The fright appeal of vampires has truly been through the wringer. From nightwalkers to simpering waifs who sparkle in the sun, even the word “vampire” seems to have been tainted. So consider the vampire anime: beautiful bishounen and plenty of gorgeous women feasting on the blood of their loved ones and friends, somehow transforming the terror of being pursued by one of the foul creatures into a budding romance or sexual liaison. Quite honestly I felt that may be the case with Shiki: Part One on Blu-ray, a new FUNimation release centering around the arrival of a peculiar family to the sleepy town of Sotoba and the bizarre happenings that occur surrounding their move. How overjoyed I was to discover I was completely and utterly wrong. It’s an unsettling series with even stranger characters and inconsistent art design, but it all works in some weird, disjointed way. Shiki is a ephemeral fever dream that turns stomachs as well as minds – upside down, that is.
The tale begins with the extravagant small-town young woman Megumi, clearly meant for greater things, and explores her frustration with the fact that her crush pays her no attention. The townsfolk stare when she wears her flashy outfits, and she feels life in general is completely dull and will stay that way if she can’t get away. That all changes when Megumi is found dead after contracting what seems to be a mysterious illness floating around the close-knit community. This sparks a panic amongst the rest of the village inhabitants, namely the late Megumi’s crush Natsuno Yuuki, who initially seems quite cold and unaffected, and a particular village doctor whose witnessing so many sudden deaths are beginning to affect him on a personal level. What’s causing seemingly otherwise healthy townsfolk to die? And what’s up with that freaky family, the ones who just moved into the Kanemasa mansion on the top of the hill?
Shiki may seem slow-moving and meandering at times, but underneath the veneer of hyper-colorful, shiny animation and cheery voiceovers, there’s something decidedly sinister at play. The vampiric Shiki who are obviously preying on the people of Sotoba are psychotic in their own special ways, and it appears early on in Shiki: Part One the vampires themselves aren’t even the creepiest aspects of this rather unique series. The vampires who lure humans into becoming their own personal buffet tables by means of coming to their windows at night (most of them, anyway) and lulling them into a trance to get them to allow them to feed are disturbing enough as it is with their crimson eyes, but particular characters’ expressions and self-harming attitudes are horrifying as well.
Perhaps most of Shiki’s most frightening moments come not only from its main storyline involving vampires and the mythos surrounding them but the villagers themselves. It’s simple to pick out the inadequacies and personal weaknesses exhibited not only by the main cast, but even the supporting characters with little less than a few episodes’ worth of build-up shine brilliantly. I was particularly fixated by a particularly disconcerting fellow who I won’t mention here as not to spoil his moment, but the events unfolding that led to his death were like something out of some of the best Italian horror movies you’ve seen. It’s that type of gripping, creeping dread that makes Shiki fantastic.
My only real gripe drew from the fact that Shiki’s art direction can be so hit-or-miss. Some cast members are drawn in a hyper-realistic style, while others suffer from less detail and stereotypically “anime” expressions. Some look absolutely nothing like any normal human being, and you find yourself wondering what the artists were on when they decided to pencil in a woman’s hairstyle that not only defies gravity but finds a home on an elderly mother-in-law. But as the thirteen episodes wore on, I found myself appreciating the jarring switch between art styles and how it didn’t allow me to ever become completely accustomed or comfortable with the action on-screen. For that, whether intentional or not, I believe Shiki should be praised – as well as for its unconventional usage of beatboxing BGM and other chilling musical additions, including an excellent opening.
Shiki: Part One collects the first twelve episodes of the series in a multi-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that comes stacked with textless openings and trailers for other series, but you’ll want to focus mainly on the excellent content within, as this is a highly entertaining horror anime that deserves far more exposure than it seems to have gotten from the community. If you find this first selection at all titillating than you’ll definitely want to make sure you pick up the second half as well, because if it’s even half as engaging, you’ll channel acid-laced visions of some truly fantastic Giallo fantasy – trust me, that’s an amazing combination.
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