Shisha no teikoku [The Empire of Corpses] (2015)

This is an incredibly lush and detailed anime movie, with tons of action, some truly imaginative imagery, and a unique, densely imagined – if somewhat repulsive – alternate history world.

But it’s just too darn long.

It just seems to go from climax to bigger climax – and even when it finally reaches the end, it still feels the need to add several after-the-credits sequences, leaving our at home audience wondering when it the world it was ever going to end.

It’s not really that long – a little over two hours.  It just feels longer.

The concept is intriguing – Dr. Frankenstein discovered the secret of animating corpses, the secret became widespread, first for military uses, and then for commercial use as cheap labor, so now we have a society with a large number of walking dead wandering around doing menial jobs.

However, Doctor John Watson – yes, the Sherlock Holmes Watson – has been doing some illicit research and the British Government recruits him to pursue Frankenstein’s lost diary, which contains all his secrets.

Babbage’s Difference Engine plays a large part in the story, which also brings in references to real life figurs like Thomas Edison and Teddy Roosevelt as well as to fictional creations like James Bond,  Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s symbolist novel, The Future Eve, and, for no particular discernable reason, to Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

It is by turns adventurous, violent, gruesome, and disturbingly dark.  It is not a world I would want to live in, and while the nature of Watson’s real quest is only hinted at, it is clearly disturbing.  Despite all the fine talk about love, and what one does out of love for ones friends, it clearly involves more than just saving a friend – and it may be that Watson and “Friday” were trying to explore some very dangerous ground.

My feelings on this one are very mixed.  I suspect that many anime fans – as well as the admirers of Project Itoh, who wrote the original manga – may enjoy this one.  And the Mamoru Oshii crowd will probably find the philosophizing welcome.

But the rest of us are just going to find it long.  And gloomy.  And maybe feel just a little queasy about some of the hints and implications.

However, I’m reasonably certain we’ve ALL guessed the deep dark secret that only gets revealed in the final after credits sequence.


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