Shade: Hello, everyone! Wow, it’s been a while since I did a big post like this, but anyway, welcome to a review of The Empire of Corpses. (Just in time for Harmony, which is playing in theaters today and tomorrow, by the way.) I’m Shade, and today, I’ll be discussing the film with RockmanDash.
RockmanDash12: Hello! The Empire of Corpses is the first of the Project Itoh films (The Empire of Corpses, Genocidal Organ, and Harmony), based on the works of novelist Project Itoh. This film is produced by Studio Wit, the makers of the famous Attack on Titan and the currently-airing Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
Shade: The film starts off in 19th-century London with our protagonist, John Watson, who is obsessed with replicating the work of Victor Frankenstein to revive his best friend, Friday. And maybe have him regain some of his humanity.
RockmanDash12: This movie isn’t just any old 19th-century London, however, as it’s an alternate universe where computers were developed way before our time and they developed technology to reanimate corpses from the dead. This show totally changes how the world works in comparison to ours, from what a soul actually is, to the nature of war. It’s an incredibly interesting premise, one that gets you interested and invested in the world.
Shade: The main feature of the story is the reanimated corpses, and it’s interesting to see how they are integrated into society. They are not randomly roaming around, but rather used as assistants for people around the world. However, because they are assistants, their freedom is limited, and they are lifeless and obedient.
RockmanDash12: They’re also SUPER CREEPY. Like, take robots and make them exponentially creepier... and you have The Empire of Corpses, which made me think it’s even cooler than what I was originally thinking it was going to be. This show has an interesting dynamic with the robot sci-fi shows and stories that we all know like Time of Eve because of the way it deals with the concept of the soul and what it really means to be living, but it has a totally different element to it because it’s reanimated corpses.
Shade: Zombies, essentially. And with zombies, there is infection. The pattern should be easy to figure out. But this is more about Victor Frankenstein. Yup, that guy. He’s become a bit more important in this world because of the success achieved with the reanimated corpses. But now with the corpses going haywire, the question becomes “How do we stop the rampage of the corpses?”. While this is going on, John Watson is given a mission: retrieving Victor’s notes, which is hidden… somewhere around the world! Wow, exciting! Begin blind searching!
RockmanDash12: And so the search begins. That search, being as blind as you the viewer will be, trying to find the point of the story and how it all connects because this movie flies at a lightning pace, making this a poor experience to watch, and one that is pretty hard to comprehend. While everything this story is about is interesting, thought-provoking, engaging, etc, the way it’s told… can be left to be desired. It’s all interesting stuff, but this rushed adaptation made this movie honestly disappointing to me.
Shade: I’m sure the novel itself has way better pacing, but adaptations have their limits. Time is the most important factor here, and the film could have honestly done a lot better with even 30 more minutes. The Empire of Corpses tries to get its message across to the audience (and it does), but kind of gets into a bit of a convoluted mess near the end.
RockmanDash12: I’d say that is a severe understatement, though, as this can really be a dealbreaker for many, and it is a dealbreaker for me. There’s a lot of interesting ideas in The Empire of Corpses (I particularly liked the idea of corpses as bio-weapons and the pseudo-soul in general), but the movie doesn’t have the time to cover it at all. There’s lots of exposition, there’s so many scenes going on and it’s moving at such a pace that it feels like you have to know what’s going on to get any enjoyment out of the story. The second half of the film, I just gave up trying to comprehend the plot, as all of the references and all of the things going on at such a fast pace made it impossible to do so. I got the gist of it, but still... Not great.
Shade: But even with the time limit, I still think it was pretty good. Some scenes really got to me with their disturbing nature, but those are spoilers. Not going to talk about them in detail. At the very least, I think it was entertaining. And it owes most of that to its characters, because without them, The Empire of Corpses wouldn’t be nearly as good.
RockmanDash12: And here’s where I disagree. The big death scene was one that felt like should have been touching, but I couldn’t really care less because there was not enough time to get to know the characters, which like you said, is the core of the movie.
Shade: Ah, the characters… I see now that it’s very divisive. I do agree that the characters didn’t get enough time. There was much more they could have done to flesh them out, but that just never happened. I will say, though, that there were some characters (two in particular) that I got attached to. Those characters are Barnaby and Hadaly. Okay, maybe “attached to them” isn’t the right description. It’s more like they had these moments of awesome that I couldn’t get over. (Some of them involved flamethrowers. Fantastic stuff.)
RockmanDash12: Definitely awesome, but even with awesome characters you still have to give them time to get you emotionally invested. I thought the characters were enjoyable, but at no point was I like, “I really don’t want something horrible to happen to them” because I just don’t know enough of them or have seen enough of them to care.
Shade: And it’s back to the drawing board. Rushed character development does nullify how much you enjoy the characters, but I feel that the studio gave it all they had, despite the (say it with me, now) limited time. I do believe Watson was the most fleshed-out character, and his obsession with the corpses really makes him a bit more interesting character than the rest of the cast. Well, actually, maybe Friday as well.
RockmanDash12: His ideas were fleshed out, but he himself as a character didn’t really change much. If I had to say characters that were fleshed out, the one I felt like was fleshed out the most was Hadaly, from an enigmatic figure to one that has enough interesting things we know about to be interested in. Wit is a new studio, so maybe this is the best they could have done, but I still get a bit depressed that there was a lot more potential to this work than what we got in the screen.
Shade: Even more disappointing, I think, were the villains. They just sort of pop out of nowhere and go, “Check this out, I’m eeeeeeevil! *begins long, winded exposition*”. They were so one-note that I believe I’ve forgotten them. Or just their names, really. Spectacularly low-grade.
RockmanDash12: And to add the fact that they just go out in rapid succession doesn’t help, either. Yeah, the villains of this movie aren’t really its strong suit. What is its strong suit, however, is its visuals.
Shade: Well, I would be lying if I said this film’s art and animation were good, because oh man, how wrong I would be. Let’s face it, the visuals are not simply good—they are stellar, beautiful, and downright amazing. If Attack on Titan and Kabaneri have told us anything, it’s that Wit does a damn good job at creating anime with great aesthetics and fluid animation. The environments and weather effects (especially the snow) are beautifully done.
RockmanDash12: I particularly liked the establishing shots and the machinery, being so highly detailed and very interesting. The visuals of the show really sell you on the alternate-history steampunk zombie world, as ridiculous as that sounds, and I appreciated every second of the visuals in this movie.
Shade: There’s not much to say about the visuals, because Wit did a superb job here, and I look forward to whatever they bring us next. However, if I had to criticize the visuals, it would be the use of CG on some of the soldiers and corpses. It stands out quite a bit, but I don’t think it was terrible. It’s just a minor inconvenience, if anything.
RockmanDash12: Yeah, pretty much. Speaking of minor… thoughts on the music?
Shade: The music… was rather nice, actually. I have trouble describing music, but I liked it. Each song sets and matches the mood and tone of their paired scenes really well. There was one track in particular that I liked, which played during the spoilery character death mentioned above. This is where my praise for the music stops, though. Although I really enjoyed the music while watching the film in theaters (big screen for the win), I find it really hard to recall the music. I think you have to go out of your way to search for the soundtrack. I guess it can be a bit forgettable after the fact, and that really drags down my opinion on the music.
RockmanDash12: Yeah, because I watched it in a less official manner, I didn’t get the amazing sound from the theaters, but it wasn’t that bad, regardless. Kinda disappointed that the soundtrack played a really minor part. I remember several times I was looking for the music, only to find that… there was none playing. It’s good when it plays every now and then, but it’s definitely not one to call attention to itself (except for the times where… it did call attention to itself).
Shade: All right, let’s talk about the voices now. As I watched the film in theaters, I was treated to a spectacular English dub performance from Funimation. They handle their dubs really well, and I appreciate how much effort and passion there was in the dub for The Empire of Corpses. Many characters are given accents (English and Russian being the most prominent), and while I’m not sure how authentic they sounded, I believed they were excellent imitations. All the voice actors fit their roles as though they were the characters themselves. I particularly liked Jason Liebrecht’s performance as Watson, Morgan Garrett as Hadaly, and J. Michael Tatum as Barnaby. It’s a really spectacular dub—one of Funimation’s best efforts, might I add—and I highly recommend it to those who plan on watching the movie. I’m not sure about the Japanese voices, though, as Funimation only put the dub in theaters.
RockmanDash12: Like I said before, I watched it in less official manners, and I saw it subbed, which means the Japanese dub. The casting was solid as well, with all the characters putting emotion into the characters they did, but like how many people have with the English voice acting in anime, I felt like I’ve heard these voices over and over again (Kana Hanazawa as Hadaly, for an example). This is an anime dub, and it really feels like one, as it didn’t really do anything special. If I was doing a solo review, I probably wouldn’t have pointed it out because of how typical it is. It’s a good one, though.
Shade: This film is kind of hard to rate. I honestly had a great time, but I can see the flaws and how they really drag the film down. Like I said before, I still found it entertaining. I can see it being fun as popcorn material; just something that’s fun to watch if you turn your brain off.
RockmanDash12: But that’s kinda disappointing though, isn’t it? This is a work that has a lot of interesting ideas to play around with, but it’s filled with just too many issues that you kinda have to do that. What a shame.
Also, I think this is a great demonstration of how one’s experiences can shape their perspective of the film. I was rather hyped up to go into this film, but as you can tell, I kinda came out disappointed, as this is rather bad adaptation to what feels like a rather great work. I hope this doesn’t spread to the other Itoh works, but with this, we’re left with a pretty mixed bag—one that makes me nervous for the future.
Shade: And that’s why I’ll just go into Harmony with no expectations. While by the same author, the movie is handled by a different director and studio, which means it could be a completely different experience. But I shouldn’t talk about Harmony right now, because we’re talking about The Empire of Corpses. Moving on...
Overall, I think The Empire of Corpses is an entertaining film despite its major flaws. Sci-fi is at its core, and the mind of Project Itoh is certainly interesting. The older time period and predominantly non-Japanese setting really impressed me because it’s different from what is normally seen in anime today. The characters personally made the film for me (Barnaby and Hadaly for the win!), and while they weren’t as developed as I would have liked them to be, I certainly wouldn’t mind purchasing the film.
RockmanDash12: And I probably won’t be doing so. A story can be good at its core, but if it doesn’t execute, it’s as good as something like Sonic ‘06, a work that is mocked for its poor execution, even if it has a strong base. Project Itoh definitely had some great ideas and solid writing, but good adaptations stand alone while having the same sense of feeling to the original, and while The Empire of Corpses may have had the second half of that, it definitely doesn’t have the first. I hope Harmony can do better, but I definitely won’t be expecting something amazing given the restraints that adaptation has as well. Overall, an interesting but disappointing work that is hampered by a poor adaptation. Read the source?
Shade: And while I would agree to read the source material instead, everyone may not have the ability to do so. While the Genocidal Organ and Harmony novels have been officially translated and published in English, The Empire of Corpses has not. Why, you ask? Well, I don’t really know, but I hope the novel gets translated in the future. I’m not very fluent in Japanese at the moment, so I won’t be reading it anytime soon. There might be a fan translation out there somewhere, but you would have to check for yourself.
RockmanDash12: That’s a bit depressing, but I guess it is what it is.
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