ReelAnime: King of Thorn

King of Thorn (2009)

King of Thorn PosterThe Reel Anime Festival is currently playing at cinemas around Australia and New Zealand, showcasing some of the best Japanese animation of the last few years. One of the big acquisitions of the festival in 2010 is King of Thorn, based on the serialised manga by Yūji Iwahara (Chikyu Misakai) and released theatrically in Japan in May this year. Director Kazuyoshi Katayama should be a name familiar to the anime faithful, with one of his earlier works being the now-classic Appleseed. More recently, he was responsible for Argentosoma.

The deadly Medusa Virus, a rapidly fatal disease that turns its victims to stone, sweeps across the globe. The high-tech Venus Gate offer to cryogenically freeze a small number of victims and revive them when they have found a cure, although there are some who believe they have developed the virus themselves as a biological weapon. Kasumi (Kana Hanazawa, Darker Than Black) has been selected to take a place in the cryo chambers, but is reluctant to leave her twin sister Shizuku behind. Taking their places in the facility, the patients are assured that the über computer ALICE will take care of their every need, including the control of their dreams, for a period of up to 100 years. When Kasumi and her fellow patients wake up, something is wrong. The facility is overgrown with large thorny plants, and vicious mutant creatures slaughter all put seven of their number. How long have they been under? It is up to the survivors to uncover what is going on, but is everything as it seems?

Simply put, King of Thorn is an instant classic. Weaving elements from traditional fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty through to modern survival horror conventions, the film creates something that is not simply a monster-fighting adventure for the boys, but rather achieves the near-impossible by constructing something that will appeal to a large cross-section of the anime viewing community. That said, the film deals with some weighty issues from suicide and depression to wholesale bloody slaughter at the hands of guns and monsters, so the little ones will do well to stay away from this. However, with the violence aside, this is something that could be as timeless as anything that Studio Ghibli has created in recent memory.

King of Thorn never quite takes you where you expect it to. Behind the video game aesthetic, quite literally in some cases (I won’t spoil anything by revealing why here), there is a beautiful story about finding reasons to exist. Many have written this off as a mere survival horror story, and there are definitely familiar motifs used throughout the film. Minutes after meeting the principle cast, we have a fair idea as to who is going to get picked off by the monsters, and in what order. Yet there is a constant reminder that there is something else going on deeper down the rabbit hole. Beautiful animation, combining traditional 2D cels and computer generated renderings, gives the film a visual sense of depth that viewers willing to let themselves go with the flow will also find rewarding in this epic film.

Reel Anime runs from 2 to 15 September 2010. Other films playing at the Reel Anime Festival include Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, Redline (which actually launches here before Japan) and the excellent Summer Wars.

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  • asdfasf

    your review is just horrible.
    please dont write reviews if u are not an anime expert.
    thats the worst anime i’ve seen in last few years.
    most unoriginal one at least.

  • Thanks for your comments. I’d like to think I’ve watched a bit of anime now, but the beauty of reviewing online is that everybody gets to express their subjective opinion.

    Genuinely liked this movie, and while I recognise it isn’t the most original, it got me going on the day.

  • Agreed with Unoriginal and Plot Holes

    It had many many many cliches. Even the “we are all created from a dream” is used in numerous games including Final Fantasy. “The monsters react to sound” and of course the lady screams. “I can’t shoot my own sister” is just too cliche. Not to mention its a sister to which the viewers had no emotional connection. The whole movie felt like another version of Resident Evil (first film with The Hive).
    The plot was clear and easy to follow until near the end when the Marco fights his dead sister and the main character starts looping the same dream. The sequence was so choppy it made me wonder if there was an error. At parts the animation was clearly not finished and gave me flash backs of The Freedom Project which used the same kind of animation.
    The whole movie was so focused on creating the mind twist ending that it gave up basic logical reasoning.
    For example, why in the world would the main character want that crazy world to become true? If the purpose of the dream was to protect her from knowing the truth about her sister’s death, is there anymore need of the dream? Wouldn’t her desire be to create a world where she can live happily? Did she want to kill herself with the world she created?
    The director probably wanted to have a twist ending with a horror atmosphere but it just doesn’t work out logically.
    Theres a lot of holes all over the place for the sake of visual effects. Like the girl falling from the sky in the opening scene, how did that happen?
    Overall the movie was sloppy and filled with cliches.

    If you really want something that makes you think try the Ghost in the Shell series and the movie Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Society. They actually put some effort into the plot.
    Another good movie is The Girl that Leap through Time. Watch it three or four times and you will see how much effort they put into the details of addressing any possible holes.
    If you want visual eye candy with much more creative monsters, try Evangelion.
    If you want something emotionally charging and beautifully executed try Tekkon Kinkreet.
    The animes that I mentioned above actually have a main character thats likable (except for maybe Evanglion).