What I learned from watching Shiki

What anime aired in 2010?


Angel Beats!


The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood


Tatami Galaxy

…and Shiki.

Shiki is last on this list because nobody watched it.  Some Higurashi ripoff?  I’d rather watch my anime about some stupid girl and her crossdressing jellyfish boyfriend!  I’d rather watch some stupid Kanade and her Kanade get a heart from Kanade Kanade should lose ISML Kanade.

Shiki is last on this list because it was also the best show of the year (Disappearance was a movie, durr).  I had the series on an external HD for the longest time, and I have to give a hand to Caraniel for convincing me to watch the damn thing.  Before this season with Nichijou, AnoHana, etc., there was a two year gap where I constantly watched average anime.  I would often think, “Wow, anime has gotten so bad these days…”

Shiki is the type of show that I should’ve watched earlier.  Maybe it would have restored my faith in the storytelling and animating power of the anime industry.  It’s an anime that sticks with you and forces you to think about it for weeks, months… even years (?), whether you like it or not.

In this post, I’m going to talk about what watching Shiki has taught me.  There will be minor spoilers, but hell, it’s not going to make a difference.

1. Shiki vs. Higurashi is an unfair comparison

aka “Shiki is neither Mystery nor Horror”

As the title says, Shiki is not a horror anime.  It’s not a mystery anime.  It’s a tragedy – and an incredible one.  When somebody says “horror anime,” I think of Higurashi.  It’s only natural, given that it’s the only well-known horror anime… and I only say “well-known” because I don’t know any other ones.

Higurashi scared the shit out of me.  I was afraid to get out of bed at night to use the restroom.  Rena’s yandere face.  That fingernail remover.  Shion (or was it Mion?) popping out from weird places.  Throat maggots.  It was terrifying, and I was thoroughly terrified.

Shiki was not scary.  It was not scary in comparison to Higurashi.  It was not even scary in comparison to Jigoku Shoujo.  Maybe it’s scary in comparison to Lucky Star.  Just maybe.  In any case, Shiki did not attempt to leave anything to the imagination.  It tells the audience straight-out that the enemies are a bunch of vampires.  It goes further to show the vampire mob’s activities in detail, even developing their characters.  It’s not like Higurashi, where every waking moment is spent on “OH SHIT, RENA’S GOING TO KILL ME.  She’s right behind me with that cleaver.  Oh shit!  Satoko’s going to kill me!  Oh shit, Shion’s going to torture me and then kill me!”  The audience lives in a constant state of paranoia because we have no idea if Keiichi is going to suddenly explode into a gruesome shower of blood and maggots or not.

Some main characters may have died in Shiki, but their deaths were sad – not terrifying.  The entire anime is built around characterizing the entire village and showing how both humans and vampires can turn from naive dreamers into crazy, bloodthirsty killers.  Nobody is saved from this fate.  Everybody sins, and it’s tragic when they do.

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here.  I haven’t seen many Higurashi-Shiki comparisons.  Then again, I haven’t seen many opinions on Shiki in general.  But if you do decide to see Shiki or judge it, don’t compare it to Higurashi.  The only thing they have in common is “shit happens in a small town.”

2. IGBIS is a semi-legitimate argument.

I first encountered the infamous “it gets better, I swear!” defense in sola.  Now in that show, something happens midway through that makes the latter half “better.”  But the thing is, I didn’t find it better.  I thought it was terrible through and through.  It didn’t even get less terrible after the halfway point – it was just a different kind of terrible that was equally terrible as the first half’s terrible.

Repeat for several shows.

Then, enter Madoka Magica.  When I watched the first episode of Madoka, I thought, “Wow, this is kind of decent.”  Then college really kicked in and I had stuff to do (like playing TF2 and Minecraft instead of watching anime).  Three months later, I returned to the internet and holy crap everybody loves Madoka Magica for some reason.  Not to get too far out of the loop, I decided to do the one thing I said I would never do: pick up a dropped anime.  I’m not Scamp – for me, dropped anime are dropped forever (though I guess it’s safe to say that he has now seen the light and also thinks that dropped anime should stay that way).  Madoka was the first dropped anime I’ve picked up and managed to finish.

The thing is, Madoka Magica wasn’t that special.  I needed something more.  I stumbled across that IGBIS post on Behind the Nihon Review.  Then I stumbled across Caraniel’s post on her top 50 anime, where Shiki was #2.  Then I stumbled across this massive folder in my external hard drive called “Shiki [umee].”  Then I stumbled and hit the mouse button twice to open up the second episode.  Then I stumbled into my chair and sat there for twenty minutes.

Moral of the story: sometimes stumbling is good.  It results in watching good anime.

What I’m trying to say is that although I was semi-convinced by Caraniel’s IGBIS argument:

Shiki is a slow burn to start with (although I hear its much less noticeable to those marathoning it) and only really kicks off in a big way midway through.  The painstaking buildup of atmosphere and character development in the first half, means that when the brakes are taken off in the second half, the series just never stops delivering fantastic moments!

I was fueled more by my desire to disprove IGBIS and to eventually write a post about how Madoka sucked and then Shiki sucked so therefore IGBIS is inherently faulty.  Q.E.D.

But it turns out that Shiki is actually a great anime for proving IGBIS works!  The first half of the show is dull, boring, trite… did I mention boring?  Once the anime showed me that the vampires were just a bunch of people led by a cat-eared guy in a jumpsuit, there really was no suspense/mystery/horror for me to actually care.  But when some unexpected things started happening in episode 14, I got hooked.

imo Shiki is the exception to the rule.  No other anime gets better, I swear!

tl;dr I wrote this section for no reason, really.

3. Recommend some disturbing shows!

Shiki is best described as “haunting,” but not in the ghostly sense.  It’s a sick and twisted story about a village losing their humanity, both figuratively and literally.  If that isn’t chilling and disturbing enough, Shiki first develops these villagers’ characters and then kills them off/makes them suffer in the most gruesome and/or horrible ways.  One character is run over by tractors repeatedly.  One is experimented on and tortured before killed.  One is stoned, pinned down, and killed.  One is shot.  Three are axed.  Many are staked.  Many get their blood sucked.

In short: blood, gore, suffering, despair, and very strangely tear-jerkingness.  That’s what I like about Shiki.

That’s also what I love about Shadow Star Narutaru (save the tear-jerking-ness).  Narutaru was recommended to me by Chii after I expressed my undying love for Alien Nine on Twitter.  In both Alien Nine and Narutaru, I got a very unsettling feeling, as if all the main characters could suddenly turn into cannibal snake demons and start eating each other in the goriest way imaginable.  Alien Nine makes killing aliens an elementary-schooler’s job while Narutaru corrupts a children’s anime into some sick show about peer pressure, murder, and torture.  Alien Nine always takes an upbeat tone, even when the main characters are tearing at each others’ throats.  Narutaru is consistently eerie, even when the main character is just walking down the street on a normal day.

There is no “disturbing shit” genre for these shows.  The closest I can find is “Psychological,” but that’s not quite what I’m looking for.  I want to see more shows like Shiki, Alien Nine, and Narutaru.  I want to watch anime that are tough to watch.  Marathoning Shiki was straight-out difficult – I needed to stop halfway through some episodes because it was just too much to bear.

So in short: recommend me some shows that I could tear my hair out watching.  I want some anime that is so disturbing that I won’t be able to sleep at night.

Useless aside #1: Though I liked Narutaru’s atmosphere and mood, I didn’t like the story.  It was sloppily done, as if the staff decided to abandon the first half of the show in favor of pursuing a completely different arc.  So if you go find my Anime-Planet list, you’ll see that I rated the show 2.5/5.

Useless aside #2: Anime-Planet and MAL are totally unhelpful because dumb users recommend Higurashi on the Shiki page, almost as if it were a reflex action.  “Oh, horror.  Must be Higurashiesque.”  In fact, A-P has a recommendation for Black Rock Shooter on the Shiki page.  Why?  WHY?

The hair… it all makes sense now.  That’s why I like Mikoto and Misaki and Eurek-  wait.

4. More on disturbing/shocking shows!

or “why Madoka did not appeal to me”

Warning: Madoka Magica spoilers ahead!

After watching Madoka Magica, I went online and read all the posts people made while I was off playing Minecraft and TF2 (all of winter 2010/2011 season).  Most of the people who didn’t love Madoka argued that the characters were weak, especially Madoka.  Those who did love Madoka Magica with all of their heart and soul (99% of the aniblogosphere) mentioned that the anime was about despair… with a finale full of hope.

The thing is, I’ve watched shows like Narutaru that take despair so much farther than Madoka ever did, so I didn’t really care about magical girls dying and turning into witches.  Okay, so it’s kind of dark and twisted.  Middle schoolers are basically making deals with the devil in exchange for some stupid wish.  Mami died, other people died, lots of people died.

But hey, a lot more people died in Shiki and their deaths actually mattered to me because I cared about them.  The lack of good characterization in Madoka (in part due to its short length as a 1-cours show) makes me think of the characters as just a bunch of stupid little girls who don’t really know anything:

  • Madoka: that pink one
  • Mami: that dead yellow one people draw funny pictures about
  • Sayaka: blue ranger!
  • Kyouko: red ranger!
  • Homura: cool like Johnny Yong Bosch

I think wah put it really nicely in his Madoka post:

I fail to understand the prioritization of making the plot work over writing interesting characters. Characters should come first, and the plot should be written around them. Even in a story like Madoka where the premise is about young girls getting swept up into a cruel game, the emotional porn doesn’t work if we’re not given something to relate to in these people.

I understand that being a magical girl may take over your life, but at least give us a few slice of life moments to chew on between all the silly plot nonsense.

Mami dies so early that we’re not given a chance to see her character beyond “that nice mahou shoujo veteran.”  Sayaka is one-dimensional, and we know her as the girl who wished for that one guy’s wellbeing.  Madoka is zero-dimensional.  She’s the freakin’ main character, but she’s not memorable at all.  No character traits, no -desu/nipaa~ speech, no nothing!  It seems Madoka shall never become anything more than a mere puella magi.

Shiki, on the other hand, showed despair much more directly.  Here, we don’t have Super Sentai ripoff magical girls arguing about whether or not to make contracts with some tiny alien animal.  Instead, the people of Sotoba aren’t even given a chance to make a deal with a Kyubey.  They are hunted down and killed, and then hunted down and killed again.  After a certain point late in the series, it becomes apparent that everybody in the anime is either going to die a horrible gruesome death or cause many horrible gruesome deaths.  And even armed with this knowledge, I was still shocked at the sheer amount of brutality portrayed in the last five or so episodes.

Toshio didn’t wish for the shiki to be gone and then give hope to everybody (including Anne Frank and Joan of Arc… god, I hated that stupid scene).  Hell no.  There is no hope in Shiki, and this kind of hopelessness far outshines Madoka’s “dark” nature.

If I hadn’t watched Higurashi, Narutaru, Alien Nine, etc. before watching Madoka, I might have joined the rabid mobs and proclaim it as the best thing since sliced bread.  But I am an old, wizened aniblogger now.  Madoka gave many young, youthful anime fans some wrinkles, but it didn’t even scratch my aged face.  Shiki served to deepen those wrinkles of wisdom.

tl;dr Maybe you think Madoka is good, but imo Shiki blows it out of the water.

5. I really wanted to have five points, but I ran out of things to say.


longest post 2011

18 Comments on “What I learned from watching Shiki”

  1. Scamp says:

    I found Higurashi far too dopey to be scary. It’s hard to be scared when I’m also thinking “what on earth happened to the animation here?”.

    Apocalypse Zero is pretty disturbing

    • misaki says:

      Higurashi’s art and animation were pretty bad. Still, I found it really scary. Maybe I was just a unwrinkled nubile* back then and was tricked by the art. I’m sure that if I watched the show right now, I would be a lot more critical.

      Oh God, Apocalypse Zero. That’s a show truly deserving of the title “utter shit” and “so bad i-it’s… i-it’s… somebody… please… save me.” I watched the first episode, and got so scared and disgusted with the show for every being made, myself for actually sitting through half an hour of such torture, and the world for being such a shitty place that something like Apocalypse Zero could be made. I never touched the second episode. Maybe it’s time I manned up and watched it.

      * Note: I like the word nubile. This is a useless note.

  2. bateszi says:

    Isn’t the point about Madoka Magica, though, precisely that they are “a bunch of stupid little girls who don’t really know anything”? I mean, they are litte girls after all, so what can they be expected to know of the plight of the universe?

    I think it’s valid to complain about Madoka Magica from the perspective of a ‘character lover’, but I don’t think it’s a failing of the series itself, rather, it had other, more plot-worthy concerns, and it’s unfair to expect something from a series that it has no intention of providing; Madoka Magica is science fiction, not slice of life.

    Also, I agree with you on Shiki, which is an awesome series! 😀

    • misaki says:

      I see where you’re coming from with SciFi vs. SliLi (made that up on the spot!). I agree that I shouldn’t be expecting too much character development from a series like this, but I don’t think that all the character development should be put into the minor characters. Sayaka and Kyouko was a nice subplot/characterization, but I’d rather have a more memorable main character.

      also Planetes. Though that is SliLiSciFi, so whatever. I’m just talking nonsense here.

      I thought that Madoka’s plot was pretty sloppy. The oddly placed flashback episode is reminiscent of Angel Beats’ similar stunt. It seemed like a last-minute effort to insert something shocking into the series, and I’m guessing it worked for most people [but not me! >:( ].

      And don’t even get me started on the deus ex machina ending…’

      Yay, Shiki fans! I believe there’s a “Team Shiki” somewhere on the internet/twitter.

  3. Mushyrulez says:

    1. Maplestory sucks.
    2. Shiki is fucking awesome. Now when I get back to watching it (I finished the part where the village finds out about the okiagari a long time ago, but haven’t picked it up since)
    3. “No character traits, no -desu/nipaa~ speech, no nothing!” So people with those speech things now have character?
    To be honest, I don’t think the people in Shiki were well-developed, either. It’s only two cours long, and you have this shitton of characters, many who don’t even matter that much. The thing with Shiki is that the people felt like they had character for two reasons: their connectivity and how everyone mattered, and the actions of the people.

    In some shows, the actions of a character don’t determine the character’s character. What I mean is, you see this character do a bunch of stuff, but that doesn’t give you any clue to the character’s actual character. In Shiki, you see this character do a bunch of stuff, and then for some reason you just /understand/ who this character is. Take that pink-haired insane lady. By all other expectations she should be an unknown characterless person created only to be killed – how many episodes did she appear in? However, when you hear her thoughts, see what she did to the villagers and tried to do to Kanemasa’s residents, you suddenly /know/ what she’s like – a hopeless person who knows the truth and can’t do anything about it.

    The second was how everytihng is interconnected – any individual person in the village doesn’t have character. Even that really strong old man with the crazy awesome beard, when taken alone, is a dimensionless guy who happens to be really strong and have a crazy awesome beard.

    When you put him together with the rest of the villagers and against his son, he suddenly has so much more character, even though nothing happened /to him/. Eventually, Shiki starts to become an anime about the entire village, not just about the main characters. Whereas other anime would scoff at the idea of having so many (I’m sure there were at least 15 important characters, 10 more semi-important ones, and at least 20 more named characters) people in such a short period of time (take Madoka: really, there were only what six characters?), Shiki does just that and weaves everything together so well that having less characters would make Shiki a much more horrible anime.

    tl;dr Shiki’s characters weren’t necessarily well-developed – the plot was simply so well-written that the characterization came naturally. Shiki’s characters were built around its plot.

    • misaki says:

      woah, huge comment!

      1. Maplestory does suck. It sucked two years of my life away. Also the translators for the game really failed to come up with anything resembling English for a couple of years.

      2. Finish it! The ending to Shiki may or may not be satisfying (depending on how much you like that priest guy), but the last few episodes are full of blood and gore OH YEAH

      3. I agree that when put together, the characters stand out so much more. I believe that the characterization came from the sense of “daily life” that the anime spent so long to portray. The entire first half of the series moved so slowly in order to show how each character was a vital part of the village. So as the craziness built up and everybody became crazy zombies or crazy humans, this “daily life” is shattered. We recall short scenes like the pink-haired girl waiting outside Natsuno’s window and the enormous old guy beating up his son as their vampire bodies are staked to death.

      In effect, each character is remembered as having one or two really strong traits: the old guy’s son is extremely obedient to his father, the annoying ugly guy is annoying and ugly, and the pink haired girl wants to go to the city and loves Natsuno. When you put all of these flat characters together and really emphasize the few traits they possess, it seems as though they are each living, breathing human beings.

      Madoka, on the other hand, has only a handful of characters who are all pretty flat. Shinbou didn’t even bother to give Madoka herself any memorable traits – she’s just that girl who doesn’t do anything until the last episode. Furthermore, because Madoka is supposed to be at the center of the entire show, it becomes glaringly obvious that she doesn’t have any interesting qualities. The show tries to hide this by constantly focusing on “should I become a magical girl or not?” and “what would I wish for?,” but it doesn’t completely work.

      just my five cents.

      • Mushyrulez says:

        1. Maplestory is also the reason behind my sucky name, which sucks.
        2. When I’m finished catching up on this season.
        3. Especially when you read the Oriko manga, you see that really, nobody has character in the Madoka universe. If you put any person (with the exception of Kyubey)’s “character” in another person’s body, it’ll still seem to you like it’s that other person. Also, it’s funny – having one or two traits shouldn’t count as character, any more than a person who likes pizza’s character is ‘liking pizza’ , but with anime (and really, most media that don’t directly go into the characters’ inner thoughts) it seems to be that way…

      • misaki says:

        1. Don’t sweat it. Roggyrulez would sound even worse.

        2. I have nothing else to say, but I need a #2 to get to #3.

        3. Oh man, that sounds horrible. I wonder how they deal with that in the manga if they can’t use color to differentiate between the characters…

        Maybe the hair?

        I don’t think that having one or two traits counts as having character – but it’s a start! Characters that I feel were fleshed out very well include:

        Everybody from Planetes

        Renton Thurston (Eureka Seven)

        Shu (Now and Then, Here and There)

        Tatsuhiro Satou (Welcome to the N.H.K.)

        In all of these cases, the characters feel realistic and display a multifaceted personality, with behavior to back it up.

        but with anime (and really, most media that don’t directly go into the characters’ inner thoughts) it seems to be that way…

        Yeah, but I believe that’s because there’s just so much flat-character generating genres out there. Comedy, for instance, rarely makes round characters. Gintama has been running for 213 episodes, and although the characters are interesting, they barely have any depth. Harem romance/romantic comedy is another genre that doesn’t really help – Shana, Zero no Tsukaima, Key romances, Angel Beats, etc. don’t ever have characters that go beyond their stereotype/role (childhood friend, etc.).

        But there are shows like Planetes and Now and Then, Here and There (which is a meager 13 episodes) that have well developed characters – though they are few and far between.

      • Mushyrulez says:

        Final comment: watch Hyouge Mono. All of the characters are /very/ interesting, past the point of being ‘mere’ anime characters.

      • misaki says:

        I’ll try it if I have time, but I don’t watch much anime nowadays (2-3 episodes per day max, and this is summer vacation!). Also there are a lot of things putting me off:

        1. I’ve never heard of it.

        2. It’s airing.

        3. It’s long (39 episodes), and I don’t watch many anime that go past 2 cours.

        4. I’m a lazy bum.

  4. Eri says:

    I know a lot of people who watched Shiki… I also watched it and liked it myself ._. As for the rest of the post, tl;dr and I am also in a hurry so I just skimmed through it. I didn’t even sit to read how you connected Shiki with Madoka but… good job just for doing it!

    • misaki says:

      Bah, useless comment!

      I actually didn’t connect Shiki with Madoka. I just used this post as an excuse to write about how Madoka wasn’t really all that special. I tend to write about whatever I want in my posts, and that usually has nothing to do with what my readers expect (from the title of the post, at least).

  5. […] of various ideas that started from a basic point (ISML) and evolved into earwax and meta.  My Shiki post two weeks ago started out at Shiki and went to a Madoka critique and some meta on “it gets […]

  6. E Minor says:

    I recently marathon’d Shiki since it seemed like everyone loved it. I didn’t give the anime much thought the first time around; the first half was incredibly dull the first time, and still dull the second time around. Anyway, while I’ll agree that the anime does get better, I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment that it was the best 2010 anime.

    I think the tone of the anime troubles me most. It felt like… Shiki wanted me to sympathize with the vampires. It seemed like the massacre in the last couple of episodes should feel tragic to the audience, but it wasn’t to me. It felt like the anime wanted to tug my heart strings, but I stayed unmoved. I thought the shikis were horrible monsters through and through. The more Shiki tried to characterize the shiki, the more it drew me out of the series. By the end of the series, I just lost all emotional investment in the series.

    I personally found it ridiculous that the monk would pontificate on and on about the value of life but turn around and kill in the ending.

    • misaki says:

      Shiki wanted me to sympathize with the vampires.

      That’s one part of the show that I disliked as well, though what frustrated me more were the fans who insisted on having a pro-Shiki vs. pro-human divide. There’s really no argument. Shiki are vampires who kill people – therefore they must die. It’s really that simple. Any argument beyond that is stretching the facts.

      But yeah. On Anime Planet, I rated Shiki 8/10 because I liked the story as a whole. The shocking parts were quite shocking (especially the wife-torture scene), and the Shiki were killed in all sorts of gory ways! What I didn’t like was how the anime tried to make a subject like this into a moral issue. As I said before, there’s really no argument for the Shiki side. If they have to kill in order to survive, then the humans have to kill them. That nurse could hold out to the very end, so how is Shiki survival morally justified?

      Shiki never tugged at my heart strings either. Because there was no moral battle going on for me, I was 100% pro-human. I simply enjoyed the show for the shock value and really liked the change from “peaceful village” to “murderous gang of crazy people.” It was pretty subtle at times – there’s one scene where a group of women are having tea next to a pile of bodies, and one of the women gets up to drive a stake into a half-dead Shiki. It’s so eerie and disturbing!

      I personally found it ridiculous that the monk would pontificate on and on about the value of life but turn around and kill in the ending.

      It was supposed to show that nobody, not even the monk dude, can escape sin. Well, that’s what I thought. I didn’t really care about the guy in the first place – I stopped paying attention whenever he appeared with Suwako/talked about his dumb story.

  7. Overlord-G says:

    Comparing Shiki with Higurashi has got to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. See why I don’t take hardcore fans seriously?
    Shiki was one of my favorite horror shows of 2010 along with Vampire Bund. It started off slowly but once it got started, HOOOO NELLY did it lead those who saw it on a wild ride. Shame on those who dismissed it. I mean, does moe ALWAYS equal genius? Not always. Higurashi was lucky that it rocked so hard, even with the moe goodness added, but Shiki also had its fluff in the form of fanservice so it didn’t take itself seriously ALL the time. It did take breaks occasionally but not often enough to not be taken seriously.

    Point is, this show was awesome for 3 reasons:
    1: Its art style. gotta love the freaky hair that makes Final Fantasy hairstyles look plausible.
    2:Vampires are feared, not drooled over by Twilight fangirl type creatures. The show follows many of the classic vampirology rules as best as it can and that’s awesome.
    3: It reminds me of Forbidden Siren.

    • flomu says:

      I saw a couple Shiki vs. Higurashi discussions/posts early on, but they eventually died out. So that’s kind of a straw man – my bad.

      1: Its art style. gotta love the freaky hair that makes Final Fantasy hairstyles look plausible.

      I dunno, man. I really didn’t like the hair styles!

      The blue-haired mother (of the second OVA) had hair that resembled poop.

      3: It reminds me of Forbidden Siren.

      Never played/seen it. No PS2 and I don’t like horror movies!

  8. […] spent much of this past summer looking for the sickest, strangest anime of them all.   I browsed the internet, and people recommended shows like Narutaru: I will say […]

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