Everyone knows the basic ingredients to making a cake – flour, eggs, butter, sugar – but not everyone can make a decent cake. You can have the right ingredients but unless you know how to properly mix them evenly, how much of each you need and what time you need to cook them for, all you’re going to create is one indigestible mess. And that is what Shikabane Hime is – good ideas strung together into a noisy 13 episode clutter.
Also known by the English title as Corpse Princess; when a person dies with intense regrets, they can live on as an immortal corpse known as a Shikabane. However as an unnatural creature, Shikabane become possessed by their lingering desires and end up killing innocent humans. That is where the Shikabane Hime comes in – special girls brought back from the dead with the sole purpose and power of killing them. After encountering a Shikabane Hime known as Makina by accident, Ouri Kagami’s world is turned upside down and realises that he is more closely linked to her and the Shikabane than he could ever imagine.
On the cover and trailer it looks very much a ‘girls with guns/special powers’ story, told mostly from the perspective of a powerless human serving as the audience’s guide to the Shikabane world. Hot chicks in school girl outfits kicking arse can be fun to watch, and the premise is darker and more original concept that usually gets tagged with such shows. However Shikabane Hime is not fun to watch. It’s a classic example of a production company with decent ideas and elements but instead of weaving it together to create an interesting story, they simply dropped them where they stood and hoped the mess created will be enough for fans of the genre to leap onto it.
After the effective but short lived opening scene, we’re hit by the first of many continuous exposition speeches; I’m not even stretching it when I say it takes up at least 80% of the script. It seems Corpse Princess feared the audience may loose interest if there’s a moment of quiet as every conversation is packed with back to back information about the Shikabane, the Hime, the creatures they kill, the people involved – but not all of it is relevant. The information given is often repetitive, trivial or pulling random deux ex machina to keep the ball rolling that it all becomes just noise. Even in the moments when action should be taking priority over dialogue, we get battles constantly interrupted by exposition speeches and empty threats that only serve to get the character in danger long enough for another Corpse Princess or Ouri to save the day. It doesn’t help that the Corse Princess’ always open each fight with a line about who she is and how she’ll destroy all Shikabane, like it’s an episode from a magical girl show. And this would be acceptable if the characters were being developed in-between or the exposition answered the immediate questions that pop up at the start of the series; instead it ignores some of the more glaring issues until the 2nd half of the series, when half the audience would have taken their leave, with some queries left abandoned. Why can Ouri talk to a ghost cat? What purpose does the cat have apart from having a creepy voice? What makes the Shikabane Hime so vital in killing Shikabane when some of them use human-made machine guns that can be picked up by anybody? Why do they keep talking about keeping Ouri out of danger but they never actually DO anything about it?
This comes hand in hand with the bland characters; we have the typical archetypes here – the tough girl with a tragic past, the clueless yet kind hearted boy who just wants to help, the perverted monk with great powers who is centre to the main plot, and so on. Plenty of shows have recycled characters but with their own spark to justify their existence; Shikabane Hime doesn’t gives us a chance to get to know half the cast. The opening and ending credits showcases various Corpse Princesses, their guardians and powers but half of them have little to no presence in the show, and the one’s that do show face outside of a single episode are picked up and dropped for plot convenience with no intention of allowing the audience to learn about them beyond a few throwaway lines. Plus I fail to see why we have to follow Ouri around, he’s an incredibly dull leading man and predictable in always getting into the centre of trouble at the right moment for Makina to show up.
What about the violence and gore? The darker tone of the show does allow the anime to stretch a few boundaries, blood isn’t necessary splattered across the scene for the sake of it like Elfen Lied is known for, but when blood needs to spill, it spills. Corpse Princess also has some disturbing imagery highlighted here and there that act as small specs of gold in the pile of sawdust. Some of the Shikabane designs are quite varied from a demonic car to cursed children, creating the illusion that the world of Shikabane looks like a horrible reality to be invested in. In those small moments, it works, and I wished those moments continued but sadly don’t stand against the heavy faults of the show. As for the actual fights scenes; they come aplenty, you’re never normally a few minutes away from a life in danger so the short attention spans are taken care of. The best battles are in the latter half of the series when the other Corpse Princesses and their contracted monks become involved because their powers and unique weapons (including samurai swords and giant hammers) are far more interesting to witness. The main female Corpse Princess, Makina, uses a gun and allows the anime to be lazy, often opting to simply show flashes of gun-fire on the enemy to avoid complicated acrobats or visual flare, there are a few exceptions but they aren’t helped by the interruptions for dialogue, so all the action is fragmented.
And the icing on the cake will have to the show’s attempts at humour; its sudden inappropriate moments of comedy are painful to watch, not just because they aren’t funny, but half of it is disturbing. The perverted monk attempts countless times to shower his brother’s room with female anime figurines and pornographic comics, because it’s suppose to be charming? That’s anyone’s guess. On top of this, there’s one eye popping scene where he attempts to sniff the feet of a female monk – I don’t even want to meet the member of production staff who wrote that scene thinking it would constitute as humour.
On the technical side, things get off to a bad start with poor animation quality, welcoming us in the pilot episode and continue to fluctuate across the series. Admittedly the visuals hit their peak in episode 12, when it’s most needed for the big battle. The opening sequence is the most visually impressive of the entire show, making me think they spent most of the budget on that, however the ending doesn’t even get a proper sequence until episode 5 – with the episodes beforehand just being clips from the episode repeated on a red background. This isn’t helped by the uninspired character designs; whilst I’ll freely admit that the Shikabane are quite varied and often showcase some of the more creative villains seen in these types of shows, everyone else looks like washed-out versions of characters you’d find in other anime.
For the audio; Norihito Sumitomo’s score provides the darker atmosphere to the show but is often drowned out by the excessive dialogue, the opening and ending themes by J-pop/rock band angela are high energy songs with the female shouting over the backing track – suitable for the material. Veteran voice actors from both sides of the pond provide good performances, regardless which language you choose to listen to, including Luci Christian as the leading lady in the English dub.
The 13 episodes are spread across 2 discs, the extras provided on disc 2 are your standard clean opening and closing plus a commentary for episode 12.
Shikabane Hime is the type of show I wanted to love for the right reasons but found myself growing incredibly frustrated with it for the wrong reasons. You could argue that the plot is always moving with no filler episodes, the fan service isn’t too distracting and the tone of the show sets it apart from its competition; but that hardly warrants wading through a terrible script, boring and under developed characters with average fight sequences and awful humour. Yes the show does improve for the last episodes, including a complete plot-changing event in episode 12 set to lead into the second season, but it’s a case of too little too late.