Manga / King of Thorn

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King of Thorn is a short, post-apocalyptic Survival Horror manga by Yuji Iwahara, publishing from October 2002 to October 2005. The story begins when the main character, Kasumi, and 159 other people are chosen to go into cold sleep until a cure is found for their mysterious disease, the Medusa virus. The Medusa virus is a disease which, six weeks after infection, causes the victim to have seizures; within five hours, all of the victim's cells have solidified into a clay-like substance.

When some of the sleepers wake up, the world has drastically changed; there is a veritable jungle running around and through the facility. Massive monsters roam through the facility, and there are no signs of any other human beings.

A movie adaptation was released in May 2010, whose trailer you can view here. The movie deviated heavily from the canon, watering down many of the characters' back-stories and omitting the Big Bad from the manga. It was, however, nominated for the 4th Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Animated Feature Film.


King of Thorn contains examples of:

  • A God Am I: Zeus, who manipulated the Medusa in Shizuku, and gave himself some nifty abilities in the process. He also orchestrated a lot of things in the plot, and is a giggling asshat.
  • Abusive Parents: Katherine. She was an alcoholic who beat her child to the point where social services had to step in and remove him.
  • Action Dress Rip: In Volume 5 Kasumi finds a dress that somehow fits her and wears it for the rest of the series. First chapter of Volume 6, she rips off the skirt because it's hard to walk in it, and wraps her hands and feet with the scraps for protection from the thorns.
  • Action Mom: Katherine. A Mama Gryphon, too.
    • A little more on that subject: Katherine turned herself into a giant eagle with female breasts, believing that is how a real mother should be presented. Yeah, it's symbolic .
  • Action Survivor: Everyone who survives.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Marco gets this in The Movie.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Alice is the Big Bad in The Movie, in the form of a computer. Yeah...
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Marco sends Tim into an air vent so he can get to the other side of a locked door and let the rest of the group through. At least, that was the plan...
  • Alice Allusion: Alice, The Mysterious Waif, creates her protector as a giant white rabbit. He wears a top hat with a playing card stuck to it, too.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Kasumi develops a crush on Marco. The rest of the group takes notice of this, but since Marco is so hard to read it's tough to tell what he thinks of her for most of the story.
    • Ron even discusses this with Kasumi in Chapter 27:
    Ron: "I don't know what you women see in that type of guy. Tell me. These types of guys only cause women headaches."
    Kasumi: "He already has. And despite that, I am still..."
  • All There in the Manual: The Japanese website for The Movie provides full names, ages, occupations and nationalities for most of the characters, and even gives names to some of the monsters.
  • Always Identical Twins: Kasumi and Shizuku.
  • And I Must Scream: Alice was kept in a life support chamber for eight years.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Kasumi. It's a bit more complicated than that, though.
  • Anime Accent Absence: With the exception of the Japanese characters, averted in the English dub of the movie.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: The story of Sleeping Beauty is constantly referenced throughout the events of King of Thorn, with emphasis on humanity's inner desire for escape from painful realities. The ultimate lesson is that one must live life without being dominated by fear, no matter how much suffering one goes through. Zeus (Alice in the movie) and Shizuku tried to escape from reality at the expense of the entire world using the Medusa pandemic. The heroes pushed through the monsters and obstacles thrown at them, slowly discovering the purpose and will to live beyond fear of the unknown.
  • Anti-Hero: Kasumi is a Classical Anti-Hero, while Marco is mostly a Byronic Hero.
  • Arc Words: In The Movie, "Miracles don't happen without wishes."
  • Artistic License – Biology: "Well... I think it probably evolved from some animal, or maybe suddenly mutated."
    • Possibly justified, as "evolved" implies "mutated over a long period of time", as opposed to "suddenly mutated".
  • Asshole Victim: Alessandro, the Jerkass Grumpy Old Man, is the first member of the group to get killed.
  • Awful Truth: Marco knows more about what's really going on than the rest of the group does, and keeps a lot of awful truths from them.
  • Back from the Dead: With sheer willpower, and a little help from Alice.
  • Badass Normal: Applied to pretty much everyone, but especially Marco. But eventually....
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Marco
  • Big Fancy Castle/Building of Adventure: Pretty much the whole story takes place within the isolated, thorn-covered, monster-infested castle.
  • Big "NO!": A full-page Big "NO!" in the final volume.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted with Ron. He survives all the way to the end of the story!
    • Played more straight in the movie. He’s the third member of the group to die.
  • Bland-Name Product: There's a 'Mindows' operating system, and 'Bell' computers.
  • Body Horror: Copious examples. Infection by Medusa causes the body to slowly petrify and eventually shatter. If you're lucky, you might instead get a very nasty Lovecraftian Superpower. And then there's Alice, who has been reduced to a head, heart, one lung, and one arm, and kept alive inside a life support chamber for eight years.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Played with. Zeus is smart enough to know that letting his archenemy live after he's discovered his master plan is a bad idea, and after some Evil Gloating, disposes of him rather quickly. Not only does he have one of his minions beat Marco to a pulp and then stab him, he has him dropped from a ledge. However, Zeus fails to consider the possibility of Marco coming back to life. And then, he makes the very stupid mistake of letting Marco hack into his data and erase him from existence.
  • Boxed Crook: The government recruits Marco this way. The fact Marco wants to take revenge on the infiltrated facility's system administrator (Zeus) certainly helps.
    • Averted in the movie, where Marco is actually a British special forces agent who has assumed the identity of a lottery-chosen crook to try and bring down Vega, who is believed to have created & dispersed Medusa.
  • Brain Uploading: One of the first things super-hacker Zeus does as part of his A God Am I is download his mind into a new Medusa form. "That shell could never contain my potential..."
  • Break the Cutie: Kasumi goes through a lot of this. Amazingly enough, she manages to get through it pretty well. Shizuku, on the other hand, doesn't fare quite as well.
    • Alice went through eight years of breaking, leading her to eventually become a Broken Bird.
  • Breaking Speech: "Shizuku's fate... is your fault."
  • Came Back Strong: Marco Owen is killed by Zeus. However, Alice sacrifices her life to bring him back, and the new Medusa-enhanced body she gives him has useful new abilities such as a resistance to Zeus's electrical attacks.
  • Canon Foreigner: In the movie, Marco's sister Laura Owen.
  • Cat Boy: Laloo Also the Zeus Breed; and Tim becomes half of one.
  • Cassandra Truth: After watching the security tape with Kasumi on it, Tim says to Kasumi "That's you, isn't it?" She denies this, believing the person on the tape to be Shizuku. By the end of the story, it turns out that Tim was right.
    • Justified; At the time, Tim couldn't have known the truth about Kasumi and Shizuku, and Kasumi didn't remember what had really happened on "that day".
  • Chained by Fashion: Alice's giant rabbit protector is adorned with chains, which it can also manipulate as weapons.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Zeus makes his first, unnamed appearance during a flashback in volume 2 of the manga. Did you think the goofy security administrator in the Hawaiian shirt would turn out to be the Big Bad?
  • Clear My Name: Marco's motivation in the manga.
  • Cloning Blues: This comes up towards the end of the manga, since by that point both Marco and Kasumi have died and been resurrected as Medusa constructs; essentially, they are just copies of their original selves. Marco, not being one prone to angst, simply recommends they live on as normal.
    Marco: Your worth hasn't changed. And it never will.
  • Close-Call Haircut: Not long after Marco gives Kasumi a gun, she fires it accidentally and parts his hair.
  • Clothing Damage: A monster rips Kasumi's shirt badly enough that she has to find new clothes when she eventually gets to safety.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The film adaptation, at only 109 minutes, adapts all 6 volumes. While it does follow the same basic story, there are several changes throughout.
  • Conspicuous CG: The film adaptation's creatures are primarily made of CGI. The characters are also CGI'd when fighting these creatures. Some creatures are better animated than others, but the characters look pretty bad. It's forgivable for the first half hour but it eventually gets in the way of the drawn animation as the film drags on.
  • Cool Guns: Oh, yes. Lots and lots of them.
  • Cowardly Lion: Kasumi. She believes she is weak and useless, having depended on her braver twin Shizuku for most of her life. Later she depends on Marco for protection and often needs him to rescue her. However, she's still able to put her fears aside long enough to save someone else's life. She even saves Marco a few times, and earns his respect for it.
  • Cult: The Cold Sleep project was sponsored by a cult called Venus Gate. They planned to harness the power of Medusa to remake the world, only to discover too late that Evil Is Not a Toy.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Kasumi. See Cowardly Lion.
  • Dark-Skinned Redhead: Ron, the Black guy who didn't die first, gets pink hair as a consequence of his transformation sequence being interrupted.
  • Dead All Along: Kasumi died before the manga began. The one who appears in the story is a Replacement Goldfish who was created using a Lovecraftian Superpower, and doesn't realize it until The Reveal in the final volume.
  • Deadly Upgrade: See Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Death by Adaptation: Ron, Marco, and harpy!Katherine survive in the manga, but not the movie.
    • Also, Kasumi and Shizuku's parents. They were shown alive in the manga and were there with Shizuku to drop Kasumi off at the castle. In the movie they died from Medusa, leaving the girls living together as orphans.
  • Death's Hourglass: The bracelets on the survivors’ wrists. When the bar on them turns completely black, they are in the final stage of Medusa Virus and will petrify very soon.
  • Defiant Stone Throw: How Kasumi saves Marco from a dinosaur in the first book; she chucks rocks at it so it's too distracted to eat him. Marco uses this chance to break the bridge the dinosaur is standing on.
  • Demoted to Extra/Deleted Role: Zeus is conspicuously absent from the movie, though he does make a brief appearance in a photo at the beginning. His real name is written as Steve Austin.
  • Despair Event Horizon: This happened to Shizuku when her twin sister Kasumi failed to force her to die together with her. Once she realized that her sister is dead, Shizuku's mind snapped and triggered the Medusa within her. As a result, Shizuku did everything she could to restore and preserve Kasumi's life using Medusa, even at the expense of the entire world. She used Medusa to create an exact double of Kasumi, including her personality and memories up until just before her suicide.
  • Doomed Defeatist: Ron decides to split from the rest of the survivors because he figures that it's no use going on now that they've seen the condition the rest of the world is in. He later changes his mind and, surprisingly, lives to tell the tale.
  • Dream Within a Dream: This starts happening near the end of the The Movie. See Mind Screw.
  • Driven to Suicide: How Vincent Coral Vega dies.
  • *Drool* Hello: The "Demonsaurus" monsters in the movie are fond of this trope.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: It's revealed later that all the survivors had "keys" implanted in their minds, one being to "protect a weak Japanese woman with your life." Meaning that all of them were under The Dulcinea Effect towards Kasumi, irrationally protecting her despite never knowing or meeting her previously.
  • Eat Me: Marco and Kasumi have to let the mother monster swallow them to stop Zeus and save Shizuku.
  • Enemy Without: Alice, who (as a result of abuse from her family) developed an alternate personality called Laloo to take the abuse for her. When Alice became infected with Medusa, it manifested from her back in the form of Laloo. How did Alice respond? By locking him in a room and burning the house down.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs
  • Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Zeus.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Everything seems to take place over about the course of a day or a day and a half, excluding numerous flashbacks.
  • Fairy Tale Motifs: The Movie likes to reference "Sleeping Beauty" whenever possible. See Rule of Symbolism.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: The Movie has Katherine telling the story of "Sleeping Beauty" at various times as if it relates to the plot somehow.
  • Fertile Feet: In a dark version of the trope, the ubiquitous thorny vines follow Kasumi, growing wherever she goes.
  • Final Girl: Kasumi and Tim are the only survivors left at the end of the movie.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Everyone who survives really, really wouldn't have even been aware of each other's world had it not been for The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Four Is Death: Level 4 is Venus Gate's main lab where a cure for Medusa was supposedly being sought. In reality, it's a bunker where they experimented on Medusa to turn fantasy into reality by separating Medusa from its host, and all the people they gathered there were going to be used as test subjects. They were also infecting people with Medusa at will.
  • Freak-Out / Heroic B.S.O.D.: Kasumi's death sends Shizuku right over the Despair Event Horizon. It's so bad that it awakens her Medusa powers and plunges the entire world into total chaos.
  • Furo Scene: In Kasumi's flashbacks. Played for horror rather than Fanservice, since it was the site of Kasumi's Interrupted Suicide.
  • Garden of Evil: The entire setting is one of these—a monster-filled jungle of rapidly growing thorny vines.
  • Genki Girl: Shizuku.
  • Genius Bruiser: Marco.
  • Giggling Villain: Zeus, and comes across as Faux Affably Evil.
  • The Grim Reaper: Meets Marco after he dies and offers to ferry him over the afterlife.
  • Go Out with a Smile: In The Movie. See Death by Adaptation.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Alessandro.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Tim is half-absorbed by the Medusa. He takes it really, really well.
  • The Hedge of Thorns: There's thorns growing on practically every surface, making escapes from monsters more difficult.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Katherine kills herself to gain power to protect Tim, and Alice, of all people who gave up her life resuscitating Owen, and giving him some of nifty power, including an insulated body.
    • In the movie, Peter does this to save Kasumi and Ron do this to save Marco.
  • Hollywood Action Hero: Marco.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Marco is a Genius Bruiser who towers over Kasumi.
  • Human Popsicle: The 160 Medusa victims in cold sleep. But for much less time than they think.
  • The Immune: Marco is immune to Medusa. Zeus eventually explains why: Determinators such as Marco or himself don't have any wounds in their psyche for Medusa to exploit.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The "cyclops" monster which was partially blinded by Marco ends up dying after having its head impaled on a statue of the crucifixion. What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic??
  • Infant Immortality: Tim is still alive by the end of both the manga and the movie. However, an aversion also occurs as there are a few other children briefly seen among the Medusa infectees who are killed/eaten within moments of awakening.
  • Intertwined Fingers: Kasumi and Shizuku, in the first Furo Scene flashback.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Happens a few times with Kasumi:
  • Jerkass Has a Point: After Alessandro (the old guy) reveals he paid to become a Human Popsicle rather than just hope he was randomly selected, some of the others react with outrage. However, he calmly points out that anyone would have done the same thing if they had the means.
    • He is also the first to recognize who the leader of their group really is; Marco Owen, a master computer hacker and a criminal. He also correctly assumes that Marco has a hidden agenda though it turns out to be a less sinister agenda than he thinks.
  • Kill It with Fire: Used effectively against the octopus-monsters and Laloo.
  • Kubrick Stare: Marco's default facial expression, complete with Creepy Shadowed Undereyes and occasionally a Slasher Smile.
  • Last Kiss: In The Movie, Kasumi kisses Marco after he dies.
  • Lock and Load Montage: Kathryn, Ron and Marco find the armory and Ron and Kathryn suit up in combat webbing and helmets.
  • Logical Weakness/Weaksauce Weakness: Zeus dies when Marco uses his hacker skills to delete him.
  • Lottery of Doom: 160 people were randomly selected by Venus Gate for the cold sleep experiment. They were all told they were being preserved until a cure for Medusa was found. That was a lie. Venus Gate planned to use these people as Medusa experiments rather than find a cure them. And then Zeus decided to have a little fun...
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: Infection by Medusa can grant this to those with sufficient willpower. The good news: you can make all your dreams into reality! The bad news: by having them explode out of your body like a Chest Burster. Body Horror doesn't begin to cover it.
  • Magic Meteor: A meteorite is the source of The Medusa Plague.
  • The Man Behind the Man: For the first part of the manga, Ivan Coral Vega is built up as the Big Bad, but as it turns out the real Big Bad is Zeus, one of his employees.
  • The Man Behind the Monsters: Zeus
  • Meganekko: Kasumi
  • Mercy Kill: Ron nearly does this to Tim, but Katherine stops him.
  • Mind Screw: The Movie. You know an anime is a mind screw when the latter parts of it completely invalidate what we were shown in the earlier part.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Lots and lots of them.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Marco
  • Multinational Team: People were summoned for the cold sleep experiment from all over the world, and the survivors are all from different countries. Somehow they all speak the same language.
  • Mysterious Waif: Alice.
  • Mystical Plague: "Medusa" is a disease that came from a meteorite; spreading across the globe and turning most humans into statues. (and others into monsters). It's revealed to have a psychic vector; rather than a viral or bacterial one.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The manga begins in the year 2008. The movie, released in 2010, bumps this forward so the outbreak begin in 2012 and the characters go into cold sleep in 2015.
  • No Name Given: We never do find out anything about the Senator except that he's, uh, a senator, but he's a jerk so who cares. The rest of the cast do eventually get names, even if it takes two-thirds of the series for them to get mentioned.
    • The Movie, however, actually calls him Alessandro Peccino. Which is correct—for more alert viewers will have noticed him introducing himself (as not "the old guy") in the first quiet moment they have after all hell breaks loose.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: This gets used quite a bit in The Movie soundtrack.
  • Older Than They Look: Alice stopped physically aging after she was infected with Medusa. Thus, she's been trapped in the body of a child for eight years.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Zeus's real name is Steve.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Kasumi and Shizuku. The Movie says they're 15 years old, while the manga implies they might be 17.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: One of these is the result of Katherine's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Playful Hacker and The Cracker: Marco and Zeus, respectively.
  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: Female survivors wear pink while the males wear blue. Averted in The Movie, where both genders wear white.
  • Pinky Swear: Between Kasumi and Shizuku.
  • Power Tattoo: Marco Owen is a Tattooed Crook to begin with, but one in particular marks his upgrade from Badass Normal to Empowered Badass Normal: when Alice alters his body so that he'll stand a chance against Zeus, he gains a large tattoo on his chest of an 'A' presumably for 'Alice'.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: A couple years in jail did wonders for Marco.
  • Psycho Electro: Zeus.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Zeus. His master plan is heavily influenced by ideas he got from movies and video games.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Ultimately averted—the fact that things still work makes the survivors realize they aren't far in the future after all.
  • Rapid-Fire Typing: Marco hasn't forgotten how to do this.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The manga makes frequent references to Classical Mythology (Medusa, Venus, Zeus), The Bible (Noah's Ark, the Crucifixion), and Alice in Wonderland (Alice). The Movie also throws in Fairy Tale Motifs, particularly Sleeping Beauty.
    • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the first scene of the movie, a sign on the side of a bus in New York City shows part of the following scripture; "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." —Romans 6:23. It also happens to be Christmas time.
    • Pietŕ Plagiarism: The scene of Shizuku holding the dead body of Kasumi, both in the manga and the movie.
  • Save This Person, Save the World: Done subversively and surreptitiously in the manga—where everyone rallies to protect Kasumi, (who is in fact, Medusa) throughout the entire manga series. Their actions are mainly due to a directive imprinted in their minds by the Big Bad: "protect the small Japanese girl with your life". Most of them weren't even aware they were doing it. Of course, the bad guy wanted to reshape the entire world, not save it, so...
  • Scotland: The country where the old castle is, and the main setting of the story.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Kasumi really looks good in a dress.
  • Shout-Out: "What is this, Jurassic Park?!"
  • Show Within a Show: If you take the manga as an action movie inside a manga
  • Shrinking Violet: Kasumi.
  • Social Darwinist: Zeus.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Or perhaps a case of Engrish; in the movie, Medusa is spelt as "Medousa".
  • Split Personality: Laloo was originally a split personality of Alice before being given life by Medusa. (Alice had DID, not schizophrenia. Ivan Coral Vega fails psychiatry forever.)
  • Survivor Guilt: Kasumi has a massive case of this, since she was selected to be saved from a deadly disease by being put into cold sleep while her twin sister Shizuku was not. She even tries to commit suicide so that Shizuku can take her place.
  • Take My Hand: How Katherine saved Kasumi.
  • Taken for Granite: They don't call the virus "Medusa" for nothing.
  • Tattooed Crook: Marco, despite being the gold-hearted protagonist.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Kasumi and Shizuku's names both have meanings related to water; "mist" and "raindrop".
  • The X of Y: The title.
  • Title Drop: Early on, Marco sneers at the senator, saying "If you're a senator, then I'm a king!"
  • Token Romance: Okay, it's sort of understandable why Kasumi would fall for Marco, but it's hard to see how or when Marco starts to care about Kasumi enough to come back from the dead for her sake.
    • The Dulcinea Effect is still, well, in effect.
    • She does save him and the others on a regular basis too you know, she is not completely helpless.
  • Together in Death: Given a very dark and tragic twist with the final meeting between Kasumi and Shizuku. One of the two has a chance at living, but wants them both to die together so they can be Together in Death. The second wants the first to take the opportunity to go on living. They argue over it. Tragedy, Freak-Out, and The End of the World as We Know It ensue.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Take a look at the pictures of Marco before prison and after. Good lord.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: "Kasumi" is part of Shizuku, a Medusa projection of what Shizuku believed Kasumi to be. Given that they're twins, she's a rather accurate one.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl and Polar Opposite Twins/The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Kasumi and Shizuku.
  • 23: September 23, 2008 is the date when the cold sleep project began. This is important later.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Kasumi and Katherine.
  • Video Wills: Vincent Coral Vega, the leader of the Venus Gate cult, makes an Apocalyptic Log explaining what Medusa is and how it caused The End of the World as We Know It. He says that he hopes it will be found by some other survivor who can fix things, but he himself does not have the will to fight on, then commits suicide.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After Marco's unexpected return, Zeus falls apart really hard, really fast.
  • Virtual Ghost: Alice.
  • The Virus: Medusa. It infects your psyche.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Mr. Fanservice Marco, loses his shirt early on and doesn't bother replacing it.
  • Was Once a Man: The mother monster is Shizuku.
    • The entirety of the Zeus Race.
  • Weak to Fire: Some particularly tough octopus-like monsters prove vulnerable to good old-fashioned incineration.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Alice's rabbit is last seen wandering about holding her scrunchies, then later watching Shizuku's armoured-creature form break up/die... And then is never seen again after that. What happened to him? Was he destroyed in Shizuku's impact? Was he unable to sustain himself for long, due to Alice being dead? Is he hiding? Who knows!
  • Where I Was Born and Razed: Alice burnt her house down when she was a child after her family had died of the Medusa virus, along with the creature that the virus had spawned from her in the process.
  • The Worm That Walks: Peter Stevens's Medusa manifestation.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Medusa can act like this with a host who has a really high imagination. In other words, those who want to escape from reality the most have the greatest ability to make their fantasies become real.
    • This is, in fact, the reason the Medusa monsters were able to take over the world so quickly: everybody thought they were unstoppable monsters, and so they were.


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