Two episodes in, and this one is solidly in the rotation for the summer. Not much new ground is being broken, but Shiki is succeeding thus far in the tradition of Higurashi, one of the better recent examples of its genre.
As expected, the body count continues to grow alarmingly in episode two. The first section deals mostly with reaction to Megumi’s untimely death at the end of the first ep, especially that of her younger friend and admirer. She fiends a mid-summer greeting card (perhaps another Japanese tradition I was not aware of?) that Megumi had apparently written but but too scared to give to Natsuno. He continues to generally be a standoffish prick, attending Megumi’s funeral but refusing to accept the letter as a memory of Megumi and complaining to the nurse at the Ozaki clinic that he dislikes small village life.
Meanwhile Dr. Ozaki, perhaps emerging as the hero figure of the story, suspects that something is seriously wrong in the little village of Sotoba. While Megumi’s father refuses his request for an autopsy, Ozaki blames himself for misdiagnosing her (later confirmed by her blood test). Sotobans are dying off left and right, mostly but not exclusively the elderly, and all seeming to have similar reported symptoms – weakness, fatigue, walking about it a daze. Ozaki’s contact at the government office confirms that ten have died in all, and Ozaki and the bishie monk suspect a possible epidemic. Meanwhile, Natsuno has started closing his shoji screen again – though even he isn’t sure why…
What Shiki has accomplished so far, above anything, is to create an atmosphere. The stifling closeness of village life, where everyone knows (or tries to) everyone’s business is so well-presented that we can almost feel Natsuno’s frustration and paranoia. There was some quite interesting framing and camera work in this episode – the pan-outs to reveal the village surrounded by it’s groves of fir trees and hills, the “map” of the various important spots in town, the quick pull-backs… All of it is interesting, and creates a sense of disjointed unease. The BGM is a little broad for my taste, but not unusual for the genre.
There’s barely a drop of humor in this so far, and we haven’t been made to feel too much for any of the characters yet, with the possible exception of Megumi. Still – it’s early, and we’re surely going to be dealing with a huge cast of characters here so deep focus on any one may not be a realistic expectation. The mystery is apparently going to be unraveled at a leisurely pace, with Dr. Ozaki in a critical role. I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here – vampirism seems a likely bet based on the clues so far, but I’ve no doubt we’ll get at least a few interesting twists on that theme.