Under the bed. At the window. In the courtyard at night. On the steps of the Monastery. In your town, in your neighborhood, on your street... They are shiki, they are coming, they are hungry, and they are multiplying.
Containing some of the most skin-crawling imagery of any anime I've seen in the last two years, Shiki is a story about things that go bump - and chomp - in the night. Its innocent, but not innocuous, beginning sets the viewer off on a path of love, death, fear, and the fight against what seems to be insurmountable odds. We follow truly engaging characters through this path, rooting for some and hoping for the swift defeat of others.
Shiki restores the vampire to his traditional roots - the dead rise with a thirst for living blood, and with intense powers and guidance of an untouchable master. After a strange new family takes up residence in a newly built European style manor just outside the village, death begins to sweep through the area, leaving few families untouched. Every one loses a friend, a mother, a father, a lover.
Two men uncover the source of the deaths plaguing their village. A well known doctor and the new boy in town struggle to survive as everything in the village seeks to undermine them in their quest to defeat the Shiki. The few they confide in are frightened beyond usefulness, or baffled by moral questions.
The doctor's confidant is a young monk who struggles with the killing of shiki; if the shiki can cry, if they can feel joy, if they can laugh or feel hope - is it murder to kill them? If they are human in all ways but their thirst, is it a sin to defile their graves, or to subject them to experimentation? The monk struggles with questions of morals and sin while his childhood friend plunges into a state akin to madness - hellbent on the destruction of the shiki. And what is the true identity of the etherally beautiful young girl who visits him nightly?
As the vampires' numbers increase and the village is thrown into paranoid turmoil, will the doctor and the young student be able to stop the encroaching darkness? Or will they, and their small village, be swallowed by the death that surrounds it?
Fluid and unique, timed with precision and intent, Shiki is stunning. The distinct visual style adds to the feeling in each scene. Dead, empty eyes and flowing, unnatural hair. Vivid colors and flashing eyes. The shadowed look of a man who has given up. The crystalline shine of tears from undead eyes. Shiki is animated in an ideal style for this story.
Sufficiently creepy or dramatic, the music and sound effects are neither underdone or overplayed. There is a distinct absense of "horror movie" sound effects, and the silence plays into the tension of the moment. Truly creepy scenes are accompanied by the heady belts of organ music - perfectly matched with the animation in those moments. The music and sound are adequate without being stunning or memorable, but overall do not detract from the show in any way.
You will love, hate, cheer, and mourn the characters in Shiki. The intensity of Doctor Ozaki, Seishin the monk, and young Yuuki Natsuno are perfectly complimented by the ridiculousness or innocence of other characters. There is attachment, and death, in Shiki. As the tragedy unfolds, your feelings for the characters warp from annoyance or disinterest to genuine concern, fear, or sadness. These are not the 2D creations of someone far away - these people are your compatriots, those victims could be your family, this danger could be your own.
Shiki explores more than the myth, and reality, of the vampire. It explores the morality of "justified" murder - of those different than humans. Because their existance is of a wholly different origin, are they monsters? Shiki murder humans, certainly - and in grisly and torturous ways - but do humans not murder animals for food? What makes humanity the apex of existance - what gives men the right to decide who lives and who dies?
Beyond morals stands simple survival - with predators increasing and prey in disbelief, can the residents of this small village survive?