The Powerful Aesthetic of Shiki

Hey guys, it’s Naru, and I am proud to offer you an article written by a friend of mine from, Falseshepherd!  He read my review of Shiki, and had a few choice words to say in the defense of Shiki and it’s character design choices, and his arguments were so well written and compelling that I kind of wish I didn’t have a policy against editing past works.  Instead, I did the next best thing and asked him to compile his thoughts into one outstanding article, which is exactly what I have here today.

You can find more work from him at his MAL account, or if you’re feeling so inclined, you can also follow him on Twitter.

Shiki is one of the most disturbing anime series I’ve seen. From its Story, to its characters, and themes, Shiki is excellent from start to finish. Adapted from the 1998 novel by Fuyumi Ono, it also received a manga adaptation that ran from 2007 to 2011. Both of which are excellent versions of the story. If you don’t know by now, Shiki is about a family of Vampires moving into an isolated village, and the death and bloodshed it causes when they clash with the villagers, who suffer from what can only be described as a ‘small town mentality’.

I have heard many opinions about shiki. And everyone tends to agree that the story is great, and that the characters are, at least, interesting. But when it comes to the aesthetic of Shiki, I noticed many people tend to draw a line. The physics-defying hair, large, distinct eyes, and strange fashion tends to make the viewer feel annoyed or distracted. I’ve heard from a few people I know that Shiki has bad aesthetic; some say just the character designs, others say the whole show looks bad, so I’m here to dispel that idea.

Shiki’s aesthetic is just as important to the show as the writers are to the story. And the character designs can be broken down into three distinct aspects. The first is also the most mundane; the major characters have a distinct look to differentiate them from the rest of the cast. This is something pretty much all anime does, sure, but it’s worth pointing out that Shiki does it in a way no other show does. Sometimes, a minor character will have an unruly hairstyle, or a major character may have a pretty realistic hairstyle; I look at this as a way subvert the audience’s expectations from time to time. But this aspect is not as fundamental as the other two.


Outlandish Character Designs


Have you noticed that the character designs match each character’s personality? Almost everyone’s design fits them like a tailor-made glove. And no other character is a better example than Megumi Shimizu. Megumi is a narcissistic, nonconforming girl who does everything she can to represent herself in a specific way. Everything from the color of her hair (pink, which denotes a kind of feminine charm, and gentle nature), her common twin tails, and stylish outfits tell us that she wants everyone to see her as she sees herself: a beautiful, classy young girl, who is amazing in general. The strange and unique outfits also tell us she doesn’t want to conform to village life, and sees herself as above the villagers, as per the expensive look she goes for. Megumi may want you to think she’s a pretty girl with a lot of potential, but her true nature is more selfish and malicious than you think. And the red glint in her eyes are a hint at her more antagonistic side that we see later on, after episode 1.

Megumi isn’t the only example. Toshio Ozaki is another character whose design is a reflection of his personality. His unkempt, disheveled hair, stubble, and often tired eyes tell us he’s quite the workaholic, reinforced by how we never see him not wearing his doctor’s attire. Toshio also has some pretty intense eyes, that denote a determined, cunning, and fearless man who won’t back down, and will do anything to save ‘his’ village.

Seishin Muroi’s inherently passive nature is represented by his priests outfit, and the lifeless hair shows him as someone who’s given up. While everyone else seems to have lively, unkempt hair, Seishin’s is always limp and without the physics defying life the other characters seem to often have. His eyes a dark, almost like a Shiki’s, foreshadowing his indignant feelings and darker side that lurks just beneath the friendly, and passive surface. Hopefully these examples give you an idea of what I mean.

But none of this really explains why they have to look so surreal. There are other shows that reflect a character’s personality in the way they’re designed. So what’s the deal with characters in the show looking so distinct? Why do the Kirishikis seem to have an otherworldy glow about them early on?

Why do the characters in Shiki have such a strange look at all? it’s for the purpose of making the audience uncomfortable. To us, Shiki looks surreal, it looks strange, it looks different and wrong. Shiki looks weird, no doubt about that, but this is intentional, and I would argue it works to the show’s benefit. No other anime looks like Shiki, not even other shows done by the same studio (which all seem to suck, I suppose Shiki is Studio Daume’s magnum opus).

Shiki is often considered a horror anime, after all. And what good is a horror that can’t make you uncomfortable? But I think it goes a bit further than that. I feel as if the audience reacts to Shiki’s character designs in a similar way to how the Sotoba residents react to the way outsiders are, that is to say, dismissive of different ideas or perspectives. This is sort of like how someone who’s used to anime looking a bit more photorealistic being closed-minded about the outlandish, and unconventional look of Shiki.


Strength of the Setting


The power of Shiki’s aesthetic reaches beyond character design, and encompasses the setting itself. Sotoba is a quiet, isolated village in the mountains. Whenever there’s a scene that takes place on the streets of Sotoba, you can often see the trees the surround the village, and at night, the perceived black wall the trees form conveys an oppressive and ominous atmosphere that fits the show perfectly. This is given more meaning when you realize that these trees are used to craft headstones which is the origin of Seishin’s metaphor that Sotoba is a village surrounded by death.

The best example of this feeling is in episodes 9 and 10, when the Shiki attack the clinic. The one shot of Megumi peering in through a large window, as other Shiki gather behind her, with the oppressive wall of trees in the background, gives off the claustrophobic feeling that you’re sealed in with these monsters, and you can’t escape. Shiki is filled with stuff like this, however, it’s not just at night that Sotoba feels alive, but also during the day.

The level of physicality that Sotoba is able to generate is impressive. While this is more because of how grounded in reality the show is, in terms of writing (vampires notwithstanding), it’s also the dimensions of the surroundings in proportion to the characters. In short, Sotoba feels like a tangible place that you could actually go to.

Characters feel like they’re actually there, walking on the ground, and interacting with their environment. Now this stuff isn’t anything particularly unique or special, I’m just pointing out how well Shiki does it. A good example of this is one scene in episode 1, right before Megumi makes her way up to Kanemasa. When she walks away from Kaori, and turns to walk up the road to the mansion, the way she moved felt like she was actually walking further from Kaori, and up the hill. Again, textbook stuff, but shiki does an outstanding job at it.

One more thing worth noting is how the show, and especially the Manga, go into detail about the mentality of the villagers, and the evolving mood of the village as the continuous deaths create a bleak atmosphere for the inhabitants, and the viewer. The attention to detail in the writing of how Sotoba functions as a community as well as establishing different distinct locations in Sotoba, such as Kanemasa, Ozaki Clinic, the Temple, Yamairi, and so on; is executed very well. There are even detailed maps and overhead shots of the village in manga, and some in the show also. Its almost like there is enough information about Sotoba that, by the end of the series, you feel like you know your way around Sotoba.

Shiki is the best looking thriller anime I’ve seen so far, and it’s likely it will still be my favorite thriller anime for years to come. Sotoba is an interesting place to visit for 24 episodes, and I’d highly recommend watching this series.  If you’re looking for a visually stunning and morally provocative anime, then you cannot go wrong with Shiki.

  1. Karandi said:

    Shiki certainly has a unique style particularly with character desgin. This annoys some people (particularly the hair) but I thought it kind of worked perfectly for the characters and the overall tone of the show. Thanks for sharing.

    • It took me out of the show a lot when I first watched the series, personally, but this article has softened me on it a little.

  2. Shiki is one of my fave horror anime. When I saw some screenshots of the weird eyes I didn’t think much of the artstyle, but it worked for me when in motion.

    • The weird eyes never bothered me… The weird hair, on the other hand, I originally found laughable.

      • You can always count on anime to deliver crazy hairstyles and unrealistic chest sizes 🙂

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