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?
The release of this television series contains two language options with the Japanese track having a 2.0 mix while the English one gets a boost with a 5.1 mix. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and it is a solid representation of stereo tracks as it splits the dialogue and other sounds nicely in such a way as to give a decent illusion of depth and overall the track has a very nice balance to it. The track also works well to provide directionality as it also covers the low sounding effects, the more quiet ones as well as the higher pitched ones in a way that provides a nice balance and does an exceptional job with presenting the haunting strains from the score as well as its more dramatic moments without having to adjust volume levels and with the dialogue being clear and no dropouts of distortions having been noticed during playback.
Originally airing from mid 2010 to December of the same year, Shiki is presented here in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is complete with anamorphic widescreen encode. The series makes a brilliant use of a large color palette as it contains both some bright and vibrant colors for its characters but also makes fantastic use of the richness of its darker hues for the appropriate scenes taking place away from the light. Overall this is a fantastic mix though not without a few flaws due to the nature of DVD as there is the presence of a bit of noise, some occasional blocking, banding, occasional minor ghosting, dot crawl, and some occasional background bleed through of foreground characters present to varying though none of this issue exist to an overwhelming extent.
This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases’ review. Both discs use a simple theme where some plants can be seen around the edge of the disc while the bottom uses a red hue that appears in the series that changes into a deep black higher on the disc. The series titles is presented in red in a stylized font on the left side of the disc while the right side of the disc has a small script indicating which disc is which.
The menus are a fairly basic affair in that they use static images featuring different characters from the series as the screens have a similar presentation as the disc label where the bottom of the screen is tinged in a red hue while the top shifts to black with each screen having a instrumental theme from the series playing in the back ground. The cursor appears as a small triangle and it is quick to respond to changes in the highlighted selection and engages the selection when chosen with a minimal delay.
In addition to the almost industry standard clean open and closings FUNimation goes a further step by including English Episode commentaries for episodes 1 and 12 as well as four Preview Featurettes that were put together on the Japanese end and which are available in Japanese only.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The series is set in the rather small and isolated Japanese village of Sotoba where for generations the locals have made both coffins and grave markers for the dead from the surrounding trees, which in some ways this makes it a village that lives in a way off the dead. It is largely a quiet town with the majority of its residents having been born there and who will likely live out their lives there before dying there so when anyone new actually moves in they become the talk of the town, which may not always be welcome for those individuals. This story begins in the ending days of a particularly hot summer when the biggest news in the town is how the family that bought a piece of land and built a large European style mansion on the edge of town has finally arrived.
And when that is the kind of news that leads the talk of the town it is easy to see how some of the town’s younger members may want something more out of life. Probably the member who most wants out of this town to try to find more contemporary pursuits is the 15 year old Megumi Shimizu who spends her days dreaming of the fashionable life that the magazines she buys promise lay in the cities and she hates that she is cramped up in a town that is completely opposite of her dreams. About the only bright spot in her life is Natsuno Yuki, a 15 year old fellow classmate who moved to the village from a city because of his parent’s whims and who wants nothing to do with the village or anyone in it and he has tried (though not entirely successfully) to avoid entangling himself with any part of it, particularly when it comes to Megumi. But the days of bliss for the majority of the village and the problems of teenage dilemmas will soon find themselves swallowed as a dark shadow falls across the area.
The idyllic days are not to last as a trio of bodies are found by a young local monk, Seishin Muroi, when he visits a nearby village that has almost been completely abandoned to inform one of the residents of the death of a relative in Sotoba and he comes across a grisly scene that the local police think may have been caused by wild dogs that have been appearing of late. At the scene Seishin encounters the local head of the area clinic and childhood friend Toshio Ozaki who has moved back to Sotoba at the behest of his very demanding mother and who is about to find his hands full as this trip to examine the dead is going to become something that he won’t have to travel as far to see in the near future.
Later that same night Megumi goes missing and the town has to comb the woods to find her as she lays almost lifeless and covered in insect bites in the woods near the village. Toshiro initially thinks that this is a simple case of anemia but when Megumi dies a few days later he is stunned and thinks he made a misdiagnosis and which he starts to obsess about but whose origins remain a secret when the family declines his autopsy request. Unfortunately this isn’t the last chance he is going to have at this strange phenomenon as people all around the village start to exhibit similar symptoms making him fear that they may be on the verge of some new unknown outbreak.
While Toshiro is trying to piece this new puzzle together Natsuno becomes convinced that he still feels Megumi’s eyes on him from the nearby forest where she used to hide (poorly) and watch him and he starts to look into some strange events that have been happening in the village that has lifelong members either becoming struck down with the same symptoms and dying and some people have been moving without warning in the middle of the night. Over this same period Seishin has an unusual encounter with the young girl who just moved into the mansion and as he engages in his own investigations and confers with Toshiro the idea that they are dealing with some new unknown contagion starts to look impossible and they start to ponder the one thing no one believes and which seems improbable- That these events are actually not random but are being guided by a deliberate hand and that they may be connected in a way to legends that no one is willing to believe.
Originally based off a pair of novels by Fuyumi Ono (probably best known in the US for authoring Twelve Kingdoms and Ghost Hunt), the tale is one that uses some of the best horror elements as it presents its deliberately paced story that builds in a slow and methodical manner as it carefully introduces its cast in such a way as to draw in the viewer to their individual way of looking at events which helps greatly to subtly introduce a feeling of tension that becomes as ever present as the surroundings –if not even more palpable and real feeling than the shapes around them- before events start to break forward in frantic pace.
Rather than trying to go with a “jump out and surprise” type of horror tale Shiki deems to move in a very meticulous manner as it builds each of its scenes upon one another in order to bring out the most in its varied cast and their reactions to the events around them as each searches for the answers to events occurring around them according to their own natural predilections. It is this careful measuring of how to approach each scene and encounter while looking at similar events through a variety of eyes that Shiki truly finds its unique voice as it seems to dare people to accept an impossible answer but leaves them in a bind as to what to do about it as it seems such an impossible equation.
The series combines this approach with an incredibly fitting and often mood enhancing score to play at the boarder of the viewer’s attention to help make all the events that seem unlikely to impossible and horrifying that much more impactful when combined with both some strong characters and a very sharp art style that is able to mix both some rather realistic designs with some rather less so ones and even some incredibly creepy ones and yet make it seem like this could all exist in the same world.
It is the melding of all of these separate ideas that causes Shiki to stand out when compared to many other titles on the market as the mixing of all these elements seems to blend in such a stylish and magical way that the only possible outcome seems to be a fantastic series that makes it feel almost effortless in how it mesmerizes the viewer and then suddenly drops both terror and the impossible and seemingly unstoppable truth on top of them. This is an almost perfect series with only a few minor complaints about some spoilers in the previews and the need to keep track of dates carefully to fully appreciate the impact providing only the most minor blemish to a series whose set up promises the chance for the title to become one of the rarest of series- One that is remembered among the best of the year and which may have legs that stretch even further down the road. Recommended
There are many different ways to pull off horror with no small number of attempts using the idea of an inevitable and unstoppable force pursuing its protagonists, often with the antagonist (be it in whatever shape, idea or creature the concept requires) lurching out of the darkness in surprise moments intended to make the audience jump. Shiki however deems to take a different approach as it teases the idea of just what the antagonist might turn out to be as it slowly twists the viewer around an impossible answer as seen through a number of different eyes as its haunting soundtrack helps the visuals tickle the oldest parts of the brain that still remember on a primordial level that the night is to be feared and lets that part do a good deal of work interpreting danger as the tension inexorable builds and it refuses to grant its viewers an easy exit with some cheap thrills. Shiki is definitely a title that will provide fun for those looking for some thrills while hoping to send the coldest of chills up their spine on even the hottest of summer nights. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 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: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 29th, 2012
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.