Encased by trees that are used to make grave markers, Sotoba is a village thought to be surrounded by death - a fact that soon literally becomes the case. One summer, a series of mysterious and untimely fatalities begins to plague the small rural town. With a higher than normal mortality rate for the time of year and each cause of passing remaining unknown, Toshio, the local doctor, and Seishin the temple’s vice chief monk become suspicious and take it upon themselves to investigate. However, as the deaths begin to pile up, more people begin to wonder just what is behind this sudden epidemic; could it have anything to do with the bizarre Kirishiki family that recently moved to the village?
StoryVampires have always been a staple antagonist in horror, from early films such as Nosferatu, through to Bella Lugosi’s notorious Dracula and even Gary Oldman’s incarnation of the blood-sucking count. Recently, with the brooding emo Twilight bunch pissing off half the world and the sexed-up vamps of True Blood shagging their way across our screens, it seems that the infamous creatures of the night are going through yet another heyday. So when faced with a new anime featuring these overused undead creations, you may be tempted to roll your eyes, and tut “not another vampire series”. Luckily, Shiki avoids the cliché trap, instead delivering a compelling narrative on human survival. In the remote village of Sotoba, a strange and fatal disease sweeps its residents and within a few weeks, the death toll for the small town is suspiciously high for the time of year, and everyone demands answers. To their horror, they soon realise that the cause of the shocking mortality rate is not an epidemic, but rather the work of the undead. The series starts out fairly slowly, though it immediately introduces mysterious deaths and disappearing villagers to set the scene of mystery and intrigue. When the fatalities pile up, however, and panic ensues, the show really picks up the pace. Focus quickly shifts from a sedate pacing as the denizens attempt to solve the mystery to an urgency to discover a way to stop the shiki. Shiki’s greatest narrative strength is how it shows the villager’s varied reactions to the incidents plaguing the town. Some, such as the elderly foursome that gather each day on a bench to chat, seem to take it all in their stride, as if the excessive mortality rate and strange disappearances are something they saw on television last night. Others take a much more proactive approach and put forth all their efforts into discovering the truth. In particular, Toshio Ozaki – the local doctor – takes it upon himself to find the cause at all costs. Believing that he has a duty to the village, the physician seems to spiral into insanity as he unravels the mystery piece by sinister piece. The contrast in this variation of responses helps to make each individual’s plight all the more poignant, especially when they attempt to convince the rational villagers of the truth. That the more active protagonists come up against a wall of pure denial, yet refuse to give up, makes each episode more gripping to watch than the last as one can’t help but wonder when these pig-headed people will finally see sense. Shiki intentionally blurs the line between self-preservation and murder. It repeatedly asks the question: when vampires feed on their victims in order to simply survive, are their actions any more murderous or reprehensible than humans feasting on the flesh of cattle? During the show’s final fifth these distinctions become even hazier as events deteriorate into a bloodthirsty Battle Royale, forcing the viewer to question their own beliefs. One can argue that slaughtering the undead is necessary to save the village, but what about the humans who collaborate with them, or those under the shiki’s mind control; should they be considered a threat and disposed of? At what point does panic become madness, or self-defence mindless cold-blooded killing? Who really are the victims? That the series flat out refuses to take a moral stand on these issues allows for the viewer to decide for themselves whether the world is truly black and white or if every action resembles a slightly different shade of grey. In addition to the steady mystery, intrigue, and moral questioning, Shiki provides the viewer with a reasonable amount of gore. While not always horrifically explicit – most of the action appears just off screen – certain parts can cause your stomach to lurch and send chills down your spine. For example, a sickening “THUNK” accompanies each impaling, and blisters bubble on the surface of dead skin in a manner akin to molten lava. Truly, this anime is not ideal for those with a weak constitution.AnimationShiki manages to exude an unsettling vibe throughout. Glowing red pupils in sinister antagonists is nothing new, yet seeing two solitary crimson dots emerging out of the darkness still proves nonetheless effective. Meanwhile the gaping void-like eyes of the vampires themselves are more akin to a dark and dead abyss drawing the viewer into their trap, like a fly entranced by a dewdrop on a spider’s web. Shiki then continues this creepy and disturbing theme with close up shots bloodshot eyeballs rolling back in their sockets and skin melting in the light of day to leave the viewer with their fair share of lasting images. Despite setting an ominous air, the series also features questionable character designs. Screw wooden stakes, simply ram Ozaki’s ridiculously pointy chin through the heart and that pesky vampire will have shuffled off this mortal coil once and for all in a (non-existent) heartbeat! Likewise the stylists in Sotoba must be absolute artists as half the cast sports hair that defies the laws of physics. While Ritsuko’s ponytail looking like a rogue ink splat on a rampage may be fairly amusing, in a show as serious as this, the outlandish character designs simply feel out of place and detract from the unsettling atmosphere that the anime otherwise successfully creates. The show’s animation isn’t particularly breath-taking for a work of this era, and more often than not, jerky movement makes the bizarre character designs stand out even further. Hair motion in particular is lacking, or just plain awkward. The frenzied facial topiary of liquor store owner Tomio often doesn’t swish about, despite the humongous mass of it. Likewise, the Ozaki women’s sculptured stylings never move an inch and look more like lumps of polystyrene glued to the top of their scalps – either that or they use an entire case of industrial strength hairspray every day to keep it that rigid.SoundYasuharu Takanashi’s soundtrack perfectly complements the show’s atmosphere. With understated tunes, lonely and uneasy violin melodies, and haunting choral tracks echoing throughout the village, Shiki’s score works spectacularly to set the scene and heighten the tension. The other aural aspect that truly makes this series is the plethora of sound effects. From the sickening cracks of breaking bones, dull thuds as hammers hit stakes, or the simple noise of cicadas chirping in the sultry summer heat, each carefully placed effect builds on the atmosphere and may even nauseate on occasion. Shiki’s voice acting cast occasionally flings in the odd peculiarity. Why anyone thought that giving the crazy peg-toothed redhead from episode eleven a younger woman’s voice when she looks more like a sixty year old transvestite is a good idea, I do not know. That being said, on the whole the Japanese seiyuu manage to convey the ideal tone of voice for their characters, be it Kouji Ishii’s loud and brash Tomio, Shinya Takahashi’s simpering Masao, or Haruka Nagashima’s impressive vocal range for depicting the delicate Kaori’s swings between grief, worry and outright terror.CharactersShiki’s immense cast serves as a double-edged sword. As so many are introduced simply to die shortly after, it’s easier to feel the gravity of the rising death toll. However, with so many personalities in the fray, the amount of name-dropping – particularly in the early episodes – becomes excessive and confusing. Outside of the main players, the viewer doesn’t get enough time to take in who is who so as everyone rattles on about the latest folks to be sent to the funeral home, you begin to struggle to remember which villager has expired. Shiki’s most interesting characterisation revolves around the villagers who rise from their graves. Seeing what happens to them as they become undead, enter their new hierarchical society, and how their relationships with those left behind affects their behaviour, makes for compelling viewing. While some individuals use their newfound status to exact warped ideas of revenge upon those they believed have wronged them, others struggle to overcome the guilt of killing a human being. With the series exploring the new recruits’ varying reactions, they become more than mindless killing machines and figures of hate. Although those who enjoy their new life still invoke the urge to carve a makeshift wooden stake and plunge it through the screen to finish them off yourself, others solicit pity as they find themselves controlled by “the hunger” rather than embracing it. Certainly, seeing tears of lonely regret streaming down the shiki’s faces as they plunge their fangs into their loved ones’ necks adds depth of character by injecting the inhuman with humanity.OverallIn the final episode one of the protagonists utters: “There is a sense of good and evil.” Except in Shiki’s case, there isn’t. Though the shiki are established as the antagonists fairly quickly, this show isn’t about vampires or the undead, but more about the nature of humanity and the lengths people will go to in order to survive. The series promises mystery, intrigue and the undead, but in truth it delivers so much more.
Shiki, or Corpse Demon, is effectively the story of a village in the middle of nowhere being subjected to a mysterious string of unexplainable deaths. If you want to watch this anime and go into it 100% spoiler-free, even though this is not much of a spoiler at all, look away now.The deaths are, of course, being caused by vampires. While they take their sweet time coming out and saying it, it's pretty obvious from a really early stage. But don't tell any of the characters that, because they don't half take their sweet time working it out. Over half the story is dedicated to watching the cast struggle to grasp something you worked out by the second episode, which is effectively this show's most crippling weakness.Now stop. Do not comment just yet. Before you have a knee-jerk reaction to this, let me clarify my point quite firmly: No, I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, think that assuming the existence of vampires to be true is a logical conclusion. Not by a long shot. However, there are several very simple logical steps they should have gone through that would have lead them to it.The most glaring of these is shown through Shiki's focus on the medical aspects of the show. One of the few things that sets the story apart from every other vampire story is that we see the doctors dealing with all the deaths trying to work out and explain what is going on. This would be a lot more compelling if they didn't miss an obvious sign. They promptly go through every aspect of the deaths, but leave one thing out: every victim shares a pair of bitemarks on their neck. Aside from the symptoms themselves, this is the only thing that every single victim has in common. But the medical staff don't even try to explain it. On top of that, every patient died of severe anaemia, but had no rational way of losing so much blood. Except the bitemarks, the only possible explanation and a plain and simple way of putting the only two loose ends together.Now, once again, let me clear this up: I do not think that the bitemarks shoudl have instantly made them realise vampires were behind this. But so much about it makes it clear that vampires would have crossed their minds. Even if they initially brushed it off as implausible, they would have thought of it. Instead, this thought takes a long time to occur to anyone, and when it finally does, they are bizarrely accepting of it.But even once they do realise it, they have to spend a long, long time convincing everyone else. In troper terms, this effectively leads to the villagers Dying Like Animals from sheer stupidity. Which leads to a highly drawn-out stretch of episodes consisting of Dr. Ozaki trying to stop the villagers from essentially jumping headfirst into their own graves.On that note, the characters of Shiki are, to put it generously, less than likeable. There is only one personality in the entire series that is simultaneously interesting and does not make you want to punch them in the face, and that is Dr. Ozaki. The remaining cast are either boring, or sociopathic for no apparent reason. There are also a small handful inbetween who are mildly interesting but very stupid. Effectively, this is both the best and worst thing about Shiki. On the one hand, the cast is utterly insufferable. On the other, they die. A lot. And it manages to be gloriously, gloriously cathartic.It is also what makes Ozaki such an empathetic character. Ozaki is the only sane man in the entire village. And he is just as frustrated as you are at their complete lack of survival instinct. Also, despite some earlier absences of common sense, Ozaki really manages to pull out some incredibly impressive tactics. And I mean REALLY impressive.In spite of all the show's failings, in the final act it really gets it together and does a complete 180. This leads to an incredibly impressing finale, that is nothing short of a war. It leads to the point that anyone can (and probably will) die. Sadly this is only for the last 6 episodes, and at this point it is too little, too late. While these episodes were absolutely stellar, they don't quite justify watching the previous 16 episodes.From a technical aspect, Shiki ranks to the latter on the scale of good vs OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!. The art style is about as awful as they come. The hair on the characters is the most stupid I've ever seen. Anime, as a medium, is known for its love of stupid hair, but even among them Shiki manages to be unbelievably appalling. The sound is quite a bit better, being a user of eerie ambient music. The first OP is also quite an excellent song, excellently merged with the animation. The remaining OP/ED themes are fine, but unremarkable.I mentioned earlier that there were three ways that Shiki attempts to stick out from the vampire crowd, the first being the medical aspects. While none of these were very well-executed, they are still interesting: The other two being that the humans vs. vampires war is portrayed as simply being two opposing forces simply trying to survive, rather than good humans vs. evil monsters... and the third, being that they focus on the angst of those forcibly turned into vampires, having to kill people they once knew to survive.Overall, Shiki has a lot of good ideas but in the end doesn't really execute them every well. It's a mixed bag, with enough upsides to keep it watchable earlier on, and with an excellent finale. Still, it really isn't worth watching in the long run.Story/Plot: 5/10Animation/Graphics: No seriously, what?/10Music/Background: 7/10Characters: 3/10Overall: 6/10For Fans Of: Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, Dance in the Vampire Bund
I was sceptical about Shiki at first. Vampire anime made after vampires had been turned into useless sparkling sex-symbols? But Shiki brings back all the myths about vampires that have been lost in recent culture. They burn in sunlight, they can't enter holy ground, and they need permission to enter a house. The setting is a little rural town who's only real export is the wood needed to make funeral poles. Foreshadowing has never been so obvious. Story: Shiki is what happens when a horror movie is stretched over 22 episodes. The suspense builds over the first 3 or 4 episodes, allowing only glimpses of the storm brewing beneath the surface. While Shiki does play on a few cliches, the action and creepy-factor are enough to make you question those new neighbors who just moved in down the street. A lot of the anime reminds me of Bram Stoker's Dracula (the novel, not any movie adaptation) in the way the plot develops. Animation: What makes the animation so different is how it swings between cult-classic horror film with dark settings and thick contrast and almost slice-of-life (if your life happened to occur in a horror film). One of the more interesting points of animation is clothing styles. While the villagers tend to dress in drab, farm-working clothes, the vampires often wear intricate and gaudy styles. Sound: The voice acting was chosen well, which I've found is common amongst noitaminA selections. The characters were brought to life by the voice actors, instead of contrasting them, as I have seen in other anime. The musical score was subtle, giving just enough sound that the storyline had a backbone. Characters: One of the most interesting points is how well both sides, vampire and human, are portrayed. It is done in such a way that sympathy can be given to either side. But, since much of the story is about human survival, the characters aren't given much development beyond how they react to the threat. While this keeps the plot flowing, it hinders the characters ability to connect with the audience.
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