Shiki – An Analytical Breakdown Part 1

I’m back! After a long hiatus, here is my newest article. I hope you enjoy it.

Shiki is a series that has long remained in the back of my mind since my first viewing two years ago. At the time, my general impression was that it was a compelling and powerful story that took an overly long time to get moving. All I can say now is that my viewpoint on the series has changed significantly since my first viewing, and I would say I feel much more positive about it now than I did then. I hope I am able to explain here why Shiki is such a captivating and well-made story.

Shiki is a story that bears shocking similarities to some historical plays or pieces of classic literature – in my view bearing a significant similarity to Arthur Miller’s 1953 play ‘The Crucible’. From what I am able to tell, I can be fairly confident that this was the intention of the novel series’ original author, Fuyumi Ono. While I have not read the novel, I can confidently say that this piece of structural similarity was most definitely portrayed by the anime adaptation.

Shiki tells a relatively predictable story right from the beginning, with seemingly clear goals for its narrative. It does have its fair share of twists and turns, but if you’ve ever read or seen a story like this one before then you won’t have a hard time piecing together the series’ slow but ever-present flow of information.

At its beginning, Shiki presents an almost worryingly typical vampire/zombie story narrative. The mysterious Kirishiki family moves into a massive estate overlooking a quiet, rural village. The village’s inhabitants don’t think much of it, but they do ponder the reasons why these particular people would have commissioned such a large European-style castle in a tiny Japanese rural village. Shortly after the family’s move, people start to come down with symptoms of anemia; some of the most prominent among these being fatigue, weakness, pale skin, dizziness, cold hands/feet, etc. People whisper to each other of encounters they have had with family members and friends in the dead of night who have supposedly passed away, but for the most part people laugh off the idea of the ‘okiagari’, or corpse demons as mere folklore. Even as the death rate in the village slowly begins to climb, people don’t think much of it, and even actively try to block the thought of it out of their lives in order to continue living normally.

Up until this point, the audience knows nothing of the shiki at all. But as time slowly moves forward the audience is given small hints of what is going on at a snail’s pace, but it only serves to drive interest in what is really going on. In essence, the shiki are generic vampires. They can’t survive in the sunlight, they live off of drinking people’s blood, they are able to manipulate people after sucking their blood, they are afraid of holy symbols, they can be killed either by decapitation or by driving a stake through the heart. Basically, everything you’d expect out of the typical vampire. What is less typical of Shiki though is the way it implements this into its narrative. Shiki makes the decision to lay its entire breadth of focus onto the many characters situated in the village. Nearly two thirds of the story is dedicated to slow exposition and character interactions as the audience slowly comes to know the various members of the village as the reality of the shiki are slowly revealed to the audience.

The shiki themselves are nonexistent other than the Kirishiki family at the beginning. But slowly as people from the village die, beginning with Megumi Shimizu , some of them begin to rise from the dead and begin working together with the Kirishiki family to fulfill the goal of ultimately creating an isolated self-sustaining village comprised entirely of shiki. The way this series crafts its narrative is exceedingly well thought out in the way it slowly introduces relevant characters to the audience in a nonchalant way, then moves on from them as they slowly die off only to come back and haunt their friends and family. The story initially focuses only on the humans, but gradually begins to balance the humans and shiki as they both begin to influence each other’s lives and actions more and more.

During the first half of the series, focus is primarily given to Natsuno Yuuki and Toshio Ozaki. Beginning with Natsuno Yuuki, he is first presented to the audience as a newcomer to the village moving in from the city with his parents. He comes off as a relatively typical moody teenager who seemingly bears contempt towards everyone he meets. While he might come across as uninteresting initially, there is more to him than first meets the eye. His confusion and upset directed at his parents comes from his insecurity and mistrust of the village he has found himself in. He finds himself especially annoyed with Megumi Shimizu during the first episode, as she constantly makes moves trying to form a relationship with him. He remains utterly uninterested, and even upon her death he lacks any emotion towards her.

Let’s discuss Megumi Shimizu for a moment. Megumi is first shown to the audience as being a bratty, insolent girl who dreams of moving out of the backwards village she’s been contained in for her entire life to a big city. She is also utterly infatuated with Natsuno Yuuki, as mentioned earlier. The first episode focuses on her primarily, and she comes off as excessively annoying and bratty to the point where I was honestly somewhat relieved when she died. Fortunately, she does not remain this annoying, and becomes quite a nuanced and interesting character as the story moves on. Only as a shiki rather than a human.

As mentioned, Natsuno Yuuki lacked any feelings towards Megumi whatsoever even when she died. It was only at this point however that she would start causing him problems with real-life implications. He begins to dream that Megumi is watching him through his window as he sleeps, and frequently begins to wake during the night in terror. He remains terrorized by this, even choosing to sleep at his new friend Mutou Tooru’s house to avoid being in the place where his nightmares occur. He is skeptical at most of his dreams, and becomes a bit more hesitant and on-edge as these dreams continue to occur. It is only when he witnesses Megumi entering Tooru’s house and sucking the blood of Tooru that his fears are confirmed. At this point he knows that people are rising from the dead, but doesn’t know what to do about it.

Alongside these events, the village’s junior monk Seishin Muroi begins to have encounters with a mysterious young girl from the Kirishiki family who comes to visit him at his temple to discuss his published books as well as esoteric topics like life and death. The young girl, Sunako explains that she and her “mother” have a skin condition which means she cannot be exposed to sunlight. I’ll come back to her “mother” later. This is an obvious red flag for the audience, but for Seishin, Sunako presents someone else ostracized by her circumstances and they frequently meet to chat about various different topics. As things move along, Seishin is the only human other than Seishirou that is able to sympathize and support the Shiki, though this does not happen immediately. This is at best irrelevant at this point in the story, but Seishin will become an instrumental purveyor of Shiki’s ultimate message as the story moves along. At one point, Sunako is about to bite Seishin, but stops when he says that he believes that she is a Shiki. The reason she doesn’t try this again is that she is fascinated by him and begins to care for him over the times they interact.

Back to Natsuno Yuuki, as his friend Tooru begins to die slowly due to Megumi drinking his blood, he begins to feel anger about the situation befalling his friend. He is the only person who knows why the people in the village are dying, but he can’t tell anyone without encountering obvious ridicule and disbelief from anyone else. This is until two younger kids with the names of Akira and Kaori who also share his belief in the Shiki. To the adults around them, the rumors in the village of the ‘okiagari’ are mere childish nonsense, but to these three it is real. They begin to speculate about the shiki, and with the motivation coming from Yuuki as well as Kaori, who have both encountered Megumi. The three of them begin to investigate the grave of Megumi to check if she really remains dead. Upon finding out that her grave is empty, Akira is quick to alert his classmates that the shiki are real, but once again everyone throws this off as nonsensical. Natsuno doesn’t even bother to tell anyone because he knows no one will believe him.

Once his friend Mutou Tooru dies, Yuuki knows for certain that the shiki are real and that he has to do something about them. To add fuel to the fire, Yuuki begins to encounter Tooru outside his window. He finds this equally as terrifying as his dreams and encounters with Megumi. When he finally succumbs to curiosity, Tooru attempts to pull him out the window, but is unable to. Throughout the entire ordeal, Tooru hides his head due to the utter shame and regret he feels over having become a shiki and the tasks he must undertake in order to keep himself alive. This is the first time the audience has seen any of the shiki (not including Setsuko) show any empathy towards the humans. Yuuki begins to understand the torment of the shiki, and that they are only trying to survive. It is also at this point that the distinction between the natural and relatable fear that Yuuki feels comes into perspective once the audience is aware of the mental struggle that each and every shiki goes through upon rising from the dead. This being the dilemma over whether it is right to kill human beings, especially those you know and care for, just to survive. This may sound like a fairly basic moral question, and that’s because it is. Shiki isn’t the type of show to layer everything in overly convoluted pretentious dialogue to give the illusion of more depth and complexity, it just sticks to the broad facts and feelings of its narrative without overdoing it.

As mentioned earlier, the other main character in Shiki is Toshio Ozaki, the village doctor. Toshio is a hard-working man who runs a well-known clinic in the village that has been run by his family for generations. Throughout the first half of the series, Toshio is specifically engineered to be a character that you as an audience are meant to feel bad for. He comes off as a somewhat aloof but internally kind and empathetic individual. He tries his best to work with his team to care for all the people of the village. Despite his best efforts, he fails every single time he tries to save his patients. Eventually, he begins to speculate as to the true nature and reason behind the deaths in the village. He initially denies the theory that vampires could be behind the deaths, but begins to question more and more why his patients seem to get worse day after day at night when he isn’t there watching over them. This leads him to eventually spend the night overseeing a patient along with his longtime friend Seishin. It is at this point that he first witnesses a shiki in the act. He sees the daughter of his patient, Nao Yasumori attempting to get in the window to suck the blood of Setsuko Yasumori. Although he is now aware of the existence of the shiki, he has no proof for it, and therefore decides to continue subtly investigating the shiki on his own and acting without spreading a conclusion over the ‘epidemic’ when he is questioned by the public.

It is soon after this point that the viewer is given their first taste of what life is like for the shiki. Up until this point, nearly all information relating to the shiki has been withheld, and a layer of secrecy has surrounded them since the beginning of the show. The shiki are shown to be operating as an organized unit, planning attacks on chosen humans at the behest of Setsuko, whose guidance is the prime motivation for all the shiki below her. It is here that the audience is also given their first taste of what life is like for an average shiki. They primarily do the following: hunting humans, digging up new shiki, and doing anything else that Setsuko considers necessary.   Megumi shows for the first time that the shiki do experience remorse over the people they kill, but that some are more remorseful than others.

Shortly after this while attempting to investigate the shiki further, Natsuno is approached at night by Megumi and Tatsumi (the Kirishiki’s servant) and is cornered by them as they explain that his knowledge of their existence threatens their secrecy, and therefore he must be dealt with. It is also here that Tooru emerges from the forest and chooses to bite Natsuno after he is cornered by Megumi and Tatsumi. After this, Natsuno is shown slowly dying as he willingly offers his blood to Tooru. When Akira and Kaori find Natsuno bedridden, they suspect the worst and do everything they can to try and protect Natsuno. Despite their best efforts, Natsuno repeatedly insists that they escape the village before it is too late, and that he is done for.

Meanwhile as Dr. Ozaki begins to become more and more paranoid and borderline delusional with his worry and anger towards the Shiki, Seishin remains the voice of reason and tries to comfort and console Dr. Ozaki. He begins to become angrier and angrier about the shiki and that he seemingly cannot do anything about it. Once again, I can’t help but feel awful for him in this predicament he has found himself in. He understands the problem better than anyone but does not have the means to fix it.

One very interesting moment that occurs around this point is where the crazied ramblings of old woman begin to be taken notice of by the broader public of the village. People even begin to buy into her previously ridiculous theories about the Kirishiki family, and a group of citizens prepare to storm the Kirishiki estate headed by the old lady. When the citizens arrive, the doors of the estate opens and Seishirou Kirishiki comes out to see what the commotion is about. The old lady initially asks Dr. Ozaki to “admit” that the Shiki are real and to stop lying to the public. He denies all these claims, but decides to follow the citizens anyway. The old lady bombards Seishirou with questions, but Dr. Ozaki silences her and asks if he can check if Seishirou is alive. Dr. Ozaki’s intention here was clearly to try and prove the old lady right by checking for Seishirou’s pulse. He politely asks Seishirou if he can conduct this test, and he obliges. He tests the pulse and  pupillary reflexes of Seishirou, and the facts don’t lie that he is indeed alive, much to the shock of the old lady. An important detail from this scene is that both Setsuko and Chizuru were observing the entire encounter from the window, and were excused by Seishirou’s explanation that they have a skin disease which makes them extremely sensitive to sunlight. Utterly baffled, Dr. Ozaki maintains his composure and hesitantly proves the old lady wrong using the facts of the situation, despite what he may have wished the outcome to be. He must come up with some other way to prove to the public that the shiki are real without causing mass hysteria and panic.

Natsuno eventually dies shortly following this despite the best efforts of his father and two friends. He dies wishing that Tooru would run away with him and try to survive together. I will return to Natsuno further on in the following post as his character takes a backseat for most of the rest of the story, but returns in prominence towards the end.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have enjoyed part 1 of this two or potentially three part analysis. In part 2 I will cover the second half of the series as well as some more detailed analysis of some characters and their morality at the end. I hope to see you there!

 

 

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