Usually, people who die in fiction and then return to some semblance of life are referred to as undead, or more popularly, zombies. When I think of reanimated corpses, I think rotting and slow-moving beings who hope to nibble on brains. However, some of the undead in this month’s show live their undead lives quite differently.
Corpse Princess shows what can happen when the dead return in a manner similar to zombies but without ever actually using the word “zombie.” There is, however, a way for the undead to be saved from becoming mindless monsters obsessed with killing. But beware, anime-niacs, this article is rotten with spoilers.
Corpse Princess takes place in a world where the dead can “return” to life if they die with deep regrets or obsessions. Such a person is referred to as a “Shikabane,” which translates to “corpse,” and have attributes similar to zombies and monsters who kill the living. However, Shikabane Hime, which translates to “Corpse Princess,” exist to slay Shikabane (slay girl, slay). These women have control over their minds and actions, like a living person does, but are not actually living.
Ouri is a teenaged boy who was raised in an orphanage and admires his older brother, Keisei, while the man keeps a secret from the children. Keisei is a Contracted Monk, a member of the Kogan Sect of monks, who defend regions of Japan from an increasing number of Shikabane. Shikabane Hime are trained as fighters and attached to Contracted Monks through a ritual and “live” to fight Shikabane for their monks. The women have all of their faculties, and thankfully, any injuries that a Shikabane Hime sustains in battle can be healed through close contact with her monk. A mysterious black cat appears early in the show and leads Ouri to local Shikabane, which means the boy inadvertently discovers his brother’s secret and meets Keisei’s Shikabane Hime, Makina.
Although there are many isolated fights between random Shikabane and Shikabane Hime, there is a villainous group of Shikabane who call themselves the Seven Stars that plan to wreak havoc on Japan and the monks. One monk has betrayed the Kogon Sect and teamed with the Seven Stars to carry out this nefarious scheme (throwing a monk wrench into their plans). As the story progresses, the viewer learns more about Makina, the monks, and Ouri with some excellent and tragic twists along the way.
Corpse Princess highlights a plethora of badass and strong women and I loved watching them in action. Kamika is an incredibly fast Shikabane Hime who uses swords to dispatch Shikabane. Saki is a powerful little girl who uses an enormous hammer to fight. Makina typically uses guns and never hesitates to run headfirst into danger. The art and animation are incredible, especially when the Seven Stars are present. The villain, Hazama, has giant centipedes for arms and uses them to attack Shikabane Hime and their monks (he really loves bugging them). Toya has a particularly disturbing power set, appearance, and an extremely interesting twist revealed later in the show. There is quite a lot to like about Corpse Princess, but unfortunately, quite a few problems, primarily with the titular characters.
The women in this show are not only undead, but have no choice but to do what is expected of them by a sect of men. Shikabane Hime don’t protest the fact that they fight, completely accepting their plight which has been determined by a ruling body of only men. Furthermore, although Shikabane Hime can be injured, close proximity to their Contracted Monks heals the women. Essentially, close contact with a man heals an injured woman, which makes the woman explicitly reliant on a man. The goal for a Shikabane Hime is to kill 108 Shikabane so they can “go to heaven,” so these women must serve men and are then promised a good afterlife. Regardless of how powerful Shikabane Hime are, they would quite literally be nothing more than unthinking, dangerous monsters without a man.
This severely problematic portrayal does not make the show unwatchable, in my opinion, because I certainly still enjoyed the story and most of the characters. But it was unfortunate to see powerful women used in such an overtly sexist way – there are even moments of perversion which were obviously unnecessary. Despite its problems, the characters, plot twists, and animation are all absolutely excellent.
Corpse Princess is difficult to recommend, but not solely for its sexism. The show ends without a concrete resolution – it is very open-ended. Some viewers may not mind the very open-ended conclusion, but it didn’t feel satisfying after watching everything these characters had just been through – too much was left unresolved (well excuuuuuse me, princess). More than that, an OVA was released months after the show’s conclusion, and as a finale, even as a single episode, it is incredibly awful. The overt sexism throughout the series pales in comparison to the OVA. Corpse Princess is ultimately a good show and I would recommend it, but remember that the conclusion is left very open, and do not bother watching the final episode/OVA, “Even So, As a Human.”