Empire of Corpses Review — A Corpse of A Film

Stuffed with a lot of explosions admittedly, but it’s still fucking dead.

You know, despite all the advantages they have in terms of budget and brevity, it’s a shame anime films get so little attention within the community and even more a shame that they’re generally not very good. And it’s not like they’re rare or anything, as I’ve been reviewing quite a lot of them as of late. With the exception of Kizumonogatari and arguably the new Ghost in the Shell, they’re not even franchise films made solely to milk the life out of a product that’s already on life support. They just don’t really take advantage of the fact that they’re supposed to be self-contained stories, often coming off like someone just crammed an entire series worth of material into the thing before realizing they only have two hours to tell their tale and proceeded to edit like they were taking lessons from the guy who was responsible for Green Lantern’s final cut. But for all my complaints regarding the weird pacing in Anthem of the Heart and The Boy and the Beast, I must now extend an apology to them. Because I recently saw Empire of Corpses, and I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that the pacing in that movie was so bad it literally physically assaults you.

Empire of Corpses is one of three adaptations of the novels written by Project Itoh that noitamina announced sometime last year, and before people get on my case regarding the dude, no I’ve never even heard of him prior to now let alone read his stuff, and yes I know he’s dead. In fact, Empire of Corpses is actually based on a novel of his that he never completed before kicking the bucket, and boy does it show. Because the way this movie played out, it felt like I was watching a live-action outline that clearly didn’t go through any revising before being pushed into Studio Wit’s hands. Now as I’ve said before, I respect Wit for their desire to challenge themselves and I can see the appeal of wanting to complete the work of a great author on your own (assuming that was the intention). But that doesn’t change the fact that when they fuck up, they really fuck up.

I don’t think you even call what happens in Empire of Corpses a story. More like a bunch of explosions that might as well have a giant sign attached to them saying “are you entertained, motherfucker? I sure hope you are, because we overstocked on explosives and need to clear out the warehouse before the end of the week”. The movie is centered on John H. Watson, a young scientist who experiments with corpse reanimation in a European setting where dead people are reanimated into “Frankensteins” in order to function as expendable labor. Having turned his recently deceased friend, Friday, into a Frankenstein, Watson is recruited as a government agent in order to help out with his own research and what follows is a series of what I can only describe as trying to cram an entire series’ worth of material into a two-hour film, so the plot shifts rapidly from trying to make me sympathize with John to making me want to punch his eyeballs out of his skull.

My big problem with the movie is that it doesn’t really tell you what’s going on and why I’m supposed to care. I don’t know who John is besides the fact that he’s obsessed with his work and getting Friday to become capable of speech again, and I don’t know who Friday is because the film just assumes that since John cares about him, so should I. There’s a scene in the middle of the movie where John is supposed to destroy an artifact called the “Notes of Valour” that’s supposed to contain secrets regarding the Frankensteins that the bad guys want to utilize, but because he’s more determined to get Friday back to a human-like state, he nearly gets his non-Frankenstein buddies killed and loses the notes in the process. This might have been understandable if we had seen anything of Friday when he was alive, but John doesn’t even give a sentence regarding what his buddy was like back then. He just wastes people’s sacrifices all for his own selfish gains, and without a good understanding of where he’s coming from, it makes him incredibly unlikeable.

Don’t even bother looking at the other characters for support, because they’re nothing but plot devices to either die or get close to dying so that John can experience a character arc without good grounding. Friday constantly turns on the characters due to his zombie state, so he’d be kinda hard to sympathize with even if Empire bothered to tell me who the fuck he is. The only other really noticeable character I can think of at the moment is the one female character in the movie, Hadaly Lillith, and that’s only because of a secret regarding her true nature that I won’t spoil and how she barbecues a bunch of zombies with a flamethrower. There is one guy who in the dub has a really bad German accent, but he gets arbitrarily killed off about thirty minutes in so don’t expect his voice to make you laugh all through the movie’s overly long two-hour length. Nobody but our dear old Watson really has an arc in this film, and to this day, I still don’t know what the fuck the main villain’s plan was beyond creating a bride out of humanity’s souls. Why? Um…he couldn’t move on?

I guess the big selling point of the film is the whole “Frankenstein as sacrificial” labor premise given that they’re dead and thus you don’t have to feel guilty about overworking them or whatnot, and that’s pretty cool because that’s one of the few things zombies haven’t been used for yet in fiction’s constant attempt to exploit them to no end. But Empire keeps turning them into an excuse for action set pieces and very rarely do said set pieces have to do with how the public uses them as war fighting machines. Now this is Wit, so the action is decent for the most part, but prettily-executed junk food spectacle is still junk food, and junk food is never going to be fun to watch under any circumstances – especially not when video games alone have pretty much exploited every way for a zombie to become a threat by now. Without a narrative, or even a good personal reason for John to be involved in it, they quickly become the equivalent of the well-produced yet boring musical numbers from Blues Brothers 2000. And despite being incredibly simplistic, the narrative also somehow manages to be overcomplicated at the same time. It even ends with an incredibly grim scene of John trying to turn himself into a Frankenstein after the happy times achieved with his comrades. Why? I don’t know, but I wish he had done it before the thirty minute mark so I wouldn’t have to hear him talk with that bad accent anymore.

So let’s recap this film, shall we?

Story: A fucking mess.

Characterization: A fucking mess.

Visuals: As expected of the studio, if once again it’s trying to be Attack on Titan.

Entertainment Value: Almost none. The film is not funny apart from some unintentionally bad dubbing choices and it doesn’t make me think at all. Without either of those elements to invite me in, the only thing I left the theater with as soon as the Egoist song played was a stone-cold expression and an hour-long train ride home in the middle of the night.

Minor Quips

  • I didn’t stay past the ending credits, so I didn’t get to see Sherlock Holmes’ obligatory cameo.
  • For the record, the current fansubs for this thing are shit.

11 responses to “Empire of Corpses Review — A Corpse of A Film

  1. Nice review.

    Yeah, Harmony was a lot better. Hopefully I’ll be able to see it with dubs soon.

    Still, looking forward to Genocidal Organ which I hope will be released within the next five years.

  2. I think one of the problems with the film had to do with the source material – Itoh died before getting most of his thoughts on paper, so one of his friends finished the manuscript. The rest speaks for itself.

  3. I saw this in theaters when it came out, and man was I disappointed. I wanted to like this film, as I thought how they treated zombies was something that hadn’t been done before, but besides its fairly shotty writing with its ending legitimately making no sense, it’s directing was what bothered me most. It felt like Wit was trying to make a Tetsuro Araki-esque spectacle, while still trying to retain the dense sci-fi aspects, and the whole thing ended up coming off as half-hearted. I believe the end of the film was actually adapting the novel, as the novel was finished by writer Toh EnJoe. I think this movie has also made me learn that I don’t like Toh EnJoe’s writing. I also really didn’t like the two episodes of Space Dandy he did, as they came off as way too convoluted, and the final parts of Empire of Corpses felt very similar.