After returning from a few days of fun in the sun at a friend’s beach house, my first priority upon arriving home was not unpacking, sleeping or showering – it was watching the final episode of Shiki! You see, although I haven’t really talked about Shiki much, at least on this blog, it’s pretty close to being my favourite anime to have aired in 2010, and these last 4 episodes have been so intense that I have been in gripping state of anticipation and anxiety. Without spoiling the plot for anyone (which is important for an anime with twists and shocks like this one), I thought I’d give a shout-out for what is definitely one of the most under-appreciated anime of recent years.
The anime, Shiki is based on a novel by Ono Fuyumi (author of the 12 Kingdom’s novel) or, more specifically, the manga adaptation that followed. Ono Fuyumi is a good author with a great sense for grand and interesting storytelling. The Shiki novel is a homage to Stephen King’s popular vampire-themed horror novel Salem’s Lot, which happens to be a book I really enjoy. Fans of that book will enjoy the many parallels and similarities, especially in the way things end up. The manga version injected some flambouyant character and costume designs into the mix, thanks to the artist, Fujisaki Ryuu. Unfortunately, the anime inherited this look, which I think clashes with the horror-mystery genre the story finds itself in. It was the outlandish look that probably turned off a lot of potential viewers. The gravity-defying hair and bizarre fashion were too much for some, it seems. However, these things betray what is a very serious and dark story.
But those of us who pushed on were rewarded! Soon, we were accustomed to the weird appearances of the Shiki cast and the story began to kick in. As the veil of mystery surrounding the village begins to be torn away, Shiki keeps its viewers hooked by wading into darker and darker territory, and delivering twists to its narrative every other episode. Things seem to get worse and worse for the humans and the protagonists, with every glint of hope being trampled over as soon as it appears. During it’s middle-run, Shiki feeds off the viewer’s frustrations, until episode 17 hits a truly hopeless note. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, the show lashes out with a “just as planned” moment and changes everything in a mind-blowing turn of events. From there it launches into an intensely-paced maelstrom of destruction, violence, sorrow, shock, revenge, and moral ambiguity. In its fiery, blood-soaked conclusion, Shiki holds nothing back, which is a rare trait to see in an anime. It throws expectations back in your face and plays with the morality of its characters actions so much that you don’t even know if it was a sad or a happy end. The only thing I know for sure is, it was a great ride! Shiki’s ending is basically perfect, as far as I’m concerned. It surprised me, awed me, made me feel, and made me think. It doesn’t get better much than that.
If you can get past the character designs, and some of its unusual approaches, I guarantee that Shiki is one of the most rewarding anime of the last few years. It has spawned some of the most memorable moments and awesome characters in recent memory. The jovial menace, Tatsumi, the sharp-minded tenacious doctor, Ozaki, the fearless Natsuno, and the unshakeable monolith of manliness that is Tomio, Shiki is as much about a clash of wills as it is about the supernatural. Personally, I think that is the element that really makes Shiki so gripping. Ozaki is going in my list of favourite anime male protagonists, for sure, and Tomio is probably the most badass character I have ever seen, in anything.
The production values are a little on the mixed side. The music is fantastic, truly evocative and chilling. But the animation is fairly minimal and a couple of the action sequences do not have nearly the framerate they deserve. In an ideal world the budgets of many mediocre fanservice anime would have been stolen to make Shiki move as well as it weaves a story. This is not an ideal world, but Shiki rose to the challenge and overshadowed its shortcomings with story and character. I really recommend this anime to everyone, with the following words of advice: watch until at least episode 5!