Japanese Title: Shiki
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 22 episodes & 2 side episodes (20.5, 21.5 – make sure to watch them.)
- 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.
- 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.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)