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Makina Hoshimura is already dead, but she can't let go of this twisted world. She burned to death along with her entire family in a fire started by freaks that wouldn't stay buried. Makina knows she doesn't belong among the living, but that won't stop her from unleashing the full fury of her twin MAC-11 machine guns on the rotting remains of those who refuse to die. She's hell-bent on filling every empty grave she can find with the monsters that should be six feet under. Makina is a Shikabane Hime - a Corpse Princess - and it's her job to finish off the undead leftovers haunting the dark corners of a city that used to be safe...
(This review contains spoilers for Shikabane Hime: Corpse Princess - Part 1.)
Following the close of the first season and the initial skirmish with the power-hungry group of elite Shikabane called the Seven Stars, Makina and her apprentice guardian monk Ouri have been living under the wary protection of the Kougon Sect, attempting to strengthen the supernatural bond between the two of them and come to terms with the death of Makina's previous guardian, Ouri's foster brother Keisei. Makina's and Ouri's uneasy feelings toward one another are complicated by suspicion and hostility from the Sect's leadership, as well as Makina's own unresolved regrets over her relationship with Keisei - regrets that, typically of the series' brutal literalization of Buddhist concepts of attachment, threaten to overwhelm her soul and deprive her of her humanity. Meanwhile, undercover agents Mibu and Akira - the only Kougon operatives licensed to kill the living - continue to investigate the hidden truth of the Seven Stars' goals.
Shikabane Hime's main point of interest continues to be the brutal and coercive relationship between the predominantly male Kougon Sect and the undead girls it forces into its service in the promise of eventual release after killing 108 Shikabane - an exploitative cult of supernatural damage control that bears strong comparisons with the medieval fantasy series Claymore, though Shikabane Hime lacks that series' sense of female solidarity. The convenient appeal of a fighting force comprised solely of cute girls and buxom women, while eventually explained in the context of the series' mythos, doesn't come in for much auto-critique and is overwhelmed by the copious fanservice that in the absence of the trademark wit of co-producers Gainax, merely comes off as pandering. Worse, the emotional impact of Keisei's death is blunted by the appearance of a similar character who pointlessly repeats his perverted excesses, accompanied by a fatuously stereotyped, Japan-obsessed blonde Western airhead character who's the focus for some witless otaku-centric attempts at comedy. This kind of clumsy stab at postmodern humour is sadly all too common in modern anime, and without the sly wit of the likes of Genshiken or Lucky Star it's tiresome in the extreme.
Part two follows the conventional gambit of dispensing with the scene-setting and standalone episodes established in the first season, focusing on the growing conflict between the Kougon Sect and the Seven Stars. The latter are a body of grotesque mavericks typical of opponents in action anime, and while some of their personalities and powers are inventively memorable they never really catch light as an antagonistic force. To its credit, the spiritual and emotional development of Makina and Ouri remains the series' main focus, and while Makina is as casually objectified as any anime heroine - I don't think I remember a single scene where her clothing isn't torn - the series brings her to a conclusion that while abrupt, makes sense and doesn't imply a pat resolution to her paradoxical existence as a living corpse. An epilogue fleshing out the relationship of two supporting characters from season one closes out this release in an unexpected, yet oddly satisfying manner.
It's hard to recommend Shikabane Hime as a whole - the violence and sexual exploitation, not to mention the fast and loose approach to Buddhist mythology, will be offputting for some, while those for whom they're positive features may find the animation and story a little thin. As a contemporary action anime it's extremely typical in style and content, so much so that it's bound to be overshadowed by similar contenders like the upcoming High School of the Dead. If you enjoyed the first season, though, this volume completes the story in a satisfying manner.