The Massive Shiki Retrospective: The Depiction of Suicide in Shiki

I have no intro line.

Well, here it is – the post that has been percolating in my mind since at least October. But I held off in favor of seeing the full show before drawing any conclusions or attempting to analyze the manner in which suicide was depicted within Shiki. After all, how could I before I saw the full effort? And, I was right to, given that we do finally get a confession from Muroi that he tried to kill himself out of despair, despite his earlier insistence that he didn’t know why he’d tried to do it.

Of course, Shiki ended a few weeks ago, so surely I could’ve done this sooner, right?

Well. Yes. I could’ve. But I had to ruminate on a bit of the rest of Shiki before I could attempt this. I had to parse through a bit of everything else before I could do this. I also simply had to wait for the moment where I could truly settle in and devote attention to it, and also to a moment where I felt inclined to use that time for such a thing, as opposed to using it to read or to watch anime or any other myriad things.

By the way, as an aside, I will not that this doesn’t mean I won’t be doing any of those other things I claimed would be in my next Shiki post. I just wanted to do this one now.

It may seem a bit misleading to use the title I used – Muroi is a failed suicide (twice, really), not a completed one. So it isn’t so much so the manner in which Shiki depicts an actual completed suicide; it can’t be. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot look at how Shiki depicts suicide, because there is a character walking around who tried to kill himself and who is still seriously suicidal, regardless of how much he likes to delude himself otherwise. Muroi’s defection to the shiki may be partially due to his own sympathy for them, but do not for one second think that is the only reason. He’s too self-centered for that, although I doubt even he realizes it, and he’s spent too much of the show demonstrating that he’s done nothing to alter his own fate. He hates Sotoba, and he’s miserable, but does he ever try to do anything about it? Hardly.

Anyway, the first thing to look at is the method Muroi used in his (first) suicide attempt. He cut his wrist. And, not only did he cut his wrist, he cut it from side-to-side, e.g. the wrong way. Cutting one’s wrist like this is very unlikely to result in death. If you look at the various shots of his scarred wrist, you will see that it is a very wide scar; this wasn’t just a quick slice with a razor. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that he probably used a kitchen knife based on the width of the scar. Razors cut very neatly, they leave thin wounds and therefore thin scars (and sometimes they don’t scar at all).

This is all conjecture, though, insofar as I’m speaking of what he used to cut himself. It honestly doesn’t matter much for the purposes of my own post; I just felt like pointing it out.

So, Muroi cut his wrists the wrong way. Is that an indication of his not actually wanting to die? No; I think Muroi’s own behaviors and attitudes throughout Shiki show that he’s self-destructive. Is it, then, an indication of poor research by the animators? Perhaps. But I think it was intentional – Sunako tells him directly that people can’t die from cutting their wrists, so the folks working on this are aware of that. Its more likely that Muroi himself didn’t know any better. That cutting one’s wrists up-and-down has a much higher mortality rate than side-to-side isn’t a very commonly known fact, honestly. Even knowing this, I am often surprised when others aren’t aware of it. But I’ve studied suicide formally and informally for years; most people haven’t.

Muroi cutting his wrists the wrong way also makes it easier for him to still be alive, and, thus, be a presence in the show. As I said, the mortality rate for cutting the “correct” way is much, much higher.

This is also one of the reason why Muroi didn’t elect a different method. The other reason is that wrist-cutting leaves visible evidence. Scars are very useful shorthand when placed on the wrist for suicide; when we all saw it, we knew exactly what it meant. Within the novels, this works, too, even if the novels are not a visual medium themselves. All Ono had to do was have a line about Muroi looking at the scar on his wrist, and it all became clear to the readers.

Consider, for instance, if Muroi had tried to overdose or to suffocate himself with gases. Neither of these leaves obvious visual cues. We cannot look at a person who has tried to overdose and automatically pick up on things in the manner that we can when we see a scarred wrist. So having Muroi attempt suicide via wrist-cutting is an easy way to let the audience know what is going on.

It also leaves a lot less evidence than some more lethal methods do, such as jumping off a building or jumping in front of a train. Of course, the believability of someone surviving either of these is a lot lower, although it isn’t unheard of for someone to survive these (a few weeks ago in New York City, in fact, a man who jumped out a window survived because there was so much snow on the ground and bags of trash where he fell). However, the believability of someone surviving such a thing and not having massive physical issues is beyond the pale. If he’d jumped off a building, we’d expect to see him in a wheelchair. And if he’d been in a wheelchair, everyone in that tiny little place would’ve known what had happened. And that wouldn’t’ve worked – Muroi’s suicide attempt is supposed to be a secret, as is his self-destructiveness. He hides his arm behind his back very quickly when Sunako tells him that “Humans can’t die from cutting their wrist.” Its the priest’s dirty little secret.

So we’ve covered the method used. Now, let’s address Muroi’s insistence for most of the show that he didn’t really mean to die, that he doesn’t know why he tried to kill himself.

This actually isn’t as dubious an excuse as it may seem initially. There are people out there who legitimately do attempt or complete suicide on a whim yet don’t actually have a desire for death. They just have impulse control problems, or they lose real sense of the world and repercussions while in an intoxicated state of any sort, be it from illicit drugs or alcohol or even prescribed medication. If you jump off a building because you think you can fly while you’re tripping, and then you die, you didn’t really mean to die. You just lost touch with reality at an unfortunate moment. Its still suicide in the absolute sense – you jumped off the building, after all – but it isn’t suicide in a “real” sense. As Sunako writes on Muroi’s manuscript, killing without intent is an accident.

I’m more interested in the impulse control folks, though, because I think this is less understood.

In the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), there has been debate over whether there should be a disorder included called ‘Impulse Control Disorder’. Part of the impetus for this is in trying to figure out how to treat self-mutilators. Currently, these individuals are often filed under Borderline Personality Disorder, even in the absence of other indicators of this disorder. Its a sloppy way of classifying these people, and it doesn’t adequately address the real issue – that these folks are hurting themselves intentionally – because they often lack the other symptoms that go along with this disorder. Quite simply, they are being categorized incorrectly because mental health care workers are trying to find a way to get them help and don’t know what other way they can. Insurance companies will not cover a person seeing a mental health care professional in the absence of a diagnosis. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So psychologists and psychiatrists have been developing this classification, the Impulse Control Disorder, which would cover individuals who self-mutilate but do not present the other symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. In other words, they’d start getting better targeted-treatment. It also means that they wouldn’t have the deadly ‘personality disorder’ tag haunting them for the rest of their lives. It is very, very difficult to get employed when one has been labeled as having a personality disorder. A person can recover from depression, but a personality disorder says that one has a flaw in who their very own self is.

Anyway, all of this is to say – while we do later find that Muroi was in denial about his own circumstances, it isn’t ridiculous for a person to claim that they didn’t actually want to die when they attempted suicide. There are people who have problems with impulse control, and sometimes their impulses run very deadly. Hell, I’ve had impulses to do deadly things before when I wasn’t feeling suicidal; the difference is that I can control those sudden urges.

Of course, we do finally get confirmation that Muroi was unhappy and so he tried to kill himself as a result. He admits it to Sunako and Tatsumi in one of the last episodes. I think he himself was in full denial about it, too, though; he probably knew when he tried, but then subconsciously convinced himself after the fact that he hadn’t really meant it.  Shiki is, in a way, all about Muroi coming to accept himself and the world around him. When he fails to die the second time, he fully embraces his own self, as I said in my last retrospective post. He’s moved beyond despair. Which, again, isn’t to say he’s happy. He’s just past it all.

The thing is, Muroi doesn’t deny wanting to die in conversation with others. He never discusses it with anyone until the end of the show. Its all through internal ruminations that we hear him insisting that he hadn’t had any intent to die. Which is why it isn’t a matter of him just paying lipservice when around others. And he shows too much genuine consternation over Sunako’s scribbled words on his manuscript for this to just be a shallowly done thing. He believes his own lie.

And then… he admits it. He realizes it himself. It took him twenty episodes, but he gets it. And him getting it is all part and parcel of the fact that he now expects to die himself. Basically, he’s putting all his affairs in order, so to speak. He went to Kanemasa to die. And because he knows that he went there to die, he now can know that he had wanted to die when he was younger, too. He doesn’t need to keep up the pretense any more. He offers his left arm, the one with the scarred wrist, to Tatsumi twice. He doesn’t care if people know now what he tried to do in the past. The rest is silence, after all.

I was going to address what Muroi’s final attempt at death says about his martyr’s complex, but I can honestly roll that into another post – it could be argued that it would be merely tangential to what the intent of this post was, anyway. I’m also feeling a bit drained after this whole thing. I’ve been working on this for two hours now, which is a very long time for me to have been working on a post. I usually pound out posts in half an hour or less, depending on the content and length of the post.

If you have further interest in suicide as a topic, I strongly recommend the book November of the Soul by George Howe Colt. Its a very accessible book on the subject, and has a breadth to it that most books concerning suicide do no. It was also written by a journalist as opposed to a psychiatrist or psychologist, so you could easily go into it knowing nothing at all about suicide.

Here, by the way, is the picture I actually wanted to use at the start of this post. But I was concerned it was too sensationalistic-looking. I think its a good picture, but I think it could also give the wrong impression about the nature of the post. I also was concerned about triggering people. I figure if its down here then those who would be troubled by this sort of stuff have already stopped reading or never clicked to begin with.

I think that Shiki did a good job of depicting suicide, by the way. It was believable and it wasn’t sensationalized. It also was an actual part of the plot as opposed to tossed in for some easy insta-drama.

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7 Responses to The Massive Shiki Retrospective: The Depiction of Suicide in Shiki

  1. Caraniel says:

    I know that you’ve been itching to get this post out of your system for ages now, glad to finally see it happen.

    I liked the way Shiki handled Muroi’s suicide attempts; just like everything else in Shiki, it wasn’t painted in black & white but in shades of gray. Muroi didn’t have any massively obvious reason for trying to take his own life, nothing particularly awful had ever happened to him, but Muroi was still deeply unhappy with his lot & the chains that bound him to Sotoba, and it was that sense of deep-seated despair led him to his suicide attempts.

    It’s difficult to say whether his decision to cut his wrist the ‘incorrect’ way was deliberate or not since we’re not privy a whole lot of information on the exact circumstances or time-period when Muroi slit his wrist, however I think that it probably was deliberate given Shiki’s emphasis on ‘there is no death without intent to kill’. Muroi definitely was unhappy enough to go to the trouble of cutting his wrist, but probably wanted saving & an escape more than to actually die.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      And most suicidal people are looking for an escape to something better, not looking for death. I’ve covered that before, although not in regards specifically to Muroi, in an analysis I did a while back for Durarara!! here. I was honestly too exhausted by the end of writing this to even consider whether Muroi wanted to die or if he just wanted freedom. Maybe I’ll consider it in the next retrospective. I’ve probably got at least two more of these suckers.

  2. Pingback: Shiki (manga): Chapter 00-02 « Caraniel's Ramblings

  3. Wing_Goddess says:

    I randomly stumbled on this post and took me a couple days to finish reading the whole thing. I just want to say thanks for the awesome post and the facts that you added. The minute I finished Shiki I greatly disliked Muroi because I just labeled the guy as a traitor. The next day as looked back at the series as a whole I noticed there was a lot more to Muroi than what meets the eye (and speech). Muroi has become my favourite character in Shiki now. He’s a bit confusing to understand at first as a whole, but eventually learn that there’s meaning to everything if you think about it and catch the clues. I might have to stalk your other posts now too ;P

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well, I’m glad that you find my post so illuminating. It was quite an effort to write the whole damn thing, I’ll admit. Thanks for taking the time to read it all the way through.

  4. Pingback: Suicide, Missing Persons and the Magical Girl: Madoka★Magica and the Things That Really Scare Us « 2-D Teleidoscope

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I stumbled across it while looking for Muroi related articles. I also read your article on Durararas Rio. Thought beeing a Shiki (and especially Muroi fan myself I welcome articles wich don’t rip him apparts as someone just beeing pathetic but analyizing his reasons for some of his actions.)

    Thought both posts are quite old I’d like to leave a comment of approval.
    You depict and analyse them so well within such a serious topic. It’s good to see that there are those who don’t laugh suicide off as ridicolous, pointless or the such when it’s depicted outside a reallife scenery. I read it for too many times that themes like those are lightheartly tossed aside by readers and viewers of the stories cause it’s either too much drama or not enough drama and to ordinary. It seems that some who are unfamiliar with the topic put seemingly superficial reasons off as not worth worrying and too minor to be a realistic reason to kill oneself. So I really really appreciate your views and descriptions that it’s quite deeper with those who attempt to commit suicide “on a whim”.

    Thanks for theae really great points of yours.

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