Oh how I love horror anime. There are so few of them, but of the few there are, most of them are absolutely fantastic. And Shiki is just a prime example of that. Around Halloween 2013 I got this urge to watch a horror series or something with vampires, real vampires, not the sparkly kind. And I found myself listening to a song late at night on Youtube called SHI-KI. I looked at the picture and at first mistook it for Light Yagami and L from Death Note, but then I realized it wasn’t them, and then I looked at the name of the anime that the track was from: Shiki. The song was dark and foreboding, someone in the comments mentioned horror and vampires. My prayers had been answered. And the next two stormy days were some of the best in my anime viewing history.
The story of Shiki takes place during a particularly hot summer in a small secluded Japanese village in the 1990's. The village itself is one of the few left that still practices burials rather than cremations and is surrounded by the very trees they use to make grave markers, which is why the saying “surrounded by death” is prevalent here.
The story itself is told from the perspectives of three very distinct characters:
Primary Protagonist: Doctor Toshio Ozaki - The owner of the villages only medical clinic and one of the village leaders, Doctor Ozaki finds himself in the middle of an epidemic when villagers both old and young begin to die off from what appears to be anemia. He soon discovers that there is far more at work in the shadows of the village.
Secondary Protagonist: Natsuno Yuuki - A city boy whose family moved to Sotoba Village recently, Natsuno dislikes the country life and would like nothing better than to return to the city. When those closest to him suddenly begin to die he takes a personal interest in the occult and senses that something is off and cant’t shake the feeling that someone who should be dead might be stalking him.
Tertiary Protagonist: Seishin Muroi - The Head Monk of the local temple and one of the village leaders, Seishin is the best friend of Toshio Ozaki. He is distressed by the many recent deaths in the village and believes it to be a bad omen. Unlike Ozaki and Natsuno, Seishin doesn’t subscribe to the idea that the deaths aren’t natural, and takes a more neutral position in the overall story.
These three characters each have a unique perspective on the events transpiring in the village, keeping things relatively fresh. But they are just three of a very large cast of characters. Every member of the village is a character in this show, but I wouldn’t get too attached to anyone, as you know how horror series tend to go.
Overall though the story is absolutely fantastic and the message it tries to convey is very grey. It wants you to ask yourself one simple question: Who are the real monsters? And at the end of the show I was left speechless and melancholic. I couldn’t answer that question. Not because I didn’t have an answer, but because that answer was far more painful that I would have liked.
Story - Spoiler Section(Skip down to the next section if you don’t want to be spoiled. You were warned.)
So, I like doing this sort of section because I love to talk about the stories of the shows that I watch and sometimes you can only convey certain feelings by spoiling the story. So this section is for those that have already seen Shiki or just don’t mind spoilers.
So one I both liked and disliked was how central to the story the Shiki, or vampires, really were. Most series use them as this sort of invisible antagonist that doesn’t really get a lot of screen time until the very end. But Shiki is very upfront about the fact that it features vampires. In the first episode alone there are quite a few hints as to the nature of the Kirishiki family. The fact that they moved into the European style mansion in the dead of night was a dead giveaway. This ruined some of the surprise, but at the same time it also ratcheted up the suspense. You begin to wonder when they’ll start to come out more often, who they’ll kill off next, and when they might eventually be discovered.
Around episode 5 is when people begin to get suspicious and it just builds for the next few episodes until Ozaki squares off against them in his clinic, finally bringing the full cast into the spotlight and the main conflict to the forefront. It was a great moment.
And of course, there are three moments in this show that I really wanted to talk about. The first among these is the death of Natsuno Yuuki. The fact that the Shiki general Tatsumi went so far as to order Natsuno’s friends to be the ones to kill him was a shocking moment and one full of feels as Natsuno ultimately gave himself to Tohru, who up until this point we thought was 100% dead. He then dies and is sent away to be cremated by his father who also lost his wife to the Shiki. In the original Shiki light novels, Natsuno was permanently dead as his cremated body wouldn’t be able to return from the dead. However, the manga changed this, instead having it so that he rose up from the dead prior to his cremation and fled back to Sotoba as a Jinrou, a werewolf, a being who could consume blood, but didn’t need to in order to survive, only if he wanted power. In this story, Natsuno is one of three Jinrou out of supposedly six total in the Shiki universe, implying that Jinrou are exceptionally rare, even among Shiki. As a Jinrou, Natsuno returns and assists Ozaki from the shadows, being the reason he was able to resist Chizuru’s hypnotism, and ultimately the one to kill Tatsumi with a bomb, ending both of their lives permanently.
I thought that plot twist was great, but at the same time after reading about how it changed from the light novel, I was a bit disappointed as well. I love when death in a story is permanent because it adds to the story. When a character is revived, it feels like a cheap death and loses the impact that it originally had, which it did here because Natsuno’s role in the story was clearly not important following his death. He became a background supporting character who did fuck all and ultimately had a somewhat anticlimactic final death.
The second moment I wanted to talk about was Ozaki’s slip into what I consider to be insanity or self-preservation mode. When his wife was killed by Tatsumi, Ozaki held her body in an underground surgery room where he waited to see if she would rise up. Days after her death, her body began to heal and she returned from the dead. But rather than shed a tear that she was “alive”, he went to work cutting her up, torturing her, and all manner of inhumane things to figure out how the Shiki worked and how they could be killed. It was an uncomfortable moment, but one that showed Ozaki’s true colors. At this point his only thought was of saving the village, and this was the first step he took on that path, a very unsettling first step that ended with a stake through his wifes heart. This moment also ended up being Seishin’s turning point, siding with the Shiki over the villagers.
And lastly, the third moment I wanted to discuss was the villagers savagery against the Shiki. Sure, condoning murder is not something you should do, but if you look at the conflict from a nature standpoint, the Shiki had some justification for their actions. In order to survive, Shiki must consume human blood, otherwise they are beset by excruciating hunger and pain, which is what drives them to consume the blood of the villagers night after night until they die and then move on to the next meal. Humans, understandably, find this a threat to their very existence and thus fight for survival. But rather than simply take steps to defend themselves from the Shiki, they go on a rampage of inhumane slaughter, thinking of the Shiki not as people, but as demons. Their own loved ones, risen from the dead, were slaughtered one by one. There’s even a scene where the villagers tie a bunch of Shiki to a stake in the ground and decide to let them roast in the sun as it rises. This is just an unspeakable act that turns the villagers themselves into monsters.
One Shiki, Nao, was a mother and a loving wife. But she was killed by the Shiki and rose from the dead. She longed to be with her family again, so she took the 1/3rd chance that they could rise from the dead and be with her for eternity. But each one of them died a permanent death, leaving her with no one, and doomed to hell. I felt for her. Out of all the Shiki, she was the one who garnered my sympathy. I was glad that she was given a merciful death. She was one of the Shiki tied to the stake and left to burn in the sun, but was stabbed through the heart by a man who knew her as an act of mercy, the only villager to show such compassion for the Shiki other than Seishin.
This ultimately why my answer to the question the show presented was hard to swallow and hard to admit. Both sides had their arguments, and both had their faults. The Shiki, as noted by Natsuno, could have coexisted peacefully by moving to different targets every night rather than the same one repeatedly, allowing the previous target to recover from the blood loss and be reusable. But they didn’t, instead indiscriminately targeting villagers and draining them over the course of three nights until they died, but in the end, the villagers were the real monsters. The admission that human beings can revert to such a primal state of existence is very hard to swallow, but its the truth.
Shiki’s artwork and animation is astounding. Its like a stained-glass painting come to life at some points. The decaying corpses, the characters, the village, all of it is portrayed with such detail that I even got disgusted at times. It was just absolutely perfect. So creepy, yet so beautiful.
Some people took issue with the very ctazy hairstyles and almost every woman having an extremely large bust, and while that last one was definitely an odd choice(including some stripperific outfits that come later.), the hair I thought was absolutely perfect. Its so unnatural, yet at the same time makes me think of trees, foliage, or organs and it adds to the creepy factor at times. There just was basically nothing about the art that I didn’t like.
The sound, or more specifically, the music is just absolutely fantastic. Filled with choirs, organs, violins, its just an emotional score composed by Yasuharu Takanashi, the man behind the Naruto Shippuden soundtrack and I imagine quite a few others. He brings this very somber tone to the soundtrack that evokes mystery, sadness, and fear. Yet at times it can also be very peaceful. Just listen to this one:
That is the song that started it all for me and to this day it is still one of my favorite tracks next to Eau de Vie, Day and Night, Dead Sea, Epitaph, Mosaic, and Requiem.
Yet, the sound is not as flawless as it may seem. In the first episode, at least the dubbed version anyway, the audio sounds fuzzy, like they didn’t clean it up at all or like there was something wrong with the microphone and they didn’t attempt to rerecord it. Its only the first episode, but it still bugs me every time. There’s also a track they use that is really weird. Its these guys chanting really fast, sounds like some kind of native american dance or something. It invokes tension, but at the same time sounds kind of out of place and disruptful.
Now, talking about the dub itself, the cast is very good. Jerry Jewel, David Wald, Cherami Leigh, Alexis Tipton, Ian Sinclair, Luci Christian, I could go on, but you get the point. Its a high quality dub and quite frankly I prefer it to the original Japanese audio. The fact that the term Shiki or Corpse Demon was left in the script with only a couple references to vampires was a plus in my book.
One last note: Try combining just about any Shiki track with Rainy Mood. Its amazing.
Shiki is an absolutely amazing series that deserves to be viewed at least once. The build-up is slow, so I recommend giving the series five episodes before deciding whether to continue or drop it. I think you’ll love absolutely love it, but that’s a personal thing so if you don’t well then that’s you.
I give Shiki a score of 9/10 or Amazing.