Project Itoh: Empire of Corpses
FUNimation // Unrated // $20.69 // July 5, 2016
Review by Chris Zimmerman | posted March 7, 2017
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The Empire of Corpses:

Pick out a handful of celebrated literary characters, throw in some zombie horror, add a dash of steampunk for aesthetics, and you get The Empire of Corpses, the first in a series of animated films adapting the works of sci-fi author Project Itoh. Produced by the same studio responsible for Attack on Titan, the Empire of Corpses richly illustrated big-screen adaptation is juxtaposed by a bloated and overlong narrative that attempts to delve into the nature of the soul without offering anything substantive from either end.

A little background before we begin: Project Itoh was the pen name of Satoshi Ito, a celebrated Japanese author and essayist. Genocidal Organ was his first major achievement in the field and the work he is most fondly remembered for. Ito regrettably passed away at the tender age of 34 from an eight-year battle with cancer, leaving his last work The Empire of Corpses to be finished second hand.

Set in an alternate 19th Century, the film postulates what the industrial revolution would have been like had Victor Frankenstein existed. The process of reanimating human corpses takes the world by storm, programming the lifeless husks to carry out multiple tasks ranging from construction work to fighting in wars. The new age of corpse powered development seems to be roses and brandy, with only a select few concerning themselves with the impact the technology has on the human soul.

In his attempts to revive his deceased friend Friday, a young medical student named John Watson (yes, that John Watson) devotes himself to unlocking the replicating Frankenstein's initial success of reanimating a corpse with a soul intact. He is tasked by the British government with hunting down Frankenstein's lost notes that are theorized to contain the secrets of the human soul. From there, he embarks on a globe-hopping adventure with a rag-tag group of feisty literary heroes as they become embroiled in a global conspiracy of catastrophic proportions.

The Empire of Corpses is ripe for philosophical debate ranging from the morality of manipulating the deceased for profit and the nature of the human soul, and while the film endeavors to tackle these topics. Its execution is trite and underdeveloped. Most Watson's dialogue attempts to be provocative in its exploration of the soul, but it's essentially rephrasing the same question without offering any substantial explanations aside from a throw away revelation during the climax that the soul is what makes us human.

While the Empire of Corpses flatlines in its narrative balancing act, it makes up in spectacle. Wit Studio
pushes the limits of the medium with the sheer amount of detail labored in rendering the world Project Itoh envisioned. From an aesthetic standpoint, the film is populated with exquisite architecture, superior backgrounds, and meticulously constructed steampunk machinery. With its roots set firmly in the tradition of globe-trotting adventure, the action scenes zip along at a brisk clip as the character's shoot, slice, kick, and wreak mayhem in cinematic excess.

Unfortunately, beautiful visuals do not a great film make, as the Empire of Corpses shambles along from one quest to the next. Despite its measured precision in its artistic effort, by the same flip of the coin the films banal exposition is regurgitated over and over to the point that it diminishes what it sets out to accomplish. Perhaps rather than asking what constitutes a soul, the better question is why should we care?

The Blu-ray

Video and Audio :

As a product of today's animation, the film takes advantage of modern technology. The 1080p high definition image is crisp and vibrant throughout. The architecture and mechanical designs of the Victorian-European setting pop off the screen with significant detail.

offers both English and native Japanese audio track in 5.1 surround. After watching the blu-ray with both tracks, I found the English dub cast's gesture toward accentuating each character's nationalities with appropriate accents the preferable of the two. That is not to say that the dub is flawless, rather the emulation of the films multicultural ethnicities adds depth that the Japanese track lacks.


release of the Empire of Corpses arrives in a blu-ray/DVD combo pack housed in a standard blu-ray case inside a sleeve decorated with a matching illustrated cover.

The release is scant on supplementary material, offering a short promo video and theatrical trailers. The standard Funimation
trailers for upcoming series are also included.

Final Thoughts:

Although a fair bit of criticism can be leveled at the Empire of Corpses narrative, the film makes up for it with fantastic visuals and creative ingenuity. While not crippling, had the film omitted superfluous scenes, fleshed out its characters, and shifted its focus away from the philosophical dredge, the Empire of Corpses might have been something more than a one-note Indian Jones knock-off.

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