Shikabane Hime Aka: anime review – dead and beautiful

Review: Do those girls really have to dress like that especially when teaming up with monks? I had to remind myself ‘this is an anime’ every time I saw a pretty girl in overly revealing cosplay carrying exotic weapon hanging around a monk. How could the monks keep their mind at peace in that kind of situation? I guess I will never know.

I initially wrote a review for both Shikabane Hime Aka and Kuro since the second series was almost an immediate continuation of the first but the review got longer and longer and I thought there’re several distinguished things about each series. So I cut it into two separate reviews. This one is for Shikabane Hime Aka only and the second one, currently in the process of editing and rearrangement, will be published soon.

Back to the review. A story about a boy and a girl with supernatural power fighting against evil forces is hardly new. What makes Shikabane Hime Aka different is the exceptionally good balance between action, horror and drama. The anime focuses on Oori, an orphan boy living an ordinary life, until one night; he wakes up and accidentally witnesses a dead girl, Makina, being resurrected by Keisei. After that night, he is often drawn into strange events involving the dead who come back and a pretty girl with twin machine guns who chases after them. The first few episodes take the ‘monster of the week’ pattern of storytelling. But don’t let that fool you because even before the series reach its midpoint, the main plot emerges and it’ll be a non-stop rollercoaster after that.

Focusing on characterization alone, Shikabane Hime succeeds beautifully. In most of other anime, the protagonist usually get right into action with the first or second episode and his background including his motivation will be explore retrospectively during the later part of the show. But in Shikabane’s case, the show follows its protagonist, Oori, from his very first step as a powerless and ordinary boy. His personal development and his motivation are carefully and patiently built up during the course of the show. His past is not mere blurry flashback scenes but a vivid experience that the viewers directly participate during this first season. As the second season begins and Oori finally takes the central role as a contracted monk, the viewers have already known him so intimately and will have no choice but to cheer for him. I really can’t think of any better way to build up a leading character. The other characters including the villains in this anime are all well portrayed and they are cleverly connected by their pasts which will be revealed later in the following series.

Shikabane Hime is, by the first glance at those pretty girls in revealing cosplay, just another ‘magical girls’ anime. But in truth, the anime takes itself very seriously and contains many dark and depressing themes. Being a Shikabane Hime is not a blessing but rather a curse. Their powers and their existence root from their remaining obsessions or their sins and without their contracted priests, they are no more than monstrous walking corpses. For several times, the anime clearly emphasizes the point about the Hime being undead despite their looks and the events in the anime often shows that those who treat the Hime as normal human, like Keisei or Akasha, usually end up dead or driven crazy. So instead of learning to love and to protect the Hime like a proper anime hero, our protagonist, Oori must learn to shun off his feeling, retune his view toward Makina and stop acting like a fool by sacrificing himself for someone who is already dead. All these little details help adds more weight and depth to the anime overall.

I can name only a few anime that can create better action scenes with lots of gun fights and creepy monsters moving around so smoothly. The sound and music are also well done but not especially memorable. I personally love its opening sequence with the song ‘Beautiful Fighter’ by Angela. Conclusion: Shikabane Hime Aka is ultimately another conventional yet fun action/horror anime but it earns special bonus points by paying great deal of attention to characterization and drama.
Rating: B+

Facts
Title: Shikabane Hime Aka
Genre: action, fantasy, supernatural, horror
Released date: October 2, 2008 – December 25, 2008
Episode: 13
Director: Masahiko Murata
Animated by: Feel, Gainax
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12 responses to “Shikabane Hime Aka: anime review – dead and beautiful

  1. I loved this anime…

    Fuck I thought I wrote a review but I guess I never did. Now I forgot a lot of how I feel about it. Damn. Well, I know I liked it, and I remember the characters so I guess that’s all that matters.

    Crap I can’t remember the ending though. GRAAAAAAAHHHH I don’t have time to watch it again!!!!

  2. I loved this anime. I remember crying my eyes out when Keisei died. Then the show isn’t the same anymore. I tried watching Kuro but I couldn’t finish it.

  3. Keisei’s death is the strong point in the first anime series, but it really helps to build up the growth of the main character later in the story. I only watched Aka (and loved it), but instead of watching Kuro I went and read all of the chapters that had been published in Japanese back about over a year ago. I was so impressed with the original work that I don’t know if I would be able to pick up Kuro.

    I agree with you that the action scenes are fantastic. I think the real downfall to the show was awkwardly done voice acting and background music at times. It was like having a bunch of giant ditches on an otherwise well-paved road. I don’t know if there’s an English release of the manga, but I like it a lot better since it maintains the dark atmosphere throughout the story.

    • The end of the first season was so great that I could not wait for the second series. Unfortunately, the second one did not delivered what I expected…which I will be reviewing in a few days :)

      About the voice acting, I must confess that I am not really knowledgeable about it so I did not make comments on the topic. In fact, I didn’t notice anything wrong while watching this show -_-

  4. I felt differently about the characters. I hated Oori to his core. He’s the typical weak boy with a disturbed past who goes through considerable growth through the series. It’s a nice albeit overdone recipe, but I just couldn’t get behind Oori. I think I was just a bit sick of monologues about strength and protecting someone.
    I agree totally about the weightier themes in the series. They add so much more to the story and the overall feel. Also, agreed about Angela. She’s got such a lovely and unique voice. Great review!

    • Yeah, cheering for Oori can be frustrating because he can be too awkward and hesitant and foolishly idealistic. For some reason, his kind of character always miraculously survives :P

  5. Aw man, I never got past the “monster of the week” part. So much to watch…

  6. I like the review, but I admit I was sold on this series the moment I saw her Figma :P

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