First Impression: Undead Murder Farce

It’s Tokyo, 1897—only it’s not quite the Tokyo we know from the history books. Here, the rabble are entertained not by kabuki or sumo, but by bare-knuckle brawls between the monsters and ghouls that once roamed the land of Edo on the one hand, and a tattooed man nicknamed the Oni Slayer on the other. Within a few frames, we see where he got the nickname. And within a few more, we learn that those may not be tattoos running up and down his limbs after all, and he may not quite be a man—at least, not a fully human one. Tsugaru Shinuchi could care less what people call him, though, so long as he can keep body and soul together until such a time as he dies in the ring, wreaking vengeance. It’s the life he’s chosen, and the death too, and he’s fixed his gaze unflinchingly down this straight, narrow path into the darkness of eternal night. Until, that is, an unexpected visitor interrupts his cruel life with an offer he may not be able to refuse—in part because it comes from the lips of a beautiful woman, or at least from her head, which has been separated from her body. She is an immortal who wants to die, and the Oni Slayer is the only one who can see her wish fulfilled. But first, there is a mystery to solve and an evil foreigner to track down—one who hovers in the shadows of both their lives. It’s time to go to Europe.

This was such an interesting episode! Everything about it is dark: the themes of death and murder, violence and cruelty; a world shot through with cynicism, where life is a mere farce; and the animation itself, which is dimly lit for the better part of the episode, as much of the action takes place at night or in windowless interiors. It gives off Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood vibes, thematically and artistically, while recalling Mars Red‘s fusion of mystery, monsters, and an alternate Meiji era—both being series I thoroughly enjoyed. Studio Lapin Track is in its ninth year but has not been at the helm of many works, and director Mamoru Hatakeyama (aka Shinichi Omata) is relatively new to the series directorial chair, having cut his teeth on the Kaguya-sama film and ONA. He’s a veteran storyboarder, though (including for Kaguya-sama), so my expectations going into this for dynamic layouts and an interesting visual language were high—and they were not disappointed! Though at times the lighting was too low for all the details to quite register on the screen, there were countless striking compositions and instances of layered visual storytelling that made this a rewarding watch. The leads—Tsugaru, Aya-sama (the head), and Shizuku (her devoted maid who carries around said head like a dullahan who hasn’t yet lost her own noggin)—are intriguing, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationships develop and what all Europe has in store for them. Also, even for a thousand-year-old head, Aya-sama is pretty witty! Finally, worth noting are the stunning OP and ED animations—there are some bold, almost Alphonse Mucha-like compositions in the former, while the spooky photogravure effect of the latter is haunting. This one is set to be my wildcard favorite of the season!

Undead Murder Farce is streaming on Crunchyroll.


3 thoughts on “First Impression: Undead Murder Farce

  1. I’ve read two reviews on this, and I think it might make some interesting commentary as a story, but I don’t like to watch gore/violence/horror, so I’m wondering if it might be too graphic for me. Based on your first impressions, would you say this is more Tokyo Ghoul-esque or more “ep 1 of Devilman Crybaby?” Or is it much less intense visually?

    1. Great question! The violence is heavily stylised (samurai film & theatre–especially shadow puppet theatre–aesthetics), so not really gory. Definitely not Devilman Crybaby-like (just skimmed through the first episode on Netflix and oh my! No thanks). If you’ve seen Joran: The Princess of Snow & Blood, it’s quite similar to that, and so far even tamer than Tokyo Ghoul, if I’m remembering TG correctly (it’s been awhile). Hope that helps!

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