According to the wiki site for the series, the – er, Shiki WIki, “The Shiki anime series is an adaptation of the Shika manga series drawn by Ryu Fujisaki, which is itself an adaptation of a novel series of the same name by Fuyumi Ono. The story is about a small town in rural Japan named Sotoba, where a series of bizarre deaths occur, coinciding with the arrival of the Kirishiki family who has just moved into a castle built on the outskirts. Toshio Ozaki dean of the only hospital in Sotoba, begins to investigate and discovers there are supernatural presences at work, namely vampires, who are called shiki, translated in English as “corpse demon”.“
Despite clinging to conventional Western stereotypes about fictional vampires (stakes, crosses, amulets and sunlight) I found it to be a surprisingly refreshing take on the vampire genre, albeit a very graphic one. This series is clearly not aimed at the same sort of audience as earlier series of vampire anime, such as Vampire Knight, Rosario to Vampire. It is even markedly different to Dance In The Vampire Bund, of the same year. While it has occasional comic relief, it is a dark, serious anime, with many of the characters offering introspective insight into their being, making the entire project a deep adult and disturbing affair of Nietzschean proportions.
The vampires in general reveal through their own thoughts and experiences how they too are victims, display emotions such as sorrow, terror and even horror at their own being. Nevertheless they mostly end up being slaughtered without mercy by the towns people anyway. Their cries for help and escape bid towards the end of the series is perhaps the most disturbing part of the tale for me. Watching episode 20.5 was darkly fascinating as I saw the townspeople, men and women staking and slaughtering defenseless vampires, one after the other, as they discussed trivialities such as lunch and snacks, eating with blood stained hands. This series – and in particular that episode, left me wondering who the real monsters were.
The doctor waits for his dead wife to turn, and although she never harmed anyone as a vampire, he just tortures her to death on video as he experiments with ways to kill vampires. He reveals a streak of cruelty a mile wide. It is at this point that my loyalties in the movie shifted from the townspeople to the vampires. Perhaps that may surprise you, but even as a Vampyre I understand the dynamics of fiction versus reality and good guys versus bad guys. Just fighting for a presumably good cause is not enough for me – ultimately how you fight for that cause is what defines the cause itself.
In episode 20.5 the vampires have taken refuge from the townspeople in an underground pipeline, making them in effect, helpless. From there they are dragged one by one into the sun and brutally murdered by people determined to show no mercy and who coldly hammer stakes in, or stab the prone figures with sharpened pipes with syringe-like sharpened tips. The animators and story-tellers demonstrate their abject terror as they await their turn, as the townspeople stab them with sharp pipes and wooden stakes. There is blood everywhere, spraying, splashing, forming pools through which everyone tramples and treads. Screams fall on deaf ears. At the close of the slaughter, one man tires of watching vampires penned to the ground writhing in agony in the sun and kills them himself. The others complain, since they were enjoying the sight! I was left wondering whether this was to end their suffering or his own, as he kills the last one – a young woman he knew, before breaking down in tears.
This is a complex story of emotional dynamics. At times it was downright annoying, but overall, the story was interesting enough to keep me hooked all the way through. Yes, the towns people were angered by the loss of their relatives, and yes, to a degree they were fighting for survival and I could sympathize with them to a point – but ironically as it turns out, the vampires scheme crumbles at the crucial moment, and the lambs become raging lions at the slaughter post, with the vampires off-guard, outnumbered and severely stymied by the age-old plot device of vampire movies – the Sun. The mundanes (as is probably typical in reality) give in to fear-mongering, hatred and irrationality associated with their kind. The junior priest was in the end I think the only intelligent representative of compassion in the entire series, as he saw the internal suffering of the vampire leader, an ancient in the form of a child. A vehement passivist, he stays by her side through the hunt and protects her life as they flee from the slaughter together.
One of the main characters, a young man called “Natsuno Yuuki” also turns into a vampire, but spends half the series working with Toshio to exterminate vampires, and in the end, blows himself and another vampire leader to smithereens atop a pile of vampire corpses, in an attempt to erase evidence of “the cleansing”. This comes after the emotionless killing several of his former close friends who had also become vampires. This left a bad taste in my mouth, as I pondered the point of the character and his actions as well as his value to the piece. At the end, the village is burned to ashes by a forest fire, as the surviving villagers rush to try and cover up the evidence of their vampire genocide, to little avail as the flames sweep across the valley. I was left wondering what the point was to the entire story, as the village, most of its inhabitants (including those who were turned into vampires) ended up dead, with apparently few exceptions.
The imagery and graphics are of a high standard, the characters are appropriately cute (or repulsive) according to their design or role. The plot is soundly constructed and reveals itself little by little, rather than being overly predictable like many others. The titles of the episodes, although translated, still manage to allude to death in some ways, according to the design of the creators. This 22 episode series is a spellbinding affair, even though I was not very happy with the way the story ended. I still give it a thumbs up and a 6 out of 10 on my personal scale.