Doctor House vs Vampires
Shiki has the distinct honor of being the second thing I’ve watched dubbed before seeing the Japanese track (the first was the gloriously confusing mess that was A Time to Screw). I try to avoid this, but with Shiki my laziness got the better of me. It was an impulse buy that I wasn’t really interested in so I figured I’d save myself watching the series twice. (Although the Japanese cast does have Toru Ohkawa in it, so I’ll probably check it out at some point.) So what did I think about Shiki? I thought it needed more Toshio Ozaki and less everything that wasn’t Ozaki being fucking awesome (which, to the show’s credit, was quite often). Unfortunately, Shiki had the potential to be crazy awesome but instead squandered it. Now Shiki does have a lot of really great elements in it; like violent mob lynchings and the worst character in the show getting repeatedly hit by tractors, run over by said tractors, and finally lynched by said violent mob. (One of the most satisfying deaths I’ve seen in a while.) However there are some glaring critical flaws in the show that degrade the entire experience. (Like a certain character not dying horribly in the end.)
The morality is of course a big one. Despite attempting to be morally ambiguous, the show’s morality is as grey as Ghandi vs Hitler. There are only two vampires who are truly sympathetic (and they only get about five minutes of total combined screen time in those roles) with the other “sympathetic” vampires either proving that they need to be killed by confirming that they can’t control their “urges” (despite the fact that the aforementioned two sympathetic vampires manage to do exactly that) or being completely fucking retarded (yeah, I’m looking at you Ms “I’m going to murder my entire family and hope they come back to life”). The crux of this is the final arc where the show seems blissfully unaware that expecting the viewer to feel horrified by the brutal acts of the villagers is impossible. One side of the conflict is a bunch of peaceful townsfolk (yeah there are some douchebags like the “I’m killing the vampires I hated when they were alive” guy), who have been systematically hunted and slaughter for the past couple of months, fighting to protect their homes, their families, and their lives. The other side is a bunch of murderous vampires, the majority of which are either gigantic irredeemable assholes or complete idiots. So when the unruly mob starts butchering the vampires, the “horror” of the event is lost because you want the unruly mob to continue butchering the vampires. The last six episodes fail to be a shocking commentary and instead becomes a cathartic outlet as you watch a largely sympathetic side (led by the best character in the show – a character who pretty much carries the entire show) fight a near-completely unsympathetic side (containing many of the most unlikable characters in the show) who not only started the conflict but required a massive dose of idiocy to do so. (The lore in this show makes it so that the vampires could very easily avoid killing humans and peacefully co-exist but don’t, which only makes the vampires even less likable then they already were.) The end result is scenes that normally would be horrible completely losing the horror. Under normal circumstances it’s not supposed to feel triumphant when villagers tie up a bunch of vampires and them watch them boil alive in the sun. (Bonus points to Shiki for including the generic “I can’t watch this shit any more so I’m going to mercy kill them” character in that scene.) So congratulations Shiki, you made me root for the people committing what basically amounts to genocide. Adding on the moral problems of the show’s message is Muroi. His “all life is precious” bullshit is extremely annoying when he’s risking his life to protect a girl who not only organized the slaughter of his village, but encourages new vampires to kill, threatens violence on them and the families if they don’t, encourages new vampires to attack their friends and families, and is all around the show’s version of Hitler. (Which makes Muroi – the show’s supposed moral compass – the show’s Nazi sympathizer.) However, the morality for me isn’t the biggest problem with Shiki. I’d say the horror elements, pacing, and one of the protagonists are really what hold the show back.
See, the shitty morality actually works in the show’s favor in the exact opposite way it intended. The brutal actions of the villagers are fun as hell to watch. (It’s like watching Alucard utterly destroy an enemy in Hellsing, there is just something enjoyable about watching a character you don’t like get their comeuppance – or in Shiki‘s case – their head run over by a tractor while they beg for their life.) The horror elements on the other hand really left me disappointed. (Especially since Funimation’s brilliant advertising promised me that this show would scare me so much I’d need to go to bed with a crucifix.) The show seems to think it has horror elements, the show acts like it has horror elements, but they don’t really exist. They show up briefly (the psychological horror elements of the first couple of episodes are handled pretty well and the weird-looking through walls effect is neat) but because the show makes it blatantly obvious that killer vampires are behind the “unknown” epidemic, the horror and suspense are lost. (It also makes the five episodes Ozaki spends playing House a lot worse than they had any right to be.) This is coupled with the show blowing its load with a big reveal only four episodes in, after which it stops trying to make the vampires particularly scary. This makes the first act, which could have been great if it was given more build-up and more suspense, very uneven. The poor handling of the horror elements directly tie into the series’ pacing issues. Shiki falls into the standard anime pitfall of speeding through its first act only to reach a long and meandering second act (thankfully the second act picks up towards its end). Said second act faces two problems. First being that the first act didn’t really set up any payoff for the second act, and secondly, one of the two protagonists is completely fucking pointless, which makes a large part of his character arc in the second act (which mostly consists of him just being a dumbass) tedious and irritating to watch through. Natsuno serves absolutely no purpose as a protagonist. He’s a side character that the show accidentally gave a third of its screen time to. Yes, he’s still critical to the plot, but his contributions to the plot are a whopping four actions through the entire series. Why did he need to be a main character? To get Akira and Kaori involved? Ozaki could have done that. To give the viewer someone to relate to? Ozaki fills that role (or if you can relate to being useless and causing problems, you can relate to Muroi). To have a connection to some of the victims? Once again, Ozaki. To kill vampires? Ozaki organizes a vampire genocide while Natsuno just kind of stands around only getting involved twice. As far as I can tell Natsuno is only a protagonist because the show needed a high school aged character in a leading role. That’s seriously the only thing I can think of to justify Natsuno as a protagonist and not just a side character. Generic anime character syndrome. Just to highlight how useless he is – in the novels Shiki is based on he spends the last half dead and in the anime he has all of maybe six scenes after episode thirteen. In fact instead of wasting time on his character being stupid they could have given that time to more deserving characters like Ozaki or Kaori or the batshit xenophobic mom. (But no seriously Natsuno was fucking pointless and all he did was waste time that could have been spent on Ozaki’s badassery.)
Negativity out-of-the-way, Shiki was still really fun to watch. Ozaki and the last six episodes of the series made up for most of my problems with the series. As it stands I’d say that Shiki was pretty good, with my disappointment coming from its failure to be great. So how was the dub?
The dub was pretty good. (I was originally going to do my usual breakdown, but I don’t have enough to talk about to warrant it.) David Wald, like his character, carried the cast for me. I liked his deep gravelly voice, he emoted well, and most importantly he had the right balance of having a doctor’s detachment, yet still being very personally involved with the events around him. Jerry Jewell thankfully feels less irrelevant than his character in the role of Natsuno all though he feels too detached in some emotional scenes. John Burgmeier does a competent job but the shittiness of his character negates that. Cherami Leigh (who I originally thought was Monica Rial) plays the role of annoying little girl well enough. (At least her grown-woman voicing a child syndrome makes sense here.) I really liked Alexis Tipton and Luci Christian’s performances as Kaori and Akira, primarily because they were the least annoying, annoying-kids I’ve seen in years. J. Michael Tatum and Lydia Mackay ham it up enough to match their characters ridiculous hair/outfits. Colleen Clinkenbeard and the rest of the nurses do a good job and play well off of Wald’s Ozaki. (Speaking of nurses – another negative of Shiki – the fat nurse in her underwear… I didn’t need that damn it!) Tia Ballard’s Megumi contains the proper amount of cunt for her character. The minor cast ranges from good to competent with R Bruce Elliott’s cool-old-guy performance being the highlight. Finally, the script flows well and doesn’t feel like it was written by someone who has no understanding of the English language. Although, I would have liked some mention of Lupus during the House portion of the show when Wald was throwing around medical terms left and right, but I can live with out it. Overall it was a solid effort.
Final Scores: Shiki Proper: 8/10 | The Dub: B+
Bonus: I watched the four commentaries. Thankfully they were mostly devoid of the “technical aspects of dubbing” bullshit, unfortunately they were mostly filled with the director and actors talking about how morally complex and deep the show was and how they were rooting for the vampires. My personal favorite moment being when Mike McFarland (I think it was him talking) openly acknowledged that a character spent the show being a spite-filled cunt who repeatedly killed people for petty reasons (my words not his) and yet he still wanted her to get away. (Thankfully she met a tractor filled death instead.)