The Other Side of Animation 105: The Empire of Corpses Review

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I have come to realize that I may have played my winning hand too early with picking out a “scary” or “horror”-themed animated film to review last year with Extraordinary Tales. It made me realize that there are not many dark or scary animated films. A lot of Halloween-themed specials are usually family friendly, and not really all that scary. It’s a shame, since animation breaks those chains that hold back horror in live-action movies, because you can do what you want with no limitations. That’s why I had to ask around a bit to see what I could review that was creepy or unsettling and not entirely made for a family audience. This is where The Empire of Corpses comes into play. This is part of a trilogy of films based on stories by late author Project Itoh or as he is known as, Satoshi Ito. It was followed up by Harmony and Genocidal Organ. It got a lot of hype behind it, because it was being animated by Wit Studio, the animation studio behind Attack on Titan. It was directed by Ryoutarou Makihara, and was brought over by Funimation. Once it was seen by more of the world, I didn’t really hear anyone talk about it. I think it’s honestly a cool little product, and that’s why I’m reviewing it here. Let’s get started.

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The film takes place in an alternate 19th century. In this world, back in the 18th century, England scientist Victor Frankenstein found a way to bring back dead corpses, and make them live again. After some shenanigans with the doctor ending up dead, and his one true prototype going missing, the technology he used called Necroware is now used in mass production, where the Government is using dead bodies and making them grunts, soldiers, workers, and so on. Jump to current day, and the technology has spread across the entire world. So, enter our lead, a promising Necroware engineer named John Watson, voiced by Jason Liebrecht. He has been working under the radar to bring his friend Friday, voiced by Todd Haberkorn, back to life after his passing. The good news is that Watson brings his friend Friday back to life! The bad news is that due to the current technology, Friday can’t talk or really do much besides a few simple actions. Oh, and I guess getting caught and almost getting a bullet through Watson’s head by the England Government is bad as well. Watson is then sent on a journey to find this book that had all of Frankenstein’s notes and blue prints on reanimating corpses. Along the way he meets his and Friday’s bodyguard Captain Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, voiced by J. Michael Tatum, a Russian guide named Nikolai Krasotkin, voiced by Micah Solusod, a Russian corpse engineer voiced by Mike McFarland, and a mysterious woman named Hadaly Lilith, voiced by Morgan Garrett. Together they try to find this book, and maybe find The One, voiced by R. Bruce Elliott.

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So, what is good about this film? Well, I love the idea. While not scream yourself silly scary, the idea of what the entire plot is based around is scary. I mean, people are able to bring back dead people to use for mindless tasks, and sending them to war, while the rich get fat and pampered. It gets even more disturbing when you realize that they can make zombies for different purposes, and give them back intelligence to a degree. I feel like there should, or would, be some kind of moral dilemma with this technology. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Watson and Friday. You really wanted to see Watson obtain his goal, and bring Friday back to 100% living. I also enjoyed their bodyguard, who was simply a fun character to watch fight, act snarky, and bring a good energy to the group of protagonists.

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Since this was animated by the studio that did Attack on Titan, Wit Studio, you can tell that you are going to get some high-grade animation. Everything moves fluidly, and the color pallet has a good mixture of drab colors and a vibrant color scheme when needed.  The action flows well with the movements, and they get really creative with the zombie types. I know some people complain that when you give zombies more to do than just stumble around, it makes them less interesting, but I think it helps the movie. You see different types of zombies, like the regular zombies, suicide bomb zombies, zombies that wear heavy armor and know how to fight, and you get the idea. It helps make the action more interesting, and kept me engaged when our merry group of heroes was under attack. The voice acting was pretty solid. I think some of the voice actors trying British or Russian voices are distracting, but everyone puts in a good performance.

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If I had to complain about something with the film, I think it would be the pacing. Now, as a movie, it’s a fun action romp with an interesting setting. On the other hand, I constantly felt this would have been better as a miniseries. Even at two hours, the pacing of the story feels weird. Like, I was really getting into the Russian guide and his comradery with our lead, the bodyguard, and Friday, but he then stops being in the film before the halfway point. It’s shocking what happens, but still. They also introduce elements to certain characters, and the twist feels forced. Not that they weren’t building up the twist in some way, but since the film is too long for its own good, I lost interest a couple of times, and had to take a break  of watching the film before getting back on the saddle. The final climax is intense, but so much goes on at once with the lead and the main villain, that it’s overload. I think everything would have been better if they made this a four to six episode miniseries, so they could have time to flesh out everything. It loses its steam by the end of the first hour, and that’s a real shame. You have a cool world, but not the best execution or intrigue of said world.

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In the end, The Empire of Corpses was a solid movie. I had fun watching it, and I am glad I watched it, but I don’t know if I would watch it again. I would recommend seeing if you can rent it, or see if a friend has it and watch it with them. When I’m usually on the fence about a film, a rental or free viewing helps me not waste $20+ buying a copy of the film. If you like zombie films, anime, or anime with zombies, then you will probably enjoy this movie. It might go off the rails at times, but for a non-family-friendly “spooky” animated feature, I think I did a good job finding this film. Well, I have had my fill of spooky ghosts, ghouls, and anime tropes, so how about we play a little catch-up with the year with Loving Vincent. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time!

Rating: Rent It!