Review by: Eduardo Zacarias
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $69.98 US (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)
Running Time: 300 minutes
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now
The village of Sotoba is about to experience a most unusual kind of epidemic.
Like a majority of you, I have been put off vampire stories thanks to the likes of the Twilight movies and even The Vampire Diaries that depicts the bloodsucker as a brooding Abercrombie & Fitch poster boy that makes girls swoon for all the wrong the reasons. Where is the vicious undead creature of the night that stalks its victims and jumps out of the shadows or slides out from under a bed with its darkened dead eyes fixed on its next victim?
Thankfully, Part One of Shiki tells a darker, more gruesome and completely engrossing vampire tale that offers a modern and somewhat more realistic spin to the vampire mythology in an interesting setting. Welcome to Sotoba Village, a small farming community where nothing really happens and gossip is about the only hobby the older folk participate in everyday. Yet, we witness a search party frantically looking for a young high school girl named Megumi Shimizu who is lost somewhere in the woods. Little do they know that her body, pale and nearly lifeless, is not far away.
Fast-forward a few days back, Megumi Shimizu is alive and well and hating the fact that she has to live in a place that doesn’t appreciate her awesome choice of clothing that is far too “big city” for a little town like this. In fact, she dreams of leaving the town because the only thing she likes about is a cold city boy named Natsuno Yuuki and the fact that some wealthy family built a European-styled mansion on the hill. Strangely enough, said wealthy family moves into their mansion in the dead of night and Megumi is curious to meet them, which leads to her sudden disappearance and re-appearance with what the town’s physician, Doctor Toshio Ozaki, believes is anemia.
However, when Megumi suddenly dies, Doctor Ozaki and his childhood friend who happens to be a Junior Monk named Seishin Muroi begin to wonder if it is related to the other deaths around the village. It seems that people in town begin dropping like flies thus giving the young Doc the impression that maybe all these people dying might be the result of some kind of epidemic. All the victims vary in age but there appears to be a common factor … most of the patients show up anemic, all seem to be in a sort of daze and each patient seems to have two puncture wounds that the Doc believes might be some insect bites.
Meanwhile, in the village, we come to know Natsuno Yuuki a lot better as we discover that he had come from the big city with his radical-thinking modern parents and hating everything about the town. This explains his cold too-cool-for-this-place attitude and the fact he ignores just about everyone (including Megumi who often camped outside his window) except for a boy named Toru Mutou who pushes his way into Yuuki’s life to become his best friend.
As more people continue to die, we come to learn that the family that now lives in the mansion is called the Kirishiki family who has a daughter named Sunako who reveals herself to Seishin in the night, the Junior Monk who also happens to be the author of a number of books Sunako has read. Although she tells him that she has a medical condition that has her hiding from the sun’s rays during the day and comes out only at night, there’s something very mature about the little girl that makes her seem wise beyond her years.
In the meantime, Yuuki thinks he had a dream of Megumi sliding from under Toru’s bed to bite him and when Toru begins to get sick and finally dies it becomes clear to the boy that maybe it wasn’t a dream. Joined by Megumi’s best friend, Kaori Tanaka and her brother Akira who swears he saw a villager that they all know is dead heading for the Kirishiki estate, Yuuki comes to the determination that what they are facing is the undead who feed on blood of the living.
Suddenly, Yuuki, Kaori and Akira put this theory to the test only to confirm the truth about Megumi and some of the others. Also coming to the same conclusion is Doctor Ozaki who – thanks to Yuuki – has his friend Seishin join him in testing the vampire theory with a patient he has in the clinic. In a very startling scene, his suspicions also confirmed when he is attacked by the Kirishiki’s loyal servant, a seemingly cheerful yet dangerous daywalker named Tatsumi.
Things get interesting in Yuuki’s part of the story as not only do the vampires take an interest in him by sending a very unusual little girl to his home but also sending somebody even more familiar to greet the young man. Just like the Junior Monk, Yuuki feels that maybe there’s a chance these vampires (or, in Japanese folklore, okiagari) and humans can coexist with resorting to killing each another. Yuuki gets his answer as he and his only allies realize what the Kirishiki clan has in store for the village.
As I said, the series is quite gruesome with scenes that are actually quite chilling especially in the beginning when we start seeing decomposed bodies. The series handles the horror perfectly enough as Director Tetsuro Amino adds plenty of creepy moments throughout. Even the story is intelligently told, although – at times – it slows down to a snail’s pace in order for the vampire theme to be introduced gradually as we try to figure out the mystery behind all the deaths as well as what type of vampires the characters are dealing with when they’re finally introduced.
Speaking of characters, the series makes goes to great lengths to give every villager in the story a name, personality and something to say. Sure, we may not keep up with everyone but the majority of them become memorable enough such as Toru’s self-centered classmate Masao Murasako who hates Yuuki and members of his own family and whose fate takes an interesting turn. Then there’s the gorgeous yet mysterious Chizuru Kirishiki who we have yet to really see and Shizuka, a little girl with a Geisha puppet who will not fail to give you the creeps.
Part One of Shiki introduces us to a unique kind of vampire anime series that is both chilling and utterly fascinating. It also weaves an intricate tale with a robust cast of characters that make this a series with enough personality and unforgettable moments that will you will seriously be looking forward to Part Two. This is definitely a show for those who are looking for a vampire series with serious bite.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
The quiet farming village of Sotoba suddenly experiences a number of death that, at first, appears to be some kind of mysterious epidemic related to anemia but very slowly the village’s Doctor and Junior Monk begin to suspect something far more sinister connected to the new family that moved into town. It isn’t until a young man named Yuuki and a handful of other villagers discover the truth as the dead rise from the grave.
VIDEO QUALITY: A+
A visually stunning series on Blu-ray yet still looks great on DVD, Shiki sports some interesting animation with gorgeous painted vistas and some unique character models with even more intriguing hairstyles. This is also a number of gruesome scenes in this series so it definitely is not for the squeamish.
AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original Japanese voice cast is stellar and my favorite way to watch this series but if you like a good dub the English voice cast that includes Mike McFarland, Luci Christian, Tia Ballard and Alexis Tipton (just to name a few) do a great job. Along with Yasuharu Takanashi’s brilliant score and two excellent closing theme songs (personally wasn’t crazy about the opening theme by NANGI) and you have a series you really should watch with the volume up.
Aside from a new FUNimation trailers and the clean opening and both closing theme songs as well as the fact that the combo pack includes the Blu-ray version, Part One includes two audio commentary tracks. The first is for Episode 1 featuring Mike McFarland (ADR Director and voice of Natsuno Yuuki) and Jerry Jewell (voice of Natsuni), David Wald (voice of Toshio) and John Burgmeier (voice of Seishin) is OK to listen. The real treat comes from the commentary for Episode 12 with McFarland as well as Tia Ballard (voice of Megumi), Alexis Tipton (voice of Kaori) and Chris Burnett (voice of Toru) that is a lot more animated.
Then there’s a four-volume Preview Featurette that uses the preview animations from the series with the Japanese voice actor for Seishin reading from the character’s own writing. It’s worth watching since the words are brilliant and delightfully creepy.
A dark, gruesome and intelligent vampire tale with rich characterization and more than enough surprises to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, Part One of Shiki will leave quite an impression on you for those who enjoy a first-rate horror series. If Part Two is anything like the first part, we are looking at a vampire anime series that deserves to be somewhere high on a Top Ten list.
Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment