It seems like vampires are reinvented every couple of years. They've been tragic characters, sexy bad-boys, kind creature, and these days they 'sparkle' and really just want to take a cute girl to the prom. You won't find that type of blood-sucker in the anime series Shiki. In this show they get back to basics: vampires are evil nocturnal undead monsters that suck the blood from living humans, can hypnotize them, and are killed by a steak through the heart or by exposure to sunlight or an old fashioned steak through the heart. It was great to see a show about classic Western vampires and Shiki is a very engaging show, if you can stay with it long enough for the plot to get rolling.
Megumi is a cute, perky high school student who dreams of leaving her small village Sotoba and moving to the big city where she can chase her dream of being a model and/or pop star. The locals don't understand why she likes to dress up just to walk to the store, and how important fashion and appearance can be.
The only person she really likes in Sotoba is Natsuno, her classmate who just moved to the village from the big city. He's cute and worldly, and he hates Sotoba just as much as she does. The only problem is that he has no interest in her what so ever. But she'll be able to change that, eventually.
When Megumi hears that someone has finally moved into the newly constructed mansion on top of a hill that overlooks her small town, she gets excited that some rich people with class will finally be around. She walks up to the house, fantasizing about how impressed they'll be with her dress and manner, and... disappears.
A search is launched and she's found days later in the forest. She has anemia, and is very tired, but aside from that she should recover fully. She doesn't though, she dies unexpectedly. The local doctor, Toshio Ozaki, is perplexed. There have been a lot of people dying lately, but mainly older people and the summer has been unusually hot.
Natsuno isn't terribly affected by Megumi's death, but he starts to see her in his dreams, and he thinks he glimpses her in the woods outside his window. But when more and more people start to die, all unexpectedly and without warning, the young man realizes that maybe there's something unnatural happening in Sotoba. When he reluctantly hints at this fear to Toshio, he's surprised that the doctor agrees that the epidemic he's discovered may be attributed to vampires.
This is a very good show, but it starts off very, very slowly. Like this review, the first several episodes play like 'shaggy dog' stories... focusing on a character only to have them be written out or become regulated to a small supporting role. It's hard to understand where the show is going at first and it isn't until the fourth episode that vampires are even mentioned.
That's not to say that the early episodes are bad, it just that they're very slow. Halfway through the third installment I was asking myself what the point of it all was, and if I was watching the program on broadcast TV I'm sure I'd have given up on it. And that would have been a mistake, because the show does get better as it goes along and by the sixth episode things are quite interesting. Things just become more engaging from there.
The show is fairly intelligent too. It doesn't treat viewers like idiots, which is very welcome. Not only do they give the audience credit for being able to sit through the first episodes so they can fully establish the town and what's happening there, but they have Toshio approach the problem of the dying people in a logical and scientific manner. He talks about the differences between types of anemia and the significance of specific numbers from the blood tests he runs on his patients. Yes, he explains what he means to someone in the room, but only the first time. He doesn't explain what he's talking about in every episode the way most shows (Japanese anime and American live action series) do endlessly. The creators just assume that viewers can remember an explanation from week to week.
The animation is very good, fluid and smooth, and the character designs are generally fine too (there's an occasional oddly shaped person, like the owner of the liquor store who is the size of a small tank) with two exceptions: the hair and the eyes. For some reason the creators decided to give many of the characters bizarre hair styles, with people looking like they have horns or, more often, their hair defying gravity and floating around their head. While it may have fit in a more stylized show, this was distracting from the more realistic, down-to-earth feel that the story was aiming for.
The other design flaw was the eyes of the vampires: their eyes are totally black. Not just the pupils, but the entire eye is jet black, but no one seems to recognize this at all. Yeah, I know it's a short-handed clue to viewers saying "Yo! Wanted to let you know that this dude is a vampire" (the same way a large drop of sweat on the forehead signifies embarrassment) but it didn't work for me.
The first 12 episodes arrive in a combo pack with two DVDs and a pair of Blu-ray discs (both of which contain the 12 episodes.) These are housed in a single quad-disc Blu-ray case which comes in a nice sturdy slipcase that has room for the second volume too. It's a nice package.
This set presents the show with the original Japanese Dolby True HD 2.0 soundtrack or an English dub in Dolby True HD 5.1. While I really wish the Japanese track had a Dolby True HD 5.1 option too, both tracks sound very good. People who prefer dubs will be happy with this one; the voices aren't artificially high for the women or filled with fake accents. The English actors did a good job and brought their characters to life. It's also more engulfing than the original language track. They throw some dialog to the rears occasionally (when someone is walking out of a room or behind what's being shown on screen) and that's very effective.
The 1080p AVC 1.78:1 image looks great. I really don't have any complaints. The colors were vivid and strong (and they used a wide palate too) and the blacks were nice and dark. The level of detail was fine, what you'd expect from an anime series that's only about 2 years old, and the lines were nice and tight.
There are two commentary tracks with the English voice actors and the English director. These are on episodes 1 and 12. I have to admit I'm not a fan of commentary tracks on anime by the people responsible for the English dub. Unlike director or actor commentaries on movies or even those involved with the original version of the anime, I just haven't heard any that add to my understanding or appreciation of the show. I spot checked a few of these and they generally left me cold.
There's also a clean opening and closing, a series of previews for the show, and some FUNimation trailers.
Shiki is a very good show, if you are willing to devote some time to the first several episodes. It starts off very slowly but as it goes along the story reveals itself and the show keeps getting better and better. It comes recommended for those otaku who have decent attention spans.