Shiki – Part 1 (Episodes 1-12) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 270 minutes approx.
The remote village of Sotoba is rocked by the deaths of two elderly residents during an unusually hot summer, diagnosed as anaemia by resident doctor Toshio Ozaki. That ngiht, the mysterious Kirishiki family arrive in the village, moving into an abandoned mansion, immediately raising eyebrows among the locals by never being seen during daylight hours. The next night, while paying the new arrivals a welcoming visit, fifteen year-old Megumi Shimizu disappears, to be found alive the next day after a village wide search, very pale with two insect bites, which Ozaki again diagnoses as anaemia. Shortly after however Megumi dies from apparent heart failure, shocking everyone. Over the course of the next few days, more villagers pass away with similar symptoms. With the help of local priest and his best friend Seishin Muroi, Ozaki tries to get to the root of this apparent epidemic which is claiming new victims on a daily basis and spreading fear throughout Sotoba, but the answer may not be found in any of his medical reference books.
Based on the novels Fuyumi Ono which were first published in 1998 and the subsequent manga adaptation by Ryu Fujisaki, Shiki can hold its head high against any claims of jumping on the current vampire bandwagon. It also eschews the modern trend of sexy vampires vs hunky werewolves by taking this horror sub-genre back to its roots of superstition and myths involving the blood sucking undead, resurrecting the old staples such as the cross and the wooden stake as an effective means of defence for the human victims. This is a straight forward traditional horror tale that relies on slow building tension and a foreboding atmosphere to draw the viewer into its unsettling world of a village held captive by an unknown foe.
Whilst maintaining its throwback roots the main difference in this series is how the antagonists abhor being labelled “vampires”, finding the term vulgar. Indeed they Kirishki clan appear to be of wealthy stock and possess eccentric personalities to match their dead giveaway gothic dress sense. The youngest of the family, Sunako – the lolicon of the show (to ensure all tropes are catered for) – is a precocious young madam who befriends Seishin after a series of nightly visits, having declared herself a fan of his horror writing. It is in his latest work that Seishin coins the term “shiki” which translates to “corpse demon” – in other words a deceased person who still has a body and a soul rather than becoming a ghost – something Sunako finds quite charming.
As Ozaki struggles to make sense of why the villagers are dropping like flies, he is forced to entertain the idea that the cause may lie in an old myth of the okiagari or “the risen” – vampires to you and me; a theory Ozaki and Seishin keep to themselves while they investigate this further. Unbeknownst to them, schoolboy Natsuno Yuuki may already have found the proof they need. The late Megumi had the hots for Natsuno which was never reciprocated, despite her obsessive attempts to get his attention. After Megumi’s death Natsuno is unable to sleep at night as a result of a paranoid sense that Megumi was still stalking him from the other side. Following a nightmare vision of Megumi attacking his best friend Toru, Natsuno digs up Megumi’s grave, the result confirming what he feared.
Lasting twenty-two episodes (plus two bonus episodes) Shiki makes the most of its episode count by allowing the story to breathe and unfold at an unhurried pace while never wasting a second of screen time. The near languid pace of the first few episodes may seem off putting but they serve the purpose of laying the foundation for the numerous layers of intrigue and horror to come. The rural setting is perfect for such a low key tale of death and uncanny rebirth, the near lifeless aura of the village almost tailor made for the undead with its laconic and eerie atmosphere due to the pervasive deathly silence. Adding an extra layer to the tension is the score, a mixture of gritty pop rock tunes and soft, ethereal choir pieces, whose lilting effect create an almost beautiful sense of dread and anticipation.
The cast is extensive but an onscreen introduction for each new face helps at last some names stick in the mind, while there are enough distinct and often gregarious personalities for the rest to stand out in their own way. The great thing about our main protagonists is how unremarkable they are: no magical powers, mystical weapons or peerless academic geniuses here, just a simple village doctor, a mild mannered priest and a testy teenager The outgoing personalities of the Kirishiki family is an overt attempt to subvert the typical stoic, unsettling vampire persona, disarming the viewer and the villagers with their camp affectations before unleashing their shocking true selves. Likely to be of contention is the character designs, borrowing the stick thin look from CLAMP, complete with the ridiculously long spidery hairstyles for the women, whilst managing to avoid resemblance to every other anime design. Given the nature of the show, these designs prove to be very effective and quickly add so much to the overall aesthetic, especially for the Risen, with their spindly appearances and large hollow eyes. Even young Sunako is adorably creepy.
Adopting the less is more doctrine Shiki easily surpasses the recent slew of over the top fantasy tinged vampire stories that have arrived in the wake of Twilight et al. with its homage to good old fashioned atmosphere driven story telling and implied dread over explicit violence, making this one of the effective and creepiest horror shows in recent memory and an easy recommendation for your upcoming Hallowe’en viewing. If Shiki doesn’t get under your skin by the end of the first disc then you may already be dead…
Episode 1 Commentary
Episode 12 Commentary
Preview Featurettes 1-4
Textless Opening Song
Textless Closing Song
Ratings – **** ½
Man In Black