The small, isolated village of Sotoba is having a very unusual summer. A strange and fatal illness spreads through the population, affecting young and old alike. The only common factors between the patients are anaemic symptoms, a rapid decline and aberrations found in the departed’s blood. Toshio Ozaki, head doctor at the tiny local hospital, suspects a medical epidemic, though every test he conducts and every hypothesis he puts forward is quashed by the next death. Meanwhile, teenager Natsuno Yuuki feels constrained by the sleepy farming community and longs to leave but his dreams turn to nightmares as he finds himself stalked by apparitions and unsettling presences in the woods outside his parents’ home. Could the recently relocated Kirishiki family, having taken up residence in the long-abandoned Kanemasa Mansion that overlooks Sotoba, have something to do with the mysterious occurrences plaguing the town?
Shiki – meaning ‘corpse demon’ – first appeared in novel form in 1998, from the pen of Fuyumi Ono, whose career as a novelist is noted for a strong predilection towards horror. Her earliest work includes Mephisto and Waltz, Green Home Spirits, and the ‘Evil Spirits’ series, which eventually developed into Ghost Hunt. That series focused on a supernatural detective agency, debunking the macabre situations they find themselves in as much as often as they find something truly horrific. Given the investigative nature of that series, it’s perhaps no surprise that Ono is married to detective novelist Yukito Ayatsuji, each author showing signs of their partner’s writing styles in their own works. Spanning five prose volumes, Shiki’s chilling saga was later adapted into manga, with artwork by Hoshin Engi’s Ryu Fujisaki, before veteran director Tetsuro Amino headed up the animated adaptation for studio Daube.
Much like Ono’s work on Ghost Hunt, Shiki’s strength lies in its varied cast. While Ozaki and Yuuki emerge as the lead characters, the inhabitants of Sotoba each get their time in the spotlight, displaying their idiosyncrasies and personal backstories. Fish-out-of-water Megumi, another teenager desperate to move to the big city but worshipping Yuuki from afar; priest Seishin Muroi, a part-time novelist who takes a personal interest in the string of deaths; Sunako Kirishiki, young daughter of the new family in town, with an aversion to sunlight and a fascination with Muroi’s writings – all have an important role to play in the story as it plays out. Amino gives viewers enough time with characters to become engaged in their lives, before putting them through a series of often-ghastly events.
Creating a genuine sense of horror in animation is difficult, and it is a credit to Ono’s dark imagination that so many of her works transition to the small screen in a way that still manages to give viewers chills. The slow-burn approach is key, each episode adding to the creeping darkness of the series’ whole, with flashes of disturbing imagery that linger in the mind long after they’ve left the screen.
Find out what’s haunting Sotoba village for yourself in the first collection of Shiki – although you may want to keep the lights on....
Shiki the Complete Series is available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment on 3rd June.
THEIR SURVIVAL MEANS YOUR DEATH! As citizens of a secluded village die off in alarming numbers, the head doctor tries desperately to save them - but his efforts are in vain. Panic and disillusionment run rampant as loved ones’ corpses rise from the grave with an insatiable thirst for human blood. Haunting and hallucinogenic, Shiki stares into the hearts of both the hunter and the hunted - and blurs the line between man and monster.
Opening with a running fight down a freeway where anti-tank missiles and heavy vehicles are tossed around like party favours, the first episode never lets up, setting a standard that the show maintains throughout.
"The action scenes remain superlative, designed and executed in a way Western live-action directors would do well to study. The way character moments are woven within elevates them above mere technical exercises. The Prague shoot-out and Tokyo car chase are the sort of gems that prove that anime can still trump live-action in the same creative arenas when it wants to."
Andrew Osmond talks to the director of Shin-chan and Colorful
As the eleventh Japan Touring Film Programme heads through Britain (see here for venues and here for our write-up), we took the opportunity to speak to the director of the anime entry, the feature film Colorful. Keiichi Hara has been working in anime for thirty-odd years, gaining experience through working with two of Japan’s most popular kids’ characters, Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan. He then graduated to his own projects, and is now a freelancer who pushes at the boundaries of what anime can be.
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a fair chance that the idea of visiting Japan has crossed your mind a few times. American-born Jamil Abbas Kazmi had a similar thought, though he wanted to take it one step further by establishing a career out there.
Andrew Osmond finds Emperor Hirohito in Japanese animation
The Sara storyline in Fam the Silver Wing seems to echo a view – many would say a myth – of Hirohito, encouraged not just by the Japanese but also by the victorious Americans when they rebuilt the country. Namely, it was the story that Hirohito was a helpless figurehead, at the mercy of his warmongering government.
Some sci-fi plots are staples of anime. The boy who pilots a fighting robot; humans who evolve into cyborgs; cute space girls who fall for the biggest doofus in Japan. Compared to these, time-travel has never been a big anime genre, though it’s been used on many occasions.
Andrew Osmond on Japan's chances at this year's Academy Awards
There are two anime among this year’s Oscar nominees: Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, competing for Best Animated Feature, and Shuhei Morita’s Possessions, vying for Best Animated Short. To date, there has been only one Japanese winner in each category. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was the winning feature in 2002; Kunio Kato’s La Maison en Petits Cubes won Best Animated Short Film in 2008. What are the new films’ chances?
Paul Jacques' pictures from the best of London's Comicon...
It's taken a while to shift through the paperwork and read all your indecipherable handwriting, but we've finally managed to sift through the London Comicon cosplay pictures and pick out our winners from a fantastic bunch. And with no further ado...
Paul Browne on the pop duo with multiple anime connections
K’s stirring theme song ‘KINGS’ comes courtesy of J-Pop duo angela. Consisting of vocalist Yamashita Atsuko and multi-instrumentalist Hirasato Katsunori (aka KATSU), angela are a familiar name when it comes to anime theme tunes.