What I learned from watching ShikiPosted: June 9, 2011 | |
What anime aired in 2010?
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Shiki is last on this list because nobody watched it. Some Higurashi ripoff? I’d rather watch my anime about some stupid girl and her crossdressing jellyfish boyfriend! I’d rather watch some stupid Kanade and her Kanade get a heart from Kanade Kanade should lose ISML Kanade.
Shiki is last on this list because it was also the best show of the year (Disappearance was a movie, durr). I had the series on an external HD for the longest time, and I have to give a hand to Caraniel for convincing me to watch the damn thing. Before this season with Nichijou, AnoHana, etc., there was a two year gap where I constantly watched average anime. I would often think, “Wow, anime has gotten so bad these days…”
Shiki is the type of show that I should’ve watched earlier. Maybe it would have restored my faith in the storytelling and animating power of the anime industry. It’s an anime that sticks with you and forces you to think about it for weeks, months… even years (?), whether you like it or not.
In this post, I’m going to talk about what watching Shiki has taught me. There will be minor spoilers, but hell, it’s not going to make a difference.
1. Shiki vs. Higurashi is an unfair comparison
aka “Shiki is neither Mystery nor Horror”
As the title says, Shiki is not a horror anime. It’s not a mystery anime. It’s a tragedy – and an incredible one. When somebody says “horror anime,” I think of Higurashi. It’s only natural, given that it’s the only well-known horror anime… and I only say “well-known” because I don’t know any other ones.
Higurashi scared the shit out of me. I was afraid to get out of bed at night to use the restroom. Rena’s yandere face. That fingernail remover. Shion (or was it Mion?) popping out from weird places. Throat maggots. It was terrifying, and I was thoroughly terrified.
Shiki was not scary. It was not scary in comparison to Higurashi. It was not even scary in comparison to Jigoku Shoujo. Maybe it’s scary in comparison to Lucky Star. Just maybe. In any case, Shiki did not attempt to leave anything to the imagination. It tells the audience straight-out that the enemies are a bunch of vampires. It goes further to show the vampire mob’s activities in detail, even developing their characters. It’s not like Higurashi, where every waking moment is spent on “OH SHIT, RENA’S GOING TO KILL ME. She’s right behind me with that cleaver. Oh shit! Satoko’s going to kill me! Oh shit, Shion’s going to torture me and then kill me!” The audience lives in a constant state of paranoia because we have no idea if Keiichi is going to suddenly explode into a gruesome shower of blood and maggots or not.
Some main characters may have died in Shiki, but their deaths were sad – not terrifying. The entire anime is built around characterizing the entire village and showing how both humans and vampires can turn from naive dreamers into crazy, bloodthirsty killers. Nobody is saved from this fate. Everybody sins, and it’s tragic when they do.
Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here. I haven’t seen many Higurashi-Shiki comparisons. Then again, I haven’t seen many opinions on Shiki in general. But if you do decide to see Shiki or judge it, don’t compare it to Higurashi. The only thing they have in common is “shit happens in a small town.”
2. IGBIS is a semi-legitimate argument.
I first encountered the infamous “it gets better, I swear!” defense in sola. Now in that show, something happens midway through that makes the latter half “better.” But the thing is, I didn’t find it better. I thought it was terrible through and through. It didn’t even get less terrible after the halfway point – it was just a different kind of terrible that was equally terrible as the first half’s terrible.
Repeat for several shows.
Then, enter Madoka Magica. When I watched the first episode of Madoka, I thought, “Wow, this is kind of decent.” Then college really kicked in and I had stuff to do (like playing TF2 and Minecraft instead of watching anime). Three months later, I returned to the internet and holy crap everybody loves Madoka Magica for some reason. Not to get too far out of the loop, I decided to do the one thing I said I would never do: pick up a dropped anime. I’m not Scamp – for me, dropped anime are dropped forever (though I guess it’s safe to say that he has now seen the light and also thinks that dropped anime should stay that way). Madoka was the first dropped anime I’ve picked up and managed to finish.
The thing is, Madoka Magica wasn’t that special. I needed something more. I stumbled across that IGBIS post on Behind the Nihon Review. Then I stumbled across Caraniel’s post on her top 50 anime, where Shiki was #2. Then I stumbled across this massive folder in my external hard drive called “Shiki [umee].” Then I stumbled and hit the mouse button twice to open up the second episode. Then I stumbled into my chair and sat there for twenty minutes.
Moral of the story: sometimes stumbling is good. It results in watching good anime.
What I’m trying to say is that although I was semi-convinced by Caraniel’s IGBIS argument:
Shiki is a slow burn to start with (although I hear its much less noticeable to those marathoning it) and only really kicks off in a big way midway through. The painstaking buildup of atmosphere and character development in the first half, means that when the brakes are taken off in the second half, the series just never stops delivering fantastic moments!
I was fueled more by my desire to disprove IGBIS and to eventually write a post about how Madoka sucked and then Shiki sucked so therefore IGBIS is inherently faulty. Q.E.D.
But it turns out that Shiki is actually a great anime for proving IGBIS works! The first half of the show is dull, boring, trite… did I mention boring? Once the anime showed me that the vampires were just a bunch of people led by a cat-eared guy in a jumpsuit, there really was no suspense/mystery/horror for me to actually care. But when some unexpected things started happening in episode 14, I got hooked.
imo Shiki is the exception to the rule. No other anime gets better, I swear!
tl;dr I wrote this section for no reason, really.
3. Recommend some disturbing shows!
Shiki is best described as “haunting,” but not in the ghostly sense. It’s a sick and twisted story about a village losing their humanity, both figuratively and literally. If that isn’t chilling and disturbing enough, Shiki first develops these villagers’ characters and then kills them off/makes them suffer in the most gruesome and/or horrible ways. One character is run over by tractors repeatedly. One is experimented on and tortured before killed. One is stoned, pinned down, and killed. One is shot. Three are axed. Many are staked. Many get their blood sucked.
In short: blood, gore, suffering, despair, and very strangely tear-jerkingness. That’s what I like about Shiki.
That’s also what I love about Shadow Star Narutaru (save the tear-jerking-ness). Narutaru was recommended to me by Chii after I expressed my undying love for Alien Nine on Twitter. In both Alien Nine and Narutaru, I got a very unsettling feeling, as if all the main characters could suddenly turn into cannibal snake demons and start eating each other in the goriest way imaginable. Alien Nine makes killing aliens an elementary-schooler’s job while Narutaru corrupts a children’s anime into some sick show about peer pressure, murder, and torture. Alien Nine always takes an upbeat tone, even when the main characters are tearing at each others’ throats. Narutaru is consistently eerie, even when the main character is just walking down the street on a normal day.
There is no “disturbing shit” genre for these shows. The closest I can find is “Psychological,” but that’s not quite what I’m looking for. I want to see more shows like Shiki, Alien Nine, and Narutaru. I want to watch anime that are tough to watch. Marathoning Shiki was straight-out difficult – I needed to stop halfway through some episodes because it was just too much to bear.
So in short: recommend me some shows that I could tear my hair out watching. I want some anime that is so disturbing that I won’t be able to sleep at night.
Useless aside #1: Though I liked Narutaru’s atmosphere and mood, I didn’t like the story. It was sloppily done, as if the staff decided to abandon the first half of the show in favor of pursuing a completely different arc. So if you go find my Anime-Planet list, you’ll see that I rated the show 2.5/5.
Useless aside #2: Anime-Planet and MAL are totally unhelpful because dumb users recommend Higurashi on the Shiki page, almost as if it were a reflex action. “Oh, horror. Must be Higurashiesque.” In fact, A-P has a recommendation for Black Rock Shooter on the Shiki page. Why? WHY?
The hair… it all makes sense now. That’s why I like Mikoto and Misaki and Eurek- wait.
4. More on disturbing/shocking shows!
or “why Madoka did not appeal to me”
Warning: Madoka Magica spoilers ahead!
After watching Madoka Magica, I went online and read all the posts people made while I was off playing Minecraft and TF2 (all of winter 2010/2011 season). Most of the people who didn’t love Madoka argued that the characters were weak, especially Madoka. Those who did love Madoka Magica with all of their heart and soul (99% of the aniblogosphere) mentioned that the anime was about despair… with a finale full of hope.
The thing is, I’ve watched shows like Narutaru that take despair so much farther than Madoka ever did, so I didn’t really care about magical girls dying and turning into witches. Okay, so it’s kind of dark and twisted. Middle schoolers are basically making deals with the devil in exchange for some stupid wish. Mami died, other people died, lots of people died.
But hey, a lot more people died in Shiki and their deaths actually mattered to me because I cared about them. The lack of good characterization in Madoka (in part due to its short length as a 1-cours show) makes me think of the characters as just a bunch of stupid little girls who don’t really know anything:
- Madoka: that pink one
- Mami: that dead yellow one people draw funny pictures about
- Sayaka: blue ranger!
- Kyouko: red ranger!
- Homura: cool like Johnny Yong Bosch
I think wah put it really nicely in his Madoka post:
I fail to understand the prioritization of making the plot work over writing interesting characters. Characters should come first, and the plot should be written around them. Even in a story like Madoka where the premise is about young girls getting swept up into a cruel game, the emotional porn doesn’t work if we’re not given something to relate to in these people.
I understand that being a magical girl may take over your life, but at least give us a few slice of life moments to chew on between all the silly plot nonsense.
Mami dies so early that we’re not given a chance to see her character beyond “that nice mahou shoujo veteran.” Sayaka is one-dimensional, and we know her as the girl who wished for that one guy’s wellbeing. Madoka is zero-dimensional. She’s the freakin’ main character, but she’s not memorable at all. No character traits, no -desu/nipaa~ speech, no nothing! It seems Madoka shall never become anything more than a mere puella magi.
Shiki, on the other hand, showed despair much more directly. Here, we don’t have Super Sentai ripoff magical girls arguing about whether or not to make contracts with some tiny alien animal. Instead, the people of Sotoba aren’t even given a chance to make a deal with a Kyubey. They are hunted down and killed, and then hunted down and killed again. After a certain point late in the series, it becomes apparent that everybody in the anime is either going to die a horrible gruesome death or cause many horrible gruesome deaths. And even armed with this knowledge, I was still shocked at the sheer amount of brutality portrayed in the last five or so episodes.
Toshio didn’t wish for the shiki to be gone and then give hope to everybody (including Anne Frank and Joan of Arc… god, I hated that stupid scene). Hell no. There is no hope in Shiki, and this kind of hopelessness far outshines Madoka’s “dark” nature.
If I hadn’t watched Higurashi, Narutaru, Alien Nine, etc. before watching Madoka, I might have joined the rabid mobs and proclaim it as the best thing since sliced bread. But I am an old, wizened aniblogger now. Madoka gave many young, youthful anime fans some wrinkles, but it didn’t even scratch my aged face. Shiki served to deepen those wrinkles of wisdom.
tl;dr Maybe you think Madoka is good, but imo Shiki blows it out of the water.
5. I really wanted to have five points, but I ran out of things to say.
longest post 2011