Shiki is set within the remote town of Sotoba. Life is quiet and peaceful for the majority of the town’s residents with the exception of Natsuno, a city boy who yearns to leave, and Megumi, a small town girl with big city dreams. You’d think the two would get along, but Natsuno wants nothing to do with Megumi’s doe-eyed infatuation. For the duration of the series, Shiki constantly shifts the point of view to and from a large cast of characters, including doctor Toshio Ozaki, junior monk and aspiring novelist Seishin Muroi, and assorted townspeople and business owners. The conflict of the story is heralded by two significant events: a prolonged heat wave and the construction (and subsequent occupation) of a massive, European style castle built high on the hills. While most of the residents go on about their lives, several people begin to die from what appears to be complications of a “summer cold” and anemia. When Megumi dies from the same affliction, Sotoba slowly falls into a panic as more people die or quietly move away. Doctor Ozaki is flummoxed by the medical puzzle until he notices puncture marks on the victims’ neck and arms. This discovery brings him to hypothesize an unbelievable, but likely, source of the epidemic: vampires.
Shiki is reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro’s novel The Strain, as the case of vampirism is presented primarily through a scientific and medical lens. Ozaki’s journey to discovering why his patients are suffering from infection is a pursuit filled with real life medical examinations and procedures using nearly incomprehensible medical jargon. This real world approach makes the drama of the plague so engrossing that when the cause is revealed it’s almost disappointing in a, “oh, it’s just vampires,” sort of way. However, that’s not to say the series suffers as a result. Not at all!
When looking at the series as a whole, Shiki is comprised of two acts. The first follows the lives of those who find themselves cowering in the night or becoming the latest victim. There’s an overall feeling of tragedy as more and more people are turned. Unlike most vampire fiction, Shiki bucks the trend by not guaranteeing the return of those who have been killed by these nightly Nosferatus. This twist fuels the remorse and guilt of a mother turned vampire who kills her husband and son in order to spend the afterlife together, only to suffer alone. The second act is a reaping as the humans, empowered by Ozaki, finally see the creatures for what they are and conduct a violent genocide against them. Strangely, the culling of the monsters is made to feel as depressing as possible and it’s hard for the viewer to not have some emotional response. I couldn’t help feeling irritated by this direction. Why should I feel sorry for them? Sure, they didn’t ask to be vampires, but still! I should have been happy to witness the slaughter but instead I’m left feeling really bummed out.
On a similar note, while the series obviously wants you to care for these lost souls, I had a hard time sympathizing because the residents of Sotoba can be incredibly dense. The construction of a massive castle of culturally alien design doesn’t elicit more than a few “oohs” and “ahhs” from the townsfolk. Neither are they phased by the sinister and otherworldly eyes (full iris, no pupils) of she-vampires Chizuru and Sunako. And why does no one comment on Tatsumi’s hair style which features two protruding shapes that resemble dog ears?
When it comes to vampire fiction, one can expect a measure of violence. Shiki earns its mature rating with a great number of disturbing images, scenarios, and gore. Watching as a teen is powerless against the lure of a vampire’s call will have you shouting, “Don’t open the window!” When Megumi makes her undead debut to Natsuno, the sickening sounds of her bones snapping and twisting as she contorts her body is nearly too much to handle (incidentally, her fate is grotesque). The most depressing and visually arresting scene involves Ozaki coldly examining his infected wife who can’t help but stay alive as he cuts, crushes, slices and removes organs and arteries while injecting all sorts of poisons to find out how vampires function. I won’t even get into the episode that follows a parent’s descent into madness and how it affects her son. Ugh, it gives me the creeps just thinking about it — it’s how the artists draw the eyes, I think. Recalling the screams and cries of these dying people unnerves me, even though I’m done watching it. That’s a great triumph for Shiki: it is an experience that stays with you after the end.
Shiki will give lovers of the non-sparkly, sun-fearing breed of vampires a lot to sink their teeth into. Be warned that the series is definitely not for children, as the level of violence is enough to give sensitive adults a complex or a bout of depression.
Shiki Part 1 and 2
directed by Tetsuro Amino
600 minutes, Number of Discs: 6
Company Age Rating: 17+