FUNimation (online streaming)
11 Apr 2009
While episode thirteen of Shikabane Hime brought us to the end of its "Aka" (red, in English) half, no sooner was that finished than we had yet more tales of corpses and the undead to be regaled with, courtesy of Shikabane Hime: Kuro (or black) to complete the story.
Come the end of the first half of the series, Makina Hoshimura had been having a pretty tough time of things (aside from being a dead schoolgirl of course), losing the original priest to whom she was contracted, and instead forming a new contract with Keisei's adopted brother, Ouri. It's this bond which makes up the core of this second half of the series as a whole, but is particularly the focus of its early episodes, as Ouri trains to become a priest of the Kougon cult worthy of the name, while Makina suffers from the curse of having been contracted to two people.
All of this is played out against a backdrop of the threat from Shichisei, a roughly linked menagerie of Corpses with an interest in wiping out the Shikabane Hime, led by a former Kougon priest who has since turned against them in Akasha. While most Corpses prove to be little trouble for the Shikabane Hime, Shichisei has a trump card in the form of Hokuto, a Corpse born without regret and thus intensely powerful (albeit also intensely disturbed) as a result.
After the first half of Shikabane Hime was so slow to get into the swing of things before warming up pretty nicely, you'd be forgiven for expecting this second half of the series to hit the ground running - Unfortunately, you'd be mistaken in such an assumption, as once again things become more than a little ponderous for the first few episodes (although in fairness it does take a reasonably interesting detour into the history of Shikabane Hime Itsuki and her contracted priest Takamasa) before picking up the pace and really taking some big bites out of the juicy morsels which make up the mainstay of the plot.
Similarly, this second half of the series also seems to avoid playing the horror card as frequently as you might expect, which is decidedly odd given the overall content and background of the story. In all honesty this is a huge shame, as the series best moments come when it puts its efforts into being creepy and ramping up the horror-esque content, with moments such as a fairground filled with killer balloons and an epic battle between Ouri and a vast Corpse that were honestly chilling to watch. In fact, I really must wax lyrical some more about episode twenty-two of Shikabane Hime in particular as an absolutely top-notch, gripping, ten out of ten instalment of anime. Quite simply, it had everything - Perfect pacing, excitement, action, tension, horror, and a cliff-hanger that was absolutely the stuff of nightmares.
Given that single, breath-taking episode of this series, the rest of Shikabane Hime actually seems a little tame in comparison, with that stand-out instalment demonstrating exactly what this show could (and perhaps should) have been. However, don't let that lead you into believing that this is a poor series, as it really isn't - Despite that slow start, the mainstay of the story is oddly fascinating even when its big plot twists are entirely unsurprising, and you can't help but get caught up in cheering along the "good guys" even where their halo has slipped a little as a result of some of those revelations.
When it comes down to it, Shikabane Hime is a good old fashioned slice of violent fun. It isn't Gainax at its best despite showing glimpses of their talent, but it still makes for a solidly entertaining piece of work. As per the first half of the series, this entertainment value is perhaps helped by the fact that you can currently view the show in its entirety for free via FUNimation's video portal.