Sunday, February 27, 2011

King of Thorn (2010)

A few years into the future, a rather peculiar virus attacks humanity. It turns its victims to (highly breakable, it seems) stone, and is therefore dubbed the Medusa Virus. International health organizations are helpless in finding a cure for the problem.

A corporation specialized in biochemistry and financed by some sort of religious sect, the Venus Gate Corporation, has a plan: put 160 people infected with the virus, but only in the early stages of the inflicted illness into an induced coma in the hope of waking them up once a cure has been found. The US government believes that the Corporation itself might be responsible for the virus they are now supposedly trying to cure, but before they can set anything in motion to hinder the Corporation's plan, the big freezing has already begun.

When the 160 wake up again from their sleep, they find themselves alone deep in the gigantic castle the Corporation used for the project. Quite some time must have passed while they were out, for their nice little high tech chamber is run through with gigantic thorn tendrils. As if this weren't bad enough, there's also a bunch of highly aggressive and very hungry monsters to deal with.

Alas, these people aren't very good at coping with surprise monster attacks, and so their numbers are fastly whittled down to seven. One of these seven is the shy bespectacled school girl Kasumi, who is the one half of a pair of infected twins the Venus Gate Corporation decided to help, while leaving the other one to die. Religious people are so nice. Kasumi is of course our designated viewpoint character, surprisingly enough not running around in her school uniform for most of the film.

From now on, King of Thorn deals with the the survivors' attempts to get clear off the monsters, find out what is really going on and - potentially - leave the castle. Needless to say, not every one here is who he seems to be, nor who he thinks to be.

The anime King of Thorn is based on a manga by Yuji Iwahara, but - as always seems to be the case these days - I haven't read the original, so I can't make a comparison between the two. Suffice it to say the Internet tells me there are huge differences between the two, which doesn't come as much of a surprise in a film that has to condense 800 or more pages of manga into less than two hours of running time. King of Thorn the anime is at least in so far successful in this attempt as it holds together as a narrative even for someone like me who hasn't read the manga and does - for the most part - avoid the pitfall of spouting so much exposition that a viewer might confuse it with a flashback episode of a TV show.

The anime isn't exactly teeming with originality. Its characters are all very standard types with little happening in their character arcs that will surprise anyone, while the plot hits most of the expected beats. Thanks to frequent allusions to "Sleeping Beauty", it becomes quite clear already early on that KoT will develop into something other than the survival SF tropes it uses for the first half of its running time, so the turn in the direction of slightly psychedelic and very Japanese sort of inner space SF doesn't come as a surprise either. Though the thorns themselves are something new to look at, even a rather inexperienced anime viewer will have seen most of the film's elements before in similar configurations.

Fortunately, KoT's director Kazuyoshi Katayama does know how to put his well-worn pieces together into a rather entertaining whole while avoiding the horrors of extensive fanservice. The film never reaches the depth it at times seems to be angling for but it contains enough classically fun bits (Monsters! Weird psychic powers! The Japanese obsession with doing peculiar and interesting things to European fairy tales! Very, very pretty animation!) executed in a professional manner to be an alright genre piece. Just don't expect it to be as clever and moving as it pretends to be. The former, King of Thorn just isn't, and for the latter, it's just a bit too slick and professional, a state not helpful in producing actual emotion. I still had quite a bit of fun with it, mind you.


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