In the wake of an unstoppable pandemic that’s swept the world, a highly influential corporation decides to offer humanity a refuge from its inevitable end.
The ambition of this anime is unfortunately far greater than the budget (or the writing talent) the team had to work with.
I picked up this anime completely on a whim. Something I try to do, to keep fresh. I usually try to buy some import foreign films from time to time based on DVD cover art or a simple few word synopsis. Sometimes I luck out and discover a gem like Shaolin Soccer or Anthony Zimmer (remade in the US as the far inferior The Tourist); other times I deeply regret it as when I bought the mess that is Green Snake. King of Thorn falls somewhere in-between.
The narrative for King of Thorn is actually quite interesting. A new virus has emerged that infects its host over a period of about a month and very suddenly kills them by turning them into carbon, an effect that’s dubbed Medusa syndrome. You quite literally appear to turn to stone (or porcelain). The world at large is understandably frantic as noone is really sure if this deadly disease is communicable and whether a cure can be found before humanity is wiped off the face of the earth. Left and right, all across the world, parents are losing their children; children are being orphaned; and the worst of elements are cropping up to take advantage of the situation.
Great setup right? Where to take the story then. Well, what I just described is told to us within the first 5-10mins of the film. The rest of the film is told fast forward, post-apocalypse. Or so we think. Let me backtrack a bit. Also, as part of the setup, we learn of a corporation that’s apparently built a modern day Noah’s Ark where animals, plants, and a select few humans will be cryogenic-ally stored until the future where a cure will have hopefully been devised and life can be continued. We follow those humans as they are frozen and then woken apparently prematurely to a world far different than they expected. The rest of the movie takes place in the underground cryo facility where strange beasties play deadly obstacle to our survivors as they try to find their way back to the surface (and safety of civilization), if it still exists.
So, it’s basically an action film. The fascinating setup and premise is mostly jettisoned and replaced with killer plants, strange mutated animal hybrids, and a high death toll. Oh, and a whole new wrinkly story. As the narrative progresses it turns out, we learn, that the origins of the plague aren’t quite as random as originally seemed, and the very corporation that came to the rescue — might in fact have contributed to the current state of affairs. I’ll stop short of ruining the story’s revelations. Let’s just say that things aren’t as they appear and the ending is a little out of left field. The ideas are ambitious and “original”, but the journey there might not be worth it for some.
Besides the writing and general storytelling on display, the technical side of things (namely animation) are probably the weakest aspect of this film. The show uses a mix of 2D backgrounds (and for key character moments) and 3D cell shaded characters and objects. The 3D polygons looks something like what you might have seen in video games like Eternal Sonata, although (ironically), the game example has better implementation. King of Thorn uses the 3D objects quite poorly, with animations being too stiff and polygon assets not having the necessary detail that might have helped integrate with the 2D aspects. To put it in non-technical terms; it’s distracting.
So, a promising, but not well realised narrative and poor animation that reeks of a tiny budget. This little engine that tried probably won’t be at the top of my recommend list. That said, if you’re one who likes to support creators for their intent instead of their results, or you otherwise have the time and money to spend…give this one a try. You might find it does it for you. Everyone else, this isn’t your thing.
Animation is a C-
Storytelling is a C
Originality is a B
Overall score of a C