Gainax’ latest series: Shikabane Hime. The first thing that you need to know before watching this is the following: Shikabane Hime is NOT the next Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. While it still has a lot of very stylish action, this series is much more than a simple brainless action series, and definitely not the place to go if you want to see action series as overblown as seen in Gurren Lagann. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for compelling characters, then this is the place to go.
There’s actually a lot to like about this series. First of all, it unites Gainax, one of the most un-subtle animation studios in existence, with Masahiko Murata, the director of Gilgamesh, which was in its turn incredibly subtle. The result is a very interesting combination between those extremes: a lot of quiet moments, expressive characters, combined with fast-paced and gorgeously animated action-scenes, all coated in a horror-ish atmosphere.
Another potential turn-off for this series is the male lead, Ouri. At first sight, he may be nothing more than a typical fourteen year old lead character, but the series quickly proves you wrong. Instead of immediately giving the guy superpowers and a central place in the story like in most other anime of its kind, Shikabane Hime instead tries to subvert this trope by explaining as good as possible at how such a seemingly insignificant guy can get himself some power. In fact, the entire first season of this show is dedicated to setting him in the right position for the second season, and flesh out the rest of the cast as well. This is one series that knows that it shouldn’t reveal all of its cards right at the start, and it’s so much better than the tons of series that start with “oh hey, I’m going to give you powers because I purely coincidentally managed to bump into you. Oh and by the way love me”.
And since this is Gainax, the animation for this series is really impressive. And thankfully it was spent in the right way: not on flashy beams or CG, but instead it’s dedicated to make the characters expressive, and the fights more centred around close combat, resulting in a number of gorgeous visuals. The soundtrack for this series is also downright excellent, and among the best of the season. This turns the fight maybe not as large in scale as in Gurren Lagann, but nevertheless the small scale fights never cease to be exciting.
As for the bad parts, there’s one particular episode where the boob jokes run a bit out of hand. You’ll know when it’s there, but it has particularly nasty effect on Ouri’s male classmates, turning them from regular classmates that turn up only once in a while into a bunch of paper bags who can only think about sex. This series is definitely at its lowest whenever these guys start whining about girls. Thankfully, this only happens two or three times through the series, but it remains rather jarring.
Overall, Shikabane Hime has been a great series for me. It had compelling characters and action, and it’s only been building up for the second season that’s about to arrive in January. In the beginning, it may seem to suffer a bit from the “monster of the week”-theme, but at the end it did what it was supposed to: create a solid base for the second season to work with, giving the important characters enough background and fleshing them out sufficiently.