FUNimation (online streaming)
01 Mar 2009
For a certain type of anime fan, Shikabane Hime is the kind of series that shouts out "watch me!" from the very start before you've even viewed a split second of it. First up, it's made by Gainax - Not always a guarantee of absolute quality admittedly, but not a bad start. Then we take a look at the story synopsis; hmm, what have we here? Dead school girls toting machine guns and a variety of other weapons to kill evil monsters? Okay, I'm sold!
The star of the show in terms of these dead schoolgirls is Makina Hoshimura, a girl brutally murdered along with her family, yet someone who has managed to live on as a "corpse" - In the world we're presented with in this series, any person who dies with some sort of regret surrounding their life or the way they lived it is liable to come back as a corpse to wreak havoc upon the world. The only thing that can stop a rampaging corpse is a Shikabane Hime, or "corpse princess", a young girl similarly brought back from the dead but with a remit to terminate any corpses with extreme prejudice. Once a Shikabane Hime has killed 108 corpses (a strange number I know but hey, I don't make the rules), she is granted entry to heaven, or so the mysterious Kougon cult which controls these girls believes.
As well as Makina, we're also introduced to her "contracted priest" Keisei, the man who she serves directly and draws her energy, power and ability to heal from, as well as his adopted brother Ouri, who is in fact the real focus of the show and its main protagonist. Indeed, it's the rather wishy-washy Ouri who we are introduced to much of the action through, as he finds himself drawn towards either Makina or any nearby corpse activity for numerous reasons as the series progresses, inevitably getting him into trouble while also drawing him closer to following the path originally walked by his brother.
If you haven't guessed from that plot synopsis at the start, the action was always going to be the selling point of this show over any deep, introspective thinking or the like - Gunslinger Girl this series is not. With that in mind, it has to be said that there's a certain amount of brazen, in your face style on show here, full of blood, guts and missing limbs - It's probably fair to say that this isn't a series for the faint hearted. Perhaps oddly given that description, Shikabane Hime is actually rather slow to get into the swing of things; sure, the action-oriented segments are all present and correct, but revealing and setting up the show's back story takes rather longer than you might expect. The series also has a nasty habit of trying to lighten the mood with comical moments, almost all of which fall absolutely, eye-rollingly flat on their face, and often destroying any tense build up offered up to that point.
However once you get beyond that, and as this portion of the series enters its second half, things become much more descriptive and tightly focused, propelling the series on at a far more even and suitable pace and even injecting a fair amount of emotion (much of which is well scripted and represented) as the first half of the series reaches its climax. Couple that with the introduction of more ass-kicking dead girls, interwoven into some decent stories surrounding the relationship between Shikabane Hime and contracted priest, and a handful of episodes that hit a nail squarely on the head of the horror anime genre with exceptionally creepy results, and you have yourself a steady yet unspectacular show which is certainly well worth at least a cursory viewing if the concept of the series grabs your attention.
This recommendation is especially true given that this first half of Shikabane Hime (subtitled "Aka", or "red" in Japan, immediately followed by "Kuro" or "black" to make up episodes 14-26) is available for UK residents to view for free using either FUNimation's video portal, or FUNimation's YouTube channel, both of which offer up high quality, subtitled video streams of every episode as soon as humanly possible. As free, legal anime online goes, Shikabane Hime is arguably a minor star of the current crop of series available.