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.