Project Itoh: The Empire of Corpses Review

Project Itoh: The Empire of Corpses Review

After watching the end credits for Project Itoh: The Empire of Corpses I was left with a distinct feeling of disappointment. What started as a promising story with ample opportunities to be impactful ended up completely missing the mark. Empire of Corpses animates into life beautifully in its first half but drags awkwardly midway and inevitably falls apart into unsightly shambles by the end in a manner unfitting of a modern anime movie.

The movie paints an alternative fictional reality in which Dr. Frankenstein exists and has successfully resurrected a human that possesses emotions, a conscious mind and a fully functioning brain. In other words: he has successfully revived a dead person. One hundred years have passed since then, and while the technology Dr. Frankenstein used to resurrect that corpses (which people refer to as The One) has been lost humanity is obsessed with bringing the dead back to life. Available technology has reached a point that allow the dead to be resurrected as mindless puppets that can perform simple duties such as carrying heavy loads, fighting wars (albeit incredibly ineffectively) and writing simple memos.

With these foundations laid down, Project Itoh: The Empire of Corpses follows university student John Watson who illegally brings his dead friend Friday to life in order to prove the thesis the two were working on before Friday’s early demise. To Watson’s chagrin Friday is resurrected as a mindless, hollow shell of a human just like all the other reanimated corpse in the world. To make matters worse, the British government soon discovers this illegal act and present Watson with an ultimatum – help us retrieve Dr. Frankenstein long-lost notes or lose Friday and face criminal charges. Watson accepts the government’s mission in the hopes that the notes might help him fully resurrect his friend. Other nations and individuals are after Dr. Frankenstein’s notes, including The One himself, making Watson’s journey more perilous than he may have liked.

The movie has very few moving parts. John Watson travels the world in search of the notes and on the way ends up meeting several fictional and non-fictional characters that assist him. Most notable are four bodyguards which, to some extent, protect him from various assassinations and other deadly situations. These bodyguards are the British Frederick Barnaby, Russian Nikolai Krasotkin, American Hadaly Lilith and Japanese Yamazawa Seigo. Apart from the charming soul-searching Hadaly, all the bodyguards are essentially one dimensional and forgettable characters. John Watson himself is a simple man on a mission and rarely stops to thing outside of his narrow box. Having strong-minded characters is not a bad thing per se, but the bodyguards contribute so little to the plot that their inclusion seems unnecessary at best, and in the case of Barnaby – even a nuisance.

Poor characters aside, Project Itoh: The Empire of Corpses does a good job when it comes to world-building. The steampunk inspired 19th society and its disturbing fascination with the macabre is depicted in great details. The movie uses an intentionally limited color palette that focuses on shades of brown, grey and black. This palette literally paints everything in grim colors and greatly contribute to the melancholic atmosphere. As a result, the movie really does reek of death, darkness and dread. It should also be noted that while Empire of Corpses is not a zombie move it does feature grotesque and bloody elements befitting of one. The grotesque nature of the undead, together with the alienating steampunk machinery, form the meat and bones from which the movie’s world is built.

The undead-ridden world in Empire of Corpses presented many opportunities to show and actively discuss the implications of reanimating the deceased. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t actively address the ethical implications of reviving the dead. Reviving the dead, as the movie explains, has become so commonplace it is no longer considered problematic. Watson himself never questions this. At times he regrets bringing Friday back to life, but his attitude towards the undead is otherwise positive. Because no character in the movie is depicted actively opposing raising the dead we are deprived of any discussion (philosophical or social) on the subject, and I found this particular point to be very disappointing.

I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room yet. I’m talking, of course, about Empire of Corpses’ plot. First, I need to come clean and confess that I watched this movie after watching Project Itoh’s excellent science fiction movie Harmony. That movie left a long-standing impression on me and as such I was expecting great things from Empire of Corpses. My hopes were shattered. Empire of Corpses is devoid of any meaningful plot. It breaks its own rules multiple times in ridiculous ways. Undead assassins appear seemingly randomly during the story. They attack Watson in the middle of a tundra, on a well-secured boat and in other places where it doesn’t make sense for them to appear. Other elements of the movie are obscure at best. Characters spontaneously spout philosophical questions in a melodramatic fashion. Things like Thinking Computers (Charles Babbage) and dark magic play an important role in the story but are never explained at all, and the last story act is so ridiculously badly put together that it will outright insult your intelligence as a viewer.

I can’t help but think that something went terribly awry in the transition from the original novel to this movie. This was supposed to be a dark, melancholic tale about one person’s attempt to revive his friend. It was also suppose to ask harsh questions about the human soul and the ethical implications of using the dead to perform labor. But while all of these are lightly touched on in the beginning of the movie, Empire of Corpses fails miserably at weaving them into a coherent, meaningful, plot. Project Itoh: The Empire of Corpses may have had a good story on paper but the movie it turned into is as rotten and crippled as the dead it depicts.


  • - Employs a unique color palette that fits well with the movie’s theme.


  • - One-dimensional characters.
  • - Cheesy plot filled with contradictions.
  • - Story completely falls apart near the end.

Final Score: 4/10 (Terrible)

Product Information: Project Itoh: The Empire of Corpses. Published by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date: July 5, 2016.

Review Equipment: A Sony 42-Inch LCD HDTV connected to a PS4 using a ver. 1.4 HDMI cable.

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