Shiki: The Frightening Science of Vampires | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 22-episode summer 2010 anime “Shiki,” produced by Daume, based on the novel by Fuyumi Ono.

How would you feel about being given a second chance at life? Was there work you left behind unfinished that just needed a few more final touches? What about reuniting with a loved one from your past life? An opportunity like this rivals that of winning the lottery–a dream fulfilled, is it not?

Now, what if you were forced to return to this wretched earth, strained out of the dead to continue maintaining your fragile body at the expense of friends and family? You’d be a burdensome leech, a selfish and disgusting virus which feeds off of the innocent and the ignorant alike just to preserve your own rotting corpse. If you could kill people without consequence, would it be easier to do? Would you feel more inclined to repeat your actions?

Shiki presents us with both scenarios of life for the undead, but its grim tone and somber character stories have us believing that life after death is truly and rightfully morbid.

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Welcome to Sotoba – Population: Fear, Hysteria, and Death

This tale of madness descending is set in a remote rural village isolated from “modern” society. (We’re talking a town with traditional wooden Japanese houses and only one clinic to visit in case of emergency.) From the get-go, we already know that what will happen in the village will stay in the village. At first the atmosphere is cheery, starting us off through the eyes of hot n’ dangerous teen Megumi, a girl who feels like an outcast among the villagers because of her fashionable and trendy fantasies of city life (quite relatable, might I add). She lusts after a transfer student by the name of Natsuno who would be, as anyone could guess, charming yet mysterious “boyfriend material.”

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But much of her young life changes when an enormous castle-sized mansion is built almost overnight–the extravagant yet seemingly-elusive Kirishiki family has moved into that vacant lot high in the mountains. They are reserved and elegant divas of the night, but what terror, if any, lies beyond their walled stronghold on the hill?

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And exactly like clockwork, strange disease and paranoia begin seeping through the cracks of these closed-off country minds. Villagers grow pale and unresponsive, only to pass away within days of their diagnosis! All of this perplexes our [arguably the] main character, the good doctor Toshio, and his battle against these unseen and mystical forces quickly causes his ironclad rationale to teeter on the edge of self-destruction.

Themes! Themes for all!

The story is loaded with conflicts of the individual vs. culture and society that would make any philosopher or English teacher quiver in delight. If you continue to dissect its characters apart, you’ll notice a healthy amount of psychoanalysis to be done. There’s also the very nature of these vampiric beasts that’ll surely give you goosebumps if you’re just in it for the action. All things considered, Shiki’s premise is well-crafted and cleverly presented through its many different viewpoints. The anime tries to handle the scenario through every set of eyes possible, and actually does a fair job at it.

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Watching Occupation Shaping Perception

If this show is trying to preach one lesson to its viewers, it’s that OCCUPATION SHAPES PERCEPTION. First we have Toshio the Rational who wields science and logic as his guiding torch. His hands-on experience and repeated failure with his patients shape his view on how the village should act. Given this firsthand account of horror, the trauma is enough to eventually shake his mental stability. “Empty your hearts. In order to kill these demons we have to become demons.”

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Then there’s Muroi the Romantic writer and priest who believes through feelings that these demons are just like us. Even now, they only have special requirements to live. His benevolent approach leaves him without any clue as to how to fight a back, however, for his inexperience and urge to document the case rather than seek justice cause him to remain sane but forever alone.

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And finally we have Natsuno and Megumi, both Angsty Lovers who embody mixes of the doc and the junior monk. They remain rational and understanding of all that takes place, but their struggle against striving for the lives they desire to live under supernatural circumstances leads them to consequence. All of the villagers, save for these four, are static characters designed to move the plot forward and advance growth in our leads.

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A Damn Good English Dub

A fair point is that I fell in love with the English dub voices before I did the characters, so props to FUNimation for that win–especially to Tia Ballard as Megumi, holy crap! Also, while there are a dozen characters that I loved (and a dozen that I hated), my heart goes out to nurse Yasuyo (yay for more Wendy Powell!), the busty, compassionate sweetheart clad in fishnet-leggings. What a frickin’ saint she is!

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Relying on Story Horror Rather than Visual Horror

Onto the animation side, studio Daume actually did a very decent job. Several excellent cinematic shots and moldy/bold color choices were used to convey the eerie atmosphere. But I did have a few problems. As much as I took great pleasure in the Shiki black ombre eyes, too many different kinds of eye styles made me really dislike the ugly, small-pupil look that was overused on “insane” characters. Also, what’s up with that hair shaping? Natsuno’s nasty cut reminded me of the salad leaves I was munching on! (Yes, I did tweet about this).

I’m sure you’ve heard Shiki’s main theme “Shi-Ki” in one of your “emotional anime music 2 hours” compilation videos. But don’t just stop there! Check out the melodramatic tracks I left below which utilize a haunting choir, chimes, bass drums, a soothing macabre orchestra to create the illusion of nightmares stalking the shadows. They are a bit overused, but hey, you get so consumed by the atmosphere that repetition doesn’t matter. Composer Yasuharu Takanashi (Log Horizon, Oda Nobuna, Fairy Tale, Sailor Moon Crystal) remains one of my favorites, for he always does such phenomenal job in mashing together atmosphere and action.

“Day and Night”

“Eau de Vie”

“Pendulum”

Also, the second opening, “Calendula Requiem” by kanon x kanon totally rocked the house. Just look at those visuals–and the song, ooh the song!

Why is it Popular? Fresh Spin on a Legendary Concept

Shiki is praised for its ability to tell the same story through every character viewpoint possible; you get attached to individuals from both sides, which is quite a wonderful thing given the premise. It’s a nice rational approach to an ancient, typically fantasy or magical subject–The Science of Vampires, if you will. It presents us with a very well-thought-out tale of morality vs. rationality, never taking the easy way out to show its claims.

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In a world where monsters and humans alike are pitted against each other, fear, especially of abandonment, consumes all who let it. Common people who are unwilling to let go of pre-existing notions are the ones that get left behind. It sounds harsh, but in this brutal and vicious cycle everyone except the sane ultimately lose. What draws the line between superstition and simply being afraid is how disturbingly far people will go to preserve their own “sanity.” It’s only after the smoke clears, however, that humans realize the error in their ways, and that any God has long since abandoned them . . . or at least some believe.

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Final Thoughts

Anyone can die at any time; no one is safe/excluded from the elements listed above, which is also why I really enjoyed Shiki. Fear of uncertainty through the supernatural catches us off guard, in that fear CAN and WILL strike at any time. The use of gory sound effects and beautifully ghastly music help to establish that fearful tone. Shiki may not have visually scared me, but its raw content sure was creepy, gruesome, and more interesting than any Hollywood horror film.

“This is what a world ruled by order looks like. Those who accept order can live together peacefully, protected from the unknown safe in their belief that all is as it should be. But when something happens to threaten this orderly existence, they will fight to the very death. By eliminating the threat, they hope to preserve the fabric of their lives–the order that holds their entire world together. And so they realize what a fragile world it is.” – Seishin Muroi

Final Assessment

+ Frequent tonal shifts, led by the many viewpoints, leave strong and vastly different impressions from beginning to end

+ Death can strike anyone, anytime

+ True fear and creepiness created by the supernatural STORY ITSELF, not necessarily the visuals (never takes the easy way out)

+ Wonderfully presented themes of morality between individuals, culture, and society, and how people are only as safe as their surroundings make them feel

+ Nailed the village horror atmosphere with frightful perfection; intricately woven web of characters and interactions between them and setting

– Eye and hair designs on some characters just looked dumb

– Fantastic and complementing soundtrack, but some tracks are a bit overused

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What a Halloween break well-spent, no? Well, if anything could be said, it’s that those Japanese need real doors, not the paper-thin stuff you can hear through the walls, yikes! What did you think of this anime? It’s another “Caffe Mocha” over here! Were you completely freaked out or more invested in its thought-provoking messages? Let me know in the comments so we can talk about this beloved title! I’m so happy I got to finally watch this very peculiar classic. Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Extravagant Divas of the Night, the Kirishikis

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Mayoiga: A Village Lost, But How Far Off the Trail? | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2016 anime “Mayoiga” or its English title “The Lost Village,” produced by Diomedea, directed by Tsutomu Mizushima and written by Mari Okada.


While I didn’t watch every airing show this past spring season, I do know that many stirred lengthy discussions and debates. In the case of The Lost Village, you’re going to see my thoughts regarding a show which received so much negative feedback that some people even began to reinterpret its intention entirely just to decipher if it was actually clever or plain crap.

A New Life Awaits

Simply put, I’m sure more people than you’d expect would easily raise their hands at the chance of getting to restart life in a Utopian village. And that’s exactly how Mayoiga begins: 30-some-odd children and adults chosen by an internet survey are gathered on a bus ride to paradise. This village lost in the mountains is so hard to find that even the police can’t seem to mark it on a map. Only a handful in our eccentric troop dwell on the sketchy project until they reach their destination — Nanaki Village. After all, the party is more concerned about how they’ll want to live once they exit the bus.

Mysteries start piling up one by one. The village seems to be abandoned, yet everything is orderly and the houses seem fairly clean. They also discover a recently-gardened patch on one end and bloody claw marks scratched into trees on the other. The forest in particular seems like it’s shrouding something. As if more tension was needed, some members of the party vanish without a trace, and like clockwork, it becomes only a matter of time before superstition and doubt plague the group like wildfire. Now begins their true test of survival, for monsters eagerly lurk within the minds of the doubtful run rampant whenever escape is attempted. Is it a curse? An illusion? Or are these seemingly otherworldly phantoms just messin’ with our heads?

Something is Missing . . .

Does Mayoiga provide thought-provoking ideas? I’m still not entirely sure myself. On one hand there’s a certain level of personal acceptance that doesn’t go quite as far as I was hoping it would. Instead of confronting their past, they flee desperately, clinging to ignorance as bait. While its execution is unique, it isn’t all quite there. Perhaps you can lend it to the enormously underdeveloped cast, or maybe it’s the poor balance between character skepticism, village mystery, and heavy-handed theme. I suppose that’s why you end up feeling slight satisfaction for only half of the cast. The lack of character motivations (why they wanted to restart) for the remaining ensemble also didn’t give me enough reason to give two shits if someone went missing or died.

On the other hand, it’s also tackling superstition in that ugly Salem Witch Trial style. What prevents this ‘climax’ from being truly powerful is the fact that these guys are dumb. Plain stupid. Why can’t we talk each other — question each other, even — instead of raising a weapon? Unlike Salem, religion isn’t the issue here. Neither are societal bounds (cause they’re in the middle of nowhere). They’re all just FRIGGIN’ INSANE, dumping their doubt on one little shady girl in hopes that, like their pasts, the terror be offed.

A Bus Full o’Freaks

I also can’t talk much about the characters due to spoilers. When I say that, I just mean the main trio: Mitsumune, Hayato, and Masaki. Mitsumune is an awkward soul, having only been friends with Hayato and not getting much contact with the female species. He really doesn’t know anything, but we can’t blame the unknowing, now can we? Hayato is a smart guy you’ll only find hanging around Mitsumune for his own reasons. Masaki, the group’s verbal punching bag, is a young girl rooted in a suspicious past. She also claims to not know anything, yet she is somehow tied to the village . . . I really don’t mind these three, but most of the others — especially that batshit insane execution girl — are simple-minded and annoying.

Going into it, my favorite was Koharun, the shady tour guide, as she really felt suspicious and I love feeling that way. By the end, though, that position was taken by the flirtatious [I swear she was a prostitute] woman with the high heels because EVERY SINGLE THING she said was sexually implied, and that’s just awesome. Her and the pudgy detective girl. She was pretty cool, too.

Facing Our Fears. Literally.

Now, the sheer illusionary work behind the animation team really makes up for the supernatural ‘talk’ the characters boast about. Raw CG was used like crazy in most of the nightmares that stalked the cast, and while that alone looks terrible, the fake appearance enhances the oddity and spookiness of it all. For once, asking the 3DCG “What the hell are you even supposed to be?” is a complement. Let it all rattle your brain. Outside that, characters look pretty nice — almost something out of P.A. Works — but the dialogue scenes are really boring.

Masaru Yokoyama’s soundtrack is by far the winning aspect of this series! Apparently he also composed the OSTs for Your Lie in April, Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace, and Lord Marksman and Vanadis among others, so make of that what you will. His chosen style here is obviously mystery and suspense, as the main theme and its many renditions is especially haunting, the kind of “LET’S GET OUT OF HERE” music you need with a show like this. Sadly couldn’t’ find any tracks on the web but the damned Hippopotamus song (my heart goes out to thee as best song). Just know that the OST effective in establishing mood if the creepy village didn’t do that for you.

The opening “Gensou Drive” by Ami Wajima was also fairly good, though I much preferred the ending theme “Ketsuro” by Rina Katahira. It’s much slower, more wound down, and unfitting for the show’s overall tone, but I couldn’t help but look it up afterwards to add it to my playlist. Its position is similar to Parasyte -the maxim-’s ending: slow yet oddly yearning for hope. Visuals were boring as heck, but a nice song nonetheless.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I’m just so tired of reading about The Lost Village. The community has exhausted me on this one — To quote Lovepon, “Grabbed each of my legs and tore in opposite directions.” I went in with a lot of excitement for a hot mystery show and ended up with a slightly twisted yet comedic take on rebirth. I’ll admit that it had me going for the first five or so episodes, but once the ghouls revealed themselves, it didn’t take off like I thought it would. Was I supposed to be scared? Maybe . . . ? But I still laugh that I tried watching this at night and got too scared to leave my room to pee, hehe.

The Lost Village is to say the least an oddball, and regardless of whether it was trying to be a satire of horror mysteries or something like that, I can confirm that it fell flat on its mission. I think it all just strayed waaay too far from the trail it seemed to promise, much like a wanderer looking for paradise who got lost in the process. As a simulcast, however, I cannot deny the fact that I kept coming back each week just to see how it would end . . . Like, the bus went up in flames, but how far would it roll down the hill?

Pretty far, actually. I can’t see it being brought up ever again after a week or two.

“I’m interested in the results.” – Lion

Final Assessment

+ Given its composition, village mystery vibe kept up a good ¾ of the way in

+ Main theme song in OST fit the eerie tone perfectly

– Poor balance between characters’ skepticism, actual village mystery, and themes it might’ve been trying to press

Enormous cast with lack of believable drive and development from those move forward; stupidity is contagious


I’m slightly annoyed with Mayoiga as is, so you’ll find it here under the lowly “Breads” archive. It’s not bad, but there are so many other anime out there that explore the same concept, yet do it better. Like Angel Beats! for the personal acceptance stuff or Another for the superstition bit. The show also could have been interesting and made me have wanted to think had there not been so many troll characters. Did you follow The Lost Village this season? If so, how did you feel about its overall presentation? Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

 

Rokka Ushers in a Fresh and Bloody-Fantastic Fray | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 12-episode summer 2015 anime “Rokka no Yuusha” or “Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers,” produced by Passione, based on the light novel by Yamagata Ishio.

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

Whenever you’re out driving, do U-turns scare you? Oh man, they do me in. Usually swift and unannounced, what was the car ahead of me casually cruising along suddenly burns rubber and whirls around to oppose me.

So maybe I’m dramatizing U-turns a bit (also, they’re probably illegal in most areas), but doesn’t that abrupt 180-degree flip potentially ruin a nice drive? Well, if the other driver knows exactly how to pace it, direct it, and drive it on home, then no, not at all.

That’s what Rokka here did, and boy was it a spectacular turn.

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This setting is gorgeous.

Long ago when the Demon God plagued the world with darkness, the Goddess of Fate came down and sent the demon back into the shadows – Not before splitting her powers amongst six heroes, though. Now in a present-day yet still fantasy-Aztec land, the Demon God has awoken numerous times, only to be quelled time and again by new rotations of these “Heroes of the Six Flowers.”

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See? Not lying at all.

The self-proclaimed “strongest man in the world” Adlet has been selected to be one of these six braves. To prevent the Demon God’s next return, the six heroes band together and venture into the dark lands in hopes that they will save the wor–

Woah woah, slow down there. It sounds like a feasible action/adventure anime thus far, but right after episode four, it’s time to slam the breaks – Rokka wants a complete change of pace. What happens to our heroes?

Nothing. All seven meet up at the rendezvous point before plotting their attack. Wait . . . I thought there were just six braves . . .

There are. A magic barrier goes up around the temple, thick fog fills the air, and everyone is trapped in. Someone is an imposter

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If that’s not a 180-degree flip, then I’m not sure what is (I get chills just reading it). Rokka spends the first third showing off its heroes and their skills as such. It acts like your normal fantasy anime but then decides to try something new. The introduction of mystery to the fantasy/adventure genre is something I’ve never seen before. And through its fresh direction and pre-establishment of the cast, it moves forward without hesitation.

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Squad goals.

The sheer amount of suspense that Rokka builds up is absolutely incredible. Its clever hashing-out of your typical fantasy party members makes it a hot game of Dungeons & Dragons runnin’ around on the Clue game board. You wanted adventure? Not anymore. Take this murder mystery instead because it’s cooler. The gimmick works so well because we know these characters – All we have to do is roll the dice and start throwing accusations. You’ll have so much fun watching your options drop out as the game soars to its climax.

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Spooky spooky ~ Who is the Seventh???

As a side note, I was a bit spoiled by the identity of the fake, but even that didn’t faze me. Seeing how all of the clues slid into place and watching the insanity unfold gave me more than my fill of entertainment. The anime still kept me guessing to the very end, regardless of those damn trolls. That goes to show how exciting Rokka is.

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I have to mention the studio behind this anime because their name was completely new to me: Passione. I was 100% impressed by the superb animation quality and fantastical artwork. Due to the unusual yet intricate designs of each hero and their unique repertoire of arms, action scenes were bloody intense and wicked smooth.

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“I am the bone of my –“ Not now? Oh, okay.

For music, we had the reoccurring yet beloved fantasy artist Oshima Michiru (FMA, Sora no Woto) who filled the still, foggy air with an engaging score. Of its many OPs and EDs, my favorite was “Secret Sky” by MICHI for being everything I listen for in this wonderful genre.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf13gKeZOW4

With puzzling motives, characters we’ll all recognize, and shocking plot twists at each episodes’ end, Rokka no Yuusha was without a doubt 2015’s hidden gem. The only reason you don’t remember this title was because you stopped after episode three.  Rokka‘s not without its flaws, however: Some less-major characters could have used more backbone, the opening is admittedly a bit slow, but biggest of all – This is ultimately only a preview into Rokka‘s grand scheme, and as such leaves us with jaws dropped begging for a sequel. I hate this. Don’t worry, we still get an ending that ties all of this up, but for those wanting to know how the legend ends better start supporting the franchise.

You should watch Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers because it’s something new. It takes a wild idea and runs hella far with it, leaving you clinging on for your dear life! Fans of the adventure genre especially won’t be disappointed with Rokka‘s new entry to the fray.

“That’s the first thing my master taught me. To laugh.” – Adlet

+ Despite being abrupt, fantastic new direction taken with strong, clever writing

+ suspense, Suspense, SUSPENSE

+ Studio Passione did an incredible job putting everything together

– ‘Supporting’ heroes could have been given more background, little more depth for all

– Unfavorable localization (Ponycan’s ridiculous prices without an English dub)

– Cliff-hanger ending = WE NEED MORE ROKKA, DAMMIT

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Now, I’m still cautions with those U-turners, but Rokka really impressed me guys. It’s a solid “Caffe Mocha” in this little establishment, but again, you should spread the word so we can eventually devour more! You can watch the entire anime on Crunchyroll for FREE if that site is available to you, to which I recommend “full speed ahead.” I only cry because Ponycan USA is releasing this epic without a dub. If you took a liking to my tentatively new and less-wordy format, let me know by hitting that “like” button and commenting below. It helps me immensely! Thank you all for reading and as always, until next time this has been

– Takuto, the Seventh Brave

Halloween and End of October Update

Hi and welcome to the cafe! This month was filled with anime for me! To start, I finished watching The Devil is a Part-Timer, Attack on Titan‘s English dub, selector infected WIXOSS, and continued with SAO II, Log Horizon 2, Fs/n UBW, In Search of the Lost Future. I also picked up on Trinity Seven. Wow, for me, that is a lot!

On Halloween, I literally told myself that I was going to stay up all night to marathon a new anime. Did that happen, well, no, but I got pretty damn close LOL! For that grand night, I chose selector infected WIXOSS as my companion, and boy was that kinda creepy. Originally I was gonna watch Tokyo Ghoul because it was so well-received and because duh, it’s Halloween, but I chickened out. What did I think of Wixoss? I’ll do a review here soon on it. I also watched FUNimation’s dub of Attack on Titan. God I freaking love that show! The dub was very similar to that of The Future Diary‘s, in that while the main character(s) could have been better, all of the remaining cast was amazing! I do give them props, though, as they kept that driving intensity/insanity that AoT is famous for.

To top off the night, I heard that I might be going to Naka-kon in the spring, so yeah! It’ll be my first convention and I’m totally stoked! What did you do for Halloween? Anything special? Friends? Anime or gaming? Let me know in the comments below! Fall has arrived in my town, so nice weather has returned. Maybe I’ll spend some time outside, too!

– Takuto, your host