Revisiting the disturbing world of Shiki

Shiki will make you feel bad for watching it, but I think that's the point.

I have a complex relationship with Shiki. It’s the first anime that I was hired to review. When I say hired, I mean I reviewed it for free and got to keep the screener. I didn’t have a good time watching it, but I still look back on the experience fondly.

When Shiki was simulcasting, I dropped it after the first episode. The over-the-top character designs were so distracting that I had trouble focusing on the poorly written dialog. Why I volunteered to watch nine more hours of that will forever remain a mystery.

The reason I decided to revisit Shiki a decade later is because of a tweet from Crunchyroll’s Director of Events, Adam Sheehan.

I also wanted to watch something spooky for Halloween.

Shiki is based on a horror novel by Fuyumi Ono, best known for The Twelve Kingdoms. In 2010, it was adapted into a 22-episode anime for the Noitanima block. Two additional episodes were created for the home video release.

It’s the summer of 1994. The mysterious Kirshiki family moves into a mansion on the edge of the isolated village of Sotoba. Shortly after their arrival, people begin to die at a rapid pace. Doctors believe there’s an epidemic, but the real cause is much more sinister.

Spoilers — The Kirishiki’s are vampires, and they’re eating the villagers

I’m not sure that really counts as a spoiler, though. If you’re watching Shiki you already know it’s about vampires. That’s probably the reason you’re watching it.

My biggest hurdle the first time I watched Shiki was the character designs. Most of the main characters have exaggerated hairstyles that would make more sense in an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh. This works in shows like APPARE-RANMAN! where the story is equally ridiculous, but Shiki is meant to be taken seriously. Moments that should be tense and scary come off as comical when the villain has goofy blue hair in the shape of cat ears.

What’s curious about my experience with Shiki is that I remember hating it. Listening back to the podcast review I did in 2012, however, tells a different story. My feelings were more ambigous. I enjoyed the story overall, but said it wouldn’t be for everyone due to the extreme violence in the second half.

Having now completed the series a second time, my feelings are mostly the same. Something I didn’t pick up on during my first viewing, however, is how deplorable the village doctor is.

Toshio Ozaki is the director of the only clinic in Sotoba. He’s also a misogynist with a hero complex. He spends the entire series withholding information, screaming at patients, and neglecting his wife.

When the villagers begin to wonder if vampires are eating people, he goes out of his way to discredit the theory. This is because he needs to be the hero.

The next five paragraphs contain major spoilers and discuss violence against women. Read at your own risk.

[spoiler title=”Click to read”]There are multiple scenes where he makes women get unnecessarily undressed for routine checkups. In the first episode he strips a high school girl nude for a temperature check. Her parents watch and don’t question this.

Halfway through the series, his wife dies. Ozaki suspects that she may turn into a vampire, so he ties her up and closes the hospital. What follows is several scenes of cruel experiments.

One of these scenes is bizarrely sexual. Ozaki wants to see how vampires react to getting cut. He does this by removing his wife’s pants and cutting her inner thigh. There’s no reason for this. He could have cut her arm or hand or anything else.

What’s even more troubling is that he already knows how vampires react to being cut at this point. The weird lingering close up on her panties before he does it also implies that he’s getting off on the torture.

You can make the argument that Ozaki is only doing these experiments so he can save the village, but it’s not an accident that he did them to his wife. Every scene she is in prior to becoming a vampire sets up the premise that Ozaki hates her. This isn’t the only episode where he takes pleasure in torturing a woman to death either.[/spoiler]

Something else I’ve changed my mind about are the bonus episodes. In my original review I said they were a great addition to the series because they provided insight into the psyche of the villagers. It’s a bold move to take a break in the narrative to focus on nameless background characters.

Something like this can work if timed properly, but they’re sandwiched between the final episodes. It disrupts the momentum of the conclusion and doesn’t offer any information that enhances the story. It’s two episodes of emotional abuse and sociopathy that only serves to make the audience more uncomfortable.

It’s not just the finale that has pacing problems. Much like how the Kirishiki overstay their welcome in Sotoba, Shiki overstays its welcome in your DVD player. This show spends so much time moralizing about whether feeding on people is any different than humans eating animals, that you stop caring.

It doesn’t help that Shiki goes out of its way to make you hate everyone. The villagers are all dicks. The vampires are all dicks. Why should I care when they die? Burn it all down!

Despite all it’s flaws, Shiki is still worth watching.

The first episode can be hard to get through, but once Shiki sinks its teeth into you, it’s hard to turn it off. Much of this can be attributed to dramatic irony. That’s when you know something the characters don’t, like in a slasher movie when the killer is behind someone but leaves before being detected.

When you’re watching Shiki, you know that vampires are killing everyone. Watching the cast figure it out on their own is what makes the first half so exciting. For fuck’s sake, there’s a scene where Ozaki is making fun of someone for suggesting that the deaths aren’t being caused by disease. He shouts, “What else could it be? Vampires?”

Something else I find enjoyable is how often characters change their wardrobe. In most anime, cast will rotate between a handful of designs. In Shiki, some wear a different outfit in each episode. Not every one is good, but it’s still a nice touch.

I do wonder where these clothes come from, though. With the Kirishiki’s, it makes sense. They’re rich. They’re from out of town. It’s conceivable that they bought their clothes before moving. But what about the people in the village?

It’s established early that their isn’t a clothing store in town. It’s a weird detail, but it comes up. Then where are these jobless high school students getting all these ridiculous outfits? It’s 1994! They’re not ordering them from Amazon.

In the case of Megumi Shimizu, a character that dies in the first episode, it makes even less sense. She’s been a vampire for months by the end of the show, but every time we see her, she’s wearing something new. Where is she getting these clothes? Is she breaking into her old house?

Maybe they call that reverse dramatic irony.

I’ll probably never watch Shiki again, but I’m glad that I gave it a second chance. It’s an unforgivably dark ride, and you will feel bad when you’re done. However, if you want a show that revels in nihilism and ends in a bloodbath, look no further than Shiki.

But after that, please start watching better anime.