- Genre: Horror, drama, psychological
- Episodes: 22
- Studio: Daume
Sotoba is your typical little rural village. Quiet, isolated, sleepy. Nothing much ever happens in Sotoba. As far as a teenager like Megumi is concerned, it’s the worst place in the world. There’s no nightlife, no style, no thrills, in a word it’s boring and Megumi cannot wait until the day she can finally leave for the big city. The only thing even remotely interesting in Sotoba is Yuuki, the son of the carpenter, and he also wants out of the village as quickly as possible. However, things in Sotoba are about to get a lot more…exciting. Megumi is going to learn that you should be careful what you wish for.
I have said many times that there aren’t that many horror animes and people keep gently pointing out that just because I don’t know about something, it doesn’t mean that thing doesn’t exist. As such, because I’m nothing if not original, in the runup to Halloween, I’ve decided to explore the horror anime genre a bit more with four titles the internet assures me fall into the category. Namely, The Flowers of Evil, Mononoke, Hellsing and Shiki.
I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one, I liked Shiki. I liked it a whole lot. And now I’m staring like an idiot at my keyboard because I am really not sure why.
Visually, Shiki is of the most “anime” looking series I’ve seen in awhile. It has a certain classic shoujo look to it, which seems to clash with the brutal narrative. This said it’s very distinctive and exaggerated. The people of Sotoba seem to be suffering for extreme malnutrition as half of them are so skinny it seems unlikely they still have all their internal organs and there is a serious case of anime hair going around. Whether or not this style appeals to you is going to be up to your personal tastes. I didn’t hate it, and then it grew on me. Quality wise, it’s quite good with detailed images, nice rich colors and impossible but aesthetically pleasing proportions. Some angles do look a little awkward at times, and Megumi’s character, which is used for obvious fanservice, has a miraculously shape shifting chest, but otherwise the art is very consistent.
The designs are stellar. Every character is unique looking and very recognizable. Moreover, the town is beautiful and almost character unto itself. I was particularly taken with the layout of the Ozaki clinic. I know that a lot of anime settings are based on real places and if it’s the case here, I need to book my ticket now. And how is it that so many of these villagers are so ridiculously stylish. I’m not sure where they are getting such epic swag in this little rural town cause I have trouble finding suitable cosplay pieces in one of the largest cities in North America.
The animation on the other hand is a little stilted and surprisingly minimal. They make it work quite well but I do believe there could have been some spectacular action scenes had there been more time(?), budget(?). It was the one technical aspect that was really a letdown. However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the voice acting was spectacular. Everything came together so well. Every single character was perfectly cast and the voice directing was on point as every actor delivered measured, pitch perfect and powerfully emotional performances. Rarely have I been this impressed with an entire cast. I wrote down “great voice acting” about 6 separate times in my notes. In fact the only other note was “cool hair”…
So yeah, Shiki is a well constructed anime and that certainly is a reason to like it but is it enough. Not for me. Un-Go was a technically proficient anime and we all know how that turned out. Well…actually very few people know.
In an attempt to figure out what so fascinated me about this show, I did something I never do and read a bunch of reviews before writing this. I avoid this practice as a rule because I have no strength of convictions and I would totally just immediately agree with the last review I read and subconsciously plagiarize it. In this case however, I stand apart. Although most people do seem to really like this show, just as I do, their reasons for doing so don’t quite mesh with me.
I have seen over and over that the characters are complex and engaging. And while they are well crafted and interesting, they are also somewhat archetypical. I’m not sure any single one really stands out. What was more striking for me is that Shiki is truly an ensemble cast. It’s difficult to point to a single protagonist and whoever you choose there will be a substantial amount of episodes where that character is not present. Rather, everyone works well together. Each personality is given a foil, people interact for the most part logically and as dramatic as it gets, they avoid getting grating and hysterical. It got to the point where my favorite character list was just about the entire roster.
Another recurrent praise for Shiki is that it goes beyond the normal horror story to really make you question morality and the nature of good and evil. Again, I found this aspect meh… This particular genre of horror (and I am not telling you what it is even though every single synopsis spoils it… and it’s pretty obvious if you’re familiar with the lore. But if you manage to go in blind, there is a cool little mystery before the reveal) pretty much always questions morality and humanity (did you forget what the beginning of this sentence was? I know I did). For my money, you can get the same thing but better in this movie. (Spoiler and I haven’t seen the US remake.) Sure, the final episodes were more graphic than we might be use to, but really, what else could you expect. And it’s nothing you wouldn’t see in a WW2 movie or a …history class.
What Shiki did do very well is: atmosphere. And not that usual “dark” jumpy atmosphere either. Shiki expertly captured the feeling of small town blues together with that special type of claustrophobia that comes from feeling trapped in a situation or feeling like you’re running out of time. You can feel just as imprisoned when you have nowhere to run to. As the episodes drift by, you start to taste the villagers’ despair. Their frantic need to pretend that everything is normal because the alternative would simply be inconceivable. It’s not that they can’t leave but they lack the imagination to presume an existence anywhere else. Their ultimate blind rage once willful ignorance is no longer an option is both terrifying and all too understandable. I honestly felt for these people. I empathized even if I couldn’t necessarily relate. Shiki brilliantly manages to present a completely insane situation in a very logical way and that certainly is impressive.
You could probably make a case for a study of the science versus faith argument, or the limits and responsibilities of medicine, but I stopped paying attention to the philosophical undertones around episode 10 and just got carried away by the story. I am pretty certain that there was some point made about “God” but it went way over my head. Fact is once the action revs up, it’s all-encompassing and pushes everything else aside. There are no wasted scenes or filler episodes, you will be firmly glued to the edge of your seat.
But is it scary? I mean the whole point of the exercise was to find some nice frightening horror anime for seasonal fun! Well yes it is, although a more accurate word may be “intense”. After a certain point, maybe around episode 6(?), pretty much every single second of the show keeps you in merciless suspense without a single break in the tension. It’s been a long time since such a short series took me so long to get through but Shiki was impossible to binge. You just need to exhale at some point. If we’re talking straight up jump scares, checking under the bed before going to sleep (let’s be honest, making my dog check), then I think Another was scarier, but Shiki is the better anime. It gets under your skin and lingers. I would say this series is split evenly between drama and horror. I would also say that it is one of the best examples of the genre (along with that movie up there) and definitely worth your time.
Random thoughts: I honestly thought Shiki was a real word that I had heard many times before. Also, it was the first time I had ever seen those japanese caskets with a window for the face, for some reason this really marked me. Most important: No puppies get hurt!!!!! Huge respek to the authors for not resorting to that old trick.
I ended up not being able to choose a favorite character so instead here’s a list of spinoffs I would watch:
- A Slice of Life featuring Natsuno’s parents in college
- A gritty action drama of Mr. Tatsumi’s adventures
- A coming of age shonen of young Seishin (he was cool in the one flashback but seems to have lost his personality along the way)
- An odd couple RomCom of Toshio and Kyoko
- A straight sequel of Akira and Kaori (They were both so kickbehind while remaining completely believable kids)
Friends don’t let friends drink by themselves.
Suggested drink: Blood and Sand
- Every time we see a puppy – take a sip
- Every time anyone is waiting for the bus – take a sip
- Every time someone dies – take a minute
- Every time Natsuno doesn’t want to be called “Natsuno” – take a sip
- Every time Natsuno sees Megumi – take a sip
- Every time Muto is a sweetheart – raise your glass
- Every time Masao is being a creep – take a sip
- Every time Ozaki finds insect bites – nod
- Every time Toshio and Seishin have a talk – take a sip
- Every time we see Mr. Tatsumi – get ready
- Every time someone is bedridden – stretch
55 thoughts on “Shiki – Countdown to Halloween”
I enjoyed Shiki, though there were definitely times early on in the series where the pacing felt overly slow. Once the series got underway it worked for me, though the last arc left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it was horrifying, but it was a very different type of horror, the “is this really ‘right” and “who’s the real monster” type of horror. Personally I believe the humans had no recourse, but it’s easy to see how the “others” reached a point where they felt they had no choice, and as others mentioned, the manner in which the humans retaliated had its own horror to it.
I do think the characters are a strong aspect of this series. Each character has their own journey, which is really impressive considering how large the cast is. I particularly enjoyed the priest character, and his struggles with the moral ambiguity of the situation.
Well ultimately both sides are in fact Human and act and think in very human ways so it’s easy to sympathize.
I really enjoyed Shiki, despite not being a big fan of horror. The series felt like an old Stephen King novel turned into an anime.
I hadn’t thought of that but that’s a great description
This show was crazy but I liked it.
Pretty much my thought exactly
I’ve only seen one episode of Shiki (the first). I wasn’t in the mood and decided to come back later, which I never did. It’s possible I’d like it a lot, but somehow my motivation to watch it isn’t that high. Your post gave me a better idea of the show (since you’re saying different things than usual), but it still doesn’t really make me want to watch the show more.
I’d guess that I’d like it more than Another at the very least, but that’s not hard, since I didn’t like Another much. Early on it felt like it was trying too hard to be creepy, and then it went into a different direction anyway. The early atmosphere worked for a lot of people, but it never drew me in, and as a result my first impression of the show was one of atrificiality. At least I was never disappointed in the way others seem to have been.
I quite liked Flowers of Evil, but I was initially surprised to see it on a list of horror shows. It fits, I suppose. I’ve never seen Mononoke, whch a lot of people like a lot (and those who don’t seem to not have seen it, like me). Hellsing… well, I watched it, because at the time I’d watch any anime that appeared on TV if the time-slot was accessible. I’m completely neutral about it, but I expect you to like it more than I did, since you seem to have enjoyed Drifters. I’ll see what you think when the posts come.
Horror is generally a genre I like moderately rather than love, and it doesn’t seem to mix that well with anime, though there are some gems out there. If you can find it, Mermaid Forrest might be worth a watch (it’s Rumiko Takahashi’s take on the genre, and, IMO, her typical character types work much better here than in comedy.)
Hmmm, the first episode is not very representative but it I have a feeling this is a love it or hate it show… Yes I did like Hellsing but it has very little to do with Drifters…
Hellsing/Drifters are both based on manga by the same person.
Yes they are But my reasons for liking Hellsing are very…specific…
Which, I assume, I will learn about when the post comes up. (By comparison, my reasons for not liking either Hellsing or Drifters [but not hating them either], are fairly generic, and have to do with “flavour” [they have a similar one, to me]. They’re also ill thought-out, so I can’t explain. Basically, I think I just don’t click with the author.)
I found that Hellsing Ultimate is much more reminiscent of Drifters (I guess it would be the other way around..) than Helsing the older.. But yeah – silly gore basically.
Hellsing Ultimate is also the more popular series, as far as I can tell. I haven’t seen it. Sometimes, I just don’t click with an author and can’t put my finger on why. I usually don’t feel like finding out why, because that would involve reading/watching more than I’d like, and I’d probably end up with an aversion I don’t yet have. And it’s more difficult when the author in question is filtered through a variety of directors/writers, anyway.
I love that you made a drinking game for this anime! I might actually do this one. I’m not too experienced with horror anime, having only really watched “Another” which I loved. That didn’t really have a lot of jump scares and I liked that and I think I’ll definitely give this a go, based on your recommendation 🙂
Awesome! I hope you do. It’s a pretty unique experience if nothing else.
For spin-offs, Akira and Kaori should just become vampire hunters and find another villages being plagued by the undead. It would be fantastic.
Like older and disillusioned, probably a little PTSD…
Seems like you have a great Halloween lineup and what a great start! I just reatched this one with my mom and brother so it’s very fresh in my mind. I love how Shiki basically starts as a character driven medical drama with some side stories before diving head first into its true story. It feels really good the way it was done, even if it is painfully obvious what is really going on quite early.
In case you were wondering, for me Shiki is good for a few reasons. The above plays a part, but it’s more about themes, the sound track, and in the end nobody was “right” in what they did. It’s one of those times where an anime was far more than expected and such a wild ride for me, and I didn’t even go in blind. Thanks for the review 🙂
Thank you, although I beg to differ with your view. To me there was clearly a “right” side even though execution could have been better… But that’s what a great show does, it lends itself to interpretation
No problem 🙂 You think? I’m open to hearing your thoughts.
Well the way I see it, one side invaded a territory and started indiscriminately exterminating everyone there just to make it more comfortable for themselves… We know they don’t *need* to kill to survive even as it is and moreover no effort seems to have been made to find some type of alternative means of sustenance or middle ground.
On the other hand, the other side is literally fighting for survival against a enemy that attacked first and is bent on eliminating every last one. Most creatures have a survival imperative so yeah – eventually they’re gonna fight back. Could it have been done a bit more bloodlessly, maybe, though I’m not entirely sure what options they had. Biologically speaking, if they were an entire species, they’re numbers would have been reduced to the point of inevitable extinction by the climax…
I get that, I have thought about how they would get to a middle ground but the thing is that I don’t think that resolution would be possible. Both sides did bad things but I think both sides were justified in their actions.
So… how do you figure the shiki are justified?
They’ve experienced persecution and exile from humanity for such a long time (some longer than others). I mean think about it, at some point you would stop sympathizing with people too in that situation. Regardless though, they just wanted a place where they could live in peace. Obviously, not applicable to every Shiki, but the livestock example (though clichéd) is a good one too. I mean it really isn’t that different but that is a weaker argument.
I’m not sure what the livestock argument is but if it’s that it’s ok to exterminate animals cause yum – you’re probably not talking to the right person…
I also don’t think the fact that they don’t care about humans anymore is much of a justification. Historically, we’ve seen humans try to exterminate groups of people because they didn’t consider them as “people” and I personally wouldn’t call them justified… There’s a big difference between understandable and justified mind you (to me – I don’t English too good though)
As for the food thing, that’s exactly the argument the show presents. They can only survive off of the blood of humans, so it is no different than a human eating a pig. It’s the weaker argument but it is reasonable.
Well in the Shiki’s case the humans no longer consider them people (some do of course) so it goes both ways there. In this case there is literally no difference.
Any way, I decided to make a fun Twitter poll to see what people think about it because I thought that would be interesting 🙂
The argument is presented i a biased manner though as it comes from an interested party… The series does go out of it’s way to show that they can easily feed without killing. In fact if they just visited different folks every other night, no one would have probably even figured anything out. Probably would have been a pretty boring show…
Yes and no. It’s not so black and white. It is implied that they could maybe do that but even in the flash backs when the little girl attacked people only once they still died. So the show actually makes it pretty ambiguous in that regard. Like I said though, it’s not like that couldn’t work for some of them but as an overall group that appears to not be the norm at least.
Shiki truly is a great anime. I also would like to emphasize the power of the soundtrack – Yasuharu Takanashi did a fantastic job helping to establish the right suspenseful atmosphere.
That music was so creepy
Great minds, indeed! 🙂
Love the review, you have such interesting thoughts and raise some good points.
Out of curiosity, was that Hellsing you’re watching, or Hellsing Ultimate?
Hellsing the classic – post will be up later this week. I am *currently* watching ultimate! oh boy….
Ah… (pause to find something to say) …good luck! 😛
Considering I’ve only got one episode left – I might survive….
Ah, so the trauma is mostly over already! 😉
It will probably come as a pretty big surprise that I love horror 😂 Seriously though have never heard of this one, but it sounds like a cool series. Adding this one to my list. The horroranime that I so far have enjoyed the most is Another. It’s creepy atmosphere is truly terrifying. This though also sounds awesome, great post! 😀
I really did enjoy it a lot. It has a more classical horror feel than Another, which I would consider more modern, but the impact is still undeniable. If you do get a chance to watch, please tell us all what you think!
I will do my best 😊 Currently in the middle of way too many shows already. But after I have completed a few I will try and find this one to watch and post a review for it 😊
I’m in the same boat…life is sooo difficult!
Just letting you know: I commented on two of your posts today, but the comments probably went straight to your spamfilter: it has happened to me before (wrote a post on it today), and already another blogger found three of my comments there. So in case you are wondering why I did not place a comment: I did lol 😂
When I think of Shiki, the word horrifying comes to mind rather than scary. It felt like a study on how horrible people can be and the final scenes where the village burns down? That still haunts me.
I find myself thinking back on this show a lot. Granted I finished it about 2 weeks ago but I have the feeling it’s going to stay with me for a while…
I would say there was plenty scary about Shiki, but done in a more subtle way than most slasher films do. I mean, it might be frightening to see a monster coming for your head, but it’s plenty unnerving to walk into a spider’s web too. That’s what it felt like watching Shiki, like it took that feeling, when you feel the web on your skin, and increased it bit by bit. 🙂
I’m not usually scared easily, slasher or otherwise. Shows like Shiki appeal to me because, well, like you said, it’s a person walking into a spiders web because of their own foolishness and having no way out.
This sounds cool! I have like zero experience with horror anime either, but I like the sound of this one as certain aspects remind me of some Japanese horror games that I have enjoyed, the most notable of which is Corpse Party.
Corpse Party does a similar thing to what you describe here in that it subverts expectations somewhat with the way it looks. The game itself looks like a SNES-era RPG with close-up, “very anime” portraits of its main characters, who are all, of course, impossibly young and attractive, even the teacher. It then proceeds to brutalise pretty much every one of them by its conclusion, and does so without always resorting to graphic horror. In fact, the most horrific scenes in the game are just text, flashes of colour and sound effects.
I’ve written a few bits and bobs on the subject here if you’re interested to know more: https://moegamer.net/all-games/corpse-party/
Corpse party was a cute game but I wouldn’t compare it to Shiki. It goes for a completely different horror genre. I haven’t seen the OVA adaptations mind you.
The Corpse Party OVA, Tortured Souls, is brutal. Not only is it incredibly graphic, but the number of deaths quickly becomes excessive. I loved the first episode for its atmosphere, but overall it is a rough series. At one point I got the distinct impression that the series skipped over a large portion of the narrative. Two characters seem to uncover a way of “reducing” the danger, and then it almost immediately cuts to one of them referencing the “last one”.
It has some interesting elements, but I would not expect too much, and probably pair it with something stronger and less graphic, as a chaser.
You know, Corpse Party was so overboard that I eventually couldn’t help but find it kinda funny…
I’ve heard that’s actually a mental defense mechanism we have, to prevent the negative emotions from building too high.
Makes me think of Higurashi, which chose, I think wisely, to alternate between horror and levity so that audiences could recover, and fear when the horror would return. 😁