Monday, July 13, 2015

[Anime] Shiki Review

Shiki - 6/10

Shiki was a different viewing experience for me.  I selected the series wanting to go beyond my comfort zone and try something in the suspense/horror genre.  But as I discovered, Shiki is not in fact a suspense/horror series at its core, despite being billed as such.  The first few episodes make pretense of being scary, but it rapidly abandons this and moves into more action/drama.  This isn't necessarily bad, but it surprised me and I wanted to make note of it.

As to the actual plot, Shiki centers on a series of mysterious deaths in a mountain town.  As the epidemic of deaths spreads, it becomes apparent that many of the dead are returning, preying on the living inhabitants.  This continues until the townsfolk begin to catch on, figuring out the nature of the shiki (undead), and counter-purge and effectively burn the town down to end the scourge.  With atrocities on both sides, the series seeks to ask, "Who is the monster here?"

The Good: 

Shiki was able to generate powerful-and-disturbing scenes that I thought were well executed without requiring excess gore on the best of them (imagine waking up to find out you're buried "alive"). The biggest is when the doctor Ozaki "re-kills" his wife after she becomes a shiki (Warning: disturbing scene). It's the brutal torture of another being that is clearly exhibiting the most extreme signs of distress, but this is what makes it a good example of a moral quandary (see "The Bad" for more on that). The doctor does what he does out of his duty to save the remaining villagers, but he is scarred for the remainder of the series.  The darkness never leaves him.

I also thought some of the victims were also well represented.  Kaori Tanaka in particular is truly pitiful.  Overwhelmed by fear, she gives up all hope and begins to view herself as already dead.  To see her go to the shrine and ask for a posthumous name, after having already dug her own grave in preparation, was pathetic.  On the other end of the spectrum, Nao Yasumori was one of the few shiki that had an end that impacted me: disillusioned by failed promises that her family would live forever with her, she is captured and staked outside to die in the sun, ultimately put out of her misery by a sympathetic human.  (Strangely, this scene was removed from the version I watched; I only learned it of through other means.)

Finally, the slaughter that ensues at the end is far from glorious. It's not a happy romp where people merrily slaughter the monsters and call it a day. It's close-up, bloody work that is sustained by fear and rage. It is sickening, and rightly so.

The Bad:

In my opinion, the moral dilemma presented in the series is weak.  The goal of the series was to present the shiki as being "people" too, but tragically fated to require the blood of the living.  The series then tries to make the case that shiki have just as much right to live as normal people, especially as it approaches the end and paints the villagers in a brutal, vindictive light.  However, I was unconvinced simply because the writers painted themselves into a corner when they demonstrated how much suffering the shiki created.  This was not on accident either.  They weren't resisting, feeling the pull of their humanity against the need to eat, and eventually giving in.  They were deliberately involved in a premeditated plan to kill men, women, and children indiscriminately, with a side project of organizing kidnapping in both the town and beyond.  As penitent as they try to make a few of them seem, it just rings hollow.

I would argue that a series such as Shiki would do better to use its fictional setting to ask about the morality of specific actions rather than broad conundrums.  The problem with the general case is that by ignoring the details it removes any applicability.  Allow me to explain.  In Shiki the situation is meant to be clear: kill or be killed.  No other way about it, no subtleties, no alternate solutions.  But the real world is usually much more graded.  Maybe the shiki could survive off blood stores (like the Hellsing vampires) or even animals (like, well, humans).  But in order to make their moral quandary work, the writers simply ignore these possibilities or write them out of feasibility.  Because of this the story begins to lose the applicability a good moral dilemma should have, as the devil really is in the details.  When the series really delves into specific situations, such as when the doctor tortures his shiki-fied wife, it becomes far more potent.

Finally, while not as pressing of an issue, the transition between suspense/horror and action/drama was rocky.  In the beginning the shiki are ethereal and demonic, able to infiltrate the homes through some silent magic.  Then the series begins to shift and the shiki become mundane personalities, unable to generate fear.  At this point the series is neither scary or interesting, falls flat for several episodes while trying to reorient itself.

In conclusion, Shiki is a passable series.  I was drawn in enough to be interested in finishing it, but I was not impressed by its depth or majority of its execution.  It's an easy watch, but not one that I would particularly recommend.

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