Referring to fairy tales is quite prevalent in films lately. But referring to Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty and Greek Mythology in a single film is quite something. (This post contains spoilers.)
The primer: Medusa Virus caused pandemic around the world and there’s no cure. The story followed Kasumi who was chosen to join the Venus Gate in a cryo-sleep program. It was believed that doing so could provide some chance of evading the Medusa Virus. Kasumi went into cryo-sleep but when she woke up, she found that the facility look drastically different from what she remembered. There were thorny vines everywhere and there were blood-thirsty monsters roaming the hallways. Kasumi and six others must find their way out alive and learn what happened to the world around them.
A survival science fiction with multiple twists
I loved survival tales and I loved post-apocalyptic science fictions. King of Thorn’s premise was everything I could hope for. I was more than ready to love this anime. This film was essentially a haunted house story mixed with sci-fi and mystery elements. King of Thorn did an excellent job in creating the claustrophobic atmosphere throughout most of its run. The audience was first introduced to the elegant castle and the well-lit underground high-tech facility in the beginning. And later when Kasumi woke up from cryo-chamber, the place had turned into something out of a nightmare, filled with thorny vines and monsters. I was glad that the anime did not hesitate to kill off characters in gory manners and to certain degree of shock. But in the later part of the film, the tension significantly unraveled because the anime shifted its focus towards explaining the complex plot behind this terrible event.
Despite its exhilarating visuals, King of Thorn had a rather difficult time handling its massive and complicated back story. There were just too many things that need resolution including the origin of Medusa Virus, the purpose of Venus Gate, where the thorny vines came from, what had Alice been up to, what happened between Kasumi and Shizuku and there was also background story for individual characters. As a result, lots of expository scenes were employed. Nevertheless, I thought that the anime at least handles Kasumi and Shizuku well. There were several cut scenes depicting the two sisters, spread out all through the film and they finally paid off in the end. That was well planned and well executed.
Typical but well calculated character traits
King of Thorn was an effective haunted house film. But at the same time, it was also largely a by-the-number film, except for its ending. Character wise, they were very typical for this kind of story; a young female lead (Kasumi), a kid (Tim), someone with medical skills, strong man with sense of justice and/or military background (Ron), a seemingly bad guy with good survival skills (Marco), a selfish rich guy (Senator Pecchino) and a nerdy tech-guy (Peter). There was not much depth to these characters but I did not expect that anyway. They served their specific role and the film worked. Of note, it was revealed that these characters were actually hand-picked by Alice based on their specific traits. So the anime could not be blamed for the use of lazily written stereotypical characters. Clever!
What would you do if you were given god’s power?
Imagination was human’s greatest gift and curse. This concept sounded quite similar to Michael Crichton’s novel called ‘Sphere’, in which a group of human ran into mysterious object from space. This object granted human with the power to turn his imagination into reality. Unfortunately, human’s mind was full of terrible thoughts. Instead of conjuring up something useful, human used the power to create things out of our nightmare and fear. It meant that we were not ready to handle such great power, the power of the gods. King of Thorn’s main concept was the same. All the terrifying things in this anime were the products of Shizuku’s mind upon learning of her sister’s death. The people of Venus Gate initially tried to control this power but ultimately failed. It was actually a classic cautionary tale we usually saw in science fictions.
General remarks: Although the monsters might look a little too computer generated, the animation overall was well done. I especially liked the background design of King of Thorn. The thorny castle was part of the anime’s success in creating horror and suspense. From what I learned, the ending of the anime was different from the ending in the manga. Since I did not read the manga, I could not say if the anime’s deviation from the source materials was the right choice.
In conclusion, despite some pacing problems in the ending sequence, King of Thorn was an effective horror film and a decent science fiction film with great production value.
Title: King of Thorn (aka Ibara no Ou)
Genre: action, fantasy, horror
Released date: May 1, 2010
Running time: 120 minutes
Director: Kazuyoshi Katayama
Animated by: Sunrise