The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Shiki

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

Synopsis: During a particularly hot summer in the village of Sotoba, a series of mysterious deaths occurs in conjunction with a strange family moving into the giant western-style mansion nearby. The village doctor, Ozaki Toshio, begins searching for the cause of the deaths, eventually discovering that the village is being taken over by undead creatures similar to vampires. Meanwhile, a young boy, Natsuno Yuuki, searches desperately for a way to put an end to the threat once and for all.

The Highlights
Thrilling suspense: Effective use of cliffhangers and plot turns keep you wanting more.
Art: Unique use of line and high contrast for dramatic effect.
Music: Spiritual at times; like bad eroge BGM at others.
Themes: An amalgamation of Buddhist and Christian symbolism.
Cast: Large enough to give the story scope, but underdeveloped at times.
Character development: Surprisingly static.

Although Shiki possess many of the same traits as vampires of popular culture, it’s difficult to call this a vampire show at times: Shiki is unforgettably Japanese, to the point where these “corpse demons” no longer feel like the vampires familiar to us. I stress this largely because the animation, storytelling, and overall meaning are located at the boundary between East and West. The audio landscape is dotted by lonely, ephemeral vocal notes and the gentle ringing of bells, invoking Buddhist notions of the impermanence in all things. At the same time visually, a strong use of high contrast lighting threatens to wash out the screen, saved only by thick, bold lines and the careful use of shadows to produce diametric contrasts in light and color. Buddhist icons and a church with stained glass windows depicting suspiciously Japanese-looking martyrs are two among many references to religion. Visually, it’s a delightful anime in terms of both symbolism and artistic technique.

Even more importantly, Shiki’s strong point lies in its use of multiple perspective to bring together a sprawling mess of personal stories into an overarching narrative, making good use of its episodic format by placing cliffhangers where it matters. The story itself keeps viewers guessing at the next Shiki victim, or at what the protagonists will do in order to stop the vampiric threat. As fear grips the town, the main characters begin to lose themselves to the point where they would do anything to rid the world of Shiki; the end result is a fiery orgy of murder and violence. The anime is filled with a deep sense of the loss of humanity, told through an allegory to Cain and Abel. Unfortunately, the delivery comes across as being relatively one-sided and heavy-handed in its attempt to drive home a powerful central message.

Despite the philosophically rich material and interesting aesthetic choices, Shiki never reaches full potential. Many of the characters we’re introduced to in the end never see resolution with their personal situations. Characters that could have become major players in the anime end up barely contributing to the plot beyond providing simplistic side stories. In fact, the introduction and lack of development in so many characters severely mitigated the emotional impact at the end: how do we feel sympathy for both human and Shiki when we aren’t given enough time with them? On a different note, the music is sometimes unsuitable. Some tracks have a unique feel that add to the mysterious atmosphere of the series, while others are such simply synthesized melodies it made me wonder if they directly looted the track from an eroge.

Some may consider the story somewhat slow to develop, partially a result of the large cast and some of its distinctly Japanese aesthetic elements, but I certainly don’t hold this against the series. I would easily recommend the anime to all fans of the genre and those interested in a dramatic, plot-heavy show. Higurashi-esque at times and reminiscent of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend toward the end, Shiki is an intellectually stimulating show that grips its viewers with fantastic animation for the most part, producing a thriller that Studio Doumu can be proud of.

The Rating: 8
8/10

Reviewed by: Kylaran

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