Review: Empire of Corpses

Set in a bizarro 1878 blend of steampunk and literary character names, medical student Dr. John Watson is hired/blackmailed by the British government to locate ‘Victor’s notes’, the lost diary of Victor Frankenstein. His employer of course is named ‘M’, and M’s secretary is named Moneypenny. Of course. Dr. Watson himself is an avid admirer of Dr. Frankenstein and has been secretly working on the resurrection of dead tissue, culminating in the revival of his best friend (and possible lover, if you want to read into things a bit too much than likely intended) Friday to become his faithful manservant and bodyguard. Accompanied by a British soldier named Burnaby, they are to venture to Afghanistan to follow up on a potential lead as to the whereabouts of ‘Victor’s notes’. They are to locate a man named Alexei Karamazov (!), a Russian scientist (!!). Other involved characters are named Ulysses S. Grant and Thomas Edison, because why the hell not?

Pretty much what you’d expect a Japanese anime version of “Frankenstein” to be, this 2015 film from Toho Animation and director Ryoutarou Makihara is certainly different. I can’t say I was overly drawn (no pun intended) to the characters, which I do consider pretty important. There’s probably a few too many characters running around to be honest. Yet I can’t say I found it uninteresting, it’s still very much worth a look and some of you will likely love it. However, if you don’t like bastardisations of classic literature and rampant literary name-dropping, you’ll probably find it a very trying experience (There’s actually a few similarities to the much maligned “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, so bear that in mind too if you hated that flop). I found certainly elements to it to be a bit corny and awkward (‘Victor’s Notes’? Non-Japanese characters speaking Japanese in Japanese accents/voices, etc.), but I absolutely love the title, and there’s an interesting conception of corpses (zombies, really) here as being somewhat intelligent, perhaps even aware of their situation.

I found some of the literary name-dropping to be pretty interesting, though I’m intrigued as to why Dr. Watson was chosen instead of the seemingly more appropriate Sherlock Holmes. Animation-wise, this is fine for a modern anime flick, though it’s not as impressive as say “Harmony” in that regard (Both films are based on novels by the pseudonymous Project Itoh AKA the late Satoshi Itoh). It’s a little awkward, but this anime blend of “Frankenstein” and zombies is certainly interesting, as is its name-dropping of some famous literary characters outside of Mary Shelley’s world. Scripted by the trio of Midori Gotou, Hiroshi Seko, and Kōji Yamamoto, I wasn’t spectacularly engrossed here, but it’s worth a look.

Rating: B-


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