Home > Episode Reviews, Shiki > Shiki Episode 19 – The Other Side of War

Shiki Episode 19 – The Other Side of War

I said last time that an open war was about to break out between human and shiki, and on the surface that’s what happens here. The residents of Sotoba are woken from their dogmatic slumber and come to grips with the vampiric assault on their town; the vampires go on the defensive as they plan to retaliate, and both sides prepare to a campaign of attack and counter-attack following the cycles of day and night.

But even now, there are resisters. Even now, there are those who balk at the prospects of facing loved ones on the other side, of the physical act of hammering a stake into a writhing, screaming victim. Ozaki calls it nothing more than putting corpses back in the ground, but not all townsfolk agree.

And, unlike with zombies, or even the vampires of other tales, these vampires are human enough, close enough to what they were before, that this hesitation makes sense. In the end, war—particularly given the openly brutal elements through which this particular war must play out—requires a violent resolve beyond what some of the villagers can stomach.

A daylight hunting party, from the perspective of an uninformed observer, appears to be nothing more than a masked mob viciously hacking apart the helpless. From an informed perspective, it doesn't look all that different

I personally find it interesting that, as Tatsumi reports the events of the festival to Sunako, he recommends retreat; even with all the advantages the vampires have, their daytime vulnerability and the sheer numbers of the humans make an open fight a losing proposition in his eyes. Despite the time and resources the Kirishiki’s have invested over the past several months, his inclination is to flee.

Sunako, already forming a battle plan, rejects this out of hand; there are simply too many vampires now to form a clean get away. In her own way, she is like Ozaki in her care for her people; although she in particular is vulnerable to human assault, she chooses to stay and command rather than leave her children to their fate. That’s hardly the only suggestion of moral equivalence in the show.

Sunako's motives (and wardrobe choices) aside, her plans are just as ruthless as those of her opponents. Both sides order the roads out be blocked; neither wants the other side to escape

The episode constantly offers contrasting parallels to drive the point home. (Sometimes literally.) We discover, for example, that diner owner Kanami Yano is keeping her returned mother in her house. Trying to keep her only relative “alive,” she’s been feeding her with her own blood, but with enough time in between to allow for recovery. With her mother on a borderline starvation diet, it doesn’t seem like a viable long term solution.

Still, Yano is trying to protect her loved ones. Kaori, maddened with fear, has lost any such consideration. When she hears an intruder in the house, she assumes that Megumi has come to finish destroying her family and decides to go on the offensive. She’s shocked to find a completely different vampire has come to greet her—but then attacks anyway with a fury her opponent completely lacks.

Kaori does hesitate a moment when she sees her father back from the grave. But it is only for a moment

There are reciprocal examples of surrender as well. Ritsuko continues to resist her hunger even as Toru tempts, threatens, and pleads with her to attack one of her former coworkers. Some of this comes from his own pain at seeing her suffer (and Toru, we learned a dozen or so episodes back, was long in love with Ritsuko), but every second she resists her hunger also makes his own moral failure all the more prominent.

Ritsuko’s actions stand in the face of every justification that Sunako gives for the actions of the vampires. According to Sunako, the vampires kill because they have to in order to survive. Putting aside the fact deliberately slaughtering a whole village and seeking to create others of their kind isn’t quite the same thing as surviving, Ritsuko points the way to a nobler, self-sacrificial way. Ritsuko will die, one way or another. But, despite being an undead monster, she will die clean.

Toru's tears are those of guilt as much as desperation. He could follow up on his threat and forcefeed her blood from a glass if he chose—but he can't make her sully her hands, and thus prove that what he did was unavoidable

Oddly enough, this idea of self-sacrifice is paralleled at least partially in Muroi, who gave himself to the vampires not to save his own life, but to lose it. While it looks like the vampires have been courteous enough not to use compulsion on him (Tatsumi even asks before feeding on him), he is Sunako’s current meal of choice. Despite this, he assists in hiding Sunako from the hunters coming for them.

Ultimately the parallel falls apart, and Muroi comes to realize this. By siding with the vampires he has not chosen the way of non-violence, which would entail flight or staying at home. By coming to the vampires willingly, and betraying Ozaki, he willed for the destruction of himself and the village. He spends the last moments of the episode wondering why, exactly, that is.

Exorcising personal demons through writing horror fiction, siding with the vampires, his youthful suicide attempt—all point to Muroi's deep psychological scarring and desire to destroy himself. But why?

Shiki continues to play up sympathy for both sides, and I’m certain that just as many bloodcurdling moments will come from the humans as from the vampires. Yet however carefully it hedges and equivocates between the two sides, ultimately it does not pretend that the two are equal. There is an aggressor and a victim here, although it’s hard to cheer for either of them.

What the show does want to depict is the horror, not of monsters invading a helpless isolated town, but of war: how difficult the act of killing is, and how natural it is to dehumanize the other as a way to justify that act. In a war even those fighting for good do ugly things, and death—as Sunako rightly notes—is a terrible thing for everyone. Even those who have it coming.

As Chizuru is staked and killed, her memories of her life with a caring husband fade away. She was a woman who loved and who knew love, and now she is nothing

You can watch the episode here.

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