Home > Episode Reviews, Shiki > Shiki Episode 4 – Death’s Sting

Shiki Episode 4 – Death’s Sting

I’m beginning to wonder how fast this show can ride the mortality train, because not only does this episode set a new record for corpses (eight, with an ninth obviously on the way), but implies that far more people are getting eaten than is publicly known. I’m not certain if this show can keep up either the death count or the increasingly fast-paced plotting as a whole over a period of 22 episodes, but I certainly hope it can.

The three major plot threads running last week have yet to be woven together, but we can see them coming closer. Dr. Ozaki, who watches the husband and son of Nao also succumb to “anemia” in this episode, finally briefs his full staff on the situation and informs them that they have to locate the source of transmission for the epidemic. Of course, he still is seeking a natural source for the something completely not natural. Even the idea of earthly foul play has yet to enter his mind.

Ozaki's medical team looks and sounds highly competent, but that doesn't mean they have a prayer

The death count jumps from 11 at the very start of the episode to 19, although not all the victims are mentioned by name. But Sotoba’s depopulation doesn’t stop there: The family of two separate victims, including that of the (now former) resident police officer, moved away in the middle of the night, leaving most of their possessions behind. At least, such is the conclusion of the neighbors, who don’t quite catch that the moving truck that takes them away was the same that brought the Kirishiki’s in. I doubt these families are long for the world, assuming they are still in it.

Muroi receives another visit from Sunako, who manages to find him even out in the middle of the woods. Muroi, for as yet unexplained reasons, is fond of seeking private time in an abandoned Christian church in the hills north of the town, in what is now temple property. It may just be a coincidence, but the man who had the church built, many years ago, used to live in the Kanamasa region where Sunako and her parents now reside.

Reality seems to bend a little bit whenever Sunako is around. How much of this is "real" and how much is artistic license by the animators is not yet clear, as Muroi doesn't seem to notice

Sunako reveals that she is suffering from a disease that makes her vulnerable to UV rays, which is why she is always out late at night. Seemingly moved by the images of martyrdom adorning the windows of the church, and by Muroi’s own sorrow at the tragedy afflicting Nao’s family, she offers a meditation on the awfulness of death, which almost makes you wonder at her feelings toward triggering the apocalypse now looming over Sotoba. I might be overthinking things, however.

The heart of this episode, however, lies with Natsuno. While his presence in previous episodes has hardly been minimal, it’s not until now that his struggles have taken up the main share of the story. The episode cuts back to Natsuno after every diversion elsewhere, as he grows more and more apprehensive and sleep-deprived. The presence he senses outside his window isn’t just a presence anymore; he now can somehow tell that it’s Megumi.

The dreams start with Natsuno just sensing Megumi outside, but expand until she seems to penetrate every barrier he has put in the way

This is impossible, of course, and perhaps Natsuno believes that the idea was implanted by Masou last time, who told him that Megumi would “haunt” him for treating her death in such a cavalier fashion. Regardless, he still feels hounded, and it invades not just his nightly dreams but even during the day as he heads about town. He hears her voice on the bus and feels her now glowing eyes boring through his wall. At multiple points he thinks to have gained a place of safe haven, only to have his sense of security snatched away—even if it turns out to be just a dream afterward.

Eventually he turns back to Toru, crashing at his place again in the hopes of evading the specter that is haunting him. This winds up being a big mistake, as generous-hearted Toru already extended an invitation to the Kirishiki’s a few nights back. Natsuno suffers his worst nightmare yet, and then has just enough time to calm down after waking to realize that it isn’t a nightmare at all. Megumi really has come back.

Having Megumi come out from hiding under a bed is one of the many ways this show taps into the primal fears of the audience

His one-time stalker hasn’t seemed to have lost any of her over-the-top affection for him, instead compounding her creepiness with new-found undead status. Seemingly out of nothing more than jealousy about how Natsuno is friendlier with Toru than he ever was with her, she decides to take a proactive approach to her competition, and leans in to deliver a bite.

Knowing that those killed by the Kirishiki’s can come back as vampires doesn’t mean that all of them will. It’s possible the Kirishiki’s have to do something special to ensure the passing of their condition, and that Megumi was, in fact, singled out as special. It’s also possible that the only reason that Japan hasn’t been overrun by vampires is because the Japanese typically cremate their dead, which would make a town with burial customs like Sotoba and ideal breeding ground.

Toru conscripts Natsuno's help in getting a date with Ritsuko just before they sleep, showing again that he is not at all genre savvy

Speculation aside, this episode hammers home a sense of helplessness about halting the town’s slow progression toward its doom. We’ve had before clear demonstrations of the inability of science and medical knowledge to protect the residents of Sotoba, but this episode extends the list of failed protectors. The force of government is neutered with the death of the local cop, replaced by what looks to be a Kirishiki pawn. Friendship is of no avail, as Toru’s generosity of spirit makes him more vulnerable, not less.

Crucially, the power of religion is also downplayed as a potential defense. The main priest in town is a man with a deeply compromised history, and in fact was what drew the vampires to the town. The foreign religion of Christianity might, as the stories say, have been a help if it were actually practiced in Sotoba, but the town has no practice of it. Muroi’s horror stories speak of places abandoned by God, but the people of this town abandoned the Christian God (if indeed they ever followed him) long ago. He, too, will not be present.

Muroi is referring the the particular method of execution shown here. You can google "mino-odori" for further information

Even were there an enclave of Christians, however, I take the emphasis on the martyrs in the church to indicate their powerlessness in the earthly realm. Whatever their eternal reward, God did not prevent their (horrible) deaths. For Sunako, who sees death as nothing more than an ultimate end, their sacrifice takes on an even greater tragedy. There is no heaven awaiting these victims, she believes, just nothingness. (Natsuno has similar views of death, it seems, which is rather interesting.)

Much of classic American horror is built around the idea of moral restoration: In the fight between good and evil, good will ultimately prevail, and those who die often do so for transgressing moral norms. In Japanese horror, by contrast, typically there is no sense of fairness or cosmic restoration. Those who die, die, in a merciless and uncaring universe.

Akira is perhaps the first to suspect the Kirishikis, but he's a junior high student and even his sister Kaori doesn't want to listen

Nao and her family committed no observable sins to deserve being wiped out of existence, and neither did any of the other nineteen-going-on-twenty people who have perished so far. With the possible exception of Megumi, none of them were foolish, or meddled with forces beyond their power. They simply happened to be there. And now they are not there, or anywhere. That, as much as the lack of any outside supernatural power to save Sotoba, is the true horror presented by this show.

You can watch the episode here. Episode five also was released this week; I hope to review that sometime in the next few days.

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