The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

King of Thorn

Title: King of Thorn aka Ibara no Ō
Genre: Science Fiction/Drama
Company: Sunrise
Format: Movie, 110 minutes.
Date: 9 Oct 2009

Synopsis: A girl falls to her death in New York, but what shocks the witnesses is her bizarre remains. She is a victim of the Acquired Cellular Induration Syndrome (ACIS), otherwise known as Medusa, which turns infected humans into stone corpses. As the world plunges into chaos over the spread of the mysterious virus, American chemical manufacturing company Venus Gate offers cryogenic sleep as the sole answer to save mankind. Only a handful of candidates is selected for it, one of them being the quiet Ishiki Kasumi. However, they are in for a rude awakening from their slumber as they discover that the cryo facility is infested with huge thorn-covered vines and grotesque dinosaur-like creatures. Cryptically, Kasumi seems to be connected to all that has happened…

The Highlights
Story: Engaging, fast-paced and neurotic; flashbacks can be confusing at times.
Production values: Amazing; fluid CGI animation is used to great effect.
Characters: Interesting backgrounds, but lacks chemistry and tension.
Theme: Unique combination of science fiction and fairy-tale fantasy.
Ending: Nice buildup to climax, albeit a trope revelation.

If I may choose only one word to describe Sunrise’s latest movie, it would be “neurotic”. This is especially when it uses dreams and imaginations as the central motif, while the main story deals with tragic pasts and coping with the loss of loved ones. The movie coherently ties sci-fi and fairy-tale fantasy together to form a movie that is thoroughly riveting and fast-paced, albeit the occasional sci-fi info-dump towards the end can throw off the audience’s attention. King of Thorn also makes good use of periodic flashbacks as faint hints to protagonist Kasumi’s ambigouous background. Although they can be intricate and the climatic revelation is clichéd, the flashbacks’ distorted presentation and build-up are worthy of praise.

Another exceptional aspect is the fluid animation, which boasts of Production I.G-like high production values. The CGI animation is distinctive because it is extensively used to animate not just the grander-scale portions of the movie, but the characters’ movements as well. While most attempts at using intensive CGI to animate moving characters usually end up looking awkward and unnatural, this movie does well in rendering each frame meticulously, resulting in lifelike and polished animation that the audience may not even notice at first glance just how much special effects are utilized.

Absorbing plot development and the unique blend of two different themes make up the positive points, but King of Thorn is brought down a notch by the characters. It does well in revealing their individual dark pasts and inner demons piece by piece, but for a story that focuses on a group of motley survivors fighting for their lives out of a nightmarish situation, there aren’t enough tension and chemistry between them. The overwhelming sense of horror and doom is underwhelming, and the friction and bond developed between them feel superficial. Moreover, it is quite a letdown to see that the flashbacks, which do a great job in developing Kasumi’s character, aren’t spared enough to flesh out the other characters’ pasts which would render the story more balanced.

Although the cast are reduced to plot puppets and the ambiance have some issues, I would give King of Thorn its due credit. Sci-fi has never been an interesting genre to me, so for the movie to be able to captivate me with its well-crafted plot development, it has achieved a great feat. What’s more, the social commentary on the “end of the world” and the overarching message of hope and miracles complement the storyline well, and they are not preachy one bit. What we have as a result of combining various elements together, is a visual work of art that is cerebral on the outside but emotional on the inside. 2009 may not have been the greatest period for anime in recent years, but at least it has this to offer to those looking for something different.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: AC

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