This anime has been with me for more than three years now. I tried it out on my brother’s 18th birthday, back in 2013, and if I recall correctly, made it through one episode before subsequently putting it on-hold for a couple weeks or so. I then picked it up again and finished another episode… but couldn’t really get myself to continue with it, so it sat on my “On-Hold” category up until now. It’s an interesting coincidence that I wasn’t able to stand watching this anime back when I was relatively new to the anime medium, because at some points, I really couldn’t stand watching it now.
There are a few reasons to this hesitancy to move on, and the one and most prevalent reason is the pacing. The pacing is very slow, but that by itself isn’t necessarily the problem. For anyone not aware, Shiki is about vampires. The synopsis doesn’t make any attempt to hide it, so when all the buzz is going around the town within the show, the viewer is already aware of what’s happening. Vampires, “The Risen,” or “Shikis,” whichever name you prefer, have moved into a small, rural village where tradition and pragmatic expectations are placed upon those who inhabit it. Once there, do they what any vampire does, and suck the blood of the humans that make up the village. This, in turn, allows (some) humans to become vampires themselves, so that they can add to the population of vampires and drive out the humans from their residence. With this in mind, the entire show becomes a human vs. vampire struggle, with the humans painfully unaware of the vampires’ existence for a good portion of the show, except for a few investigative characters.
Knowing all this makes the show less of a mystery and more of a thriller. Except that the “thriller” part of it lasts a good ten seconds per episode, as most attacks are quick and painless, if they’re even shown at all. What this also does is make Shiki a glorified waiting game. The audience knows what’s going on from the synopsis, along with the incredibly obvious hints the anime portrays with the victims’ bodies. When the audience knows this, the anime is forced to try and build up tension by creating an atmosphere of danger and unrest, which it does quite well. Only issue is that there’s little to no resolution up to a certain point. And by a certain point, I mean halfway through the series. It takes these humans a really long time to figure out any semblance of what’s going on. And when they do, they’re constantly being bombarded with others’ doubts and mocking laughs of absurdity. There is little to no progress for a good portion of this series, which makes it incredibly tedious and frustrating to watch when the characters on-screen are so lacking in development or relatability.
Characters relate to the second reason this series becomes tedious to watch. Shiki has a lot of characters, and with a lot of characters comes a lot of time needed to fully develop and/or flesh out these characters enough to make them interesting. Shiki fails in this regard. It’s not that every character is either underdeveloped or unlikable. On the contrary, there are two characters in particular that are overwhelmingly interesting; those being Toshio, the village doctor, and Seishin, one of the village’s spiritual monks. It’s just that the major character roster spans near twenty characters, with even more characters being added as either victims of vampire attacks or vampires themselves. According to MyAnimeList’s database, there are 47 total characters that serve some importance to this anime. That’s a lot of characters to try and care about. With all of these characters to be given screentime, trying to make the story suspenseful or thrilling, and providing a sense f purpose for both the humans and the vampires, I feel Shiki becomes overwhelmed with everything that it wants to do, and ends up failing altogether.
Toshio and Seishin, along with Sunako, the vampire’s leader and another character I found intriguing, are strong enough on their own to carry this anime. Only problem is that they aren’t shown enough. Sunako doesn’t make her first appearance until episode six or so, while Seishin doesn’t really become important until the latter half of the series. This leaves Toshio, who, aside from a young boy named Natsuno, becomes the main focus of the humans’ side. He receives a good amount of attention towards his upbringing, lack of a choice in many of his personal goals, and expectations placed on him, but also gives him a bit of a vigilante feel in terms of how he views his own brand of justice. As a doctor, he’s tasked to save people’s lives, so when he has a 0% chance of doing this because of the vampire attacks, he becomes frustrated with himself and distraught by not knowing the answer to the point where he trembles upon exhaustion and insanity. Seishin is somewhat the same way, only he was a stout believer in thinking one could do whatever they chose to do with their lives, only to follow the same path as his family. It highlights his family members’ actions to signify this narrow, one-dimensional path in an interesting way, and even gives into the empathetic, and in some way dark, temptations that plague him throughout the series.
And Sunako? Well, she’s intriguing in the sense that she drives the entire plot. Her backstory is rather trivial and despite living for (implied) hundreds of years, her mindset is still stuck upon the goals and motivations of that of a young girl: she just wants a big, happy family. Many could consider what she’s doing cruel and selfish, but Shiki really enjoys trying to play with the morality of the vampires’ actions. Is killing humans to survive wrong? If that’s so, why isn’t it wrong for humans to kill animals to survive? Where does this sense of right and wrong begin to skew? And why does this show seem to believe that it can suddenly be empathetic to vampires when they come after humans and treat them like stupid prey, with sadistic smiles and laughter and genuine enjoyment with fucking with their victims? There’s the third and final reason this series is hard to stomach: it doesn’t know how to balance morality.
Questions of deep pondering aside, looking at it point-blank, this series does succeed in being ominous and gleefully monstrous. I enjoyed a good portion of the ways people were either killed and/or victimized by the opposing side, even if it was a little farcical at times. I feel this series is at its best when it isn’t trying to establish that everything has meaning or giving motivation to 47 different characters. This, in essence, is somewhat sad, seeing as that basically makes it a vampire buffet of bloody proportions, but hey, all’s good in love and massacres, yeah?
The look of Shiki is probably its selling point. The characters look realistic, while those who don’t look realistic are naturally shown to be outsiders and/or cast off by the traditionalist village the setting resides in. There are vibrant amounts of colors for a lot of characters, with a good assortment of different looking people with different facial features. There are pretty people, fat people, old people, average people, little kids, and characters that look like they were thought up in a DeviantArt chatroom. The vast amount of individuality in this anime is astounding, and really differentiates characters and makes them easy to recognize without having to remember the names. There’s one character who looks strikingly similar to Benjamin Franklin, who I called Benjamin Franklin. He died, and I was sad. Jokes aside, Shiki‘s visuals also help in building the ominous atmosphere and reaping the horrors that the anime wants to provide with wild success. The vampires look beautifully sadistic, and the bloodshed is well enough to satisfy any fans of gore or horror.
It’s a frustratingly satisfying series that required quite a bit of pondering once it was all and done. The ending felt incredibly anticlimactic, while also not providing a lot of clarity to the surviving characters’ situations. I won’t spoil it too much, but know that the ending isn’t much different from the beginning, only the viewer is given the insight of a village’s struggle with a foreign threat. The biggest question thus becomes this: Is Shiki really worth watching? Had the ending not been voluntarily ambiguous, I’d probably be one to recommend it, but with all the confusion and struggles to maintain everything I believe Shiki wanted to convey with its underlying themes, I don’t think twenty-two episodes really becomes worth it. Had it been shorter, it may have been a little more tolerable, but the way it is, it’s tougher to really find a place for it.
Personal Score: C+
Critical Score: C+
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.