The Massive Shiki Retrospective: Part One

Or, people suck, life sucks, vampires suck, werewolves suck… and Muroi really sucks.

I feel that it bears mentioning that I was diagnosed with anemia today. I was just ringing up a customer at work, and I felt light-headed and collapsed. I actually started giggling like a moron when the doctor told me what my iron count was, because it seems so fitting to have that happen after watching the finale of Shiki. The doctor seemed to just take it as further evidence that I was ailing, though, and not of insanity. I’m fine, got some iron pills, yum. I promise not to let the vamps in when they come a-knocking at my window this evening, ok?

And now, I shall dispense with the light humor.

I think it is safe to say that the ultimate message of Shiki is that, as I said above, people suck and so does life. Shiki played with us a wee bit, making us think initially that it was a fairly old-fashioned piece of horror in that the intellectuals and the liberals acted stupidly and got torn to shreds. Then it seemed to be critical merely of those who are too short-sighted to see what is lying right in front of them. But, as it turns out, Shiki is much, much more pessimistic about humanity and its condition than either of those options. Shiki thinks that people are petty, cruel, violent, and stupid, and that it is merely civilization which keeps our inherent bloodlust in check. But when those fetters are removed…

So, curiously enough, it is possible to claim that the humans themselves were vampires, too; they were just less honest and straightforward about it. The shiki admitted frequently that they were murderers. They did not have any illusions about themselves in that regard. They didn’t see their survival as a matter of moral high-ground; it was simply that they had to kill in order to continue living themselves. Even stained in blood the humans tried to claim a morality which they argued that the shiki lacked. They called the shiki killers, but never acknowledged that by the end they were the same. The shiki killed to stay alive; the humans killed to stay alive. And they also both killed in defense of a dead ideal – for Sunako, the stillborn shiki village, for Ozaki, the rotted Sotoba.

And yet, despite Ono’s clear cynicism as far as life and humanity is concerned, she also very clearly loved these characters. While there were characters who could be easy to hate (Megumi, Tatsumi), there were quite a few characters whom were adored and enjoyed by the viewers… and yet, once you truly look at it, were fairly flawed to the extent that one could even say that they were bad people. Muroi was the reason the shiki arrived in the first place, thanks to his failure to ever actually change his life: he wrote an article about the Sotoba he hated after letting his hatred fester, which attracted the shiki and started the whole mess. He then spent the series paralyzed by his own short-comings and insecurities, too busy navel-gazing to take any action. And when he did take action, it was to go join the folks who were killing off his parishioners (if I may steal a Catholic term for lack of a better)! And yet he was my favorite character.

Or, let’s look at Ozaki. Ozaki started off unwilling to believe that a thing such as vampirism could be happening to Sotoba. He pushes away the two people who were willing to help him, Natsuno and Muroi, insisting that there’s nothing going on. And when he does come to believe that there are vampires about, he opts to go it alone. He sits on the information, to the point that, by the time he does act, dozens of people are dead, and the only option left is to go into angry mob mode. When the mob begins killing anyone they view as even remotely threatening, he gives only token resistance, giving up the ghost within mere moments.

Oh, yeah, and there’s that whole torturing his wife in the name of science. One could argue that it was necessary, but there were also plenty of people around he could’ve pulled it with. And, regardless of the reasons for it, he still did it. And what sort of person can do such a thing…?

Considering such facts, it is hard to not see Muroi and Ozaki as bad people. Looking at the larger picture, I cannot bring myself to commit to that, though. And it is because of the fact that Ono did such a good job of rendering them in the first place, and Daume did such a good job of adapting the manga and the light novels (as light novel readers have noted already that the finale and the past few episodes were drawing on the light novels since the manga is a bit behind).

By the way, good thing I don’t usually pay attention to the studio doing individual anime, since Daume to this point has churned out mostly crap. Given their past efforts, I find their work here especially impressive, as titles such as Crescent Love and DearS are hardly inspiring.

So, Ono thinks we all suck… but she loves us anyway. Good to know…?

I keep going back to Muroi and Ozaki since they really are the two characters who defined the show. I didn’t want to really get into the details of the show such as was the soundtrack good (it was), they should’ve done this differently, this was awesome, etc., but I feel it is unavoidable to not bring up Natusno’s role in the show if I wish to make such a claim for Muroi and Ozaki.

Natsuno should’ve stayed dead. Plain and simple. The novels handled the second half of the narrative without him, so he’s not necessary. His purpose in the second half of the anime was… well, on the one hand, he did play a roll. He prevented Ozaki from being hypnotized and dealt with Seishirou and the jinrou. But, again, he didn’t have to, and he didn’t do anything in the novels in such a capacity. Ozaki managed without him.

I also find Natsuno to be the sole case where I was dubious about his behavior. I found all the other characters convincing in their actions and beliefs. More specifically, I found all the other adolescent characters to be convincing. But Natsuno ended up feeling like a cheap shounen trope; look, he’s a werewolf! Oo, and he’s given Ozaki the will to keep going on! And he just was all bad-ass and told Ozaki to kill him when it was all over! The moment where he pulled the dynamite out and told Tatsumi he was already dead anyway was just absurd. I would even go so far as to call it bad. It just seemed so silly.

Natsuno’s fate also lost a lot of its impact by bringing him back. His thoughts whilst lying in bed after being bitten were heartbreaking – that his dreams were all to come to naught. And, yes, they still didn’t come true even with him rising, but his rising undermined the whole thing. There are things about Shiki which I could nitpick at, but it was Natsuno’s continued presence which is the only thing I would really call Shiki out on. It stuck out, and it stuck out badly.

Natsuno’s rising as a jinrou also pretty much destroyed the impact of Muroi’s rising as a jinrou, too. Honestly, this should’ve been a big moment: we’ve been told that jinrou are rare, after all, and their superior strength and abilities have been obvious. So to watch the passive priest rise up as one should’ve been a momentous occasion, especially when followed by his one-eighty turn-around in terms of personality. But this itself ended up feeling out-of-tone and kind of cheap, since we’ve already seen this little trick. Jinrou are soooo rare! But, hey, look, Sotoba birthed TWO! Well… that’s kind of lame.

Going on with Muroi, his final act was unbelievably cruel and finally made it blindingly obvious that he is a very self-centered person. I think his misery covered up this fact for the most part during the course of the show, because there’s a discomfort with calling a depressed person self-centered. Hell, I don’t really like calling him that even given how awful his final act was.

Let’s make no mistake – telling Sunako to come with him and that she is beyond the judgement of God isn’t a kindness to her. Saving her from getting staked? Yes, that was an act of kindness. But Sunako has given up; she invites Muroi to burn with her. She is ready to pass from this world, to end the entire cycle. Everyone must die at some point. To not do so is awful. So accepting that is necessary, and is, in fact, good. Sunako is right to want the flames.

But Muroi convinces her to come along with him. He prevents her from finding peace. If she goes with him, the tragedy of Sotoba will remain with her, and can repeat elsewhere. He isn’t doing her a favor. He just doesn’t want to be alone himself, and in surviving death he no longer wishes for it. So he won’t go into the flames, and he won’t let Sunako, either.

I said before that maybe Muroi will become Sunako’s Tatsumi. Well, I take that back. Tatsumi would’ve let Sunako die if she wanted to, and he probably would’ve gone with her. A surprise, that – the monster Tatsumi is more convincingly kind than the priest Muroi at the end.

Now, to go fully into Muroi’s cessation of his death-wish would be to open up another can of worms. I shall save it for my next installation, which will be covering, at the very least, the fact that Muroi and Ozaki both managed to lose their souls and also more or less swapped places in the finale. Also: interpretations of Muroi’s final speech to Sunako, and maybe some stuff on Megumi and Sotoba. For now: happy new years’ eve.

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8 Responses to The Massive Shiki Retrospective: Part One

  1. Sorrow-kun says:

    So, Ono thinks we all suck… but she loves us anyway. Good to know…?

    A bit like God, apparently.

    One of the things I anticipated for the finale was a confrontation between Natsuno and Megumi, and while I was disappointed at first it didn’t happen, on reflection, from a thematic standpoint it made more sense that Megumi’s last moments came at the hands of a bunch of random villagers. Also from a plot standpoint, it would have been a bit much to have Natsuno in fifty different places in the last ep, and then add one more on top of that.

    I think the role of God in the characters’ thinking is an interesting one. I’m left confused by what Muroi’s final opinion on God was, and whether he becoming a jinrou was accompanied by some sort of conscious abandoning of God. Sunako on the other hand, obviously saw vampirism as a curse only overpowered by the will to survive, and that didn’t change throughout the course of the series. Then there was Muroi’s father as well, one of the only people who became a shiki by choice. I kinda wished they developed some of these ideas a bit more, and gave them a bit more time during the end… especially the massive changes in ideology that Muroi undertook.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well, she would be the god of Shiki, after all, so it is rather fitting, yes?
      I’m glad she didn’t meet up with Natsuno at the end. His presence was glaring enough as it was, and I agree that it was fitting for her to have ended with those villagers.
      I’m going to tackle Muroi’s opinion of God in the next retrospective, and Muroi’s apparent one-eighty in general – can’t really discuss one sans the other.

  2. Baka-Raptor says:

    Day, I will not jump to conclusions. Please explain this:

  3. Caraniel says:

    I found it interesting that thoughout the finale of Shiki, it was the humans that were depicted drenched in blood – the shiki were all pretty clean right up until they dragged out and were staked.

    Ono message really was that humanity sucks and deserves to watch all they hold dear burn in a fire! However she didn’t go the full whack and just kill everyone – there are a surprising amount of survivors, but not one of them will be untouched by the stain of the massacre in Sotoba.

    Muroi’s speech to Sunako about being beyond God seemed to me like he was saying that more for his own benefit than for her – like he was justifying his killing of Ookawa and shedding of his role as the priest of Sotoba. Muroi never enjoyed that role, and wanted an out – Sunako was a handy outlet for him and an excuse….he could tell himself he was saving this defenseless girl, when all he was out for was an escape for himself.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      As I’ve said on your blog, I differ slightly on my interpretation of Muroi’s speech – I don’t think it was for his sake, honestly, because I think he’s beyond even needing to convince himself any more. Well, or, rather, it isn’t for his sake in the sense of justification; he wants to say it, so he just says it. He needs no greater reason than that any more.
      I really would like to know what happened to the woman’s mother who was hiding with her and just feeding off of her. They don’t show her body in the flames, and there’s no reason why she wouldn’t’ve survived given her daughter’s determination to keep her alive. Perhaps 20.5 and 21.5 will answer that one.

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