I have a few horror anime I plan to review for October, and I figured I ought to start with my favorite one. I mean, if I’m going to suggest you all watch it, it’s better to review it now instead of on Halloween, right? There’s 22 episodes you need to get through, and this is the month to do it!
Shiki (or “Corpse Demon”) is the anime adaptation of a novel by Fuyumi Ono (who also wrote Ghost Hunt and The Twelve Kingdoms). There are a lot of things I like about this story, but the two most significant points I think I can make are: 1) Shiki is a highly unusual, and very different kind of story you won’t really find elsewhere in anime or media entertainment in general, and 2) Shiki gives you a lot to think about. It’s a smart story that has several layers to its themes and ideas, and raises a lot of questions that don’t have obvious answers. Lots of moral ambiguity at play here, and it’s the decisions that various characters make that can be considered the truly terrifying moments, rather than the acts of violence themselves.
But don’t worry, there’s plenty of violence too.
The story of Shiki takes place in a small, isolated village in the mountains. It’s summertime, and people are mysteriously dying left and right. What’s up with that? A doctor named Toshio works to piece together the cause behind this strange “epidemic” in order to come up with a cure, while his friend–a Buddhist priest named Seishin–attempts to discern what may be a more supernatural cause to the village’s descent into oblivion. And then there are about 100 other characters, who all get caught up in the incredibly thorough phenomenon that is annihilating all their loved ones.
The exceptionally large cast in Shiki is not to be taken lightly… The entire village is involved in this, and the story weaves dozens of plot threads, placing a wide variety of people in a rather hopeless situation and simply letting things play out from there. Right from the start, the atmosphere and tone is both oppressive and unsettling, and somehow the series manages to keep finding new ways of making things worse for everyone involved. It’s not so thoroughly doom-and-gloom that it becomes monotonous though, fortunately. The questions that are raised and the intensity behind pivotal scenes managed to be more than enough to keep me engaged from beginning to end.
Speaking of the large cast, it seems this is a good time to bring up the unusual character designs for this anime. Basically, this is Insane Hair: The Anime. You’re going to just have to accept some of these ridiculous hairstyles, okay? But if you can watch Yugioh and somehow suspended your disbelief there, you should be good to go.
Crazy hair aside, I think it’s also worth noting the sheer range to the characters involved here. There are probably a dozen or so “main” characters, and most of them are adults. A few of them are teens, but they are generally not the movers and shakers in this tale. The younger characters get involved, but so do their parents. And perhaps even more interestingly–so do the adults’ parents. Lots of old people are in this story, and for good reason–this is very much a tale of old vs new, and the clash between traditional and modern ideals. At the same time, this is a story about just how far people are willing to go to maintain their way of life, and nearly every character seems to bring a new perspective on the matter.
And… it looks like I’ve made it through this review without really delving into the source of the central conflict. I considered focusing on that aspect of the story, but decided it would be more fun if all of you (or at least NATHAN) gave the series a try and discovered that on your own! Hooray!
So to recap… refreshingly intricate plot, huge cast of memorable characters, loads of depth, some great music (namely the two opening themes), and a level of intensity and horror (example spooky pic) that I’ve rarely seen equaled in other works of fiction.