The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Shiki

Title: Shiki
Genre: Drama
Company: Doumu
Format: 22 episodes + 2 bonus episodes
Dates: 8 Jul 2010 – 30 Dec 2010

Synopsis: The village of Sotoba, nestled in the rural mountainside, is home to around 1300 people. It’s a quiet, peaceful place until suddenly one August people start dying. The first to notice the strange pattern is the local doctor, Ozaki Toshio. Rumours start to gather of an epidemic sweeping the town, causing death after death. Ozaki’s inability to save his patients or understand the disease leads him towards an alternate theory, one that involves the Shiki, and he is not the only one who thinks so.

The Highlights
Cast: Immense and handled deftly.
Characters: Each with their own personality and motivations.
Horror factor: Creepy first half, more dramatic second half.
Art and animation: Superb.

Shiki is a series that does a lot right. The first and most obvious of these would be excellent art design, which quickly sets the tone. The series makes excellent use of contrast and colour distortion, combining this with a soundtrack of eerie vocals to create a creepy atmosphere. These are enough to treat the senses on their own, but beneath the high production values lies an intricate story that forms the biggest success of Shiki. What starts out as a horror story with disturbing imagery soon warps into a drama on life, death and morality.

The premise itself is fairly simple: The story draws on traditional horror models, but what sets Shiki apart is the way the story is presented, piece by piece, from the perspective of several different characters, a strategy that quickly reminded me of Monster. Shiki manages to weave together several concurrent timelines overlapping a huge number of characters and yet fits everything into place. Like with Monster, what ultimately draws me in is not the story alone, however, but the characters trapped inside it.

Ono Fuyumi, who also wrote the original novels for The Twelve Kingdoms and Ghost Hunt, has a wonderful way of writing characters. In Shiki, she is able to give each one a unique personality, background and motivations that make the village feel very alive and interconnected. Even minor characters play key roles and feel like real people with real dilemmas. To anchor the large cast, the main focus is placed on two investigative teams, one a group of teenagers trying to come to terms with what is happening around them and the other the village doctor Ozaki and his friend Muroi Seishin. Despite being best friends since childhood, Muroi and Ozaki approach the situation from completely different perspectives, Muroi the social and theological and Ozaki the scientific and medical. Ozaki makes a point of studying the physiological aspects of the Shiki and their victims, which helps the tale feel grounded in reality and highlights the mentality of many of the villagers who refuse to believe that the Shiki could exist.

At first, the villagers’ inability to forsake the reality that the know and understand prevents many from being able to properly grasp the situation they are in. However, as the story progresses and awareness of the Shiki increases, moral questions come into play. Unlike many other stories featuring the undead, Shiki retain their memories and personalities; the choice to kill, on both sides, is not an easy one.

Some of the plot elements and themes of the later part of the series are further explored in two bonus episodes released after the original airing which fit inside the story’s timeline. They give more focus to some of the secondary characters, exploring their personal struggles and reactions to what is happening around them. These additions clarify elements of the climax, but the show’s ending still feels abrupt. Most of the storylines and character arcs are resolved, but in a very sudden way that left me wanting more of a denouement. This, along with a few scenes that border on melodrama and one character, Koide Natsuno, who comes across as too perfect, constitute the main flaws in an otherwise outstanding series. Shiki is a tale with a grand scale and large cast that manages tell very personal stories. The excellent pacing creates great suspense and makes this a really enjoyable watch.

 

The Rating: 9
9/10

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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