Shiki Episode 1 – Out of Place
Well, with spirits and zombies in place, we need a new form of monster to keep the supernatural creature fest going. Fortunately (I hope), noitaminA is back with a supernatural horror series to round out our entrants, even if it still isn’t clear exactly what monster this show is about. “Shiki” means corpse demon, but the nature of this beast has yet to be fully defined.
Of course, horror shows (aside from zombie flicks) always benefit from keeping an element of mystery about their proceedings. Given we’re still in the opening phases of the show, it’s content with showing that things are a bit off. At the moment, Shiki is giving us a normal world where things are … just a little out of place.
Megumi Shimizu also feels out of place. Stuck in the small, rural farming community of Sotoba, she wants nothing more but to get out. She hates her town, her neighbors, even her peers at school—who treat her far more nicely than she treats them—because they are unstylish, unsophisticated, and don’t appreciate her wardrobe selection. (For the curious, Megumi’s choice in clothing takes inspiration from Sweet Lolita style, albeit of the more toned down variety.)
Were this a Disney film, she’d be the protagonist and probably introduced with a wistful song about wanting to escape her provincial life. Since this is an anime, specifically one in the horror genre, she’s nothing more than a self-indulgent, mildly spiteful teenager, whose character flaws will directly contribute to her inevitable downfall.
There are only two things Megumi likes in this town. The first is recent transfer student Natsuno Yuuki, who, Megumi correctly discerns, feels just as alienated out in the boonies as she does. (She takes her interest in him to the level of stalking, but that’s another issue.) The other is a giant faux-western castle that was recently built on the edge of town, which she fantasizes must belong to beautiful, sophisticated, witty people who will truly be able to appreciate her.
Because of this, it’s only natural that she ignores some of the other odd things that are happening around town. Like how all the little shrines decorating the roads were recently defaced. Or the death of three elderly people in one of the outskirt regions, under somewhat odd circumstances. Or the increased sightings of wolves. Or how the castle’s inhabitants moved in at night—for while she’s eager for any information about the newcomers, she isn’t willing to accept for a moment anything unusual about them, save for how they of course will be better in every way than her peers.
So, after the move, Megumi finds herself close the castle, with some fleeting fantasy at being noticed for being special and rescued from her pedestrian existence, when someone—or thing—does take notice. Flash forward to that evening, where Megumi failing to come home causes the whole town to turn out and search for her. She is found, half comatose, in a ditch.
Whatever happened to her didn’t leave marks, so the town doctor can’t find anything to blame but anemia. Yet she wastes away, dying in a matter of days. Oddly enough, despite having undergone what seems from flashbacks to be a horrific experience, what few comments she makes indicates she isn’t at all upset. Her last thoughts are on how beautiful the new residents of Sotoba are.
I have to admit my expectations going into this show were very high. First off, this the latest noitaminA show, and thus following in the footsteps of some of the best shows released this year. Second, it is based on the work of Fuyumi Ono, a horror writer who also composed The Twelve Kingdoms, an extremely well regarded fantasy series. (That the anime version of this series doesn’t make it on my top ten list of anime is solely due to weakness of the adaption, not of the original source material.) The pedigree here is outstanding.
It is perhaps because of the high expectations that I felt a little let down by this episode. Not with the plot, precisely, as what little we’ve seen so far is perfectly functional and hits all the proper notes. It’s more a question of the character designs, which seem a little bit, well, cartoony. (Megumi at least has an excuse for her look; some other characters don’t.) In a show which otherwise tries to be serious, zany looking characters don’t help with the mood.
There’s also the set-up, which requires that everyone just accept that building a stereotypical haunted castle isn’t a profoundly creepy thing to do. Or that the one member of the Kirishiki family (the one living in the castle) that we see has dog ears—or maybe furry horns—and no one seems to notice or care. It’s not as if the small community isn’t talking about the Kirishikis, but as the deaths begin to pile up, I only hope that someone in town will figure out that maybe the bizarre new neighbors have something to do with it.
With those complaints out of the way, I should say that despite that fact that some elements of the presentation felt, well, out of place, structurally the horror elements were fine. Thus far we haven’t seen much besides decaying corpses and an emaciated girl (and a surreal and disturbing flashback on Megumi’s part), but too much too early is always a bad idea with these sorts of shows. Starting with the perspective of the first victim worked well, and I’m curious if that will be a pattern for the next couple episodes.
Another thing to like is how developed the town is. Almost all the characters shown on screen, including the corpses, had names listed as they were introduced, and I’ve read from a not completely substantiated source indicated that there was a cast of 150 named characters in the original novel. If true, it’s a great act of world building, and also reflects the nature of a small town, where everyone is in relation to everyone else. It indicates that—and this episode corroborates this—there will be no nameless victims in this show. Every death, in a way, matters.
It’s these carefully crafted elements—an air of mystery, a sense of a living community, death treated as a tragedy rather than a plot element, hints of everything slowly building toward an ultimate disaster—that will make me come back to the show next week. I just, and I realize this is ironic, wish the show was better at shaking its anime roots.
Since Funimation entered a partnership with noitaminA, this episode and all future episodes of Shiki will be available streaming off of their website. Previous such shows were also available on Hulu, a policy I hope will be continued in this case. (If for no other reason that Hulu is much easier to take screens from.)