Seishin, Sunako, Natsuno, Toshio, Tohru, Kotoko
Original Run: Jul 9, 2010 to Dec 31, 2010
Genres: Supernatural, Thriller, Mystery
The quiet, isolated village of Sotoba is abruptly besieged by a mysterious epidemic that spreads without warning or reason. The victims show uniform symptoms that do not match those of any previously existing diseases. Villagers are dropping like flies and attempts to seek outside help are suspiciously derailed.
Even as the majority of Sotoba’s people remain unaware of exactly what is happening in their village, a few individuals are exposed to the darkness that has come to their conveniently remote community. The village doctor, Ozaki Toshio, is driven to desperation by his inability to help those under his care but desperation becomes vicious determination when he figures out the true cause of the epidemic. Koide Natsuno, a teenager who’s recently moved to Sotoba from the city, ends up discovering some unsavory truths about the rampant deaths. Meanwhile, the village priest, Muroi Seishin befriends a mysterious young girl, Sunako, who can only come out at night.
Unlikely partnerships are born are as two opposing forces clash with all of Sotoba at stake.
I’ve seen Shiki described as ‘terrifying’ more than once so I watched it expecting some hardcore horror. That was not what it turned out to be but Shiki is far greater than just mindless horror. It’s not scary per se but its realistic exploration of the quiet and insidious takeover of a closed off village has the potential to be more horrifying the more you think about it. Vampires, take notes.
Shiki starts out rather slow and the bright, ridiculous hairstyles alone are enough to cast doubts on the tone of the story. But it doesn’t take long before the illusion is shattered and the anime’s true colors shine through. Despite a handful of characters being the main players, Shiki makes an effort to focus on a considerable number of Sotoba’s residents so that even the most inconsequential or unsympathetic of deaths have an impact on the viewer’s perception of the overall condition of the village. The setting is one that the show utilizes to the best of its ability, evoking not quite sympathy but a muted despair for the inevitability of the tragic events to come.
As for individual characters, their appeal is hit or miss but there’s no doubt that each of them are unique and even memorable. Some, like Natsuno, Sunako, Seishin, Tatsumi, Tohru and Toshio are fascinating, though with various levels of likeability, due to the way their personal struggles tie in with the condition of the village. Others like Megumi, Masao and a few less important others are irritating every time they appear on screen but that too seems to be a deliberate choice.
There are a lot of interesting elements that shift and develop at different stages of Shiki, little subplots that often manage to be even more engaging that the whole. Natsuno and Tohru’s doomed bromance as well as its even more disastrous aftermath, Toshio’s slow, subtle descent into insanity that may also just be ruthless practicality, Seishin and Sunako finding in each other someone drastically different but also startlingly similar to themselves are all parts of the narrative that serve to widen its appeal.
The extreme reversal that takes place in the second half of the anime is one of the best parts of Shiki, taking the story in an entirely different direction from before. The ending is also quite spectacular for reasons I will not mention in order to avoid heavy spoilers. Let’s just say that there is an oddly appropriate twist in there. Shiki does induce apathy in the viewer after a point with all the constant deaths but rather than subtract from the story, I’d say that it enhances the general mood. Because ultimately, Shiki is a quiet little tragedy where no one wins and everyone hurts.
This anime also has the dubious honor of being the one that made me laugh during the most inopportune moments out of a mixture of dark humor and sheer incredulity.
If this is now novel adaptations turn out to be, then I’d like to see more of them.
Sotoba may be a small village but it certainly has enough residents to give Shiki a sizeable cast, comprised of both humans and the titular shiki who are vampiric creatures. Though we do have a handful of main characters, the nature of the show is such that even minor, unnamed characters are important, particularly towards the end. In this section, I’ll just focus on the four mains – Natsuno, Toshio, Seishin and Sunako.
Megumi, Kaori, Nao, Ritsuko
Natsuno is a character that won me over quite fast despite the fact that he’s an utter jerk in his first few scenes. It’s likely that I just identified with his desperate desire to get out of a deadbeat town, a desire which he expressed in a manner that was far less toxic that Shimizu Megumi, the first character we’re introduced to. Natsuno is the first to find out about the existence of vampires in the village when he witnesses Megumi, who’s obsessed with Natsuno, prey on his best friend Tohru out of jealousy. Though aware that no one would believe him and that he can’t fight too effectively, Natsuno still refuses to passively accept Sotoba’s current reality. Natsuno’s character undergoes a fair amount of growth in the story. Namely, he ends up rejecting the chance to just escape and save himself in favor of trying to save his friend and then the entire village. His arc is one that kept me invested till the very end.
Toshio is perhaps the character with the most impact in Shiki. The village doctor who runs a clinic that’s been passed down to him by his father, Toshio firmly believes that the well being of the villagers is his responsibility. That’s why the series of deaths and his inability to help the victims wears on him to the point that he becomes a little unbalanced. Even after a brief conversation with Natsuno helps him understand that it is vampires causing these deaths, Toshio finds himself unable to do anything to stop it. Eventually, he sets down a path of ruthlessness where he becomes as much of a monster as the one’s he’s hunting. A remarkable thing about Toshio is how he comes to the brink of self-destruction multiple times but always pulls back from it. He chooses a course of action and follows it to the end, but unfortunately, that end turns out to be the farthest thing from what he envisioned it to be.
Tatsumi, Yuuki, Seishirou, Kyouko
Seishin and Sunako presents one of the more interesting relationships I’ve seen in a narrative. Seishin is a young priest who feels trapped in a village whereas Sunako is an old soul trapped in a child’s body. It’s Seishin’s description of Sotoba that draws Sunako and family there in the first place. The two soon meet and quickly forge an odd friendship that lasts even after Seishin finds out what she is and what she is doing to Sotoba. Rather than an evil vampire with little regard for human lives, Sunako is portrayed as someone who is fully aware of the nature of her actions but is nonetheless willing to go far to ensure that she and her kind have a place to belong to. And Seishin, who despairs of the life he’s forced to live, finds in Sunako’s company the freedom to be himself and not who he’s supposed to be. Their ultimate fate is not one I quite agree with but it does illustrate quite well that life is rarely fair.
Art and Music:
Shiki’s art is really something else. The character designs are not only eccentric but also very bright, which is completely at odds with the tone of the anime. Their hairstyles are particularly notable for their impossible shapes and gravity-defying properties. Really, the hair in Shiki should be considered as sentient entities. The art in other areas are pretty good and the shifts in style during some of the more creepy moments are certainly effective.
Neither of the opening and ending themes stood out much to me but they weren’t bad either. The original musical score, on the other hand, does a very good job of complementing the varying moods of the anime. The melancholic but unsettling tracks are quite effective.
I highly recommend Shiki. It’s a greatly engaging anime with elements of psychological horror that poses interesting and not easily answerable questions on human nature and morality.
As you may have noticed, I made some changes to my blog’s appearance. The theme is still the same but I played around a bit with colors and fonts. The header images are new as well – I was thinking of using images related to the Top 5 from here until next year.
If any of you find the changes to be irritating for the eyes, let me know.