Animation Production: WIT STUDIO ( Shingeki no Kyojin, Hal, Hozuki no Reitetsu, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Maho Tsukai no Yome: Hoshi Matsu Hito OAV, Owari no Seraph, The Rolling Girls / In-Between Animation on Subete ga F Ni Naru: The Perfect Insider / Production Assistance on PSYCHO-PASS 2‘s Opening Sequence)
Director: Ryotaro Makihara ( Key Animator on Monster episode 12 / Episode Director, Storyboard and Key Animator on Guilty Crown episodes 4, 11 and 21 / Key Animator on Shingeki no Kyojin episodes 17, 18 and 24 / Key Animator on Summer Wars / Key Animator on Colorful / Storyboard, Director and Production on Hal)
- Hiroshi Seko ( Script on Shingeki no Kyojin OVA “Iise’s Notebook” / Series Composition on Owari no Seraph and Nagoya Kessen-hen / Script alongside Kazuki Nakashima on Kill la Kill episodes 5 / Script on Garo: Honoo no Kokuin episode 4)
- Koji Yamamoto ( Chief Producer at Fuji TV [the company that established Noitamina] / Assistant Producer on hentai Countdown / Screenplay on Harmony / Chief Producer on many of Noitamina’s works since Hataraki Man in 2006 / Chief Producer on the three NOISE broadcasting company works Ristorante Paradiso, Aoi Hana and Michiko e Hatchin)
- Midori Gotou ( Series Composition on Hozuki no Reitetsu / Script on Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san episodes 2, 5, 6, 9 and 10 / Script on Hozuki no Reitetsu episodes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 13)d
- Project Itoh ( Original Creator on Genocidal Organ / Original Creator on Harmony)
- Toh Enjoe ( Script on Space Dandy episode 11 / Guest Character Draft Designer and Script on Space Dandy 24)
Original Character Designer: redjuice ( Ending Illustration on Shingeki no Kyojin episode 19 / Original Character Designer on Genocidal Organ / Original Character Designer, Designer of the Steiner A9 from episodes 21 and 22, Ending card Illustration and Illustration on Guilty Crown‘s Ending Sequence / Conceptual Design on Vividred Operation / Ending Card Illustration on Wooser’s Hand-to-Mouth Life / Ending Card Illustration on Haganai episode 6)
Character Designer: Takaaki Chiba ( Chief Animation Director on Shingeki no Kyojin episode 3 / Titan Animation Director on Shingeki no Kyojin OVA episode “Iise’s Notebook” / Animation Director assistant on Le Chevalier D’Eon episode 12 / Animation Director and Key Animator on Le Chevalier D’Eon‘s Opening Sequence / Key Animator on Hyouge Mono episode 1 / Key Animation on Ghost Hound episode 7 / In-Between Check on Noir episodes 15, 18 and 26 / Key Animator on Noir episodes 1, 5, 14, 16, 22 and 26 / Animation Director, Design and Key Animator on Sengoku Basara The Movie)
Music: Yoshihiro Ike ( Music Composer on Armored Trooper Votoms Case;Irvine OAV, Asura film, Blood: The Last Vampire, Cobra: The Animation, Dead Leaves OAV, Ergo Proxy, Flag, Freedom OAV, Genocidal Organ, Karas OAV, Kuroko’s Basketball Seasons 2 and 3, Noblesse: Awakening / Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis, Reideen, Tiger & Bunny series and compilation films)
A Noitamina produced film based on the late Project Itoh writer, who died in 2009 of cancer. Toh Enjoe, the physicist and writer of Space Dandy‘s incredible Episode 11 and wacky love romance Episode 24 vowed to complete his novel before Itoh’s death. At first, I was excited to hear his works receiving any sort of adaptation. Shisha no Teikoku has similar ties to WIT STUDIO’s current work Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri and the acclaimed Shingeki no Kyojin. If you are looking for an entertaining film, I highly recommend this as it is set in an alternate timeline of the renaissance period mixed with a somewhat familar narrative around scientific reanimating of corpses. The corpses in this act similarly in the treatment of the zombie threat in this season’s Kabaneri. There are many action sequences and you can tell that WIT STUDIO polished this up nicely with a balance of body horror and steampunk.
The first 25 minutes are fantastic as it slowly introduces John Watson (yes that John Watson of Sherlock) in the lead role in discovering how to bridge the gap between bringing a soul back to a dead body, Herbert West style. [If you don’t know Herbert West: Reanimator, it’s a short story created by H.P. Lovecraft in 1922] John Watson’s companion, who turns out is a corpse, is the body of his old friend, Friday–a heavy nod to Robinson Crusoe’s companion Friday. The idea to use Friday at the center of this story is a pointed reference to British literature. Completing a corpse with a soul is obvious and traces back to the history behind the Robinson Crusoe novel. In Trieste, Italy (1912), Irish Novelist James Joyce gave lectures on how Robinson Crusoe embodies the English mindset:
The true symbol of the British conquest is Robinson Crusoe, cast away on a deserted island, in his pocket a knife and a pipe, becomes an architect, a knife-grinder, an astronomer, a baker, a shipwright, a potter, a saddler, a farmer, a tailor, an umbrella-maker and a clergyman. He is the true prototype of the British colonist, as Friday (the trusty savage who arrives on an unlucky day) is the symbol of the subject races. The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe.” ~ James Joyce
It is this quote that translate many Shisha‘s themes. Britain’s way of life with corpses living in the streets, doing daily chores, and in some sense this film set a firm beginning in establishing a Victorian world that welcomes death instead of fearing it. This is the strong segment of Shisha‘s story. According to history around this time, there was an obsession with the dead being able to speak with spirits and even entering death themselves. Many loved ones passed way before their time from wars both close to home and from afar. This idea to communicate with spirits were common among the British because to converse with the ones they lost would ultimately give them closure. It’s a shame that this wasn’t further explored during John Watson’s research regarding corpses.
Once the first 25 minutes pass and the Russian scientist and corpse engineer Nikolai Krasotkin enter the picture I felt this film was starting to get flimsy. Shoving references that seemed unfitting to be in this turn-of-the-20th-century piece. Using Paul Bunyan as an instrument of evil? Doesn’t make too much sense to use an American historical figure for this unless it was to depict their evil nature.Onboard the Richmond that’s heading for America, Ulysses S. Grant relays information about the Writing Ball that was found in the Osoto Chemical Facility in Japan as a way to convince John Watson to analyze the First. The First is the only corpse with a soul and as it turns out is the bride to the One, the villain in this film. Rather he’s one of them out of a few of the leaders of the countries the main cast travel to.
Speaking of the cast, most of the characters seem to work together pretty well except for one. Hadaly. She’s completely out of context for this dark film–her character design is purely for fanservice reasons. Perhaps it’s because she’s a robot either way this was a mistake on lead designer Takaaki Chiba’s part. Given how visually grim (and stunning) this film’s backgrounds were this choice in her visual appearance makes most of her scenes less serious even when they tried to dress her up in Victorian clothing in the later half of this film.
I’m not sure if it was Project Itoh that tied in most of these references or Toh Enjoe but it didn’t try to be original in the characterization. According to history, Charles Babbage was the grandfather of computing but in this film he builds the analytical engine and Victor Frankenstein turns out to be this stereotypical take over the world old man villain. A trope that has been overused since the ’80s.
This film in some ways is a sequel to Marry Shelly’s work Frankenstein set in an alternate world. Perhaps both Project Itoh and Toh Enjoe didn’t fully understand Frankenstein as a monster. Watching this, I felt, that the soulless and empty Friday represented the classic monster more than this film’s suggested villain. We this emphasis with his friendship to John as we see a flashback depicting a promise they made in order to understand one another. Simiilar Even though we see Burnaby fighting a strikingly similar looking Frankenstein in the engine room–Shisha‘s long and drawn out conclusion was poorly written and poorly executed. The final arc was written by Toh Enjoe and even without reading the knowing the source material at heart I felt as though the story was losing focus on its characters especially with a lackluster and somewhat confusing ending. That is, if you don’t see the post-credits scene. It’s a shame that Project Itoh passed away when he did because I would have loved to have seen what ending he was set on writing.
I know that overusing references is a tiresome point of this film, the biggest highlight for me, surprisingly enough, was the post-credits scene. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and I certainly enjoyed his appearance and getting a glimpse of a Sherlockian adventure in this film was quite the treat!
All in all this film points out WIT STUDIO’s flaw as an animation studio. They are afraid of taking risks. They know how to make series that sell by sticking with what they know on how to produce. WIT lacks creativity. Using dead people as a way to channel an emotional impact on the audience has been oversold in the anime industry. Especially when you take into consideration how this film and Kabaneri are riding on the coattails of Shingeki no Kyojin‘s success. Whether its Titans, zombies, or vampires– much of it is the same; they rely heavily on one trope–Nightmare Fuel. A disturbing idea [zombies] that play up on a primal fear (which in this case is humanity losing itself to mindless beings) in order to capitalize on a compelling (and hopefully rewarding) dramatic story. It’s a collection of themes and tropes that have been recycled within the past 5 years! Let’s see something entirely different WIT!
OVERALL IMPRESSION: [41/100]