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.
Of the anime titles turned into T-shirts by Uniqlo, One Piece is the biggest – the reigning king of all the anime and manga franchises, pretty much unchallenged in the 16 years since Eiichiro Oda began the manga, and 14 since Toei Animation started animating it. But perhaps Uniqlo would have turned One Piece into a line of shirts even if the saga hadn’t been a world hit. Just look at those pirate designs – brash, cartoony, uncompromising. There’s no whiff of a committee, no hint of a five-year product plan reliant on changing a heroine’s hair colour (or deepening her cleavage). It just helps that the pictures are as commercial when they move as they are when they’re a cool static graphic in a manga, or on the front of a T-shirt.
“Ninja or pirates?” While Naruto – representing the ninja corner, of course – has proven hugely popular, UK fans have long been unable to weigh in on the other side. With the long-awaited arrival of One Piece on DVD this May, that finally changes.
Matt Kamen finds out who’s who in the One Piece anime
Monkey D. Luffy: The founder and captain of the Straw Hats, Luffy is a carefree soul who wants to become king of the pirates. After eating the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit, he gained an elastic body, making him near-invulnerable and able to stretch but paradoxically making him unable to swim.
One-hit wonders. Every country has them. And, as PSY can most likely attest, very few musicians really want to be labelled as one. Sure, it’s all fun, games and fancy dinners when that royalty cheque floats through the letter box. The one with all the zeroes from that single from yesteryear that went massive. But what about the rest of your work? It must be somewhat unsatisfying as an artist to be known for one track, while everything else remains relatively overlooked, and expectations are high for that difficult follow up single. If you’re TOMATO CUBE, you do nothing. Ever again.
The tradition of the solitary animator continued past the establishment of an anime industry, with notable luminaries such as Yoji Kuri, Kihachiro Kawamoto and Tadanari Okamoto positioning themselves outside it and creating works that challenged what could be done with the medium, often using other media such as stop-motion and silhouette.
Turning Point offers invaluable peeps at Miyazaki’s mind at work, including the way he grows his imagery out of lyrical ideas. “I am experiencing old age for the first time in my life,” he comments at one point, managing to be both wise and dotty at the same time.
Actually, Aesthetica should be called The New Boobfest where Girls Fight Monsters and Lose Panties, From The People Who Brought You Master of Martial Hearts, Queen’s Blade and the Ikki Tousen Franchise. That tells us where we are!
Toei Animation has announced production on Dragon Ball Super, the first all-new Dragon Ball series to be released in 18 years. Following the recent events of the hit feature film Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection, Dragon Ball Super will debut in July 2015 in Japan.
Andrew Osmond investigates the long love affair between samurai and cowboys
28th February sees the classic Hollywood Western go East. Yuresarazaru Mono has the English title Unforgiven; it remakes the celebrated 1992 Western of that name, which was directed by its star Clint Eastwood and won the Best Picture Oscar.
Kaguya has plenty to please Oscar voters. Unlike some of Takahata’s films, it’s extremely accessible to Western viewers. As MyM magazine put it, “You watch Takahata’s film and you can hear the underlying millennium-old tale as if it’s being read to you aloud, at bedtime surely, to your childhood self.”