The spectre of death is something that instills fears in many. Its cold, uncaring grip snares the young and old, rich and poor alike, accepting no quarter of compensation and offering no chance of escape. The legends it spawned, from the skeletal grim reaper to monstrous shinigami, always painted death’s icy embrace as something to be feared, and those it takes as people to be mourned. With death, though, there always seems to arise another form of legend: one that asks the question of “What if the dead could rise again?” Would they bring peace or misfortune, and would they even be the same people we knew before they were returned to the earth? Shiki revives these questions once again, as viewers are thrust into a world that will be forceed to face the grim realities of such a situation.
During a particularly hot summer in the nineties, the village of Sotoba was visited by grave misfortune. Shortly after the Kirishiki family moved into the house in Kanemasa, members began to suffer from a mysterious plague. It began with Megumi, a young girl with peculiar fashion sense and dreams of a big-city lifestyle. She was found in the woods near Kanemasa, where she was suffering from the onset of a rare form of anemia. She showed no physical injuries, save two insect bites. Her condition worsened and, several days later, she passed on. After her death,members of the village began to suffer from the same sickness, one after another, to the chagrin of local doctor Toshio Ozaki. Rumors of an epidemic began to circulate through the village, and it is up to him to find the cause before the entire village is wiped out.
Things may not be so simple, though. Through the town, tales of people seeing those that they buried just weeks before begin to circulate through the population. Departed friends and neighbors are said to be walking the streets each night, almost as if they’re haunting reminders of the very tragedies they befell. Though they are ashamed to admit it, one word begins to linger in the back of their minds: okiagari, the risen. They are the ones who prowl the streets at night, to devour the living and bring ruin upon whomever they see. Reports state that they’re seen congregaging around the Kanemasa home. Just who are the Kirishikis? What is their connection to these incidents, and can they be stopped before it’s too late for the village? If so, can they be destroyed without the villagers losing the very thing that separates them from the monsters they seek to slay?
Shiki gives life to the village of Sotoba as a world of grey haze and skewed morality. There are no moral absolutes, just as there are no truly good people who inhabit the village. Everybody has sins that they hide from the light of truth, be it the women that gossip at the bus stop or the son of the head monk at the local shrine. They smile openly to one another, even though their thoughts are muddled with distractions, anger, or even hatred. They shut themselves out from the realities that threaten the village, and instead cling to comfortable, tangible truths like the epidemic. Even as the peoples’ relatives change
from spirited individuals to lifeless shells of their former selves, they close their eyes and shut their ears to the reality.
As the tale progresses, it shifts between various cast members, each sharing an encroaching sense of dread through the building crisis. The characters give flavor and character to the world, and offer their own perspectives on the disaster as it occurs. Be it the analytical Dr. Ozaki or high schooler Natsuno, these characters’ stories help to build a delightfully creepy atmosphere as people struggle to make sense of whats happening. Their fears, frustrations, and panic only heightens the impact of the okiagari‘s presence, though the fiends themselves do not appear until after the third episode. It becomes clear that they are dealing with an otherworldly terror that threatens to consume the village itself, if something isn’t done.
To set the tone, Shiki utilizes a restrained score, that favors simple arrangements and instrumentation. Plinking pianos and a haunting vocal arrangements provide the basis for much of the show’s compositions, which emphasize the unsettling, sinking feeling that pervades much of the show. Visually,the series thrives on the exploitation of the color palette. Many of the show’s characters are drawn in a sharp, angular style that emphasizes bright hues that contrast with the more muted settings of the show. Wild hair colors and piercing eyes provide a
sharp contract to the earthy greens and browns of the village itself, lending to the sense that things aren’t entirely well in the Sotoba.
Shiki is the rare horror title that manages to get every element right. It’s spooky and tense, without being creepy. The plot is detailed, though it never gets bogged down by the minutiae, and the characters themselves are fascinating. It’s a rare find in today’s market that will enthrall viewers from the moment the first episode begins, to the moment the final curtain falls.