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Seoul Station (2016)

Seoul Station is the animated prequel to the ace 2016 South Korean zombie flick Train To Busan from writer/director Sang-ho Yien. Set in and around the titular railway station during the early hours of a zombie outbreak, it follows the exploits of a group of characters at they attempt to deal with this nightmarish situation.

Train To Busan is generally considered to be one of the best genre films of last year. Despite this being sold as a prequel though, there's no real need to have seen the live-action movie first. Seoul Station works perfectly well as a self-contained story, and despite taking place in the same universe, shares no characters or storylines with its sister film. It also has a distinctly different tone and atmosphere, making this much more of a "companion piece" rather than a direct prequel or predecessor. The two films do have some interesting parallels though, centering on two very different takes on the father-daughter relationship.

The animated film has a much grittier, street-level feel than its live-action sibling. TTB takes place among the relatively affluent passengers on the train, its lead character a suit-wearing businessman. Seoul Station instead shines the light on the less fortunate, the kind of people who spend time in and around the station rather than quickly pass through. Its characters are vagrants, teenage runaways, sex workers and pimps. This is a much more of a warts-and-all portrait of life in modern-day Korea. Much of the social commentary may be lost on an international audience, but its intent to give the spotlight to the kind of people most films overlook is pretty clear.

Its exploration of these mature themes are handled very well, and add real depth to the characters. In this respect it feels closer to George Romeo's classic Night Of The Living Dead than to its non-animated equivalent.

None of which should lead you to expect that this some kind of overly worthy, serious watch. It's still a horror movie through and through- and a very effective one at that. Equally comfortable in creating creepy atmospheric dread or full-on blood-pumping, intense set-pieces, Seoul Station is no slouch at delivering scares.

South Korea has been a producer of out-sourced animation for the United States and Japan for decades, but it is still pretty rare for us to get to see an animated feature that is actually entirely created in the country. To see one aimed at an adult audience is even rarer

A lot of Korean animation has been heavily influenced by anime, but here it does not appear to be the case. The character designs have a much more naturalistic look than is typical in Japanese animation for starters. The backgrounds- based on real-life locations- are brought to life with stunning fidelity. The animation itself, however is lacking the fluidity you might expect from high-end theatrical animation from The United States or Japan. A lot of this is down to what looks like the use of 3D models with a 2D 'cel-shaded' look, that to some viewers will make it feel like there's just something a little "off" about the animation. It's not nearly as distracting as it could have been, though. This slightly "jerky" look is actually arguably an advantage when portraying the zombies themselves, when the unnatural quality only serves to make them even more terrifying. 

Overall, Seoul Station is a thrilling, edge-of your seat, experience, with something to say. It isn't quite the equal of Train To Busan- but it's not far behind. Whether watched as a standalone movie, or on a double bill with its live-action brethren, this is excellent stuff.

1hr 32m