Tag Archives: Mystery

An air of the unknown, a puzzle to solve…

Steins;Gate – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Steins;Gate

 

Related: Steins;Gate Burdened Region/Domain of Déjà vu (sequel movie)

Steins;Gate 0 (next series)

Similar: Mirai Nikki

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Erased

Qualia the Purple (manga)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller Drama

Length: 24 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • A superb cast.
  • Complex narrative filled with twists and turns.
  • J. Michael Tatum as Okabe delivers one of anime’s best performances.
  • Great music overall.
  • Actual cinematography.
  • Surprisingly hilarious.

Negatives:

  • Unclear direction to begin with.

I had intended to save Steins;Gate until after clearing all reviews for anime I have already seen, but when a reader requests, I must get on it! (One can never be sure if they are part of The Organisation out to test me!) Having seen Steins;Gate high on multiple rankings, I thought to myself, “It’s probably good, but not that great.” (I had played the visual novel, but the writing was so padded that several hours equates to a couple of episodes and didn’t have time to complete it.) I have found that the ‘Cute Girl Metric’ often indicates the disparity between fandom versus actual quality: The more cute girls in the cast, the worse the show compared to the mouth-foaming fanboyism. (Yes, I do doubt Madoka Magica’s quality, but I am waiting to be proven wrong when I get to it.) Steins;Gate has three; three cute girls doesn’t bode well for quality. Bloody hell was I wrong! Not only are the cute girls most relevant, they have more characterisation than most anime protagonists do.

Steins;Gate tells the story of self-professed mad scientist Okabe and his team’s experimentation with time travel – think Terminator meets The Time Machine. At a speech on time travel by a rival scientist, he meets an auburn-haired girl who says he has a message for her, though they have never met. He finds her dead minutes later. As he texts his friend the news, time and space tears around him and he finds himself transported back to before the professor’s lecture, the girl alive again. His time machine worked, inadvertently. The ingredients to the time machine? A microwave and a phone…

This goofiness with the time machine’s components summarises Steins;Gate’s early, deceptive tone. The atmosphere begins light-hearted, where we meet the rest of the lab members, an eccentric bunch, indeed. One girl only communicates through text message, even when face-to-face. Daru, a tech guy, is the waifu king (“It doesn’t count if I fool around on them with a flesh and blood woman!”) and a colossal pervert, but not of the drooling variety; he prefers the subtle approach, the innuendo style – “Could you repeat that, only slower and in a whisper?” Then there is Mayuri, one of aforementioned cute girls, whose job is team morale and making cosplay. Yeah…not exactly what you think of when you hear ‘crack science team.’ Lastly, an actual scientist turns up in the form of Christina, the auburn girl who is supposed to be dead.

Together, they experiment with time travel by turning bananas to goo and sending text messages back in time. These are fun, lively characters, their eccentricities a pleasure to spend time with – they have to add ‘real name TBA’ after every mention of a wacky invention. Unfortunately, this light-hearted beginning leaves the main conflict out of sight, as if Lord of the Rings said the ring should be destroyed, but doesn’t tell us why until later. (I can’t tell you the conflict as it would mean spoiling much of the pre-conflict events.) However, soldier on and you won’t regret it; besides, the characters are so likeable that they make the wait easy.

Once the conflict is revealed, just…brilliant. Each experiment descends them further and further into chaos with global ramifications. Pay attention with this one, trust me. The narrative gets to a point where you need to juggle several plot threads at once, each similar but for a few anomalies. Steins;Gate has the sort of writer that knows what it means to build the plot, to escalate the conflict – it keeps getting better. Looking back on the many twists and foreshadowing, one can see that they took their time with planning the whole plot before a single scene was shot.

One point of note is the science jargon. Don’t be discouraged if you have no idea what quantum theory and string theory are about; it helps to have the knowledge prior, but the dialogue does a good job of explaining the essentials. If you hear some unknown science speak, just listen to Doctor Who, “…it is more like a big ball of wibbily wobbly timey wimey…stuff.”

As with all time travel, you will find holes in the plot if you think it through. “If they could go back to X time and do A, why not go back to Y time instead and do B? Etc.” That said, Steins;Gate does make an effort to plug many obvious holes with restrictions on travel distance and by use of the many-worlds interpretation as a baseline.

Steins;Gate has so much quality work that I haven’t the space for it all, such as the other aforementioned cute girls. Never mind the clever pop-culture references tailored to Japan or the West depending on the language track. Every time there is a chance for a joke, no matter how minor, they throw one in.

So, not only does Steins;Gate have an intricately woven plot with intense drama and emotion, it’s funny too. Really couldn’t ask for more. Other than greater clarity in the first few episodes, my complaints are too minor to detail. The next series has a great deal of pressure on its shoulders.

Art – High

It is great to see more anime pay attention to camera placement and shot composition these days, and Steins;Gate uses cinematography to excellent effect. I like the art style with plenty of motion – considering the dialogue heavy nature, they could have been lazy and used static pans for most scenes, which they didn’t – but I do wish it had the texturing from the visual novel.

Sound – Very High

The big guns stepped up to the microphone. Okabe’s eccentricities, Daru’s waifu-love, Mayuri’s sweetness, all fantastic, and I feel a large part of that stems from the excellent script and characterisation. I preferred the English dub, as Okabe’s actor delivers an incredible performance – he has a greater range, more subtleties, more nuance, and more crazy. Excellent music with a tense, sci-fi edge. Love the OP.

Story – Very High

A story of time travel that grows more intense with each episode. The characters make Steins;Gate enjoyable; the plot makes their lives interesting.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch, regardless of personal preference. Steins;Gate is something new, something different to the anime medium, so you can never be sure if this isn’t for you until you watch it.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice TrackStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Monster – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Monster

 

Similar: Master Keaton (same creator)

Death Note

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Terror in Resonance

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Thriller Drama Horror Mystery

Length: 74 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Johan, one of the greatest villains in fiction.
  • Every character has nuance and depth beyond the scope.
  • Many threads woven together to create a tense, unforgettable story.
  • Art that evolves as the characters grow over time.
  • Psychological atmosphere brought to life with tense music.
  • An opening sequence that other anime could learn much from.

Negatives:

  • Some unnecessary flashbacks to scenes we just watched last episode.
  • A few episodes muddle the storytelling coherence, but it is clarified later.

Monster is a sombre, twisted look into the life of one man and the events that unfold under his influence. It takes us down into the seedy underbelly of a post-Berlin Wall 1990s Germany, where the country is shaken by the rise of a serial killer.

Our tale starts with Doctor Tenma, a genius neurosurgeon in Düsseldorf. He has it all: the rich fiancée, Eva, the prestige, and the skill. One night, a little boy comes into the emergency room, gunshot to the head, and only Tenma’s ability can save him. Nine years later, a string of murders occurs and sweeps Tenma up into the brutality. The killer is that very same boy from all those years ago, and the murders are the mere tip of his machinations. What would you do if you had saved the life of the next Hitler?

Tenma feels a personal responsibility, especially with how much attention Johan favours him with, a truly messed up connection akin to Dumbledore and Voldemort. To worsen matters, Detective Lunge is on the case and his primary suspect is Tenma, for he has gained much since the murders. Lunge is a bloodhound, hell-bent on solving the case, even at the cost of all personal feelings and livelihood – a darker Sherlock Holmes. He’s the creepy guy you want in charge of your case, but wouldn’t invite over for dinner. I like his strange quirk where he types with his fingers in the air to archive every detail to memory.

The opening sequence sets the tone for Monster without a single word or lyric. Tenma keeps looking over his shoulder at distant, ethereal voices, yet there is never anything around once he looks. He is stalked and alone on his quest for the elusive killer.

The true star of Monster is the villain, Johan, a Hannibal Lecter type. He reveals himself to us early, but for much of the narrative, he remains in the shadows, controlling the events with unparalleled skill. Importantly, his ability to manipulate countless others and their organisations is believable, most prominently when we see him play his game in person. The way Johan manages to understand people, get inside their heads is brilliant, twisted, but brilliant – only one with such little emotion and empathy would be willing to go as far as he does. Whenever Johan is in a scene, it reminds me of Game of Thrones’ Geoffrey; he creates a tension unlike any other, as if he could kill at any moment. Unlike Geoffrey, however, who is a petulant child with the bigger stick, Johan has the subtlety, the patience of a master. He is bred for perfection in appearance and intelligence, and makes full use of that fact.

Monster introduces new characters and plot threads every few episodes. First, it is murder, then serial murder, then the mafia, and just when you think they couldn’t possibly add more, Nazi topics – the perfect race, Hitler’s rise to power, etc. – enter the fold. What it means to kill. Eugenics. Child psychology. More and more, seemingly endless wealth of themes weave into the plot. You must, must dedicate your attention to Monster or you may find yourself lost in its intricate plotting. If you do pay attention, Monster will reward you with nuance and maturity in the characters and themes at a level far beyond the norm.

“I brought him back to life… That monster…I brought him back to life…”

Art – High

Monster sports a more realistic art style than most anime. In fact, one could be forgiven for assuming it is not anime due to its highly detailed depiction of 1990s Germany. The face art may be off-putting at first (those irises are really small), but I grew accustomed within a few episodes. Most impressive, to me, is how well the art conveys the characters’ emotions and personalities. Pay particular attention to Eva and Tenma – he looks like a changed man by the end.

Sound – Very High

Excellent acting is either language, yet the English takes the crown, as the foreign languages (German, Czech, etc.) sound better from the English actors; however, Johan makes the English a must – bone-chilling performance. Great music and ambient sounds like the stalking Predator bring heights of tension and drama – again, some truly creepy songs. My only auditory gripe is with the lack of German accents for many characters, not even a slight one, though they do at least incorporate German mannerisms into dialogue.

Story – Very High

Monster is a once in a decade anime. The writers masterfully wove so many character threads together, filled with a ruthless, human logic that few creators bother to incorporate into their stories. Every character is human, a part of them broken by the hardships of life. Johan is a villain I will never forget.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: I cannot emphasise how much you must watch Monster. That said, I would wait until you have developed a liking for lengthy dramas, or you may miss much of the subtlety that makes Monster unforgettable, as I had in my youth. Remember to pay attention at all times.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Phenomenal VillainPositive Recommended English Voice TrackStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Attack on Titan – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin

 

Related: Attack on Titan Season 2

Attack on Titan OVA (side story)

Similar: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Knights of Sidonia

Tokyo Ghoul

Claymore

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Drama

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The sense of fear.
  • The world and atmosphere.
  • Interesting Titan lore and variety.
  • Incredible action rendered in gorgeous animation.
  • The music is great, from the opening to the tension theme.

Negatives:

  • Battle shounen tropes that slow the pace at inopportune moments.
  • Bland as raw potato protagonist.
  • Poor build-up to twists.
  • Several elements introduced and focused on long before relevance.
  • Poor job of conveying the city’s scope and distance between walls. (Creator doesn’t truly comprehend how big a 480 km radius covers.)

Attack on Titan is a story of fear. Humans live in a constant state of fear, fear of being consumed by Titans, giants that bang on the walls of humanity’s last bastion. One day, a new Colossal Titan appears and smashes through the wall, realising that fear. What an incredible premise – Pacific Rim gone medieval. With such an engaging hook, how can anyone avoid this for long?

And I must say, I am…disappointed.

AoT starts strong with the breach of the outer wall, throwing us straight into the gravity of humanity’s situation. However, after that first tense episode, the pace slows to a crawl as we watch Eren, his foster sister Mikasa, and friend Armin train to become Titan hunters. Wait, so what about the response to the breach? Eh, who cares? It’s more important that we meet a swarm of new characters that have no significance – reminiscent of Pacific Rim’s Chinese Jaeger. This would have been alright if the training weren’t so clichéd. To qualify for combat, recruits must learn to use the ‘Three-Dimensional Manoeuvrability Gear,’ a pneumatic system of firing cables to swing like Spiderman between buildings. The gear is cool. The training for it, not so much. Eren can’t balance properly and faces expulsion from the program. He trains his hardest, yet still fails, but guess what saves him in the end? His belt was faulty… Really? That’s it? The hard-arse drill instructor, a veteran, didn’t consider the fault on day one? And do you want to know why they did this? To show his skill because he maintained balance for some moments despite the fault. That’s right, in Naruto, kids face death to become true ninjas; in Full Metal Alchemist, kids risk their limbs to learn alchemy; in AoT, you have to balance on a bloody swing. Please…stop…the tension…it’s too much…oh no…

How did no one see these episodes and say, “This has no tension; we can do better.” Why not have a Titan, a small one, attack during training and Eren shows unconventional skill? And you want to know the irony of it all? Eren’s gear use is the least important of any character in the series.

This level of poor writing isn’t constant, interestingly enough. No, after the worthless training, once the action kicks in, it’s back to episode one’s quality. Tension, conflict, gruesome violence, creepy as hell manbaby Titans, deaths every few minutes, that animation as they fly around the Titans, all of it, it’s excellent. Then, of course, the drunken writer of the team wakes up to do his part again, and gives us the worst yet, episode ten. In the middle of one tense moment, we have to stop and endure a character’s inner monologue about the obviousness of the trouble they are in – for an entire episode. In a better show, this would take a couple of minutes, or better yet, the resolution would have clever back and forth with the cornered hero.

Once that episode buggers off, it’s great again. That is until the drunkard wakes up again! AoT is a violent anime set in a bleak world where children have no childhood, where the wealthy stomp on the poor even with humanity on the verge of extinction, and where courage is hard to find. Yet, despite this mature look at the world, the writers saw fit to inject trashy battle shounen tropes into the narrative. Take for example, Eren, a character who spends most of his screen time yelling about how much he wants to kill Titans; the rest of the time, he has an inner monologue stating the obvious. When a commander gives a rousing speech to rally the troops, Eren spends several minutes telling us how the commander gave a rousing speech and how determined the troops look. Thanks, Eren, we can already see that on their faces. This happens every few episodes.

There is a moment where a character is in a Titan’s mouth, holding it open, and rather than stab upwards to possibly escape, he must give some heroic speech before dinner. We expect these moments in battle anime – that’s the standard – but here, when they’re trying to convince us of the narrative’s seriousness, it doesn’t match the tone. Did they hire Toriyama or some other rubbish for a few scenes? This coupled with Eren’s stating the obvious gives the impression that the writers think the viewers are idiots – that five-year-old watching Dragon Ball Z who doesn’t know grass is green. Even when writing for a five-year-old one shouldn’t talk down to the audience.

Twists have the same error. Rather than trust the audience and give hints early to bring it all together in that ‘no way!’ moment, we watch several episodes with no clear goal. Then we have the twist, the initiation of the twist thread, and the explanation all at once. Imagine if in The Sixth Sense we’re never told that the kid sees ghosts, and at the end, the kid suddenly says, “I see ghosts and you’re a ghost. Twist!” Sure, it’s a surprising twist, but without something to start with, the red herrings, the diversions, there’s nothing to build on, leaving no impact in the twist.

Now, even with negatives taking up the majority of this review, I found AoT to be a good anime. The Shadow of the Colossus sense of scale, the spectacle, the production value, and the overall atmosphere are well worth your time. I focus on these negatives because they aren’t isolated; I can’t say that block is bad, as in Death Note; I can’t say Monster is slow to start, but once rolling, the issues are minor. No, here, the problems, these obvious problems are peppered throughout. The obviousness is what surprises me the most. A novice editor with a single look at the script would have spotted them.

These problems would likely go unmentioned in a lesser show, overshadowed by bigger issues; however, there is nothing impressive about an Olympian placing first in a high school race. Attack on Titan has such a strong premise and it nails the positives so well that the slightest flaws becoming glaring issues.

Art – Very High

The art and scope is probably what drew most people to Attack on Titan. Animation during action sequences is phenomenal and has raised the bar for future action series. However, a few scenes are panning stills, but these last mere seconds. Excellent atmospheric lighting.

Sound – High

Attack on Titan features some of the most hype-inducing music in anime, especially that first opening (don’t know why they bothered with a second). Operatic and orchestral for the most part. Great acting in both languages; the actors convey trauma and despair particularly well, though Eren is one-note in this aspect. Needed a better script to reach a higher tier of quality.

Story – Medium

The action, world, atmosphere, all great, but such a weak script, poor structuring, flat protagonist (several other dullards besides), and kiddy tropes prevent Attack on Titan from having the engagement it could have had.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Recommended – yes, even with its flaws – because of what it does right – fear and action. Future seasons could elevate Attack on Titan to an all-time great, but as it is, a superior clone has the window to snatch the crown before coronation.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Riveting ActionStunning Art Quality

Negative:

DissapointingWeak End

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gankutsuou

 

Similar: Gungrave

Code Geass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Drama Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A thrilling story of revenge and corruption.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo is a multi-layered and fully textured (in more ways than one) character. One of the greats.
  • That creative art style, that texturing, utterly beautiful.
  • Manages to take a 19th century story and place it in the 6th millennium without feeling out of place.
  • A soundtrack fit for the style and themes.

Negatives:

  • Some CG stands out too much.

There’s always a degree of tension when adapting a famous classic, even more so when to a medium that couldn’t be more different from the source. First, you have the fans sitting in their beds, eyes glaring over the top of novels, ears twitching as they sense someone touching “their” property. At the other end, there’s Alexandre Dumas peeking out of his grave in the Pantheon of Paris. And in the middle, you have the small crew of anime artists. It’s a The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Mexican standoff, each party eyeing the others, wary of disaster. Dr Seuss in the stands screams, “Don’t let ‘em do it, Lex!” waving his ‘I hate The Lorax’ flag. Thankfully, the new team came through.

High up in a private opera box, a man, his hair like rivers of cosmic ink, his skin an ethereal blue, awards a bouquet of flowers to the opera singer. The theatre gasps. Who is this count? The mysterious figure invites young Viscount Albert and his friend Baron Franz over for dinner. He doesn’t eat, though the food is superb. He plays with fate, gambling lives – Albert sets a criminal free. Illusion of choice. The naïve, idealist Albert is enthralled, frightened, by this stranger, yearning to see the galaxy, escape his confined life of arranged marriage. His handshake was cold, like ice.

Gankutsuou is the story of a man out for revenge, adapted from Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo novel. The narrative doesn’t show the betrayal like in the novel; instead, the anime opens with the first stage of the revenge, using twenty-three episodes to execute every detail of the Count’s plan. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, this adds extra layers of mystery to the plot; however, if you are familiar with the original, then fear not, as Gankutsuou has plenty of surprises in store. Everything fits to the original, yet feels fresh. They still have duels, only they fight mechs. By setting it in the distant future, the writers could incorporate several new elements like aliens instead of foreigners, some of them supernatural. The Count has a horse for a spy – need I say more?

Though we see through Albert’s perspective, the Count is without a doubt the star. He uses his unfathomable wealth, charm, and guile to play everyone like pieces on his board. The aristocrats of Paris with their decadent lifestyles, worlds of opera, flirtations, and palaces are a feast to his talents. He is a master manipulator. The way he gets into people’s heads without them realising is a delight to watch. He plays on their weakness while charming them as well so they don’t notice his ploy. Rather than outmanoeuvring them on the battlefield, he creates situations where his enemies can’t resist exposing their true natures, where people discover darkness they didn’t realise was there, and they don’t notice it was the Count who set it up.

He has a constant aura of mystery about him (as he intends, I am sure) that is both captivating and frightening. In a world of high tech cars and ships, he rides in a sleek black carriage drawn by black horses – the sort of thing Batman would have. The artists fuse high intensity orchestral pieces of heavy brass, tragic opera, theatre, and literature to create a rich world around him, both beautiful and grim. There are detailed paintings in shots that last a couple of seconds, taking more effort than entire backgrounds from other anime, all to reflect his character and those of his enemies.

A true delight is to understand the Count, or try to, at least. Which actions are manipulations and which are real emotions? Is everything he does part of the grand plan? It’s heart breaking to see a good man so consumed by revenge, as it tore me between my sense of justice for him and wish for him to find peace.

Gankutsuou is the sort of show that keeps me in anime. It reminds me that no matter how bad an anime I have seen, there will always be a few artists who can create something unique and captivating. I leave you with a quote from the Count that illustrates his complexities: “I am now no longer alone in my solitude. For I am now surrounded by the Furies, the goddesses of vengeance. In the darkness, I awaited the dawn. And once dawn came, I cursed my flesh until night fell once more. I even prayed that I would lose my sanity. But those prayers went unheeded. I even strove for death, but the Devil’s cold, pitiless hand held me back.

Art – Very High

The most unique art in anime. A kaleidoscope of texture and colour. You could take just about any screenshot from Gankutsuou and it would be a piece of art. It’s fun figuring out where you have seen that texture before. Is her hair a thumbprint? While the texturing does blend much of the CG into the scene, some of it still looks out of place when in prominence.

Sound – Very High

The voice work is great in either language; it’s a matter of preference. I preferred English for the use of French honorifics in a French setting. Strangely, they changed the French introductions from the Japanese track to English in the English track – I would have thought they would do it even better with a bilingual English actor. The count’s deep voice is suave yet menacing. Gankutsuou exhibits a fantastic soundtrack. There’s no out-of-place J-pop here, just piano, opera, harp, and a few English and French lyrical tracks. The piece used for mystery makes the heart race with excitement at the unfolding drama.

Story – Very High

This anime is excellence in storytelling with well-implemented science fiction changes to the original novel. To see the Count manipulate people in such cunning ways makes for a gripping tale.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo shows how much the anime medium can achieve when adapting a foreign literary masterpiece, maintaining the core of the source material while making it their own. From the characters to the marvellous art, every facet comes together in an unforgettable series.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueGreat MusicStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None.

Shiki – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shiki

 

Similar: Another

When They Cry

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Mystery Horror

Length: 22 episodes & 2 side episodes (20.5, 21.5 – make sure to watch them.)

 

Positives:

  • A great sense of tension as people keep mysteriously dying in an isolated town.
  • Explores the dark side of humanity when given ultimate freedom or pushed to the edge.
  • Interesting, vibrant visuals mask the morbid scenario.
  • Broad range in the voice work.
  • The tinny, music box soundtrack grips the nerves.

Negatives:

  • The village priest, one of several main characters, is bland despite a significant amount of screen time.
  • Was the ending theme sung by a strangled parrot?

I’ll be honest. I had little faith in Shiki after reading the premise. I didn’t think that a vibrant anime with colourful hair could resist throwing in clichés like ‘onii-chan’ rubbish and breast grabs, ruining any chance of serious horror. I am glad to be proven wrong.

In a rural Japanese village, teenager Megumi dreams of the big city. She hates the country life full of old people gossiping all day and the lack of clothing stores. Only the European castle on the hill and the hot transfer student from the city, Natsuno, has any appeal in this dump. Megumi goes missing one day and is found collapsed in the forest, suffering from anaemia. She was last seen visiting the eccentric family that just moved into the castle in the hope of gaining their favour and luxurious lifestyle. She dies days later.

Free of Megumi’s stalker tendencies, Natsuno feels safe in leaving his window open at nights again. Yet why does he sense he’s still being watched? Why does he have nightmares of her outside his window?

Shiki takes it’s time building up the tension, tantalising, teasing the horror to come. The narrative is presented like a murder mystery case. Each character is named in text with what they do and who there are in the village, introducing the players in the story and giving a lay of the land so that you may piece everything together. The plot doesn’t rush, the writers never giving in to temptation to simply hand over the secrets, reveal the enemy. No one is safe, not even children.

It isn’t long before more people fall ill and eventually die. As the epidemic spreads, families suddenly move out of town in the dead of the night, yet they leave much of their belongings behind. Even the police are leaving, replaced by morning with people who just moved in… Despite all this, the old people, the traditionalists of the village are in denial. Only Doctor Ozaki and his team at the local clinic take the situation seriously.

Ozaki’s character arc is the strongest in Shiki. Watching him go from a simple doctor with overbearing parents into the only person who can find a cure for the epidemic is a gripping experience. With the stress mounting, he resorts to extremes. Nothing annoys me more than having a survival horror story without someone competent. Even worse is when some sanctimonious twit chastises the one guy on the team who keeps everyone alive through extreme measures – and then the terrible writers show the twit to be in the right. Not the case in Shiki; logic beats down the idiots.

The only other characters with their wits about them are a couple of kids and Natsuno, who figure out the situation and fight back. You feel for the kids trying to protect the town while people keep dying around them, and still few people believe in the danger.

At its core, Shiki is about the characters and their reactions in the face of horror and death. We have the old people in denial, the naïve underestimating the threat, the sentimental thinking it will all be fine, and the smart who keep their doors closed and weapons ready. Even among the enemy, it was a great choice to have some who are conflicted about what they are and what they must do to survive. I find it much more powerful when monsters aren’t just creatures of instinct, but have emotion and thoughts at odds with their nature.

Shiki defied all my expectations. I thought I would get a Twilight tween version of survival horror with a coat of anime paint, that groan-inducing experience that makes me feel embarrassed to even know its name. Instead, Shiki is a tense, well-paced, and character driven horror mystery that everyone should know and remember.

Art – High

Beautiful art with an ethereal glow gives a feeling of supernatural unease. The unusual eye design reminds me of interior Kaiser-Fleischer rings or bionic eyes from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either language. The voice directors pushed their actors to the edges of the emotional spectrum. Much of music is similar to music box melody and wind chime, enhancing the mystery of the narrative, plucked notes marking the time left for characters. Knows when to rely on environmental sounds like cicadas, tractors, rains, etc. instead of music for atmosphere. The opening theme with accompanying morbid visuals sets up Shiki well. The ending theme, however…just put that parrot out of its misery already!

Story – Very High

A horror mystery done right without a reliance on jump scares. No one is safe in this rural town.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you hate horror. Shiki manages to take real, human characters and break them in a tense, supernatural epidemic that exposes their true nature. The subtle, yet brutal changes in the characters make Shiki an engaging anime.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Extensive Character DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None.