A plague seems to be afflicting the little town of Sotoba; the stricken develop severe anemia and then die. A modern mind has trouble accepting the obvious cause; will someone realize, and rally the citizens (however many remain) before it's too late?
WARNING: SPOILERS!!! I cannot discuss my feelings about this show without describing the plot in much more detail than Aiden did. If your experience of Shiki would be adversely affected by knowing too much of the general scheme of events, please stick to Aiden's original review.
I agree with Aiden that this story of a growing vampire infestation in an isolated village is poorly paced, at least for the first three-quarters of the show; with some judicious editing, the 24-episode story here could have been whittled down to 13 episodes and still have kept the story's essentials. I can also see the resemblances to Salem's Lot that Aiden pointed out. But to me this series is a sincere, but extremely heavy-handed, allegory about total war, with the protagonists here being vampires vs. humans: how such warfare wipes out moral distinctions between the combatants (both the humans and vampires use the situation to settle petty grudges as well as for "loftier" purposes); how it tramples (relative) innocents (some vampires relish being vampires, but many were just stuck with this fate and just want to live- or more precisely, continue to exist); and there's maybe even a bit about the sheer futility of this kind of war as well. There are melodramatic histrionics aplenty here, and yet I couldn't help wondering if this wasn't ultimately another attempt to confront the trauma Japan went through in World War II, when it, too, by turns assumed the roles of hunter and hunted.
Shiki has some of the most grotesque character art I've ever seen. First there's the thing with the eyes. Almost everyone's irises are composed of concentric circles, and some of the irises are elliptical rather than round. (Vampire eyes are typically color-reversed; their "whites" are black, and THEIR concentric circles are a deep blood-red.) Hairstyles, too, are frequently bizarre, with the women's often being outrageous affronts to the force of gravity: one nurse's long hair juts out at crazy angles like some surrealist nightmare (looks like more than a "little dab" of Brylcream was applied); other women (including the doctor's wife) have hairstyles that look more like battle helmets. Many characters are just plain repellent- when we first actually see the vampire resurrection process (kind of Version 1.0, they improve it later), it's through the eyes of a cowardly, whiny character whose face is a common anime stereotype of ugly: thin and angular overall, with a weak mouth, stringy hair, and irises reduced to beads (or perhaps mere pupils.) And it's not just that the character
Well, the doc's unshaven appearance might be justifiable- he's had to put in some long hours, first rather cluelessly trying to deal with this "syndrome" he's seeing (one reason for the show's lethargic first part is that everyone is SO slow to catch on), and then when he finally DOES understand, he's busy trying to pass on the word, which is about as difficult here as it was for, say, Kevin McCarthy in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and for about the same reasons. Well, the doctor is resolute, but I thought he kind of crossed the line from determined to obsessive with his choice of an experimental subject. (This is just one of many subplots here that would be very hard for a sensitive soul to stomach.)
My old political science prof once described the plot of Dr. Zhivago as "two people who just wanted to be left alone." I never read the book (or saw the film), but I get the idea- many people don't WANT to be involved in others' power struggles, they just want to not be bothered. Unfortunately, a vampire (AKA here as okiagari, and also by the title term), by definition, cannot leave you alone, though, interestingly, one or two of them do try. The local "junior priest", Seishin Muroi, wants to nevertheless find another way besides mindless violence; we'll see just how well that works out.
The show plays some annoying games with time. Sometimes it does bother to label flashbacks, but there was one stretch where I was awaiting the outcome of an assassination plan, and then realized that I'd already seen it. I would also very much have liked to have been shown exactly how a certain character was rescued from near-certain vampirization.
Still, Shiki has other virtues besides its willingness to tackle (albeit ham-fistedly) some heavy philosophical issues. While I found the ballads by "Buck-Tick" as bombastic and overwrought as the show's story often was (and therefore certainly a match made in Hell), some of the incidental/background music achieved that nice blend of eerie and melancholy that works well in a show of this kind. Here's something I found VERY interesting: in Shiki, not everyone who dies from a vampire's bite "rises"; some just remain rotting corpses. It turns out that this is heartbreaking for some of our vampires, who hoped that at least some of their victims would join them. (As Aiden noted, we spend quite a bit of time with the vampires, and for most of them the transition to Children of the Night doesn't seem to have changed their personalities much.) As I mentioned, the vampires also find a more efficient system for managing their resurrection, a kind of vampire assembly line. (Nice touch.)
So how do you judge a show like this? After slowly simmering for about three-quarters of the way, it becomes a stew of sentimentality, tragedy, violence, and nihilism, all played as "over the top" as possible. It's completely different from Ghost Hunt, the other creation of Fuyumi Ono that I'm familiar with (and which I thoroughly enjoyed); Ghost Hunt kept a strong moral center, particularly in the character of Mai, and was willing to let that philosophy prevail; Shiki, on the other hand, may have a character or two who takes an absolute moral stand, but we see that taking such a stand is not necessarily compatible with survival; in fact, sometimes there seems to be no stand that IS. There are some deep existential issues here, but they're buried inside a literal bloodbath, and the violence just leaves you enervated after a while. Still, Aiden suggested adding another star if you admired the show's sheer ambition, and I do, so I did. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: If I list every reason why this is adults-only, it may well be as long as my review. It has pretty much everything outside of sex and full nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Partial (24/22)
Shiki © 2010 Fuyumi Ono, Ryu Fujisaki / SHUEISHA, SHIKI Committee
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