12 Days #3 : Shiki, or Wives Having Tea While Burying Vampires

NoitaminA is a fascinating timeslot. Its stated purpose it to coproduce anime series for a more “mainstream” audience than the usual otaku-bait. In practice, this has led to a number of shows set in university (as opposed to anime’s usual obsession with highschool) and targeted to a more female audience than usual (see Honey & Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Princess Jellyfish…), as well as some aiming at the “arthouse” market (such as Mononoke, Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong…). The remit seemed wide enough to allow for ambitious techno-thrillers (Eden of the East, Psycho-Pass…) or adaptations of critical-darling manga series (Bunny Drop, Silver Spoon…). Some may have found noitaminA lost its way when it aired generic crap like Guilty Crown or spent half a year doing reruns, but it has still managed to retain an identity and an ambition that I can only respect.

I only came into watching noitaminA shows in late 2010, with the aforementioned Princess Jellyfish. Still, it had enough of a reputation for me to not only consistently look forward to any new shows (with fewer disappointments than average in a given season), but also delve with enthusiasm into their back catalogue. With most of the usual suspects out of the way, this year I finally came back to a show I had skipped the first time around in 2010 : Shiki.

Shiki sounds at first like an odd fit for noitaminA. An adaptation of a vampire manga series ? With a highschool protagonist (at a time where the timeslot still avoided that) ? As soon as you get into it, though, it makes for perfect sense : with its super-stylised character designs (those impossible haircuts !) and deliberate slow pace entrench it firmly into the “arthouse” category. All this while working perfectly as a horror series ; the terror comes not from the camp vampires themselves, but from the methodical and deliberate way at which they kill and take over a rural society that didn’t see them coming. (And to their credit, the people who should notice them, such as the doctor now facing a bizarre anaemia epidemic, do put two and two together relatively quickly ; it’s just that it’s hard to collect evidence while their support structure are getting more and more eroded by the day.)

Shiki is a harrowing watch, at least in its first two thirds, as the protagonists get whittled down one by one and face increasing despair and impotence with either resignation, madness, or just abject failure. Now, of course they eventually manage to strike back meaningfully against their vampire invaders. What’s fascinating is that the show makes the point that even if you’ve got the upper hand and initiative, getting rid of dozens of vampires, while at first exhilarating, quickly turns into being exhausting, and then just tedious.

Which leads to this hilarious scene opening the penultimate episode. By now, the village’s win against the vampires is mostly acquired ; but there’s still the matter of getting rid of dozens of vampire corpses. So it’s up to a number of women (most of them background characters) to make sure nobody’s playing possum, secure the stakes, and bury all of them to avoid future awkward questions from the authorities (while the men complete the hunt). Since it’s gruelling work, they take a break, have tea and gossip for a bit. As though this were as natural a social activity as preparing for a festival.

Shiki excels at this kind of gallows’ humour ; and of course it raise the usual genre question as to whether the humans are the real monsters. (Maybe. But the vampires, however much they’re shrieking for mercy, definitely were.) It’s a great moment which exemplifies why I loved this show and rate it as one of the best anime I’ve watched this year.

12 Days #2 : Nice Troll, Rokka

Rokka no Yuusha – Braves of the Six Flowers initially presents itself as a rather straightforward heroic-fantasy romp : the Dark Lord is about to reawaken, so it’s up to a new set of six heroes of legend to go and defeat him. There are some nice Mesoamerican-like trappings and animal motifs to make the show visually distinctive, but otherwise it feels like it’s going to be relatively conventional…

… Until SEVEN heroes show up at the appointed time and place, and they get stuck into a trap that looks like it could only have been purposefully triggered by one of them. So now we’re in a variation of one of my favourite genres : the closed-circle, fairplay whodunnit mystery, as the characters are trying to find out who’s the traitor. As you’d expect, this was pure catnip for me.

I won’t elaborate on the actual resolution of the mystery itself ; it was decently-executed and the journey there was entertaining enough. Its deliberately slow pacing gave ample room to develop the characters and build intriguing relationships between them. (Adlet & Hans, best bros forever !)

No, the moment that made me love the show forever comes from the coda, after the traitor has been unmasked and dealt with. Finally our six heroes can go and confront the Big Bad, as they had planned all along ! Except ANOTHER seventh hero then shows up, having arrived late to the rendezvous point. Since she has decent enough credentials , it reignites the mystery of who the fake hero is anew.

It’s a blatant trollish sequel hook, but I admire it for its brazen showmanship. It’s also the confirmation that, whatever happens next, it’ll be a continuation of those fun mind games and NOT back to the straight heroic-fantasy adventure the show had originally teased. Admittedly, sales have been dire enough for there to be little chance of a second season, but this was promising enough for me to get interested in checking out the original light novels.

Well played, Rokka.

12 Days #1 : When Kindaichi Disappointed Me

So, this year I’m trying to participate in this 12 days of anime thingie : each day until Christmas, I will be rambling about a particular moment of watching anime this year that I found memorable. Let’s kick this off with…

Well, I’ve always liked The Casefiles of Young Kindaichi. It’s not a particularly great show, but it’s got a fun gimmick, and I’ve always had a soft spot for fair-play whodunnits. But while I’ve been enjoying the recent “Returns” revivals, I had always been miffed at the unavailability of most of the original TV series beyond the first 40 episodes (out of 148). So I was delighted to recently find some very rough translations of the middle third of that series. Even though the translators were in dire need of an editor with better mastery of the English language, at least I could now watch it !

And for the most part, it’s been rewarding ; seeing the first appearances of supporting characters such as young idol Reika Hayami (who’s a big deal in Returns) or Kindaichi’s bratty kid cousin Fumi, who’s amazingly not a terrible character. And there were some good mysteries along the way, even when a bit contrived or gimmicky.

And then I reached episodes #70-73, aka The English Hotel Murder Case. And boy, what a mess this was. (Warning : some unavoidable plot spoilers about this case below.)

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