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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End of October Update 11/7/16

*chiseled*

As everyone’s spook day festivities come to an end, so does the summer weather over here. Fall has finally set in, and times are busy, but that doesn’t stop me from making my rounds in the aniblogger community. Now for this past month’s recap–It’s update time!

Recently Finished:

The Ambition of Oda Nobuna – There was only one main reason I began watching this show. That is, the word “ambition.” It’s one of my favorite words. After being thoroughly intrigued by all of the Satsuki Kiryuin/Oda Nobunaga fan-interpretations, I decided to strike up a show with the legend’s name. And lo and behold, I hit a title with two of my needs! Despite it being another fan-service history mash-up with girls serving as ancient Japanese mascots, the show, surprisingly, had a lot to offer. More to come on that if I review it.

Sailor Moon R – My Sailor Moon marathon session continues in Viz’s re-release DVD sets. On October’s plate was R, the season of the rose–of romance. The web of deceit and falsehood continues to weave itself into complex net of twisted relationships. Invaders from distant planets and galaxies try to tear apart our star-crossed lovers, and the tragic legacy left by the evil Queen Beryl doesn’t help our heroes. It’s a bit harder to love, with all the new characters and revelations, but it’s still the same passionate Sailor Moon. Perhaps I’ll review each series if the soon-to-be-released S really gets my motivation going!

Shelter – Everyone saw (heard?) this little diddy floating around Twitter and YouTube. Because my opinion of it wasn’t very different from that of the masses (IT’S AWESOME), I won’t be doing a separate post over it. If you somehow missed this creative music video, I’ll leave it right here for yaShelter’s got a production history unlike any out there, and I hope we see projects like these more frequently in our future! Really neat stuff!

Shiki – This year, my Halloween break revolved around the spooky vampire fling that is Shiki. It failed to really “scare” me, but instead brought a whole slew of psychological realism surrounding skepticism in remote areas. Very peculiar and rife with internal conflicts regarding ethics and rational. I won’t speak more because I DO have a review forthcoming, but it was a spook day well spent.

The Empire of Corpses – The first Project Itou film stole the last day of my mini Halloween break–and boy was it nothing like I expected! From what I had picked up on, it was going to be a gorgeous film with a halfway decent plot. What I got, however, was an intriguing concept lost to cluster-fudge of jaw-dropping visuals. In other words, my eyes certainly got their exercise, but my brain still can’t seem to shake off the events of the film, particularly the climax. Up until the end, it was bloody fantastic. After that, hmm, more to come on the ending with a review [dedicated to blogger-buddy Crimson once again].

Currently Watching:

Izetta: The Last Witch – Oh boy, oh boy, it’s simulcast time–and is it just me or does this season seem like one of the better ones to come in recent years? Let me know what you think. But hey, my first hit-up for this fall was Izetta. I really, really like where it’s going. The most recent episodes, 4 and 5, showed us how the media can glorify anything–including a little girl who flies on a rifle.

Awakened from a cryo-like sleep, Izetta, the last little witch of her kind, is reunited with the princess of a distressed kingdom. Finé , our unfortunate heir, finds her trump card hidden with Izetta’s incredible powers. Set in an alternative pre-WWII world where magic runs deep within the Earth’s roots, Princess Finé must ally herself with whoever she can in order to save her poor country! Check it out on Crunchyroll streaming now!

Sound! Euphonium 2 – More Euphonium = a very happy Takuto. Having been more than satisfied with the first, Eupho has returned triumphantly in order to finish telling the tale of Kyoto’s Kitauji High School Band! I can’t spoil much since it is a sequel, but I did review the first a while back if you want to check that out here. If you loved the first, then the second will only bring you more of KyoAni’s topnotch animation and tightly-knit cast of characters. Five episodes in and still groovin’, Eupho 2 can also be found on Crunchyroll.

Yuri!!! On ICE – I have not felt this inspired to get active since back in 2013 when Free! Iwatobi Swim Club aired. WOW. THIS is easily my favorite title of the fall anime that I am following!!! Heck, I felt so emotionally charged that I had to write about the dramatic episode 3 in a post comparing our two lead characters which you can read RIGHT HERE! I thought I did a decent job on that post, too, so please feel free to share it with the YOI fandom ^.^

But if you didn’t know, the show follows Yuri Katsuki, a 23-year-old figure skater who was feeling a bit dried up with his season until his idol and world champion skater Viktor Nikiforov of Russia paid a visit to the family spa. But why would a star visit a rural Japanese hot springs? Why, to train Yuri himself, of course! Yuri!!! On ICE is about seeing your own reflection in others and finding the inspiration to help them out. In turn, you end up finding fresh motivation from their youth. Full of light-hearted moments that’ll just warm you to the core, Yuri!!! On ICE has proven that even with half of its season still not out yet, it’s definitely earned those three exclamation points–It’s Gonna MAKE HISTORY!!! NOW, seek out Crunchyroll my cafegoers!

Ranma 1/2 (Viz Set 3) – Viz describes this oddity better than anyone else has: “Things just can’t stay quiet at the Tendo Dojo.” I’m not going to describe Ranma  because I really shouldn’t have to. Boy gets hit with cold water: turns into girl. Doused again with hot water: she’s back to a he. Classic anime for ya. But it’s been one of my family’s favorites for years now, so set three here I come! I can tell you that its late 1989 quality has come a long way with its third season–that’s for sure!

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS – I’m a huge WIXOSS fanboy. Hopefully that wasn’t news to you. Naturally, I was so hyped to hear that one of my favorite “magical girl” series was getting a continuation in the same universe. Then it hit me–I haven’t seen the movie, selector destructed WIXOSS yet. Soooo, either I hunt for it online [and then, of course, support the official release later, geez] in order for me to continue, or I skip out this season. Not sure what I’ll do yet.

Outside of anime, fall has finally hit, WUAH! How I love the cool weather! Today it rained off and on from morning to evening, so I’m probably pushing my luck on future cloudy days *sighs*. Anyway, how was your spook day? Also, I’m dying to know what’s piled on your plate for this season of anime? Are you planning with Izetta and the crew, or perhaps are you practicing hard for Nationals with Kitauji? Either way, you’ll never be chill until you settle down with the Yuris. Yes. Both of them. They are sides of the same coin. I’ve even changed my Twitter name just for the spirit of things. I’m also suddenly interested in ice-skating. EHERM. ‘Till next we meet ~

– Takuto, your host

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Follow my Twitter @TakutoAnimeCafe AKA Taku!!! On ICE for all my latest shenanigans~!