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Light Novel / The Empire of Corpses

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Shisha no Teikoku or The Empire of Corpses is one of the last novels written by Japanese author Project ITOH, and published posthumously. The book was co-authored with his friend Toh Enjoe and won 2013 Seiun Award, and has a film adaptation that hit theaters in Japan on October 2, 2015.

The story takes place in an alternate version of nineteenth century Europe. Thanks to the efforts of the now-missing Victor Frankenstein, humanity has developed the technology to insert artificial souls into cadavers. These "Frankensteins" as they're called, become useful workers that have helped accelerate the Industrial Revolution. The story proper follows John Watson, a medical student from the University of London, found out to be conducting forbidden experiment to bring his friend Friday back to life, he was forced by British government to work as their spy. Russia and Britain are at war over control of Asia, and a scientist named Alexei Karamazof has stolen some of Victor's research notes and helped the Russians develop new, more skilled military Frankensteins. Watson is recruited by the British government for his expertise in intelligent corpse revival to track him down.


The Empire of Corpses is the only Project ITOH book adapted into a film that has yet to receive an official western release, but it along with the other Project ITOH movies have been licensed for an English release by Funimation who gave it a a limited theatrical release on April 19 & 20, 2016.

This work contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Hadaly Lilith, the president's secretary.
  • Anachronism Stew: The slit in Hadaly's dress would have been considered indecent exposure during the time period in which the film takes place. Also, zombies.
  • Arc Words: Twenty-One Grams; it's a reference to the 21 grams experiment, which recorded human bodies becoming twenty-one grams lighter upon death, leading to the hypothesis that 21 grams is the mass of the human soul.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The story has two main villains: The First, the original Frankenstein monster, and Mycroft "M" Holmes. Both of their plans involve using Victor Frankenstein's notes to devastate humanity to further their own goals.
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  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Yamazawa Seigo's eyebrows are by far the largest feature of his face; they're nearly four times as thick as his actual eyes.
  • Bookends: In the film's ending, Watson has Friday operate on him, in a reversal of the opening scene for both the characters.
  • Driven to Suicide: It's implied that Russian authorities will have Alexei, Alesha and Nikolai dead anyway for destroying research data and steal Victor's Notes. It led them to this course of action.
  • Gainax Ending: In order to bring back Friday's soul, Watson has Friday perform a procedure - on both of them - mechanically similar to how Watson resurrected Friday, but with effects similar to the First's endeavors. It succeeds in giving Corpse!Friday the missing Twenty-One Grams needed to become human again, as Friday narrates the ending credits, belating that he cannot share what he has experienced with Watson. However, Watson is seen aiding Sherlock Holmes, so the effect it had on him is unclear. Burnaby is seen conversing with Hadaly - now going by the name of Sherlock Femme Fatale "Irene Adler" - about how whatever happened to Watson hasn't really changed him; he's still In Harm's Way, except now he's the following someone on adventures instead of dragging others on them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: At least, this is what Alesha and Nikolai believed they're doing: using themselves to demonstrate how knowledge in Victor's Note can forcibly turn the living into Frankenstein, in order to encourages Watson into destroy the Notes.
  • Historical Domain Character: Several real life people such as Thomas Edison and Frederick Burnaby are involved in the plot.
  • Irony: Watson isn't the one taking notes. He leaves that to the rare, more intelligent Frankenstein he designed, Friday.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They're manmade, seemingly cannot make others like them through biting, and can range anywhere from violent and unintelligent to nigh-fully functioning people in terms of intelligence. However, more intelligent Frankensteins are extremely rare and difficult to make. Zombies can also be repurposed into bombs and display more traditional zombie behavior before exploding.
  • Mythology Gag: Tons involving the Public Domain Characters:
    • The First's ultimate goal is to have a living bride who can love him.
    • M is short for Mycroft. So despite bearing the last name Holmes, people who caught this will easily predict his betrayal.
    • John Watson being a medical student.
    • Friday's name is likely from the cannibal companion of Crusoe in the novel Robinson Crusoe.
  • Public Domain Character: Going in hand in hand with the Historical Domain Characters above, several fictional characters are involved as well. The main lead being Watson himself.
  • Red Herring: Alexei Karamazof and his involvement with the Russian wasn't given a focus because it is a deliberate false lead from M to mask his true intent.
  • Sidelined Protagonist Crossover:
  • Steampunk: Directly transcribed into out-and-out Cyberpunk; Though all the tech is late-1800's in appearance - mechanical computers and Cow Tools for surgery - the addition of re-animated corpses allows for many familiar tropes. Corpses are programmed with "artificial souls" like robots. Watson is a Playful Hacker, with Friday acting the part of the computer he totes around to bypass security and access restricted data. He is captured by a spy agency and made into a Boxed Crook. Corpse brains are used for data storage and processing - and linked via trans-oceanic telegraph to create The Alternet. The book of punchcards containing Victor's Notes is a Magic Floppy Disk. Hadaly Lilith is a Ridiculously Human Robot. The First hijacks global communications and instigates corpse uprisings. The final confrontation takes place in a Cyberspace derived of artificial souls.
  • Taking You with Me: Barnaby pulls one of this on a giant Frankenstein using his flamethrower fuel canister, but he ends up surviving it.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Barnaby delivers one to Watson, for not destroying Victor's Notes when he has a chance trying to keep it for himself.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: An inwardly directed case, at that: Halady is a fully-functioning mechanical android that matches The First in humanity. Yet she doesn't recognize that, and seeks Victor's Note out in the belief she needs them to be capable of the full range of human emotions.
  • Shown Their Work: Some of the film takes place in Afghanistan, and the garb worn by the local leaders is very accurate.
  • Undead Laborers: A major use of Frankensteins is cheap labor - right behind Cannon Fodder.