First Impressions – Shiki

Noitamina starts the new season with Shikki, and things are spelled out pretty clearly from the OP, a stylish pastiche of character introductions, skulls and a rain of blood. People are going to die here – lots of them. It’s a small mountain village, and it’s going to be a mystery. Something supernatural is going to be involved.

This is nothing new – it’s been done with a wide range of success, from the pretty good (Higurashi) to the unintentionally hilarious and awful (Ookami Kakushi). This time the source material is a manga by Ryu Fujisaki, author of Soul Hunter and Hoshin Engi, among others. Animation production is from Daume, in something of a departure from their usual fluffier fare such as Minami-ke. And the animation looks fine, if not extravagant – something of a cross between “Reborn!” and Madhouse’s “Ef” series. OP, ED and BGM are all pretty standard horror fare – faster-paced J-rock OP with the aforementioned stylish animation, reflective, somber ballad for an ED, and suitably creepy and minor-key BGM. It’s anime horror 101.

As for the story itself, we don’t learn too much just yet – except that it’s a good thing the characters’ names are shown on-screen as they’re introduced, because there’s obviously going to be a lot of them (contributing to the body count, one assumes). Megumi, a 10th grader who hates her life in the small village of Sotoba and dreams of the big city, is the nominal main character of the first ep (though I wouldn’t get too attached). She pines for dreamy but stand-offish (and a bit suspicious) Natsuno, who ignores her every chance she gets. The most exciting thing to happen in ages – other than the cow giving less milk – is the strange death of three old people in an isolated section of the village, discovered by bishounen monk Seishin. Apparently they died of natural caues, but wild dogs (a big problem in small-town Japan, apparently) were involved. There’s also an odd family that moves into a European-style castle on the hill, the hunky, town Doctor, local cop, more teenagers and a dog that looks eerily like Densuke from “Dennou Coil”. In short, we’re fully covered for archetypes.

All in all, Shiki manages to execute the formula well enough in the first episode to be pretty entertaining. The mood of sleepy but creepy village life is set pretty well, and the characters are snappy enough to show the potential of holding interest. Not many clues about the premise are given, though there are hints about possible lycanthropy and vampirism. There are even a few pretty good laugh lines. There are some oddities with Shinji Ochi’s character designs, most notably that most of the boys’ hair seems to grow into horns, but nothing so extreme as to provide a major distraction. In a lean summer so far, this one is above-average and looks to be a series to follow.

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