– Andrew Charlton
Empire of Corpses, a 2015 Anime Steampunk Horror film from Wit Studio — best known for the anime adaptation of Attack on Titan — is one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in a long time, anime or otherwise. Directed by Ryoutaro Makihara, it takes place in the late 18th century and shows us an altered timeline where Dr. Frankenstein was more than a fairytale. More than that, his experiments changed the world and all labor and warfare is now performed by mindless, programmable corpses.
No one has ever succeeded in recreating the soul; and that’s the focus of our film. It follows a young Dr. Watson (yes that one) and the reanimated corpse of his lab partner Friday, on their quest across the world to find Dr. Frankenstein’s notes and the secrets to the soul. It’s a bizarre premise to be sure and one that could easily fall flat on its face if poorly executed. But poorly executed it was not; instead Empire of Corpses is the perfect blend of realism and absurdity.
Almost everything is played perfectly straight as 19th century culture; except for the walking corpses everywhere and that the job title “Corpse Engineer” can be said with a straight face. This helps us just accept the state of the world, none of the characters question the ridiculousness of the necromantic sciences, so we as the viewers don’t either. This lets us just sink in and enjoy it for what it is. What it is, is an incredibly beautiful animated production that blends action, crime and high fantasy with surprisingly in-depth looks into the philosophical question of ‘what does it mean to have a soul?’.
The animation in this movie is as smooth and fluid as we’ve come to expect from Wit Studio after their stellar work in Attack on Titan. The backgrounds are the same quality of hand-painted artworks as they’ve used in other productions. The English dub of the movie’s two main characters was also fantastic: Watson was voiced by Jason Liebrecht (known for the Millennium Earl in D. Gray man and Rob Lucci in One Piece) and Captain Burnaby was voiced by J. Michael Tatum (known for Rider in Fate/Zero, Erwin in Attack on Titan and Garen in League of Legends). The two actors obviously knew where they wanted to take their characters; the quality of their voice acting added another dimension to the piece.
The one gripe I have with the film is that at points it can be confusing: it falls into a common trap for anime, where visuals take the place of explanations and the audience is left going ‘that was cool, but what the hell was it’. I can’t blame it for this too much though and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.
Despite being a bit long at 120 minutes, Empire of Corpses is one of the most fascinating Anime films I’ve ever seen; I give it a glowing recommendation. If you want an animated film that’s more than just action, but has plenty of it, this is for you.
Photo credits: Funimation Films, moviemaniacsDE, animenewsnetwork.com, emeraldgoresociety.com