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Worlds Without End Blog

Vampire Manga 101: Shiki Posted at 1:58 PM by Glenn Hough


Shiki21What is it with writers in general and Horror writers in particular and their obsessiveness concerning small towns? They make them seem like places where every other house is full of mystery, monsters, the deranged, or weirdness run amok. Whether it’s King in Maine, Lynch in the Northwest, or Ono in Japan, on either side of the Pacific, writers love to make stuff happen in small towns. Shiki (Shi Ki), which can be translated as “Corpse Demon”, is no exception.

Shiki can be described like this:

The story takes place during a particularly hot summer in the nineties, in a small quiet village called Sotoba. A series of mysterious deaths begin to spread in the village. At the same time, a strange family has moved into the long abandoned Kanemasa mansion. Dr. Toshio Ozaki, head of the only rural hospital in Sotoba, initially suspects an epidemic. But as the investigations continue with the help of his old friend Muroi Seishin, who is the village priest, the deaths begin to pile up; they becomes convinced that the undead are plaguing the village. A young man named Natsuno Yuuki, who hates living in the village and only wants to leave, begins to suspect he is still being pursued by a girl who has already died.

Shiki04So, how many tropes can we find in just this one paragraph?

1. A small town, isolated from the world.
2. An abandoned mansion.
3. New people arriving and deaths starting to occur.
4. A Doctor.
5. A Priest.
6. A part of the plot seems to swirl around a young man.

A mystery is being played out before us. We get to see how things start out so benignly with cases that look like anemia. The Doctor works this angle, giving us the flavor of how the medical mind would work these sorts of cases; he even delves into epidemic concerns. It takes major frustration, i.e. people dying and he not being able to help them, before he starts seeing the truth.

Shiki10It’s not summer flu, the heat, expected deaths (from illness) all happening at once. The characters have to get over the notion that this is just kind of like that year, some years before, when there were a lot of deaths as well. This is an important point since it can be very difficult to acknowledge that something out of the ordinary is happening. At one point, the number of deaths is 7 in just over half a month, compared to 4 for all of last summer. By the time they get up to 19, there’s no doubt.

Shiki14Of course, it’s not a mystery to us, the reader. We know what’s behind the deaths. We know it’s Vampires, even though we don’t see any fangs until the fourth chapter. Whether it’s the cover art work, or finding out about the story from a blog called Vampire Manga 101, we know the root cause.

So the question the reader is left with, and which the characters eventually take up as well, is why. Why are they here, in this village, at this time?

Part of the answer is Ono accommodating Western Vampire lore with an isolated village that has practiced burial for centuries and continues to do so even though this runs counter to the modern cultural norms of Japan. After all, it is kinda hard to rise from the dead after one has been cremated. This point is explicated stated, that they, the Vampires, didn’t become interested in this village until they read about it, and the customs there, in a magazine article authored by the local priest Seishin.

Shiki06Shiki is an engaging spiral into the clutches of a Vampire clan. Ono and Fujisaki have crafted a tale that hits us with the mundane concerns of an isolated village unraveling as many deaths, especially amount young people, start taking a toll on the village. This is compounded by people just up and quitting their jobs one day and moving out of town the next, saying good-bye to no one. Inexplicable behavior, many funerals, a sudden labor shortage, and then outsiders being suddenly brought in to fill those vacant positions. What does it all mean?

The readership gets it far sooner than the characters, so we get to watch a slow moving tragedy unfold. I am reminded of the frog in the tepid water/boiling water analogy. The frog is the village itself, the heat is what the Vampires are doing. Ono and Fujisaki turn up the heat on the villagers fast enough so they have to notice. Fast enough to jump.

Shiki13But even when they notice, even as Doctor Ozaki, the priest Seishin, and Yuuki all start comparing notes and drawing conclusions, disbelief in where the facts point, especially disbelief from others in the village, slows them down from doing what needs to be done to protect themselves. This delay costs lives but it’s like losing the initial battles but not losing the whole war.

The whole thing is complicated by the new Vampires, the newly dead from the village who have awakened to the new life and the blood lust of the undead. The Villagers must defend themselves from their friends, their relatives, their loves… the emotional impact alone, is devastating. How many willingly join the other side, in the vain hope of regaining something thought lost forever? This aspect alone makes the battles to come more poignant.

Shiki12Shiki is rooted in the day-to-day concerns of the now, at least the now of the late 90’s, when something very unexpected happens: the Vampires move in. Death awaits, but that’s certainly not the end for some. Sotoba becomes a battlefield between the two races. There is no possibility for co-existence like in the three other Vampire mangas I’ve blogged about. Not this time.

Getting Shiki is more complicated than the other mangas I’ve blogged about since it has not been officially translated and published in the USA, yet. This means that it’s been licensed, and has been licensed for some time (years) but there is no indication that the English translation holder is going to release the series anytime soon. Why this is so, is a tale of the vagaries of the manga/anime industry and the corresponding translation industry. This is especially true since Fuyumi Ono, who wrote the original novel, has been translated before. (See her entry on WWEnd!) But wait, the scanlation networks have provided where the official channels have done little to nothing concerning this intriguing Vampire tale. You can find free copies of Shiki at,, or

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