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Shiki Part 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

The best series of 2010 gets the full high definition treatment, making it an even more disturbing and atmospheric work.

What They Say:
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. Who is safe when the urge to kill in order to survive blurs the line between man and monster?

This limited edition includes an artbox sized to contain both Shiki Parts 1 and 2.

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is fairly straightforward for FUNimation in that we get a pair of lossless tracks using the Dolby TrueHD codec with the original Japanese in stereo and the English getting a 5.1 bump to it. The show makes excellent, excellent use of its score to create the right mood with plenty of quiet scenes where the ambient sounds of the village or the houses come to life in an engaging way to enhance the moment. It also uses the music very well with some strong buildups throughout it to create the proper mood. It’s not big on action or anything, but when it hits those moments, there’s a sense and feeling that it’s all coming together very well and it makes the moment bigger because of the sparseness and careful application of sound. The encoding here makes very good use of it and it helps to make it a thoroughly engaging mix.

Video:
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes in this set is spread across two discs with eight on the first and four on the second, which also has the extras on it. The show has a very distinct feel to it with its animation design, one where it was called cheap looking at times, but it’s done with a purpose. With it taking place in a remote mountain village, it has a lot of natural colors and uses the greens and earth tones well while not coming across as murky. Blacks are distinct and strong, but when it goes to the big colors, used vibrantly in small ways, it just has a very strong impact. The look of the show is fantastic here and really captures the mood and ambiance perfectly.

Packaging:
The packaging for this limited edition release is pretty solid overall with some really appealing artwork to tie it all together. The release doesn’t have any limited items inside, just the box itself, which is a good heavy chipboard piece with two very different pieces of artwork to showcase different aspects of it. The front cover gives us the cute, dark little girl with the vampire eyes as she plays the goth loli angle but without the ultra cuteness one might expect. She has a dark black and red mixture surrounding her which ties well to the elegant logo along the bottom. The back cover goes with a very appealing, moody image of Natsuno in an outfit he doesn’t wear in the series but definitely fits him well as it brings in some vines to add to the atmosphere. The insert box inside where the second half can go goes in a completely different direction by using some curious black and white artwork that is very distinctive.

The Blu-ray case inside holds both the DVD and Blu-ray discs with a hinge to allow it all to fit compact in the standard sized case. The front cover artwork is similar in style to the box art but uses some bright colors with Megumi looking at herself in a mirror. The design of her outfit is very detailed and the illustration is simply beautiful as it shows off her vibrancy. Unfortunately, the back cover doesn’t get any additional artwork and just uses the subdued logo along it. There is artwork on the reverse side though with one panel showing off the promotional image of Natsuno lying in the field of flowers and grass that was very distinctive when it hit. The other panel breaks down the episodes by title with a listing along the bottom of what format has what episodes. No show related inserts are included.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is about as I expected as it uses some of the standard instrumental music from the series to set the mood with lots of dark and ominous clips that filter in and out, giving it all a murkier look than the series actually has. The menu navigation is simple with a darker red strip along the bottom that blends into things which has the standard selections. Submenus load quickly and effectively and without any problems and the language submenu has the subtitles locked out, so you can’t get full translation subtitles while watching the English dub, nor can you turn them off during regular playback which is unfortunate but not a surprise as the license restriction is becoming more and more common.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty good overall in addition to the always welcome basics. We get the clean opening and closings for the first half, though not the ones that are used for episode twelve as those will be in the second set. A couple of commentary tracks by the English language adaptation team are included, with one for the first episode and the other for the twelfth, which has some good fun about how they worked the show. The main extra to check out here are the four preview featurettes, which are basically two minute promo pieces about the show that are done simply with narration and without going big or flashy to describe certain aspects of the series. They’re curious pieces but definitely welcome since they came with the Japanese home video releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally comprised of two novels by Fuyumi Ono of Twelve Kingdoms and Ghost Hunt fame that were done back in 1998, it was later adapted into manga form with Ryu Fujisaki that began in 2007 and completed in 2011. That incarnation is what spawned the creation of this series, which aired in 2010 and was simulcast by FUNimation. I had watched that show as it came out, one fo my earlier experiences into simulcasts overall, and it became a show that captivated me hugely and one that I ranked as the best simulcast series of 2010. And I was pretty much close to calling it the best thing I saw in 2010 as well. While I had adored the show in that format, watching it on either the computer monitor or hooked up in low quality to the TV, I made a choice with this viewing to do it very differently. Rather than plow through it, I watched it sparingly, late at night on the big TV setup, and in the dark. Whereas I wrote about it with each episode before, this time I wanted to just soak up the experience before sitting down to talk about.

The first half of the series is rather straightforward and in truth it offers little in the way of real surprises. What it excels in is its pacing and narrative, one that is richly layered the more you know about it. Taking place in a remote mountain town where their main work is in creating the signs used for grave markers, it’s a place in the middle of nowhere that has a slow style of life to it. What’s unusual about the town is that it does have a large European style mansion that was built some years back along one of the mountains and it’s been empty for some time. Across the way is the old style hospital run by the Ozaki family and across from that on the other mountain is the local shrine. While those places have been going through things as normal for years, the mansion now has some new residents moving in.

Their arrival isn’t exactly timed as events prior to then by a week or more has various elderly people dying off in the town and some small neighboring outlying areas. Combined with that, some people are moving away as well, which does tie into events in a fascinating way. The deaths are curiosities at first, being labeled summer colds gone bad, but there are some extenuating circumstances that start to come up. Some of those that die over the weeks that it all starts to come together quit their jobs first, they become lethargic and a lot of it seems like cases of anemia gone wrong. Dr. Ozaki starts investigating it as one would expect of a twenty-something doctor that’s skilled and dealing with the history of a long family based clinic, but it’s a series of confounding cases. Especially as people seem to die suddenly after a few days with no understandable vectors to attribute to it.

While things become fairly obvious to the viewer with what’s going on, it’s understanding the mythology of the area. Because of what the village deals in with grave markers, there’s always a sense of death around everything in a way. We learn some of the histories there, going into some detail about the okiagari, a version of vampires that’s been told to scare children. It’s something that factors into it as everything slowly but surely builds up and we follow the wide ranging cast. There are principle characters to be sure, but there’s a lot of supporting characters that end up flat out dead while others come back to life and begin to haunt again. What we see is that no matter what the doctor does, nothing seems to work. Which is understandable as we see the reality of it rather than it being kept from us.

The first half of the series plays very, very heavily in mood and atmosphere to wonderful effect. That is the big selling point. It also works the series from three particular angles with a fourth done to tie it together a bit and it’s this part which really made it work even more. The first and strongest angle is that of Ozaki as he provides the scientific approach to trying to understand what’s going on, running tests, dealing with patients and coping with the loss as he sees an epidemic unfolding around him. The spiritual approach is done through Seishin, a long time friend of Ozaki’s who became a priest and is the junior monk at the shrine who moonlights as something of a novelist. He’s concerned by all the death and what’s going on and he goes down a different track in trying to understand what’s going on while conversing with Ozaki about it, allowing them to bring both sides of the equation together to find a solution.

The third and more complicated angle is the youth angle which revolves around high school student Natsuno, someone whose family moved here awhile ago from the big city. He doesn’t want to stay here, doesn’t want to make friends or connections and is just biding his time until he can escape. He does have some friends that basically forced themselves on him. When the deaths become more common knowledge and one of them is a fellow classmate that was really into him starts haunting him, he goes on his own path of discovery. He brings a lot of different characters to the fore and is the first one to really think vampires, which puts him on the forefront. And the vampires themselves, the Kirishiki family, makes the fourth approach here, though they’re very circumstantial characters for a lot of it, though there are some curiously blunt moments they have that leave you amused with the way they’re not playing by what you would call normal vampire rules.

Structure and atmosphere is a big part of the series as the first half of the series unfolds in this set and I love the striking animation and designs that said it wasn’t a cookie cutter approach or something that was trying to be too cute and approachable, ala Higurashi. What I also really adored here is that it gets into the nuts and bolts of superstition and the like. One of the things that was missed by a lot of people, myself included, during the simulcast run is the additional wor added to the date. The dates are used frequently in the series to lay out when everything happens and how it progresses. But it also applies the “rokuyu” to it, which is almost what you’d call date horoscopes in a way, where bad things or good things happen to yourself or others depending on the date and time of day. This was something I didn’t understand the first time around, but researching it before getting into the set this time really enhances because it does impact what’s going on and adds more tension.

In Summary:
Shiki was a series that I was raving about every week when it aired, practically pleading for people to take a chance with it and watch it since it had a vampire stigma about it. I never really expected it to get picked up because of its pacing or style, but what FUNimation has put out here is fantastic. This takes that series, places it all together perfectly and gives it the presentation it needed in order to drive home the intent of it through the visuals and the soundtrack. There’s an amazing slow but steady build here where so many little things come together so that when it all starts to really barrel forward, you can’t help but to be caught up in it and wonder just where it will go and who will truly survive it. The first half of Shiki is a powerful and engaging work that I already can’t wait to experience again.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episodes 1 & 12 Commentary, Preview Featurette Vols. 1-4, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song

Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 29th, 2012
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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