I finally did it. I saw Shiki, the entire series, from beginning to end, and if I may say: wow. Every time I think I’ve found one perfect example of “not for the faint of heart,” I end up finding another.
I am going to talk about that in detail, which will go into spoilers, so: Spoiler Alert!
Shiki tells the story of the people of Sotoma, a village isolated by mountain and forest, and the awful tragedy that comes upon them when monsters invade their home. It starts out small, but swells more and more with each passing night, and where life was once peaceful and happy, it quickly becomes horrible and terrifying, filled with loss and sorrow. People are dying or “disappearing” in alarming numbers, entire families destroyed, and nobody is safe as unholy creatures fill the night with increasing boldness. Cold, cruel, and intelligent, the strength of these demons grows with every death, and with each victim who rises from the grave to join their ranks. But the divide between man and monster is not so great, and neither is the gap between hunter and hunted.
It’s an impressive narrative, not least because it really does follow the entire village, and their oppressors. The cast is huge, and everyone has some part to play. Merely conceiving a story with so many parts in constant motion is impressive, much less putting it all together so intricately and coherently. It suits the use of a visual medium perfectly, as we can know and recognize the faces of so many characters as they keep popping up without needing to remember the plethora of names involved. There are a few key figures, whose decisions amidst all of these events are most pivotal, but this story belongs to everyone within it.
The story evolves too, first beginning as a chronicle of tragic events with the mystery of a menace lurking in the shadows, then becoming an investigation into whether the impossible can be possible, then a tangled confrontation between predator and prey, then an apparent victory for the predator as they become bolder and bolder, their pride swelling high just before their fall, and then, at last, the stage is soaked in blood as both sides wage an all-out war for survival.
Not to say it’s always easy to follow! The story doesn’t relate a single series of events, from earliest to latest, it relates many series of events, sometimes jumping back and forth between times and dates, which, again, impressive, but occasionally trying.
As the show deals with so many men and monsters, it also delves deeply into what it means to be either. The nature of monsters, and what men call monsters, is explored, or, rather, beheld. In particular, there is the argument over whether the vampires, or “shiki,” as they’re called, really are monsters, and what lengths people should go to in order to fight them. One side argues that they are people, genuine people, who only feed on humans because they have to, in order to survive, and they are driven to by a hunger that breaks their will. The other side argues that they kill people, all people, innocent people, men, women, children, violating the homes and minds of their victims, perverting the bonds of family, hunting and eating people no matter how they scream, cry, or beg, and they do so as a matter of course, either with little to no regard at all for their victims, or even taking pleasure in the kill. They’re murderers, and if their very existence is the reason for it, then their existence must be ended.
Perhaps most intriguing is when the humans are finally enabled to fight back, and they do terrible things too. They, too, are cold and brutal and merciless and implacable. They, too, have an awakened thirst for blood, every bit as insatiable as that of the vampires, and some of the blood they shed is innocent and human.
It is interesting to note, those who are transformed into shiki remain themselves, their personalities perfectly unaltered. No matter what they have become, they remain who they have always been. The creatures who feed on human life are an outward representation of darkness, but that darkness is nothing more than what lies within the deepest recesses of the human heart, and such is well illuminated before the crisis is over.
As the storm of pain and suffering which the vampires’ created is fully unleashed, in the open, everyone is caught in its path, with devastating results.
And that is only the more exotic behavior. One does not need to be either a blood-sucking vampire or a human fighting for revenge and survival in order to be selfish. Indeed, everyone is selfish in their own way, in countless everyday examples. Some are cruel and sadistic, some are self-centered and vicious, some are hard and uncompromising, some are soft and weak, some are brutal and abusive, and on and on. Everyone feels trapped in some way, and many may want to break free of that by any means, even if it means killing others, and killing the best parts of themselves.
Still, no matter the darkness of humanity, there is also light. There is compassion and mercy, even if the only merciful thing one can do is to deliver a quick and painless death to an enemy. There is selfless sacrifice, even if it means starving to death instead of devouring a fellow human and friend. There is understanding and comfort, even if it means forsaking all else. There is mourning and regret for ill deeds done, even if it was to protect the innocent. And there is quiet endurance for the survivors on both sides, for when it’s all over, life simply goes on.
All of this is shown, not told, with amazing technical skill. The animation is superb, the art style is all sorts of realistic and artistic, the music is phenomenal and applied with precision, and the voice work is astounding. I watched the English dub by Funimation, and I recognized so many voices I’ve heard in other anime works, each of them at the top of their game. Outside how I obviously need to keep this anime away from the kids, I can’t think of anything to complain about, it’s fantastic.
Shiki is one hell of a horror story: dark, bloody, intense, and unrelenting. It takes tight hold of you from the start, digging its grip into you, and then it digs deeper and deeper. It displays a multitude of horrifying situations, each one more unnerving and tragic than the last. The story evolves, and in so doing it stares into the darkness of humanity on a physical and psychological level. This show is going to haunt me for quite some time to come.
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.
Grade: solid A.