Shiki is a horror anime that came out in 2010 set in the small isolated village of Sotoba where life goes on the same way everyday despite the number of characters that seem dissatisfied with their everyday life. The story begins with the disappearance of Megumi, a girl who is desperate to leave the village and to shine in a big city one day. We soon learn of the events leading up to her disappearance and follow the villagers as they slowly become aware of the danger surrounding them.
It’s a slow burn of a story until the end where the villages understand everything and the mob arms themselves and then it does what horror anime tend to do at the end and all the carefully built up suspense kind of gets thrown out the window in a shower of blood and pretty fire. That said, the ending is conclusive, character arcs do come to a close of sorts during that climax, and for those who appreciate the slow reveal it makes this series feel genuinely like it was worth the time.
There seem to be three views on Shiki that I have commonly encountered:
- It’s boring and nothing happens.
- It reignites classic horror.
- It’s a great character piece that then throws itself under a bus for a gore filled ending.
The problem is you can’t actually disagree with any of these positions as you can see the reasoning for each. I loved Shiki. I fell in love with the characters and the community of Sotoba and the way the individual struggles play out even while the horror slowly consumes the village. I feel there’s a lot we can take from this in terms of the way we all get too involved in our own individual problems and lose sight of the bigger picture, much to our detriment and the detriment of the world at large.
Shiki is a slow burn but well worth the wait.
I also think they did a pretty good job of interweaving these stories and cutting between them so that we had a feeling of being in this village and experiencing the different perspectives of those who knew early on what was going on but were not believed and those who knew but denied what was happening, and finally those who remained in the dark until it was too late.
So here is my attempt at reviewing Shiki; examining the good and the bad and ultimately my reason why I would strongly recommend this as at least a once watch to anyone who enjoys a good horror story.
Shiki has a really large cast. You have the elderly villagers who either sit gossiping at the bus stop or go about their jobs. You have the children and teens trudging to school or pursuing their individual dreams. You have the police, the council, the doctor and his nurses, the tradesmen, the priests and on and on it goes. What I love is that despite the small amount of time devoted to these characters, they seem genuine. You feel like you could go to this village and meet these people.
Natsuno shines as the teen dragged from the city by his parents. His only desire is to finish school and get into college so he can leave the village. His cold views and analysis of other characters regularly puts him on the wrong side of an argument but he is a fascinating character to watch, particularly in the latter half of the series.
Muroi and Ozaki as the priest and the doctor to a wonderful job of creating opposing moral views on how to deal with the invasion of the village. Both ideals are flawed and neither side is really willing to compromise leading to the very tragic events at the end of the series. It’s interesting that Ozaki seems like the voice of reason for so much of the series but by the end becomes completely consumed by violence and Muroi who tries to sit on the fence is pushed into actions against other humans even as he realises he is in the wrong.
There are also some fantastic performances by the vampires (sorry, shiki) but it’s hard to really get into those characters without giving the plot away too much and in a horror/mystery you really don’t want to know too much about where it is going. That said, one of them does get a listing on my top 5 anime characters that creep me out so if you aren’t caring about spoilers, check that out.
But if the characters are the strength of the series, they are also what ultimately bring it down. The journey you go with these characters is long and you feel you know them, so as reason is tossed aside and they become involved in increasingly violent acts it can make you uncomfortable. Characters who are set up as good or nice meet tragic ends for no other reason than to play on the audience’s emotions and barbaric characters are seemingly glorified at times.
As for the main cast members, none of them could actually be described as the hero of the piece. They are all just deeply flawed humans acting in their own self interest. While there is a great message in that, it does leave the audience with no one to really support during the final stages of the anime as even Natsuno and Ozaki, arguably the lead characters for the kids and the adults respectively, pursue their own vendettas in the finals episodes.
I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers but the set-up involves a family of vampires (obvious to the audience from the start) have moved into the village and are using its isolated nature to their advantage as they believe no one would notice if the entire village became a vampire village. One by one the humans are dying and while at first they believe it is the work of an unusually hot season and then an epidemic, some members of the village begin to suspect more is going on.
This is a slow burning story that spends a lot of time building atmosphere and doesn’t try to do jump scares or excessive violence (until the ending – then it is the definition of excessive). Creepy music, long pauses, and dialogue full of double meanings abound while actual evidence is slow coming during the first half of the series.
The doctor’s exploration of the Shiki and their nature is incredibly cold and will have you questioning his humanity while the priest’s naïve attempt at bridging the gap between humans and shiki is equally doomed to fail. The kids just want to escape and the other adults just want to continue as they always have.
Once it is finally established that vampires are in fact present in the town, there is a dramatic shift in both tone and pacing. Time is divided between the various human characters and the vampires and their actions. The similarities between the two sides are continually emphasised.
Humans are faced with the prospect of killing their former loved ones (re-killing?) and the vampires are faced with the thought that they will need to kill, potentially their loved ones, to live. It is here we find the horror of Shiki. The questioning of the audience about what is right in such a situation. This is far more effective than any slaughter filled horror where vampires appear and devour their prey before being taken out in a shower of blood.
That said, early on you wonder why the characters are so slow to realise what is happening. You wonder what the end game could be. You also begin to wonder why the occasional absurdity is thrown in (such as the vampire run funeral which leaves the family of the deceased speechless). These moments that break the mood and disrupt the flow are frustrating. As is the ending itself. And while I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t already read about it or watched it, it just feels like they couldn’t think of any way to satisfactorily resolve the conflict.
I’ve already kind of discussed the village and its setting. The visuals are fantastic but the whole show leans towards a dark colour palette, so with the exception of Megumi and Chizuru’s outfits, don’t expect much in the way of colour. The opening song is suitably creepy and the time skips forward and back are quite effective for showing multiple perspectives on events, and shining new light on events that you had already seen.
The entire anime is very much about building atmosphere and it is here that Shiki excels. The isolated setting, the sleepy pacing and creeping sense of horror, and the music all work together to weave together a fairly tight viewing experience with only a few moments that really break the flow.
I loved Shiki. I get why other people may find it boring and may dislike the ending. But for me, it was a great journey and gave me plenty to think about, and really, I can’t think of ending that would have been satisfying because it wasn’t that kind of anime. There wasn’t ever going to be a hero to swoop in and save the day, and if one had, it would have kind of invalidated everything that came before it.
What are your thoughts on Shiki? Or, what are some horror anime that have really worked for you?
Images from: Shiki. Dir. T Amino. Daume. 2010.
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