Also known as: Corpse Princess
Ouri was always considered strange among the kids at the orphanage. While death is a scary concept to most, he is unfazed by it. Now at an age where he can support himself, he decides to move to an apartment. Keisei, the guy he's always thought of as a brother; stops by from time to time. Then Ouri met a strange girl named Makina. She's attractive, feisty, and mysterious. And dead.
Keisei is a member of a monk sect dedicated to reanimating the dead to fight fight other undead. Makina is an undead partnered with him, known as shikabane hime. Ouri feels drawn to Makina, but concerned for Keisei's safety. The ghost of a cat Ouri's known since childhood keeps leading him to encounters with her. He's never questioned it before, but what exactly is the cat? Showing up during battles with undead put both Keisei and Makina in danger (not to mention himself) but at the same time he finds it hard to stay away.
There is a long history of anime that has royally screwed up a concept. When I pick up a title with a school girl holding machine guns on the cover, I don't need anything profound. Somewhere in Japan Yoshiichi Akahito understood this when he penned the manga. Then it was picked up by animation studio Ginax and I could tell by the intro that these people get the idea of what shounen titles SHOULD be about. And it's about exactly what you would expect from the cover: a girl in a short skirt kicking ass with machine guns. The story may not be profound, but it's still fairly good.
If you're tired of the over done zombie thing, you can rest easy since the idea of the undead (shikabane) is an original concept. I'm not sure what qualifies as "horror" these days, but I have to admit that some of the stuff made me cringe for reasons I couldn't explain - not graphic violence, but some of the descriptions of things that happened. Don't expect the undead thing to just be a fluff concept. It gets pretty heavy into some of those ideas, in ways that are creepy like this kind of concept should be.
Not only is the design of Shikabane Hime good, the animation is impressive as well. Gainax is a studio which understands where to place high frame rate action sequences to great effect. If I do have one gripe with the character designs: I don't understand why the only female contracted monk wears an outfit with her bust hanging out. I have the feeling that the rest of the girls are bound to what they were wearing when they died, but it just doesn't make sense for her. Oh, and there's plenty of fan service to be had here. If you're concerned that Makina's skirt is too long, don't worry since it frays and shortens itself by at least 6 inches the second she enters combat. Just remember as you're leering at all this exposed skin, that's necrophilia.
Season 1, known as Shikabane Hime: Aka; introduces the cast and starts off with an episodic nature before moving into a slightly bigger story. Makina is a very pissed off girl, which I guess she has the right to be since she's dead and all. That makes it intentionally hard to relate to her. Ouri is alright as a main character, but annoying since he's basically a wimp when taken into context of fighting undead. His otaku brother is a likable guy who holds a lot of this together. I thought Ouri's concern for him was an interesting way to tie him into the story that felt believable. The story mainly revolves around these three and does reasonably well.
Season 2 is Shikabane Hime: Kuro. While the first season left nearly everything open, the second season explains way more than I thought it would. I certainly wouldn't have expected elaborating on why they can only turn girls into the undead in a passing explanation lasting under 20 seconds, and have it completely make sense, but then again this show has a knack for explanations that are simple, yet plausible.
One subtext in Shikabane Hime is that humanity will never reach nirvana. Why? Think of it this way, there isn't really any ideal more cut and dried than killing undead monsters to save people. And if it wasn't enough of an incentive to follow the path of righteousness, lets say you also had hot undead female minion to assist you. Yet despite this the Kougun Sect is completely embroiled in political BS. No matter how clear the path and whatever encouragement you give people to do the right thing, they'll still screw it up with politics. You might say this is only an anime, but it sucks because you can see how true it is.
Overall I liked Shikabane Hime a lot. It has fun and violence, but is gritty and dark at the same time. It may be one of those series called a guilty pleasure, but I think the story is solid enough to say "I'm watching it for the plot, not the hot girls with machine guns and short skirts".. *cough*. Anyway, I was also impressed that this anime is willing to remove major players from the story. If I have one complaint it's with the last episode which was tacked on to the end of the series that goes into a side character's background. Normally I like this idea, but this episode was weak. Other than that, Shikabane Hime is highly recommended in the girls with guns vein.
Keisei: There is meaning in a person's death. It has the potential to affect individuals, society, or even the world around us. Death is by no means a bad thing.
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