Friday, February 18, 2011

Shiki – Review

Director: Tetsuro Animo

First aired: 2010

Contains spoilers

At first glance Shiki – or corpse demon – seems to be rather like ‘Salem’s Lot. Vampires (known as Shiki in this) move into a house overlooking a small town/village and take over, turning the townsfolk into vampires.

However, once you start watching this – which was a 22 episode series – you realise that there is more to it. The method of takeover is different as not everyone rises as a shiki, the motivations are different and the human protagonists, whilst sharing some traits with those in the Lot, have vastly different motivations.

The first episode concentrates on a young girl called Megumi (Haruka Tomatsu) and, at the head of the episode, the locals are searching the woods for her. We then cut back in time. We discover that she hates living in the village of Sotoba, feeling that it is a backwoods town full of yokels. Whilst they talk of jizou statues that have been vandalized (making the insertion of the vampires easier, we can note) she has only two important things in the village. One is the European styled house that has been built overlooking the village. The other is Natsuno (Kōki Uchiyama), a boy moved there from the city. Although he hates the village too, he pays her no regard. The village itself is described as isolated and seems easily cut off from the outside world.

There is a small hamlet some distance from Sotoba and the cops have been called out. Only three people lived there and all three are dead. Two are dismembered and pretty decomposed – the police are thinking wild dogs might have attacked them. The mystery is that the third is not decomposed and evidently lived with the bodies for some time before expiring herself. During this scene we meet Toshio (Tōru Ōkawa) who runs the Ozaki clinic and is the village’s main doctor and also Seishin (Kazuyuki Okitsu), the temple’s junior monk and part time (and successful) novelist. These two went to school together and are main human protagonists in the story.

the Kirishikis
The family who run a roadside restaurant, on the outskirts of the village, are awakened when a moving truck stops and the driver hammers on the door. The driver is Tatsumi and he is moving the Kirishiki family to the house above Sotoba, but has become lost and asks for direction. The family consist of Sheishirou, the father, Chizuru, the mother, and Sunako (Aoi Yūki), the daughter. Mother and daughter are vampires but claim to suffer from systemic lupus erythematosus and thus are unable to go out in sunlight. It later transpires that Sunako is the vampire leader and she chose the village as she is a fan of Seishin’s novels.

finding Megumi
Megumi hears that the family have moved in and decides to meet them as she hopes to be accepted by those who seem more sophisticated than her family and neighbours. When she doesn’t return home at dark, search parties are sent for her and she is found, barely conscious, showing signs of anaemia and suffering from a few insect bites. Rather than get better, however, she becomes more and more languid and eventually dies. After more and more villagers mysteriously die Toshio starts to believe that, rather than an epidemic, he is dealing with vampires. The name Shiki is used by Seishin for a specific undead type that he was putting in his next novel (a Cane and Abel type story) and is adopted as a term by Sunako.

Seishin and Sunako
The lore is interesting. These vampires burn in the sun and can be destroyed by stake or decapitation. Their bite allows them to give hypnotic commands to their victims (victims are told to quit their jobs at first, especially those who commute, and later told to insist their family take them to the new clinic the vampires set up rather than Toshio’s and to use the new funeral home rather than the temple) however only the first vampire to bite someone can issue commands. They use this hypnosis at times to gain entrance to buildings as they must be invited.

Turning is almost random, some people will turn and others will not. We see one Shiki attack her entire family (all related to her husband) and not one of them rise to be with her – this indicates a genetic propensity to rising. Megumi refuses to attack her own family as she will not risk spending eternity with them. The town is unusual in that they bury their dead rather than cremate them (as is standard in Japan) and thus have a folklore concerning risen corpses.

beyond the window
At first Tatsumi is the one who digs up the risen as he can smell, through the grave, whether someone will rise or decompose. He is a jinrou – he starts to liken it to being a werewolf but breaks that explanation off – that are depicted as a day-walking Shiki, very rare, who have abilities due to their nature (if they feed) but can also integrate into human society and eat normal food.

A bite
Toshio discovers much about the Shiki when his wife is killed and turns. He experiments upon her and this is one of the genius things about the series. At first the Shiki are portrayed as monsters, they come out of the night feeding on humans and destroying the fabric of the village’s society to create a place for Shiki (incidentally we discover that there are teams of Shiki sent to a nearby city to abduct prey that won’t be missed). However, Toshio has to become a monster himself, and watch the townsfolk who mount a resistance become monsters too, in order to defeat the vampires.

It is within these depths – character and cultural – that this veers massively away from what was done in ‘Salem’s Lot and also within the lore, because not everyone will rise (in fact comparatively few do) the manner of takeover is different. There were a couple of moments that needed expanding on. I don’t want to spoil them as they involve main characters but, occasionally, something will have happened without explanation and we are left to guess how a character survived (or didn’t) a cliff-hanger. Talking of which, there was an interesting structure that would sometimes cross-cut scenes but at others leave a cliff-hanger and then ignore it for an episode or two and then cut back in time to show you what happened on that particular thread.

stylised artwork
This was a great anime – up there with the best of them. The artwork is fantastic throughout and often moves into a stylised form that was rather lovely to look at. A couple of minor annoyances but well worth your time.

8.5 out of 10.

At the time of review there is no imdb page.


Zahir Blue said...

I'm intrigued. Thanks for the head's up!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I've actually re-watched over the last couple of days and it is as good next time round.

Cklaighe said...

Very good anime... What first attracted me to watch this is because Buck Tick sang their opening song.. After the first episode i was completely hooked... I thought the vampire concept will turn me off... But it dwell deeply to human psychology which was really good.

They could have given Natsuno-kun more screen time onced he tranformed. XD

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Key Aileen, I agree that nstduno could have had more time on screen - indeed there are other aresa that could have been expanded - though it doesn't detract from how good the whole was.

Inside Lynna said...

i like this anime~!! so cool!

Inside Lynna said...

i like this anime~! :D the story line was great..

Taliesin_ttlg said...

thanks for stopping by Songstress Lynna, I agree, a great storyline