Ah yes, the undead. It seems like every other show that's come out recently has been about this very subject. A formula that is becoming as stale as the dead characters that permeate it. Here now comes Corpse Princess, another take on the lost souls trend that tries to rise above the rest and bring something special to the mix. The story of a Shikabane hime, a girl named Makina that has been saved by a religious sect from becoming a demon that would otherwise terrorize the living. This sect ties this dead girl to a warrior monk, Keisei, through a contract that allows Makina and Keisei to fight the soulless shikabane, basically dead humans that can't pass on to the afterlife because of regrets that still tie them to this world.
We soon find out that Makina's regret that kept her from moving on to heaven is her unrelenting hatred and revenge for the shikabane that killed her family and her many years ago. These specific shikabane, called the Seven Stars, are the real enemy and have ulterior motives much grander than what they first seem to be. This is the basic premise of the show. A revenge story of a dead girl trying to avenge the death of the ones she loved dearly while she was alive.
However, Shikabane Hime tries to include some very emotional threads into the plot, putting Keisei's brother in the thick of it all. Ouri, a fifteen year old high school student (aren't they all!), has started to suspect the strange happenings around his brother's comings and goings on the grounds of the orphanage that Ouri resides in. Keisei comes and goes, often times with wounds and injuries that seem out of place for a monk to have. Ouri's curiosity soon leads him into the fight between shikabane and the humans. But most of all, it's the realization that his brother fights alongside a dead girl, Makina, that really brings him knee deep into the conflict. It also doesn't help that Ouri doesn't seem to have a revulsion to the fact that Makina is really dead. The relationship between human and the undead should be one of a taboo, yet here they are getting along just fine, although how the monks and the sect see these shikabane hime's as is really the internal struggle that Ouri, Keisei and others have. Should they be considered as equals or as defiled ones? Should humans have any feelings towards these undead?
As much as this show tries to answer those questions, the sad truth is that it fails to deliver these answers in a compelling package. It's unfortunate, because this show had the makings of a great series. The biggest problem is that midway through the series, it sort of loses focus and the main characters become lost in the shuffling twists and turns that, sometimes are handled clumsily. Some plot points that should be incredibly important are delivered in a nonchalant manner, almost as an afterthought. It's disappointing because there were some real great elements that would have made this into a stand out anime of this nature. Instead it falters in the end and it becomes a rather mundane show in the second half.
Although, where it does excel in is its visual flair. The show is a beautiful thing to watch. Strong, fluid animation coupled with fantastic art makes for some of the best fighting sequences I've seen in an anime in a while. I think the first episode alone is one of the best things I've seen animated in any show. It doesn't sustain that level of style through out, but Gainax makes sure the quality doesn't dip that much. In truth, visually, this is top notch. If you're looking for action and stunning visuals, you can't go wrong with this show.
Overall, I think that the show isn't a complete waste or terrible by any means. The first half is good stuff, and really sets the tone for the series. The bonds between the main characters are there and you do care for the Shikabane Hime and their contract monks. It just doesn't sustain those bonds that well after a key plot point occurs and it sort of loses it's emotional impact. I think watching the first half will give you enough to move on forward to the end, but I wouldn't say this is something that would end on a high note after the end credits. It could have been great, but alas, Shikabane Hime didn't quite make it to heaven.