In case you guys hadn’t figured it out already, I’m spending the whole month just talking about shows I like for purely personal reasons. Fairy Tail, Hell Girl, and Haibane Renmei are all shows I love, just for being their own quirky selves. There’s no great artistic reason for it, or even really any deep character or plot reasons. They are weird, different, and unique, and that’s why I love them.
Adding Shikabane Hime to that list is only natural, since it’s a show I really enjoy for no reason other than it’s so darn weird. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but the weirdness of it is something I appreciate a great deal.
Released in 2008, this 25 episode series from Gainex was based on a manga written by Yoshiichi Akahito, and remains his most notable credit as an author. A supernatural story with heavy fighting elements, Shikabane Hime also features a deep mythology, strong character work, and more than a few surprising plot twists.
For those not familiar with it, the story revolves largely around Makina Hosimura, a teenage girl who is dead, and willing to kill anything that isn’t alive. If that sounds odd, well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Some years prior to the first episode, Makina and her family were slaughtered by monsters known as Shikabane, corpses that have retained the will to move and act. Don’t confuse these with zombies, however, because Shikabane are entirely different creatures, possessing abilities that defy the laws of physics, and driven by their regrets to kill humans. After her death, Makina rose as a Shikabane herself.
She was spared the fate of most Shikabane by being converted into a Shikabane Hime, a Corpse Princess, because of her families close ties with a secretive order of Buddhist monks known as the Kogan Sect. With the help of a contracted monk who feeds her life energy in order to prevent her from giving in to her regrets, and becoming just another Shikabane, Makina must destroy 108 Shikabane in order to find salvation and enter Heaven.
Not that she cares. Her only goal is to find the Shikabane that slaughtered her family, a notorious group of Shikabane known as the Seven Stars, Shikabane who act without regret, but because it was their nature in life to be monsters. With the help of Keisei Tagami, her contracted monk, she has vowed to destroy the Seven Stars, after which, she doesn’t care what becomes of her.
Things get complicated when Keisei’s orphan charge, Ouri, finds himself drawn into the world of the Shikabane, lead by a black cat only he can see and hear. Because of his proximity to Makina, Ouri finds himself caught in the battle against the Seven Stars, and an even more mysterious figure, the Traitor Monk, a former member of the Kogan Sect who murdered his own Shikabane Hime and went rogue.
Only together can Makina, Keisei, and Ouri hope to overcome the alliance that forms between the Seven Stars and the Traitor Monk, but even then, only if the dark secrets of Ouri’s past don’t kill them all first.
Basically, there’s a hell of a lot going on in this show.
First off, there’s Makina, who takes the idea of being a badass and cranks it to about fifty. Duel wielding MAC-11 submachine guns, Makina is a brutal killer of Shikabane, while still being a frightened, lonely, and damaged person. Calling her a tragic figure doesn’t even begin to cover it. Angry over what happened to her and her family, she frequently lashes out at anyone near her, only to feel bad about it later when she has time to think things over. Frequently conflicted, Makina is a well crafted character, with a ton of dimensions and layers to her.
The only person safe from her sharp tongue is Keisei, though he does get mild rebukes from her on many occasions for being a screwball. An outaku at heart, Keisei has an obsession with moe action figures and a certain moe show in particular. He’s a bit of a pervert really, which is an odd thing to see in a Buddhist monk. When the time comes to fight, however, he’s extremely skilled and dedicated. His more interesting side, however, is as the guardian of an orphanage attached to the temple he oversees. Children left parentless in Shikabane attacks frequently are taken there until a proper family can be found, and where their care is concerned, Keisei is more dedicated and loving than his character would lead one to believe. Again, multiple dimensions and facets.
Ouri, on the other hand, spends much of the series wandering into various events concerning Shikabane, or at least, that’s what people think. He’s actually lead into this things by a talking black cat only he can see and hear. The cat frequently taunts him, as well, and has a bit of a love hate relationship with Ouri. As he grows more and more aware of what’s going on, and the terrible burden Keisei, who he sees as an older brother, has taken on, and the battle Makina must wage, he slowly decides to do everything he can to support them. Of course, he has his own sinister secrets that even he is unaware of constantly looming over his shoulder, threatening to destroy him and everyone near him.
Of everyone, Ouri is most frequently depicted as the type who considers right and wrong to be absolutes, ideas everyone around him has abandoned. This doesn’t mean he’s a goody two shoes, however, and he must make a lot of hard choices over the course of the story, but rather that he always tries to consider what is best for those around him, an attitude that frequently leads him to heartbreak and failure.
Which is more or less the central theme the series presents. Doing the right thing is always the hard thing. Thinking of others most always leads to pain and suffering. Yet, despite all that, this is what it means to be alive. You do what you think is right, and deal with the consequences.
For Ouri, and those around him, in the battle against the Shikabane, this can easily lead to death, and frequently does.
Fair warning, by the way, not everybody gets through this series alive. Not all antagonists are what they seem. Not all allies are either. The multi dimensional aspects of the characters are found in the plot work as well, with many characters being much more than they seem frequently, and seemingly small events playing huge roles later on. The depth and complexity of the writing requires astute viewing, or many bits of foreshadowing and threads of subplots can be missed.
In terms of animation, Gainax and Studio Feels, who partnered to produce the show, bring a unique look to everything, with an animation style that feels a bit rough and unpolished, but lends itself well to the heavy action oriented nature of the show, allowing everything to move with a surprising amount of fluidity. The quality frequently ticks upward for the really intense scenes, offering up a bit of a dual nature to the animation style.
The rough and unpolished look is mostly used for everyday events, such as conversations and the like, while the quality tends to go up into a more crisp and detailed style for the fight scenes. This draws a distinction between the complexities of life, where things can frequently seem uncertain, and the straight forwardness of battle, where defeating the enemy is the only goal. Most often, this is used to reflect Makina’s own inner turmoil as she tries to navigate life after death, where she is unsure of her place and purpose, opposed to her single minded ferocity in combat, where she knows exactly what to do. It’s an interesting approach that works well for this series, but I don’t know that it would for any other.
The character designs are well crafted as well, with distinct looks that manage to reflect the inner nature of the character, but still be unique to the series. Any character from Shikabane Hime is easily recognized as belonging to this show, and confusing them with a character from any other show is almost impossible.
The director for the series was Masahiko Murata, who was the director for three of the Naruto movies, and has a long list of credits in storyboarding and episode directing from a plethora of series. With Shikabane Hime, he uses a ton of smart camera choices, especially in the fight scenes, keeping them fluid, dynamic, and engaging, as well as creating a lot of truly iconic scenes outside the action sequences. Much of the series takes place at night, and he frequently uses lighting to good effect in these scenes, with moonlight and streetlights creating spotlights on the action.
Personally, for my money, the fight between Makina and Kowaku around the mid point of the series is one of the most intense, thought anything revolving around the character of Toya is pretty damn intense.
The script work was handled by Sho Aikawa, who was the original creator of Concrete Revolutio, head writer for the 2003 FullMetal Alchemist, and Eureka Seven: AO. All through Shikabane Hime, his firm grasp of dialogue just sparkles, as does his understanding on the characters, and their roles in the story. The plot moves at a quick pace, with the previously mentioned foreshadowing and elements of importance being woven in with deft skill. The work he does here is a good case study in script writing, and packs a lot into every episode, without even slowing down the overall story.
Music was overseen by Norihito Sumitomo, who handled the music for Dragon Ball Kai and Super, as well two of the Dragon Ball Z movies. Each piece composed for Shikabane Hime is well crafted, building the story and scenes without overwhelming them. His work here is easily some of his most profound and beautiful, making this a must own soundtrack.
Of course, I talked about the opening credit sequence before, which you check out here.
From start to finish, Shikabane Hime is a tightly woven, character driven story, with a dense mythology that gives everything a great deal of weight. Character arcs affect everything that happens in significant ways, and even the villains are well crafted characters with goals and motivations of their own. At every level, it’s an excellent series, well crafted, and highly entertaining.
Provided you aren’t dead, in which case, Makina is probably coming for already.