Why I Watch Anime (Very Good) Reason #98: Shiki

shiki 20 so many bodies

NO SPOILERS

It would appear that out of the 294 anime I’ve completed as of this writing, I’ve rated 98 with a score of 8 (very good) or higher (note: I dropped 104 anime). My rating isn’t as relevant to my point as is the the reason I will explain in this post. Shiki is a sterling example of why I watch anime, and perhaps why I love anime as much as I do.

In Shiki, shit really happened.

In the late ‘80s I didn’t have any access to anime, not even reruns of the super robot shows I grew up with. Instead I had to make do with M.A.S.K., Sky Commanders, Transformers G1 reruns, Thundercats, Silverhawks, etc. etc. and of course mostly G. I. Joe. All of these are rather violent shows where gunfights occur without fail in every episode.

However, shit never happens. Sure, Cobra Commander wants to control the world with his Weather Dominator (LOL I can’t stop smiling just typing that out I am seriously losing my shit) but his evil plot backed by an army of mercenary soldiers will be vanquished in a grand battle wherein he will lose battalions of armor and aircraft but without a single soldier getting not so much as a flesh wound. AND THEY FOUGHT WITH LASERSwhich meant they NEVER RAN OUT OF AMMO so they just shot away indefinitely. But shit never happened, the battlefield in American cartoons is the safest place in animation. Wile E. Coyote never dies, but that’s because he is an immortal God. He gets shot and blown up and flattened by giant anvils. Shit sort of happens in Looney Tunes.

I loved all these American cartoons and wasted piles of my parents’ money buying a fuckton of toys, despite the stupidity of nobody ever dying. 1988 is more than half my then lifetime away from the years when a Scientific Ninja from Gatchaman would throw a single ninja star and kill 8 mooks with it. I already knew Japanese cartoons kill people. Shit sure happened there.

And thus, Shiki. Shit happened to perfection: in terms of relative scale, intensity, and inevitability. It made me remember love for what I enjoyed in Japanese cartoons as a kid: violence – violent consequences.

There are three moments in the corresponding episodes that I will note here (but will not spoil): from episodes 14, 20.5, and 22 respectively. Let me just say that Shiki exceeded my expectations in how far it went to depict its violent consequences. First in terms of individual choice for the sake of purpose, then the will and power of the mob, and lastly the punishment of the wicked. Those who’ve seen the series will know what I refer to here and may discuss these with me in the comments section (just tag spoilers).

Was there gore? There definitely was. Am I a fan of gore? No. That said, I didn’t feel at any point that the show was playing up the gore for its own sake (which would definitely displeased me). It felt more like a demonstration of Shiki’s commitment to tell its story. If there was anything truly gratuitous (controlling for the fact that this is anime), it would be with the bizarre character designs particularly regarding the hairstyles. I don’t even know where to begin:

ShikiHairstyles

So I won’t. Instead I’d compare Shiki to two other shows that depicted what I’ve grown fond of calling “Descents into Hell:” School Days, and Infinite Ryvius. In all three cases, I watched the show as part of my backlog (I missed them during their respective broadcast dates). In all cases, I ended up doing a marathon viewing. I really could not stop watching until there were no more episodes left to watch.

There is truly something about tragedy, or perhaps something beyond tragedy in these shows. Something about a general, pervasive, and consuming feeling of things are falling apart in a terrible, terrible way.  The difference between the three shows lie in their respective endings (again, no spoilers):

  • In School Days, I experienced a release from hell by witnessing a humorous, if dark end.
  • In Infinite Ryvius, I experienced a rescue from hell, and a view of heaven.
  • In Shiki, I felt despair from both ends of the pendulum’s path. Things turn for the “better” at some point, but the net despair quotient is just as high if not more than before the imaginary “turning point.”

In many ways, Shiki is as grim and dark as anything I’ve ever seen, including Grave of the Fireflies and wholly without a science fiction setting such as one would find in shows like Armored Trooper VOTOMS, or Mobile Suit Z Gundam. If I’m to borrow a categorical construct from robot anime, I’d say it’s “real” horror anime as opposed to “super” – where I imagine more fantastical representation of traditional horror monsters would be present e.g. Vampire Hunter D; If Shiki is to Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, then Vampire Hunter D is to Toppu o Nerae! Gunbuster.

I don’t know if this is a very useful distinction, but regular readers of this blog may perhaps be more familiar with these robot anime conventions, and it it would be such a shame if they miss out on this truly remarkable anime. If you like anime that fully commits to the consequences of violence – whether intent or malice; or cold, impersonal acts of survival, then you should not miss out on Shiki.

SPOILERS (proceed with caution, highlight with cursor to see text in white font)

What I find interesting here is how aside from the the systematic farming/livestock operation set up by Sunako and her circle, and the malice of Megumi, there isn’t really much evil demonstrated by the Shiki themselves. Let us control for behaviors manifested during a hunt, wherein they are in a certain zone of effectiveness which I argue also covers the behaviors of many of the villagers in the throes of hunting Shiki during their counteroffensive.

The evil in the show also is starkly manifested in the villagers. Take away the the behaviors I mentioned concerning the hunt, there is definite cruelty, retribution, pettiness, betrayal, conspiracy, and malice among the humans. It is from the ranks of the humans where the evil in the show is portrayed in high contrast. See Seishin’s betrayal of the village in his care. See the disposal of the Shiki when they ran out of stakes. Look at the body language of the humans. It reminds me of Breughel the Elder’s Icarus and W.H. Auden’s poem “Musee des Beaux Arts.”

shiki 20-5 sunbathing

I can remember a dozen or so scenes from Schindler’s List and Escape from Sobibor, where you see a bunch of indifferent-to-mocking Nazi soldiers stand around laughing, joking, smoking cigarettes while dead or dying Jews are piled up around them in the concentration camps.

Shiki the anime isn’t without humanism, in fact I think it’s rather humanist (as opposed to nihilist) in that the best and heroic behaviors also come from the humans. Acts of self-sacrifice, compassion, and love abound and it came from the humans (The nurse who chose not to feed after rising exemplifies a rejection of her new “evil” nature and a choice of death, a human death). The cruelty of destroying the shiki is played off from how the humans can’t help but see the risen dead as their former selves. One may argue that there is also love, and self-sacrifice in Seishin and Sunako’s circle, but I won’t.

Consequences include death, something in the Western tradition of cartoons is a constrained fictional element. The limitation of marketing animation for children involves conservative-to-prudish sensibilities that prevent animated narratives from portraying a wider spectrum of human possibility. I didn’t come here to hate on the cartoons I too, grew up with, but rather to celebrate one of the reasons I like Japanese cartoons so much: life sucks, shit happens, live on anyway.

If you want to enjoy a piece of hell, make a trip to Sotoba for 2 cours (and 2 extra episodes) and watch Shiki.

Further Reading:

The Meaning of Shiki (read: slashing the characters; also, Revolutionary Girl Utena reading — I love it).

The Shiki finale, and series wrap-up you want to read after finishing the show.

 

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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32 Responses to Why I Watch Anime (Very Good) Reason #98: Shiki

  1. A Day Without Me says:

    YES! You finished it! I was so happy when you picked this up again, it is really one of the best series I’ve seen in recent years, and I would go so far as to call it anime horror at its finest.

    I don’t have too much to say, as I have expended about 25,000 words on the show already elsewhere. I think I would only quibble over whether Sunako’s plans are, exactly evil, or if they are only evil from the standpoint of humanity. A girl’s gotta eat, after all, and the vampire mythos that Shiki subscribes to does not allow for easy outs like feeding on cows.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Also, amusingly enough, my blogging of the Shiki anime reads as a tale of a viewer’s slow breakdown over time. I can’t think of a single show that has engendered the same strength of emotional response in me.

      Related: my Shiki tag is fucking ridiculous.

    • The answer to the evil of Sunako is answered earlier in a different anime. Amino Tetsuro directed a ton of mecha anime (which explains the grimdark war feel during the human counterattack), but most notably in this case Macross 7, which hilariously has vampires IN SPACE. Same deal, the space vampires want to create a farm for themselves with humans as the livestock. The show didn’t go so far as to punish the “evil” vampires in the name of justice, but rather find a third way, a way for coexistence if not harmony.

      But Macross 7 is FUNBRIGHT, and Shiki is GRIMDARK, so Shiki gets an appropriate end. Still, knowing about Macross 7 feels instructive about the attitude towards the predators and judging them as evil.

      But let me say this. I do not think that the Shiki are WITHOUT evil. That is absurd. Even if we reduce evil into a clear behavior: deceit, then the Shiki are guilty of it. They lie to their prey and they lie to themselves. They tell the recently risen (their kind) to attack their families in the hope they will rise too, as if this was some greater good. This is deceitful, untruthful, and evil.

      You can say you have no moral obligation to your food, but this is deceit by Shiki towards Shiki. Sunako is accountable for this too, and this means she has some evil, at the very least.

      • A Day Without Me says:

        Then could we count Megumi in this manner as not evil? She does not lie about her nature, after all; relishes it, really. Certainly her torture of Kaori is evil, for she is intentionally inflicting mental anguish upon her while killing off the girl’s family, but she makes no bones about it.

        • She is not evil in a dispositional way, but instead performed malicious, petty, and murderous acts. Those acts are evil and she is responsible for them and was held into account “by fate.” We all tend to think of people as good natured or evil natured; in terms of disposition. To me this is not as productive a line of thought. It prevents me from thinking in terms of possibility of a person, since the thinking is judgmental and there’s a finality to it.

          So no, I don’t think of Megumi as an evil girl. She’s a petty, vindictive, small-minded girl who indulged herself with her new powers to murderous ends. Sunako, however, is trickier because she’s been around for so long and has had so much time to reflect on her actions. I think she’s accepted the cruelty involved in her existence in relation to the living. She can’t use the humans vs. livestock argument because she was human herself, and except biologically, she is still human. A post-human, with nearly all human functions and faculties. Thus her actions, and those who follow her are closer to racism than it is to species-ism (to put it crudely).

  2. animekritik says:

    I think nobody dying is one of the best merchandising strategies, because it meant you had to keep buying friggin’ Transformers and couldn’t ever take some off your to-buy list (oh, so and so died, ok, i guess i don’t need to get him now). The list of bots to buy just got bigger and bigger. Brilliant.

    • Moot.

      You can kill characters quite easily, since if the work is successful enough, you can re-issue/remake the licensed property into new media and sell more merchandise by making new versions of the same characters even if they died in previous narratives.

      At the very least, Gundam, one of the most successful merchandising properties in animation (at least in Japan) is notable for its many deaths and the destruction of many of the notable mecha during the course of the show.

      Same principle: re-tell, remake, make alternate narratives.

  3. adziu says:

    This has convinced me to start this series much sooner than planned. Thanks!

  4. glothelegend says:

    Told you so (I’m pretty sure I told you so, though I don’t remember where I told you so, but I do remember telling you so). Shiki is AWESOME.

    • Indeed, you told me when I got burnt out from watching my backlog. Interestingly enough, it was Fate/Zero that got me in the mood to watch this, since the UBW movie was still downloading at the time (ugh, trash, but pretty for rubbish); and I wouldn’t watch the TV series; and I don’t want to reinstall the VN (I had only finished Fate and wouldn’t want to repeat it… and only half of UBW). So yeah, something dark and bloody was in order and I finished the whole thing in one go LOL.

  5. Reid says:

    I haven’t even so much as HEARD of “Shiki” before this, but it sounds really fascinating, particularly in the way that you described the indifference of the humans. Is that level of apathy, or inhumanity, or rather, the sublimation of the very human feelings of empathy, just a defense mechanism used by the people in the village in the face of the…well…zombie apocalypse unfolding around them? I’m intrigued.

    Also, you’re 100 percent right about “Gatchaman”. Even though my first exposure to the show was the least-bad of the English dubs (“G-Force”) and though it was still the watered-down “safer” version of the show it nevertheless had a similar impact on me as a young kid. I grew up with “Batman” and “Ninja Turtles” cartoons and then later on “Power Rangers”, so when I saw the members of G-Force, which to me seemed like a perfect synthesis of all my favorite shows, actually KILL THE VILLAINS in pretty graphic ways, it was a major eye-opener. I rediscovered the original show some years later and I can now appreciate it even more for what it is. Even though the defining shows of my early anime-viewing life were “Giant Robo”, which hooked me on mecha anime (even though it’s more of a super hero show), and “Sailor Moon”, which was the first show of any kind that actually made me care about the characters, I never would have given them a second look had it not been for weekly watching Joe the Condor shoot a Galactor mooks in the face and grin while he did it.

    • What afflicted Sotoba is closer to the dynamics of a plague or epidemic story than to a zombie apocalypse but sure, there are enough similarities. Go watch this. Amino Tetsuro directed a lot of real robot anime and the GRIMDARK feel shows: SPT Layzner, Broken Blade, and most notably Macross 7 (not GRIMDARK LOL, as well as SD Gundam)!

      I can’t see how it’ll let you down.

    • Matt Wells says:

      I’m with you there man. One of the most potent things about anime to me growing up was that people died, often the ones you cared about. Though the first show I saw like that was DBZ, so naturally some of the dramatic tension was lost when our dead heroes were wished back to life every 40 episodes, but the distinction was still there.

      Whatever happened to your top 10 anime by the way? You just left us hanging on 30-11, and I’m still dying to see the rest!

      • Reid says:

        Sorry about all that, man. I was having a heck of a time with family issues (as were you – how are you and the family holding up, by the way?) when that whole thread was going on and I just lost the energy to finish it at the time. I promise I’ll finish it, though I’m afraid only you and maybe one or two others would even be interested any more. I’m not sure what the etiquette is ’round these parts for resurrecting old threads ^.^

        • Matt Wells says:

          Not at all sir. Family’s getting along alright so far, though my Grandpa is still pretty shellshocked. Take as much time as you want, I just wanna hear your absolute favourites so we can compare and swap recommendations. Just post it on Ghost’s top 10 list and I’ll be sure to read it.

          Speaking of family issues, how is your Grandfather’s treatment going? You mentioned he was undergoing chemo, so is it still ongoing or have there been signs of remission? If you’ve suffered further bereavement then you have my sincerest condolences. My best wishes to both your Mother and Father’s families, as well as yourself.

          • Reid says:

            Thanks so much for the kind words, Matt. So far, my grandpa is handling the chemo very well – dudes from that era are like Greek legendary heroes or something – you can’t keep them down long. We hope to get a good report from his doctors soon. Also, I’m glad to hear that most of your family is handling the loss of your grandmother…those are tough times to go through, for sure. My mom’s mother, the wife of my granddad who passed away a couple months back, was doing pretty well there for a while but she’s now gotten into a bit of a strange mood where she has all the obvious signs of being lonely but yet doesn’t really like to see many people or to do much. It’s sad because I know she misses my granddad and there’s really nothing anyone else in the family can do to help. I’m sure it’s the same way with your own grandfather. Like I said, this situations are always tough to get through, but we don’t have much of a choice, do we?

            Anyway, yes, I will finish my top anime list when I catch a breath; my work schedule has recently gotten a lot tighter since the newspaper I worked for had one of our writers get a job elsewhere, leaving me to inherit most of her assignments, in addition to my own usual stuff. lol I guess it’s been a pretty hectic couple of months ^.^

  6. MarigoldRan says:

    Hey, awesome. Glad you watched it. Megumi was my favorite, including her death.

  7. whatsht says:

    I actually wanted to watch shiki, but never got the moltivation to watch it.

  8. kadian1364 says:

    I’ve heard anime discussions about how common horror tropes don’t work in animation. There’s always the distinction in the audience’s mind that what’s happening isn’t real due to the very nature of animation, so easy scares like dark, shadowed rooms and the creeping camera don’t work. I tend to agree, however Shiki shows how horror can still work, and is now my go-to for modern horror anime done exactly right.

    One detail that made the Shiki such sympathetic beings was the nature of their deaths. Sure, when the humans died it was always tragic in a mournful, weepy way. But the Shiki deaths were so sudden and gruesome, getting butchered with intense purpose and malice on the part of the humans, it was always unnerving to see happen.

    • I find it difficult to discuss Shiki in terms of horror because I wasn’t engaged in “horror” terms. It felt more like an epidemic tale at first (like Camus’ “The Plage” in particular) before it turned into a mecha-anime like GRIMDARK war story. I think robot anime has a lot to learn from this show, and hopefully Amino Tetsuro gets to make robot cartoons again.

      Also, it’s how the Shiki end up preying on their loved ones that’s pretty well done. From their desperation to their self-delusion, they emo shiki form a very strong empathetic core in the show. Then they get butchered in acts of extermination (as opposed to their acts of preying).

  9. Caraniel says:

    I’m so glad you finished this and liked it. The horror in Shiki was exceptional because it was so realistically dealt with – there’s nothing more frightening than humans. The shiki may have been supernatural creatures, but they were all originally human & retain all their human memories & personalities, so witnessing how people changed when they turned was chilling. Of course what was arguably even more frightening was the actions of the humans in Sotoba hellbent on revenge – mob mentality is truly scary!

    Great series like Shiki don’t come around very often (which is why I keep trying to get more people to watch it!)

    • Yes, to all of it. Sunako is a pretty cool answer to the “what if” raised by Claudia from “Interview with a Vampire.” LeStat made a child vampire and compromised her ability to survive. Shiki is an example of how that could’ve happened (without other vampires preying on her).

  10. ~xxx says:

    I watched shiki a few weeks ago and it never gave me a proper sleep…

    It was brilliant and somehow very dark, mysterious and very unconventional to see many characters died before they strike back.

    And yes! Shiki is the ultimate horror for it does not show the horror of those who may or may not exist, but also how bad human nature can be if they are placed under survival mode.

    I will never watch any vampire series unless its as awesome as shiki.

  11. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed the likes of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. But that’s not fair because Furude Rika is a dimension-travelling self-mutilating loli witch.

    Wonderful thing about Shiki is that it really is that it keeps real about its creepiness. Just the thought of the pink-haired chick who was obsessed with Natsuno sniveling out of the cabinet just sends vexing chills up my spine. These creatures are creepy as hell, but you can still kill them, much like zombies, that can be ‘killed for good’ with a good damage to the frontal lobe.

    Now I’m off to watch Fate/Zero, messere.

    • Their post-life mortality is something I appreciate indeed. It makes the struggle against them a lot more grounded and about power dynamics that feel real, and in this case therefore scarier. I wasn’t affected so much by the creepiness of the elements, but this mattered little to me because I was so involved with the overall struggle.

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  13. Manga UK says:

    Love this post! Shiki is so fantastic.

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