King of Thorn is a new anime movie based on a short manga series about a new plague called Medusa that infects most of the planet. It's 100% fatal once you're infected and it turns people to a somewhat fragile stone-like state in its last stage. In this cataclysmic scenario, a company proposes to put in cryogenic sleep a few hundred people at a Scotland castle facility until a cure is found. After some preparations and farewells, the chosen (I'm still not sure how they were selected) start hibernating. One girl wakes up after who knows how long, in the dark with no one else awake and with giant thorn vines everywhere. I'm not revealing anything that isn't in the trailer, in fact, I say less. A big part of the appeal of this movie is the gripping suspenseful story about a bunch of people trying to survive in an unknown and hostile closed-in environment (the castle) while trying to discover what happened not only to them but outside. It might seem like just a chase for a while (albeit a good one) but it turns out to be more complex and metaphysical. The grand mystery is even more fun because the nature of their reality is uncertain. The survivors were well characterized and I enjoyed them. I was afraid 2 characters looked too much the same at the start but it turns out they were identical twins (not a spoiler : I just didn't catch that early enough).
"King of Thorn" combines traditional animation for characters and 3d computer graphics for vehicles, most moving objects and certain creatures. They mix very well and seem to add depth to the proceedings. I think what helps is that the 3d objects seem to be drawn over or cell shaded most of the time so it's really not too jarring (far from Final Fantasy quality though). The characters are nicely drawn (yet traditional in style) and the action sequences are particularly exciting and dynamic with amazing direction. The decors are picturesque and/or sinister with of course lots of thorn vines everywhere. There's also a nice contrast between medieval castle (almost fantasy) look and sci-fi trappings. I would like to point out one of the last creatures seen (a gigantic green one) that was quite grandiose yet weirdly beautiful (perhaps more so because I did see this in a theater). This film has a nightmarish Sleeping Beauty castle aesthetic and that fairy tale is important story-wise. It also has a strong video-game influence in terms of structure and creatures as the young boy accompanying the group keeps reminding us. His enthusiasm is also responsible for the few smiles in an otherwise dark adventure. I haven't watched a ton of animes (especially the recent ones) but considering my elated reaction, it might deserve to become a new classic.
Rating : 8.5 out of 10
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