On the 19th and 20th of April, Funimation Entertainment will be releasing “The Empire of Corpses” in select theaters, and with just under a week before it hits, we had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at this zombie-filled steampunk anime film.
Based on the novel from Project Itoh and Toh EnJoe, “The Empire of Corpses” takes place in the late 1800s, in an alternate version of the world, where Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s research into reanimating corpses has inspired some very interesting scientific breakthroughs. These breakthroughs revolve around brining the deceased back to life, and having them serve as soldiers and laborers, as none of them seem to possess a soul, or the ability to speak, with the exception of “The One,” Frankenstein’s monster.
Following the death of Dr. Frankenstein, his creation fled with the doctor’s research notes, leaving all those interested in corpse reanimation with no known way to restore a soul to the deceased. Enter John Watson, a medical student who steals the body of his recently departed friend, and reanimates him, although he too fails at providing a soul. When Watson is caught by the British government however, in exchange for his freedom, he is tasked with investigating a Russian engineer, who is rumored to have found Frankenstein’s notes, and has led a small uprising, in order to establish a small kingdom of the undead.
Hoping to continue with his research, by finding the notes himself, Watson agrees to look into the engineer and his kingdom, and begins a journey alongside Burnaby, who serves as his bodyguard and guide, and Friday, his friend’s reanimated corpse. This journey leads the would-be doctor down a path that will test his resolve, and show him just where his desire for the research to bring back Friday, could lead the world, if put in the wrong hands.
“The Empire of Corpses” has a very dark story, which you would expect from something where zombies are used in everyday life. Watson has an obsession with finding the notes and furthering his experiment, and nothing those around him say, seems to be able to stop him. The film introduces a few characters that are similar in this desire, and Watson sees first-hand the type of tragedy that his desire could lead to.
There were a number of characters that get brief moments to shine in “The Empire of Corpses,” and we even see a few historical figures, like Ulysses S. Grant, and Thomas Edison. No one is really safe from harm in this story though, and by the end, you witness some really sad endings for a few characters, that definitely leave an impact on not just Watson, but the viewer as well.
“The Empire of Corpses” doesn’t hold back with the disturbing, and includes some bizarre looking experiments; the way a drill goes into the brain would be a good example. With zombies wandering around, I’m sure you can easily guess what sort of violence that you will see throughout, especially with governments using corpses to fight their battles. I do have to say, it was a terrifying image, seeing an army of gun and sword wielding zombie soldiers marching to war, as well as their use as walking bombs.
Visually, “The Empire of Corpses” is done beautifully, and there were a number of impressive visuals from different locations. The animation is smooth and there is a lot of detail, especially when it comes to the clockwork and steampunk designs, and some of the character’s designs, like the beautiful Hadaly. This quality also helped with the more intense or violent moments, something that Wit Studio (Attack on Titan), is without a doubt familiar with. There is some CGI used, and I know many anime fans aren’t fond of that, but it didn’t look bad, and didn’t feel like it was used too often.
The digital screener of “The Empire of Corpses,” featured the English dub for the film, and I wasn’t disappointed with the performances. The voice cast did a good job with their characters, and since the film includes characters from a number of different locations around the world, much of the cast used accents, which I thought they handled well.
While I was familiar with Project Itoh’s works, I had not had the opportunity to read “The Empire of Corpses,” so this was my first time experiencing the story, and I must say that I was definitely pleased with what it offered. The film is dark and disturbing, but it also offered a lot of great action sequences, and introduced a cast of characters that I liked.
I think that my only issue with the film, would be that the pacing at times felt rushed a bit. To fit any novel’s story into a two-hour film without having to cut some things out, is difficult though, and I thought that the film still did a decent job in getting the main points of the story across.
If you enjoyed anime films like “Metropolis” and “Steam Boy,” or if you’re just in the mood for something with steampunk, or zombies, then “The Empire of Corpses” is definitely worth watching. If you’re interested in seeing the film when it releases, you can find theaters where it will be showing, and purchase tickets, by visiting the official site.
The Empire of Corpses
Publisher: Funimation Entertainment
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release Date: Apr. 19-20, 2016 (Limited theatrical screening)
(These impressions are based on access to a digital screener of “The Empire of Corpses,” provided by Funimation Entertainment.)
If you’re interested in Project Itoh’s works, “Harmony,” “Genocidal Organ,” and “Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots,” are available in North America from Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint.