I once almost had the pleasure of meeting King of Thorn director, Kazuyoshi Katatamaya, at a con when he was promoting King of Thorn around 2009, but came down with a cold (con flu perhaps?) the day before. Regardless, Kazuyoshi Katamaya also directed The Big O, an anime I should not have to refresh anyone reading this minds of, and an anime called Argento Soma, which without reading what it is actually about, I am just going to pretend that it’s an anime about famed Italian Horror director Dario Argento. King of Thorn is also based on a six-volume manga by Yuji Iwahara.
During the latter part of 2012, a disease outbreak known as ACIS (re-titled the Medusa Virus, an illusion to the diseases fatal outcome of causing a human body to break into stone just like the aftereffect of the Greek monster of the same name) rages Spanish Flu levels of terror across the globe. Venus Gate, a pharmaceutical company heavily controlled by a Russian cult and its leader, Ivan Vega. Believing Venus Gate is behind the spread of the Medusa Virus, the World Government sends a spy into Venus Gate’s biggest outing, a sleep chamber experiment featuring 160 patients. This is where our protagonist, Japanese school girl Kazumi Ishiki, finds herself a passenger on a bus with her twin sister Shizuku to Venus Gate’s Scotland castle location, three years after the Medusa outbreak.
Ivan Vega holds a presentation in the castle’s church to the patients on how they will be living the next 100 years in cryogenic sleep. He explains that they will be monitored by ALICE, a super computer build to monitor the health, as well dreams of each patient. Each patient will be given a gold bracelet, denoting the rate at which their Medusa Virus had spread based on how dark part of the band gets. Shizuku is then cleaned up and tested before being sent off to a large circular sleep chamber room deep underground. She falls asleep, lights go out, and doors are closed. Shizuku wakes up, the place covered in sharp thorn vines, some even covering the sleep chambers. Now, along with a few other patients like a large American Black man, a young blonde woman, a young red-headed child, a Italian politician, a suspicious jumpy blonde guy, and a long haired delinquent (their names are not given until key parts of the film), Shizuku must escape from underground and find out what became of the Medusa Virus infected world, a world seemingly overrun with phantasmal monsters warped by Sleeping Beauty symbolism.
King of Thorn succeeds at introducing varied concepts, and pulls off a miracle by actually using them. From the bracelets that the patients wear, to the existence of the ALICE super-computer, to the idea of Alternatives, creations brought about when a Medusa Virus infected individual undergoes a dramatic experience, if King of Thorn mentions it, it’s going to play a role later on. Not to move specifically into spoiler territory, I will mention that, specifically among science fiction titles like King of Thorn, jargon and technobabble are almost prerequisites. Great thing about King of Thorn is its ability to make sure nothing mentioned goes to waste, trying its best to keep things grounded in its own reality to make perfect sense, especially on a second viewing.
King of Thorn brings the action quick when thorn bat monsters and green skeletal dinosaurs with lizard tongues show up. But here is when I address the big CG dinosaur in the room. Starting and ending within a certain part in the film, King of Thorn uses full CG to render fight scenes and the previously mentioned skeletal dragons. The CG is that mannequin movement stuff which fits in the short work Five Numbers, an anime we have covered previously, but feels jarring when it switches between 3D and 2D practically in the same scene. It reminds of what people say how many of the latter Gundam movies would reanimate parts so you would see animation from the late 70s and 80s clashing with animation from only a few years ago. The CG becomes cartoony and almost comedic at times during certain shoots, which while fine in others, still takes much of the seriousness out of the situation with those mannequin limbs.
Pros: I will name mention one character, and while most of the characters are likable, previously mentioned long hair delinquent Marco Owen and his no-nonsense hot-blooded Koji Kabuto snarl and attitude make him one of the best anime characters in recent memory. Has one fantastic overarching operatic, almost Celtic theme. A rare film where first viewing asks to make guesses to what is behind everything, where watching again creates a completely different viewing seeing all the pieces fit together.
Cons: While not the worst deal breaker out there for CG in anime (I find CG in all anime to be abhorrently off-putting anyway), the CG does its fair job at pushing that envelope to taking me out of the experience.
Funimation has a rather cheap Blu-Ray/DVD-combo pack out for King of Thorn, so that’s another plus. King of Thorn surprised me in a good way, a solid science fiction story with great, if at times awkward, fight scenes, which actually kept to its concepts. I know something’s got it’s hooks in me when I have this crazy desire to re-watch something a second time in so short a time frame. Go buy King of Thorn now people. Go. Pick up the pace!