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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.