King Of Thorn (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 110 minutes approx.
In 2015 the world is in the grip of a fatal pandemic called Medusa Virus, which petrifies its victim before crumbling to dust. With no cure in sight, a multi-billion dollar biotech company called Venus Gate steps forward with the Cold Sleep Program, giving one-hundred and sixty infected people the opportunity to be cryogenically frozen in Cold Sleep Capsules protected by a system called A.L.I.C.E, for a century, after which they will hopefully awaken to a world where a cure has been found.
However a technical glitch causes the capsules to open after just forty eight hours and the patients discover that the chamber is overrun by thick sprawling vines covered in thorns. When they try to seek help they are attacked by a swarm of blood thirsty monsters, immediately cutting the numbers down from one hundred and sixty to just seven. Can this ragtag group survive long enough to escape and learn the truth of their early awakening?
The origins of King Of Thorn can be found in the well received six volume manga by Yuji Iwahara which ran from 2005 to 2008, featuring a multi-layered and engaging storyline which would have been prime material for a full season TV anime adaptation. However director Kazuyoshi Katayama and acclaimed studio Sunrise decided on the movie format and while it works very well in this medium, fans of the manga may beg to differ due to some of the liberties taken with the story in this adaptation.
Of the candidates selected for hibernation, it is not difficult to see who are going to be the focus of the story, notwithstanding the obligatory schoolgirl in the form of Kasumi Ishiki, who shows up at the castle with her twin sister Shizuku. It’s easy to assume they are there to suit the fetish brigade but to the credit of Katayama, he has made sure both girls are characters of substance, with an interesting backstory and a key part in the film’s climax. Joining Kasumi (Shizuki was not selected for hibernation) are former nurse, a very young computer game aficionado, a police officer, the creator the Cold Sleep Capsules, a pompous politician and the heavily tattooed, brutish looking he man Marco Owen.
The first thirty minutes of the film fills us in on the history of the Medusa Virus, the offer by Venus Gate and the introduction and arrival of the selected individuals to the castle where there are to be sent to sleep. While it provides us with an informative and comprehensive prologue it also makes for a slow start to a story that has so much ground to cover.
This is one area where I think may fans would have been forgiven if a potted history had been presented due to the time constraints an anime has to contend with that a manga does not. From the awakening onwards the action kicks into high gear and does so in bloody and violent fashion. It may be a matter of immense convenience to kill off the majority of the cast in one foul swoop to bring things down to the nitty gritty to get the plot started, but in actual fact it is not as contrived as you may think and we are teased with the fate of a few established faces in the balance before settling down to our key line-up of survivors.
Having to condense so much convoluted material into one palatable slice of entertainment is no mean task and there will always be casualties. Having not read the manga I cannot comment on what was or wasn’t cut or changed in this adaptation but one can make an educated guess where these alterations were made. From the moment the pods are opened, the story becomes your archetypal “rag tag survivors fighting against the odds” sci-fi story with plenty of running, close calls and tense moments in trying to outwit and outmanoeuvre the blood thirsty predators that surround and inhibit them at every turn. In between the shower of bullets and decapitated human bodies a few slivers of exposition are allowed to slip through the carnage to help flesh out the characters.
For the final act, the story picks up on one of the films central motifs relating to the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty, which is twisted and contorted into a maelstrom of psychological musings and Inception like “dreams within dreams that other people are dreaming” scenarios. Here’s where the story starts to trip up on itself, as though the five minute klaxon until the end of the film went off and the writers went into panic mode, throwing everything they can to make for a dramatic and explosive ending. We certainly get that and admittedly the twists are genuinely game changing but sadly at the expense of logic and coherence, which I’m sure won’t make for a satisfying ending for some viewers.
A few brain cells may be scrambled by the various twists in the final act but the eyeballs are in for a treat with this film. Sunrise have built up quite a reputation over the years for the standard of their animation and King Of Thorn does nothing to diminish this. Aside from a couple of instances where CGI clashes with 2D, the animation is exceptional throughout, looking luscious on Blu-ray. Sunrise have created a believable and suitably austere location for our heroes to be lost within, retaining all of the historical detail for the castle, nicely blended with the not too-futuristic equipment to represent the sci-fi element of the tale. The monsters are of familiar designs but nonetheless creepy and violent – very violent.
Truth be told, if you haven’t read the original manga I can’t imagine that this adaptation of King Of Thorn will be much of a disagreeable viewing experience. A slightly baffling and involved one that will probably engender a few repeats viewings to make more sense of it but an enjoyable and engaging romp all the same.
Dolby True HD: English Language 5.1
Dolby True HD: Japanese Language 5.1
Talk Event at Cinema Sunshine Ikebukuro
Ratings – *** ½
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