Ouri Kagami is an orphan at a temple in Japan. He’s been there for most of his life, having been found as a young boy by one of the monks at the temple — Keisei Tagami, who later in life is seen by Ouri as a brother figure. A lecherous pervert of a brother figure, but a brother figure none the less. After many years at the temple, Ouri decides that it’s time to move away and start a new life on the outside. While he’s moving his belongings by cart to his terrible new apartment, a girl falls from the sky. Rushing to her assistance, Ouri wonders why she looks like a girl — Makina Hoshimura — who he saw one night at the temple: she was dead, then brought back to life with Keisei’s help.
Welcome to the world of Corpse Princess, a horror/drama series adapted from the manga of the same name. In this world, people who die with powerful regrets or obsessions can become creatures called shikabane. These are like traditional Romero-style zombies, in that they can be killed by destroying the brain or severing the head from the body at the neck, but differ from them in that they are capable of superhuman strength and usually have an almost supernatural power called a curse. This curse manifests itself in a way that is related to the regret or obsession, such as the J-pop star shikabane that has a curse related to her singing voice.
Usually these shikabane are violent and dangerous to the living, so it helps that there is a group out there that specialise in dealing with the threat they represent. The Kougun Sect, a group with links to Ouri’s orpahanage, employ specialist “contract monks” that have a bond (or a contract, if you will) with shikabane hime, a different type of shikabane that isn’t as ruled by their regrets and obsessions. Because of this, these shikabane hime are used to kill the rogue shikabane that do step out of line and hurt the public. Destroying 108 of them gives a shikabane hime the right to enter heaven.
It wasn’t hard to figure out that Ouri would eventually end up as Makina’s contract monk, but I am grateful that it takes a bit longer than the customary one or two episodes that other shows take to organise for their characters to pair up. It gives the viewer a little time to get used to the rules of this world before the heroes’ call to duty rings out. It also allows Ouri time to shape his own view of his surroundings before deciding whether it is worth getting involved.
It doesn’t help Ouri, mind you, that Makina (the girl everyone knows he is destined to be stuck with) thinks he is a nuisance that is only going to get in the way. She’s entirely focused on making it to heaven, while also mopping up a group of rogue shikabane called the Seven Stars that may have had something to do with her death.
There is a lot of interesting mythology and world-building with this series: what I have written so far only introduces some of the events of the first thirteen episodes. It is a slow-building anime that starts with stand-alone episodes and slowly dovetails into mini arcs of two or three episodes which focus on an ongoing conspiracy by the Seven Stars and an exiled monk that killed his contracted shikabane hime. And while it does sound very serious, they do drop in the occasional comedic moment — usually Keisei or one of Ouri’s classmates being lecherous and perverse.
Animation is handled well, with interesting designs for the shikabane when they do become a bit more than human. Special mention must go to the first shikabane that we meet, who styles his lifestyle like some kind of modern-day vampire and turns into a black scratchy-winged beast. There’s a fair amount of variation, but I thought this one in particular was visually interesting.
It’s not often that I say this about Madman’s decision to split an anime series in two like they’ve done here, but I really want to see what comes next. Damn cliffhangers.