During a fiercely hot summer in Sotoba, a peaceful and quiet village with a population of 1300 people, a series of bizarre deaths begin to occur. At the same time, a strange family moves into a long abandoned mansion in the region. After supposedly visiting this strange family, the fashionable Shimizu Megumi goes missing and the entire village goes out in search for her.
If science fiction is my mother then horror is my wife. I love it. Not to say that my marriage with it has always been a cakewalk; we have our tiffs and our tussles and I am pretty sure that we have walked out on each other more than a few times to always come crawling back later with a look of defeat and a dozen severed red rose heads in our hands. I can't help it. For me to look at her is to fall in love: she is the underdog of genres, she has a reputation for being trashy but sometimes carves out a poetry that is so raw and affecting it is as if she can honestly reach into my chest and hold my heart in her hand - real humanity, starker than anywhere else's. That is important to know considering my opinion of Shiki, a show so steeped in the tradition of good horror that there is no way I shouldn't be able to love it. However, Shiki only goes to prove that you can have all the right words but the poem will never work if the rhythm is off.
In terms of plot, on the surface this show is no surprise. If you set this in New England, you would call it 'Salem's Lot and have to pay Stephen King royalties. Small town, a wide and varied cast and a lurking, unseen threat that build and builds as small happenings seem to escalate from the low-key events of the first episode to the crescendo of a climax towards the end. In a blow for blow sense, I enjoyed the story: it might not be shockingly original but the show rarely loses sight of its intended goal, its nature of tragedy and delivers turning points in the plot with competence and skill. Probably the key difference that separates Shiki from stories like 'Salem's Lot is the time spent from the perspective of the eponymous monsters, later on in the show. The show spends a lot of time both humanising and demonising the Shiki (essentially more traditional vampires, more towards the I Am Legend style of vampirism compared to Dracula or Anne Rice vampires) both highlighting their retained humanity of personal struggle but also their inhuman thirst and unethical desires. I liked this. In both cases, it made them feel more like a real existence compared to an ethereal menace or force of nature, sadly I can't help but feel that the Shiki got better end of the deal compared to many of the humans.
The first place this show goes wrong is with the characters. You would have thought that with such a broad array of characters they would have managed to create one that I could give a damn about but sadly no. Of course, it would be unfair to say I hated every character - I certainly did not hate the doctor, the little vampire girl or even the monk - but did I really care if any of them lived or died? Not really and that is almost unforgivable for anything wanting to be a good horror story, nullifying all the effort they put into the art direction and all their clear attempts at atmosphere building. You can never get under somebody's skin if he or she has no way to relate what you're telling him or her and this is one place where Shiki fails horribly. I think I understand the purpose of most of the characters; a lot of the characterisation was symbolic (the doctor representing the clinical, pragmatic but chillingly cold side of humanity; the monk its more tender, understanding side, etc) but I never felt invested in anybody which meant I, in turn, never felt anything.
It's doubly tragic when I consider that this really needed to be a show to get lost in. Why? Because it is so slow! I am willing to admit that this might be the case where watching this as a week-by-week broadcast was the wrong way to go about it and it might be less bothersome on DVD, Blu-Ray, etc, but my experience was one of intense annoyance for large portions of this show. If this show had held my attention any more tenuously, I would simply have never finished it. The plot pacing is roughly at the speed of a Caribbean stroll and covers so little over the course of an episode that I almost felt like this show was set in the world of Kaiji, where dice roll and pachinko balls fall at speeds measured sensibly in centimetres an hour. The episodes spend a lot of runtime heavily involved in atmosphere building, which I wouldn't complain about, I'd even be happy about it, if there hadn't been such crucial problems with the characters - it creates a problem that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Overall, an interestingly devised series with an interesting look at the inhumanity of humanity in the proudest horror tradition but fails to be particularly enjoyable thanks to, achingly, slow plot pacing and a complete lack of truly compelling characters. It certainly doesn't fail in ambition, its plot might not be original on its surface but its attempts at depth are admirable, but it certainly fails in execution.
It's not bad and it being a proper horror animé means it is somewhat of a novelty that you might want to check out for kicks but I didn't enjoy it enough to give it more than two stars. Add one star if you find ambition and novelty to be entertaining as and of themselves. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: If I list every reason why this is adults-only, it may well be as long as my review. It has pretty much everything outside of sex and full nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license fansub
Review Status: Full (22/22)
Shiki © 2010 Fuyumi Ono, Ryu Fujisaki / SHUEISHA, SHIKI Committee
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