I first saw Empire of Corpses at MCM Loves Anime last year, and couldn’t decide how I felt about it, so this review gave me a chance to give it another try and see if I could work out whether I liked it or not. The first entry in the trilogy of Project Itoh films, Empire of Corpses is brought to the UK as both a SteelPack Collector’s Edition and Standard DVD release. Noitamina, a Japanese programming block for anime, announced that they would be adapting three of the Project Itoh novels into feature films, with each by a different studio and director. Empire of Corpses was directed by Ryotaro Makihara at Studio Wit. Ryotaro Makihara has previously directed Hal, also released by All The Anime, and worked on the Key Animation for other films such as Colorful, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa, and a few of the Crayon Shin-chan movies, Studio Wit are best known for Attack on Titan and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. All The Anime have also announced a UK release for another Project Itoh film, <Harmony/>, later this year.
“From the studio that produced Attack on Titan comes a captivating historical action thriller based on a Phillip K. Dick Award winning novel by Project Itoh. In an alternate version of 19th century London, the world has been revolutionized by “corpse reanimation technology” creating armies of undead who serve the living as laborers across the globe.
In an attempt to revive his dearly departed friend, young medical student John Watson becomes obsessed with replicating the work of Dr. Victor Frankenstein—the legendary corpse engineer whose research produced the only reanimated corpse to possess a soul. But when his illegal experiments put him at odds with the British government, Watson is drafted into a worldwide race to find the lost research notes of Victor Frankenstein before the secrets of the human soul fall into the wrong hands.” – All The Anime
Set in an alternate 19th Century England, Necroware technology is prevalent. Necroware allows to reanimate a corpse, though they lack a soul and can only perform labour and other easy tasks as ordered. Notably, there was one reanimated corpse in history that was imbued with a soul, Frankenstein’s Monster, known herein as “The One”. Sadly, how this was performed is unknown to the world, and the notes lost. The movie follows the journey of John Watson as he tries to prove that the reanimated corpse of his friend, Friday, can be restored through his illegal experiments. When caught, he is sent on a mission by the secret service, being tasked to chase down Alexei Karamazov, an individual close to uncovering how a soul can be returned to a reanimated corpse. This sends John around the world, where he can discover more about corpses and try to return Friday’s soul to its former host.
The first half of the movie gives Studio Wit plenty of chance to show off what they can do, with many locations animated beautifully, something I always appreciate in their productions. Relationships between the characters are the focus of this half, up until John finds a hint as to the location of Victor Frankenstein’s notes, leading into the remainder of the movie. The second half doesn’t flow as well as the first does, but to detail specifically how and why would be to the detriment of a potential first-time viewing for anyone interested in checking out Empire of Corpses, and the first viewing is where this movie shines. I’ll leave it at noting that the original novel was finished by the author’s close friend, To Enjo, post-humously, and as such the rest of the movie feels slightly “off”. To be fair to To Enjo, he has done a pretty good job keeping characterisations consistent, but the plot itself leaves itself open to nuggets of criticism throughout the latter half. During a first viewing, Studio Wit’s brilliance and the likable cast will overshadow any issues you’ll notice, but jumping back in a second time, they’ll be increasingly apparent.
After watching this at MCM Loves Anime last October, I was left unsure as to whether I actually liked the movie or not. I enjoyed watching it, but that may have just been due to it being on the big screen. Having now rewatched Empire of Corpses for this review, I am certain that it is an enjoyable film, and, despite the mixed opinions of it from many, and the flaws in the second half, the Japanese audio track moreso thanks to stellar voicework from Yoshimasa Hosoya and Kana Hanazawa. Even Ayumu Murase’s Friday has impeccable voicework, despite the lack of spoken dialogue; you’ll grow to love the character through his vocalised pains. The English dub is perfectly watchable, but many of the character’s voices sound too forced, and the accents used can detract from enjoyment of entire scenes.
For this release, the extras are exclusive to the blu-ray disc, so anyone getting the standard DVD is out of luck, though not missing out on anything particularly of worth. These extras consist of Funimation Short: Empire of Corpses, Promo Videos, and the Original Trailer.
After watching this at MCM Loves Anime last October, I was left unsure as to whether I actually liked the movie or not. I enjoyed watching it, but that may have just been due to it being on the big screen. Having now rewatched Empire of Corpses for the purposes of this review, and opting to give the English dub a try, I'm confident that it is an enjoyable film; the story is definitely interesting, if slightly flawed, and the animation superb. Empire of Corpses is definitely worth giving a try.