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Shikabane Hime: Corpse Princess Vol. 2
Distributor Manga Entertainment
Date 08 Sep 2011
In my review of the first set of Shikabane Hime I used a rather tortured metaphor that compared the set to a home-baked muffin. In particular, I likened the first set of the series to a well made but somewhat plain muffin, fine on its own but crying out for something extra to make it great. Well, I'm going to re-use the metaphor in this review of the second half of the series (and you can’t stop me!) - does this set provide the extra kick to make the show great, or does it simply end up burnt? To quickly remind readers of the series plot line, Shikabane Hime focuses on Ouri Kagami, an orphan who is taken in by Buddhist monk and all-round cool guy Keisei Tagami. Keisei is a rather active monk, fighting to protect common people from undead abominations called Shikabane which are formed when people die clutching to strong, overpowering regrets. He is not alone in this endeavour - he is joined by Makina Hoshimura, an undead girl better known as a Shikabane Hime who assists Keisei in ridding the world of dangerous Shikabane and so keeping the populace safe. As the show unfolds, Ouri gets more and more tangled up in the activities of his foster brother, his undead companion and the overarching politics of the Buddhist sect that employs the Shikabane Hime. At the end of the first set there is a massive cataclysm for the main characters of the series (which I will not outline here due to obvious spoilers) wherein the main villains of the show are formally introduced and the stage is set for the second half of the series. This second set of episodes picks things up six months later and carries the story along to its conclusion. Sort of. Frankly, this second half of Shikabane Hime is rife with issues, many of them made all the more irritating by the fact that the first half of the series did these things well or at least passably. Chief among these issues is the pace of the show - instead of the comfortable, if unspectacular, jog exhibited in the first half, this set instead stumbles, staggers and often outright face-plants. Tedious, repetitive exposition all-but drowns the show, with basic world-building elements that you are already aware of being discussed extensively time and again to the point of nausea. Whenever anything of note happens there will often be long expository dialogue before, during, and after the event, and sometimes this occurs multiple times between different sets of characters or in different scenes. One chief example of this is when the show gives a you a flashback to an expository scene that took place mere moments ago in the same episode. This constant verbal diarrhea about mundane items also hurts the plot development of the series as it numbs you to the moments when actual interesting or surprising developments occur. But don't worry, the series will then take pains to immediately over-explain it shortly afterward to nullify any sort of enjoyment you have experienced from working it out yourself or, god-forbid, letting events develop towards a climax. These interesting elements feel like tiny boats adrift on a churning sea of nonsense and waffle.
Sadly, despite all the exposition being thrown in your face to set things up, the show never manages to recapture the momentum or tension that it developed over the course of the first half. This second half runs together into a single twelve episode arc, devoid of tension or investment due to the horrible pacing. The show even seems to forget to give you any pay-off for all of its development and exposition, with the last few episodes collapsing into an infuriating series of anti-climaxes that left me feeling bewildered. Chief among these frustrations is how the penultimate episode fails to resolve some dangling character arcs and starts up a climactic fight scene only for the final episode to cut to an unrelated side story and ignore all of the unresolved story material.
Events displayed in the show just seem to happen, as if a director had plucked a plot event out of a hat at random times during the show. Due to poor execution, most of these "surprises" are more infuriating rather than interesting. Random side-characters whose arcs you thought were resolved are brought back for the hell of it. People who appear to have resolved internal conflict are suddenly thrust back into the conflict apropos of nothing to have it resolved a second time. Fight scenes are rudely interrupted by other plot lines, robbing you of the possibility of action scenes to break up all the expository blabber. I could go on and on, but I'll limit my additional complaints to one particular issue that kept cropping up: each time there was a massive revelation in the storyline (most of which have been blindingly obvious to the viewer due to the weight of exposition they have had to sit though up until that point), it is suddenly telepathically broadcast to other characters in the show. A massive dark secret is revealed, and not only do those in attendance know it but also those who have shown no sign of knowing the secret until now also mention it freely. This is really, really lazy plotting and frustrating to watch.
On the subject of viewing frustrations, this second half of the show introduces a new pair of characters as comedy relief - both are incurable otaku and almost everything they say or do is some form of self-referential humour about their stereotypical selves. Personally, I cannot stand these types of characters or attempts at humour - it comes across as lazy and uninspired dross, particularly when one of the characters is a buxom female named “Flesh” who can barely dress herself let alone string an intelligible sentence together. Every time she popped up I wanted to throw the review DVD out the window.
The rest of the cast are in attendance, but as they spend a lot of time explaining things to each other everyone seems to be slightly denser than I remember. While I do enjoy the majority of the characters, I never felt that I got to know them any better as all of the character moments are very poorly handled. The main heroine in particular develops randomly as if undergoing Brownian Motion- her mind changes on a whim and resolutions occur arbitrarily with very little defining uncertainty in-between.
As in the first set, the presentation of the second half of Shikabane Hime is perfectly suitable - the animation stays on model and moves fluidly through the action scenes, but it's a shame that there are not many of them nor do they last very long. The soundtrack also works well although it has some rather bizarre tracks due to an inconsistent choice of instruments such as sudden electric guitars out of nowhere! The dub also works well with the exception of the main character Ouri, who I feel still sounds grating on the ears.
To go back to my original metaphor (again), Shikabane Hime's second half is a half-baked cake with an improper mixture of ingredients - too much filler, not enough of the snappy action and development that made the first half work. I feel it is not an exaggeration to say that this second half manages to wreck the good work done setting up the world in the first half, dragging the series down as a whole. Sadly there are not even many memorable fight scenes to spice it up, which is a great shame. There are some good ideas and themes in the show, and to see them squandered in such a poor second half is very disappointing.
5.1 English audio and 2.0 Japanese audio. Extras include textless opening and closing animations and episode twenty-four commentary from the English voice acting cast.
Some nice ideas, but all of the build-up of the first half of the series is sadly squandered by poor handling of this second half.