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DVD Review

DVD cover

Part One


Starring (voice): Kouki Uchiyama, Toru Ohkawa and Kazuyuki Okitsu
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 15
Available 08 October 2012

When citizens of a secluded village begin dying off in alarming numbers, the sole hospital's head doctor tries desperately to save his patients - but his efforts are in vain. Entire families are wiped out while others desert their homes. All hell breaks loose as the villagers discover their loved ones' corpses are rising from the grave with an insatiable thirst for human blood. Haunting, hallucinogenic and unnerving to the core, Shiki stares into the hearts of both the hunter and the hunted. Who is safe when the urge to kill in order to survive blurs the line between man and monster...?

Adapted from a manga series in turn based on a 1998 multi-part horror novel, Shiki aired on the late-night experimental anime bloc Noitamina in 2010. It's a rare and bold attempt at traditional Western horror in a Japanese setting, with little of Japan's own rich supernatural folklore entering this tale of the slow infiltration by blood-sucking, undead vampires of a remote rural community, an altogether familiar synopsis that invokes the memory of such horror staples as Stephen King's Salem's Lot. Shiki has more than enough originality and flair to shrug off easy comparisons, however.

The series makes little attempt at holding the audience's hand, with the townsfolk of Sotoba introduced in a rapid turnover of talking heads and name captions, plus a traditional Japanese calendar system that leaves plenty of potential for confusion; the few we eventually focus on, though, are at once familiar-seeming and compelling. Bratty teenager Megumi, with her pretentious outfits and snobby contempt for her excitement-free hometown, would probably be more sympathetically portrayed in an American horror film, but here her inevitable demise and resurrection at the hands of the glamorous outsiders she naively seeks out come off as well-deserved. Just as unappealing is her crush Natsuno, a newcomer to the village who longs to break free of the rural isolation imposed by his hippyish parents and who treats Megumi's attempts at making him her official boyfriend with absolute disdain.

Rounding out the protagonists' side are chain-smoking doctor Ozaki, a hard-boiled medic who's perhaps the closest thing here to a traditional heroic figure, and his lifelong friend the monk Muroi, a novelist beguiled by an enigmatic and oddly mature young girl who claims to have come to the village solely because of his writing. The rest of the cast are less distinguished, although notable for a wide range of eye-catching designs and hairstyles that frequently look bizarre even by anime standards - the vampires' henchman, with his absurd doggy-ears hairdo, is particularly memorable, particularly for the way his silly appearance contrasts with his ruthless behaviour.

The twelve episodes that make up this first volume are a slow-paced lot, with painstaking scene-setting taking the first half of the set; it's worth paying close attention, though, as the vampires' well-planned subversion of the infrastructure of Sotoba, with key personnel gradually killed off and replaced over weeks, is very cleverly handled. With the main characters' inevitable realisation of what's happening out of the way, the latter part of the set focuses on Natsuno and his anguished relationship with his recently resurrected best friend Toru, a storyline that comes closer to portraying an openly gay relationship - as opposed to the coy audience-bating common in other series - than any other recent anime. Natsuno and Toru's story leads to a superb dramatic climax that leaves the first half of Shiki on a marvellous note; it's a shame the effect is slightly dampened by the inclusion of the twelfth episode, which during the original broadcast only aired three weeks later after Noitamina's customary mid-season hiatus, on this set.

This minor cavil aside, Shiki is a terrific series and among the best anime of the last few years, with gorgeous music and visuals that make for a fine DVD release. It's rare for the often rather lightweight medium of anime to make an impact in the horror genre, but Shiki is at once traditional and fresh-feeling - and the second half, still yet to be released, promises even better things. Highly recommended.


Richard Hunt

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