- 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