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.

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Jhiday

I've been kinda blogging about anime for years... but mostly on forums (such as RPG.net's Tangency) and other sites. This site is an archive for all that stuff, just in case.

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