened in a later chapter of the manga. I'd like to think so anyway.
Anyway, I liked this a lot more than I expected. Much better than it looks.