There are days when all you want is blood, gore, and mayhem. The hot chicks parading around don't hurt either. Throw in some undead, demons, and magic and you can spend days inside your house, avoiding the sun. It doesn't matter that you come out looking like one of the undead yourself afterwards, right?
The manga has been out since 2005 but the anime recently came out in Japan. Our heroine, Makina Hoshimura, died before the show even starts. Technically, she died again and just like the first time, she is resurrected as one of the undead, shikabane.
She's not just a regular shikabane though; she's part of an elite group of undead girls that have vowed their undead lives to destroying other shikabane. At the end of the day, supposedly, once these girls have destroyed 108 regular shikabanes, their souls are purified and they get a ticket to go to heaven. At least, that's what the secret society of fighting monks tell them.
Each Shikabane Hime, that is what this elite group of undead girls is called, is paired up with a soldier monk that helps them. Since these girls are dead, there's a lot that they can't do for themselves. For example, they don't have life force to draw out to heal themselves when they get hurt so the soldier monk, the contracted monk, agrees to sharing his life force with the Shikabane Hime that is assigned to him.
Even though Shikabane Himes have superior strength and agility like shikabanes, the bond that is create between the contracted monk and his Shikabane Hime make them partners, two people sharing and defending one life force. With this life force, Makina can heal all her injuries and even raise back from the dead again. The catch is that once the contracted monk, in Makina's case, it's Keisei Tagami, dies or his life force runs out because she drained it all out of him, she turns into a regular shikabane and becomes fair game to other Shikabane Himes.
Keisei Tagami is Makina's contracted monk but when he isn't sharing his life force with her or kicking shikabane butt by her side, he runs an orphanage. He has brought up a lot of kids but his favorite is Ouri. He found Ouri when he was three and immediately brought him to live with him at the orphanage, Kougon Sect's Dai-Rin House. Ouri had no idea who he was and didn't act like a normal child so Keisei literally had to teach him everything from scratch.
For twelve years, Keisei taught Ouri how to eat, how to feel, how to function like a regular person, and even tried to teach him how to like girls and let his testosterone flow. Ouri, on the other hand, thinks of Keisei as his meddling older brother. He loves him and knows he means well but seriously thinks that Keisei is trying to cover-up his moe action figure collecting habit by saying that he is buying it for Ouri. When Ouri moved out of the orphanage, Keisei even went so far as to move all his moe figurines, magazines, window curtains, and posters to Ouri's new apartment.
Visually, there is nothing particularly spectacular about this anime but once you start you are completely invested in it. Everyone means well and everyone wants to protect someone but everything still goes to hell despite all the good intentions. Keisei wants to protect Makina, Ouri, and all the kids at the orphanage. Makina wants to protect Keisei and destroy as many shikabanes as she can so that they can't kill more people. Ouri wants to protect the whole wide world but he barely has the power to protect just himself. The monks want to save all of humanity but to do so they may have to sacrifice not only their Shikabane Himes but also themselves.
In the end, should everyone be like Ouri: not fear death, but be fascinated by it? Can everyone be saved? Is anyone worth saving? Or is everyone going to hell because the road is already paved with good intentions?
Reviewed by Carolyn Whu, April 2009
Below: Scenes from Shikabane Hime.