I'm not the biggest fan of most zombie related media franchises, mostly because it always seems like people manage to get eaten despite the fact that zombies are really, really slow and almost non-threatening. Resident Evil zombies are more interesting in that they've abandoned traditional zombies in favor of scientifically engineered super zombies that can feasibly rip you to shreds with little effort. With those prejudices in mind I proceeded to watch Corpse Princess, and was shown a new spin on the ever-popular zombie genre.
It can be assumed that as people die, they may be reminded of unfulfilled desires they couldn't tend to while alive. In Corpse Princess, a person who dies with enough regrets and obsessions will reanimate as a shikabane, who appear to be ordinary humans but are capable of transforming into hideous monsters if provoked. They spend their time endlessly seeking to fulfill the compulsions that prompted them to reanimate, and these often involve killing living humans. A unique group of Buddhist monks known as the Kougun Sect combats these monsters, but does so with the assistance of shikabane hime (literally "corpse princesses"), female shikabane who sign contracts with monks and vow to destroy 108 shikabane in order to get into heaven.
A brutal looking shikabane.
Corpse Princess has two distinct seasons, Aka and Kuro. I chose to lump them together in this review because despite the difference in atmosphere they have, they continue the same story. I found Aka to be slightly more coherent than Kuro. Aka lays down elementary facts that help us understand the story and has a villain of the week format. We are privy to Ouri's discovery of the world of shikabane, something Keisei and Makina strongly discourage because of the immense danger he is unwittingly placing himself in. Such conflicts eventually solidify into a powerful climax that results in the death of one of our central characters. Kuro is slower in pace and focuses in on the Seven Stars, seemingly immortal shikabane who seek to destroy the Kougun Sect. Makina also has a vendetta against them, for both killing her family years ago and for killing one of our protagonists last season. Kuro introduces a couple of smaller conflicts that might have added fantastic levels of depth to the series had they been developed, but the season works best when focusing on Makina's blind rage. I'm being purposely ambiguous because I greatly despise spoilers, but surely anyone who sees Aka will naturally care to see Kuro and compare the seasons for themselves.
If there's anything definitive to be said about Corpse Princess, it's that the series makes zombies cooler than I've ever seen them and offered me an unprecedented perspective. The various shikabane hime fight using particular weapons and skills; Makina herself is a girls with guns character packing MAC-11s. The gravity and mood of the series is pretty heavy and there aren't many reasons to laugh or smile, though this is offset by the cuteness and physical attractiveness of some of the shikabane hime. I consider Corpse Princess to be structurally similar to one of the first shows I reviewed, Birdy the Mighty: Decode, where the second season was fixated on allowing character embellishment and eventually having those characters find catharsis.
Reservations I had concerning zombie stories have been slightly mitigated thanks to Corpse Princess. I remember when I reviewed Rosario + Vampire, I wasn't crazy about the harem and ecchi genres of anime, but that show turned out to be a treat. I have similar sentiments here. It just goes to show that trying out new things is good to do once in a while. I personally feel that in order for the staff here at The Anime Guardians to flourish as writers we have to avoid stagnation. The worst thing that will happen is that we've spent close to 650 minutes of our lives on a show that sucked, and then we can at least warn others not to make the same mistake. I'm telling you now, Corpse Princess caused me no such heartache.
* Corpse Princess was produced by Feel and Gainax.