Home > Episode Reviews, Shiki > Shiki Episode 20 – Heart of Darkness

Shiki Episode 20 – Heart of Darkness

It’s hard to tell how many humans are fighting against the shiki, but we do know that there are lots of them. With the shrine as a night-time base of operations—so full of religious images that the vampires can’t approach it—and virtual immunity during the day, the preliminary scouring of the town eliminates (by Tatsumi’s estimation) 30% of the nocturnal nightmares, and that’s before the villagers discover an underground lair. The hunt is going surprisingly well.

Perhaps too well. In the flush of victory, the living population of Sotoba is getting far too comfortable with making human-looking things dead. No one is painting themselves or dancing around bonfires with spears, but the veneer of civilization is rubbing off from the villagers. And each line crossed makes the next one easier.

One of the hunts is recounted like a medieval painting of an execution site. Shiki is gifted at making even a good event seem bad

I discussed earlier the tactics Tatsumi employed to break in recently raised vampires and convince them of their “right” to hunt and kill. Those included creating a sense of isolation, producing a plausible threat, offering rationalizations to dehumanize the other, and even applying guilt to those who show they aren’t “supportive” of what the group is doing. In an ironic way, that’s just about exactly what Ozaki’s done for the villagers following him.

Granted, Ozaki wasn’t trying to brainwash the villagers into murdering machines; he sincerely believes everything he said to them. But, in viewing the examples we had of the recently returned vampires, there are at least some parallels to how the recently informed humans, learning of their plight, take the justified rage they feel at those who killed so many of them over the past several months and employ it in ways that aren’t quite as justified.

Ozaki is at first surprised, then philosophical, about how fast the hunters become accustomed to the blood and the slaughter. Very soon the screams and pleas for mercy are toned out entirely

Tomio Ookawa serves as a key example. Since his first appearance, his ridiculous appearance is matched only by his ridiculous personality: violent, uncompromising, and prone to overreaction. That and his strength make him an excellent vampire hunter, and by the start of this episode he’s already saved Ozaki’s life twice. He quickly becomes the informal second in command.

Yet these traits push him in less than admirable directions. He’s arguably responsible for his mess of a son, Atsushi, constantly belittling and beating him; much of Atsushi’s violent behavior post-return was a way just of reveling in his freedom out from under his father’s thumb. Even before they find Atsushi still dripping with blood from his latest kill, Ookawa is set on staking him personally. His son’s tears and pleas for forgiveness are not heeded.

The closest Ookawa comes to having compassion for his son is wanting to kill him as cleanly as possible. Most of the humans spend the episode covered in blood

Things get worse when the vampires choose an unconventional method of counterattacking. Unable to approach the shrine or deal with large groups, they feed on vulnerable or isolated humans, arm them with weapons, and have them attack their pursuers. Ozaki knows that this is just the vampires’ standard brainwashing, but to Ookawa this is obvious collaboration, and he won’t settle for less than a full accounting. When a woman is gunned down before his eyes, Ookawa stakes the hapless shooter on the spot.

Ozaki was completely unwilling to endorse killing a human being; he’s successfully dehumanized the vampires, but he doesn’t want the blood of real humans on his hands. But what he has started is no longer fully under his control, and the baser instincts of the mob are taking over. Any humans seen siding with the vampires, even if it isn’t their fault, get treated just like them.

Given Ookawa's previous appearances, his assuming the worst and insisting on acting on it immediately is perfectly in character. Of course, I've never much liked his character

Oddly enough, the one human who is a collaborator with the vampires, Seishirou Kirishiki, appears to have had a childhood experience as scarring as Atsushi. While he declines to give the details to Natsuno (understandable, as Natsuno was keeping him from sniping villagers), he claims his father hunted and killed with the same aplomb as a vampire, and the experience of this permanently warped Seishirou’s pysche.

Perhaps he hasn’t tried yet out of fear he won’t come back, or because the plan to conquer Sotoba required him to be human, but Seishirou really wants to become a vampire, and to become one precisely because of the fact they have an existential excuse for hunting and killing others. He might not be a monster in any outwardly visible way, but his heart is driven by the worst desires to dominate and oppress the weak.

Sunako is constantly seeking the acceptance she didn't get from her original family. Given she now finds it from a deranged psychopath and a suicidal sap, I don't think she has much cause to be happy

Perhaps he should take a wider survey to see how well becoming a vampire works out in practice. While Atsushi delighted in the freedom to kill (until his father … expressed disapproval about it), Seishirou’s “daughter” Sunako has been killing for a long time, and she finds her very existence deplorable. She knows, after all the killing she’s done, that if the mob upstairs caught her and staked her on the spot, she’d deserve it.

Yet, she’s still afraid to die, and can’t see how she could have done anything else but what she did to survive. It is that conundrum that makes think that she is truly accursed by God; made into a monster that has no choice but to be a monster. I’ve poked out various flaws in this theory before (in particular, just because she needs to feed doesn’t mean she needs to kill), but her despair is genuine.

Sunako thinks she's in an impossible situation, but that only makes her dig herself deeper into the pit

Despite what she says, however, she does have a choice. Ritsuko proves that, not just by continuing to endure her hunger, but talking Toru into letting her fellow nurse and possible dinner option Yasuyo escape. Like Sunako, Ritsuko laments her reborn status—not for the crimes it makes her commit, but only because it means she has to die twice.

Toru’s coming around probably has something to do with his love for her, but he too understands what she means. Even thought he still tries to justify his actions, he comes to an implicit agreement with her that her way is better. Sunako, we know, wanted to recruit Toru for bigger things, likely because his sense of guilt mirrored her own. But someone else claimed his heart first.

In another type of story, Ritsuko's example would inspire human and shiki to work out some lasting peace. This is not that story

Since Yasuyo was being held in the outskirts of the town there the shiki have their last refuge (at least, I think that’s where she is), the irony is that, even if she does want to honor Ritsuko and Toru’s sacrifice by hiding their location, she’ll likely have it forced out of her by an angry mob, and might even be killed anyway. It’s a tragic irony that, after all the other tragic ironies this show has provided, would feel right at home.

With the exception of Atshushi’s murder of Ozaki’s mother (which happens off screen), every single brutal and morally objectionable act this time around comes at human hands, with Seishirou serving as the proxy for the vampires. We see here the darkness in the heart of in every man, while hearts of the creatures of darkness show the deepest forms of vulnerability. The balance of power has shifted from the hands of the monsters, but the show finds another way to maintain the sense of horror.

If Ookawa saw something like this, he'd not only immediately conclude that Muroi was a traitor to his species, but for once he'd be justified

Only two episodes remain, and the confrontation between Seishirou and Natsuno is still unresolved. Likewise, Megumi’s eventual confrontation with either Natsuno or Kaori seems inevitable, as does Ozaki and Muroi butting heads one last time. And, ultimately, Sunako will be called to account for her actions. And that encounter will be very dark indeed.

You can watch the episode here.

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