Shades of Grey – Monsters and Men in Shiki

 

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A topic that frequently comes up during discussions of Shiki, a unique vampire anime from 2010, is the question of who are the true monsters – the vampires or the humans? Opinions naturally vary and in fact, there’s plenty of evidence for both sides of the argument.

Before I begin, please note that while the show itself comes to call the vampires ‘shiki’ towards the end, I’ll be using the term ‘vampire’ in this post for convenience and to avoid confusion.

[Spoilers for the entire anime]

For about a third of the anime, the vampires dominate over the humans. The vampiric Kirishiki family move to Sotoba, a small and remote village, and proceeds to feed on its human inhabitants. They don’t differentiate between child and adult, healthy and ill, young and elderly. They don’t even care if the bitten and drained human has a good chance of rising as a vampire. The Kirishiki leader Sunako’s desire is to create a safe haven for their kind and she goes about it in a systematic manner. It’s not that Sunako is unaware of the monstrosity of her actions. It’s just that decades of loneliness and guilt have made her nearly desperate to find a place to belong.

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But that does not in any way change or excuse the fact that she and her family come to a quiet, rather peaceful village and tear it up for their own selfish ends. It doesn’t help that none of them feel any regret or shame for their actions. Instead, to them the end seems to justify the means. The devastation suffered by the humans is quite fine so long as the vampires can establish their own private community. The original vampires are well aware that not all humans will rise once bitten. Yet that doesn’t stop them from killing anyone from mere children to the aged, most of whom don’t rise. And let’s not forget the number of humans who’re kidnapped from other towns to feed the newly risen.

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Then there’s the Sotoba inhabitants who rise from their graves – The Risen – who end up increasing the death toll with each addition to their number. Not all of them have the same motivation. Most just don’t want to die and are willing to murder to survive, Tohru being a prime example. Some such as Masao won’t kill but will still drink blood. Others, like Nao, is desperate to make her family join her in immortal, blood-drinking life. Ritsuko is the only one we see that successfully resists temptation and sticks to her guns all the way through. But then there are some like Megumi who wholeheartedly embraces her new existence and happily slaughters her way through town.

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The Kirishiki family cites their desire for a place wholly their own as reason for their actions but it’s notable that the risen villagers also don’t consider feeding without killing the victim. It takes about four rounds to completely drain a human; there’s plenty of time to let them rest and regain the blood they lost. It could be that they’re being compelled into obedience by the Kirishikis but Tohru’s words in episode 12 suggest that the vampires/shiki/risen see humans on the same level humans see cattle and thus not worthy of such considerations. This could be in part the influence of the Kirishikis. But such a drastic viewpoint is generally not something that can exist without agreement or at least compliance on part of the individual. After all, a lot of us are all too willing to believe in our superiority.

But the humans, who are victims for the majority of the anime do not remain so for the entirety of it. Episode 18 features a sharp reversal of the status quo where Ozaki Toshio successfully exposes the true nature of Kirishiki Chizuru to the villagers gathered for a festival. Enraged at the knowledge that the deaths of their loved ones were not because of an epidemic but rather the deliberate actions of the newcomers, the villagers set out on a witch-hunt that starts out as righteous vengeance but soon becomes senseless brutality.

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It’s impressive and a little shocking how quickly the humans overpower the vampires. Despite the considerable increase in the latter’s number because of the turned Sotoba residents, they’re still the minority and don’t last long in direct confrontation. But it’s not that the villagers’ purging of the vampires that calls their ‘humanity’ into question but rather the way they go about it. Their rage and grief at the tragedy that has befallen their village is palpable and so is the pain of having to kill their loved ones who have risen. However, amongst them, there are a few who take a little too well to the act of killing.

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Towards the end, we see many villagers who engage in hunting the vampires as if it’s a sport, even laughing as they’re staked or dragged into the sun. Others do their part with cold detachment or calm efficiency. Both of these attitudes seem to convey that the humans on the prowl see the vampires as little more than animals to be put down despite the fact that they are clearly people. Even a few of the villagers are killed by their friends who’re eager to brand even a single bite as high-risk. It eventually gets to the point that the burning, writhing vampires elicit more sympathy that the humans running around killing them.

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But ultimately, the truth is that it’s not a question of being vampire or human. They’re all just people – flesh and blood creatures with their own thoughts and feelings. It would be hasty and inaccurate to label either group as monsters merely because they are what they are. Throughout the story, there’s plenty of variety among them both. There are vampires who are cruel and callous but at the same time, there vampires who refuse to kill, who even try and die before they are forced to kill. As for humans, just as there are those who delight in or are indifferent to the wholescale slaughter of the vampires, there are also those who turn away in disgust from the sight or strive to provide them a mercifully quick death.

And that’s my stand on this issue. Neither humans nor shiki are inherently good or evil. They’re all just people and people can never be put into neat little boxes. They complex and adaptable. They can be virtuous or monstrous. Shiki just happens to focus more on the latter.

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About D

Just another avid anime fan.
This entry was posted in Anime, Shiki and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Shades of Grey – Monsters and Men in Shiki

  1. Karandi says:

    It’s an excellent point and one of the reasons I love Shiki is the diversity of the cast in both the human and vampire camps. Almost every option is taken by someone whether it is fight, avoid, run, survive, etc. It allows for plenty of good discussion about morality. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Adam says:

    I actually think what I most like about the anime is how both are seen to be both human and monster, depending on which part of the story you refer to. At first the vampires are a clear villains, but the human response horrified me just as much. I was particularly struck by the lack of hesitation. There are definitely times where cruel and horrifying deeds are necessary, but I don’t think they should ever be easy. I think it’s really telling that neither group attempt a peaceful coexistence. The vampires have come to conquer, and the humans to exterminate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      The humans finding out the truth and fighting back wasn’t all that unexpected but you’re right that the way they kill so easily puts them on par with the vampires. As a group, both parties are none too nice but the variety amongst them gives a lot of food for thought.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. raistlin0903 says:

    Interesting post and topic. I have not seen this series yet, but I have become pretty intrigued by the story you are describing here. It’s always nice I think, in any series, that there is a certain grey area about who is right and who is wrong. Combine that with the Vampire angle, and this seems like a series I want to check out. Great post 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I’m always glad to add to your watchbook 😀

      Moral ambiguity is something I also find compelling. And vampires are always a welcome addition provided that they aren’t Meyer’s. I hope you’ll enjoy it when you get around to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pretty interesting post. The fact that both sides are the monster is something that makes Shiki a unique anime and it pretty much allows you to understand why both camps are doing what they’re doing it also brings up the question of morality for the characters and can even make the viewer ponder what they would do in that situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      Shiki does descend into the kind of chaos that’s hard to judge. There’s a lot more to both sides than blind cruelty and it all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable show.

      Like

  5. I keep meaning to check Shiki out, but I haven’t had the time yet. From the sounds of thus though, I think that I’d enjoy the way it presents both sides as having understandable aims achieved through dark methods. Giving enough to be able to stimulate conversion and formulate arguments for both sides in terms if who the monsters are is a good achievement in my eyes, and it’s a nice alternative to having a clear cut good and bad.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. I think the both sides did everything for survival and their own desire. But no one want to be hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Cauthan says:

    This aspect of Shiki was definitely what caught me off guard when I picked up the show and what made it particularly memorable for me (other than the crazy hair of course!). It’s a really thoughtful conversation about what happens when a sympathetic being is forced into coexistence with another but can only survive by infringing upon the loves of others. I think Shiki pours it on a little heavy sometimes but its a great dilemma and theme. Very Frankenstein-esque, which I love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      We can never forget the hair. My personal favorite is Ritsuko’s.

      I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the kind of quandary presented in Shiki and it’s made all the more interesting by the various character perspectives. Definitely a show to remember.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cauthan says:

        Ooh, definitely agree about Ritsuko’s hair. Both stylized within the vein of the show yet bordering on conventionality enough for me to not find it as absurd as the other hairstyles. Good shade of green as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. cainslatrani says:

    At least part of what the writers on Shiki wanted to do with the Risen, I think, was show how easy it was to suddenly find yourself “superior” to others. They used the idea f vampires to create a difference in thinking. The Risen were still basically the same people, but they saw others in a different way, as lessers, and that made treating them as sub human easy.

    This is often just how subversive discrimination is. People we’ve known for years can suddenly become less human in our eyes due to a simple change in how we think, brought on by outside factors we barely really consider.

    As a metapho for how easy it is to get people to hate each other, Shiki is excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      It does accurately parallel how real life discrimination works in many cases. Race, gender, sexuality – it’s not like we’re lacking in factors that we use to demean others and just like you said, outside influences that affect our thinking are aplenty as well.

      I’ve never thought of it as a metaphor for easy hatred before but that interpretation makes so much sense.

      Liked by 1 person

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