Starring Toru Ohkawa, Kouki Uchiyama, Kazuyuki Okitsu, Haruka Nagashima, Keiko Kawakami, Wataru Takagi, Aoi Yūki, Ai Orikasa, Nozomi Sasaki, Nobuhiko Okamoto
Directed by Tetsuro Amino
All right, I’m breaking the unwritten and nonbinding rules by reviewing an entire TV series rather than a singular film. Shiki completely took me by surprise with its rich atmosphere, dense plot, and unflinching cruelty. Since it is also one of those rare anime titles that is genuine horror, it felt like the perfect time to step away from the norm. One of the big differences about an anime series from a Hollywood series is that anime is largely intended to tell an already mapped out story. Anime often isn’t meant to run season after season until the fans get tired of it. An anime series usually has the entire plot figured out before production begins. This means that at every step of the way a well-made series will advance the story toward a specific end, much like every scene in a movie should progress the plot to its conclusion, and Shiki does this very well.
If you’re still with me, it becomes apparent that the new rich people in town are vampires, and they’re spreading. The dead people don’t stay dead very long, and soon the night is filled with bloodsucking dead friends and relatives threatening to wipe out everyone still alive. Their plan is one of subtlety and infiltration that lends itself well to the horror genre. Shiki‘s vampires are classical, with the traditional weaknesses that we are familiar with thanks to Dracula. It manages to take the comfortable and familiar style of vampires and make them feel fresh, vivid, and terrifying. The show constantly left me wondering how the characters would survive against the ever-growing horde.
Then there is the massive host of support characters that also fill very important roles. It is almost wrong to say that there are main characters in this series at all, because so many characters are vital to the story. In any given episode, the three main characters might play no more important a role than the minor characters do, or not even appear at all. You really get the sense that this is an entire village of people, not just a handful of colorful characters, and none of them are safe. Many of these characters’ stories end in tragedy, and then, once they come back to life, they suffer through still more tragedy.
The series also maintains a high level of production quality. The animation is smooth and detailed. Shiki really shows just what the modern age of digital animation is capable of if it decides not to cram in CG everywhere. The visual style of the series also stands out. Bright, vivid colors contrast with muted browns and dark, dank environments, and it all combines to make a really impressive atmosphere of supernatural dread. And I should make mention of the music, too, which also fits perfectly with the mood and events of the series.
There are certainly some oddities as well. Anime always uses exaggerated characters and designs, but Shiki definitely goes overboard. Some of the characters massively overreact to just about everything. I think this might have been an attempt to compensate for the small parts that many characters have. It’s as if they tried to replace depth of character with intensity of character, which doesn’t really work. Hairstyles are another aspect of the series done to extreme absurdity. I don’t think I have ever seen an anime with such bizarre hair, or fashion sense in general for that matter. This will probably drive off some viewers who will be unable to take it seriously, but I was able to just laugh at it and enjoy it. There are also some awkward plot holes, and I would have preferred a bit more elaboration in the epilogue, but these didn’t hurt the series anywhere near enough to knock me out of its spell.
I don’t really care for horror. It’s not often that I get much out of it. But Shiki completely won me over within a few episodes. I guess it goes to show that it’s not what the story is, but how well it’s told. And Shiki spins a mesmerizing tale of people confronting their worst nightmares come to life.