A while ago i watched an anime called Shiki, and i wasn’t THAT crazy into it, but looking back on it now, I had watched it right after Rosario vampire, which i really liked alot more, though for separate reasons.
I really don’t have all that much to say about shiki other than it was a pretty good style and i really loved the writing in it. Everything is shown to you, rather than given in exposition. It takes the approach of hurling information at you and leaving it up to the viewer to get to the bottom of things, rather than have characters deduce it from information unknown to you. I’d totally give it a watch reccomendation, but i won’t be shouting its praises here either.
In my mind there are really 3 kinds of story telling that are prevalent right now, whether it’s anime, movies, or loosely in short spurts in tv.
1. The characters know more than you – This is a really hard sell tactic that is fairly prevalent in scifi animes, some examples that use this type of story telling are Neon genesis evangelion, full metal panic, bubblegum crisis 2044, and Ghost in the shell stand alone comeplex. The primary features of this type of story telling, are when most of the developement comes from inside the characters, taking Ghost in the shell t explain, THe major already is a master hacker, capable of gathering any information from the net. THis is not to say that The major knows EVERYTHING pertinent to the plot, but 75% of the time she knows things well before you, the viewer do, and then the story is told through memories, or actions based on pre-existing knowledge.
2.You learn WITH the character- This tactic is fairly difficult to pull off because it limits the writer to only tell the characters what the viewer can see at the same time, and plot devices such as pulling in details from character memory, and two-sided story telling. ( i will elaborate on these tactics in #3) The best possible example I can think of for this type of story telling is in “Another” but some others like Initial D, Bleach, and Dragonball Z use primarily this tactic to great effect to give you the sense of “growing with the hero” rather than just watching something and then hearing about how they did it afterwards.
3. You know more than the Character/ Characters – usually this is my least favorite, tactic, and degrees can vary significantly from the light side in which you may have seen the antagonist talking and learned something that the protagonist doesn’t, but it would be rreeeaaaally useful if he/she did. Super hero movies are especially prominent here, where you may be shown the villain’s plan, and watch the heroes try and stop what they don’t know. The Holy Grail of examples has to be Batman Returns, (my favorite batman movie of them all.)
You meet the villian before you meet the hero, you watch his transformation unbeknownst to the hero, actually strike that, BOTH villains plan and grow off screen. YOu’re introduced to the character Robin KNOWING that his entire family is going to dye (not really the movie’s fault here, such is the way of things when working with pre-established characters.) The riddler especially you watch the whole time developing his villiany and build a big brain-drain island thingy. Even the Attack at bruce wayne’s house, you KNOW it’s them before the door is opened, but like i said this is the holy grail of examples, it takes all these instances and sews them into 4 amazing characters, bringing a story the viewer already knows to life.
those are minor instances of times when the the viewer knows more than the characters. there are some examples to reference where they make you knowing more than either side the FOCAL point. Examples of this include slasher films featuring title characters like Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kruger slashing up unsuspecting victims as you shout at your television “GET OUT OF THE HOUSE YOU BLOODY IDIOT!! NO NOT THE BASEMENT YOU STUPID GIRL!” pretty much any “infection based” movie ever, and what i have to consider the BIGGEST case of the VIEWERknowing EVERYTHING, Deathnote. Now I love Deathnote, and there’s no other method of story telling that would keep this interesting for very long. In Deathnote the viewer knows everything at all times, well except L/Near/Mello’s real names. The viewer is volleyed back and forth over the net of morality watching the nearly Genocidal murderer Light Yagami plan his actions to the heartbeat, and Watching L try and figure them out in real time. It does well to create an entirely unique sensation of the viewer knowing everything about everyone, except of course what these two masterminds will come up with next.
Now as I’ve illustrated, each of these has strength and weakness depending on their usage. No story telling method is inherently WRONG, but there is a time and place for each and unless you’ve got a HUUGE story featuring tons of isolated conflict, there’s probably going to be only one of the three stuck two at a time. That’s not to say that more than one tactic can’t exist in a single work, of course not that happens all the time. At some point in nearly every work you either catch up to the character, or the character catches up to you, or the character suddenly learns alot more than you conveniently off screen.
My main beef with Shiki is :
They do a great job setting up lore and legend that the viewer is pretty well informed to at the same times as the protagonists, and for the first few episodes there is a really strong atmosphere of a great mystery being presented for you the viewer to solve, but a few episodes in… it’s blatently shown to you that the cause of trouble here is dead villagers coming back to life as vampires (Shiki). All that wonderful suspenseful buildup that so defined this anime’s great art style, and story telling just come crashing down. The cat’s really out of the bag as soon as you read the title, As soon as the real threat is revealed the pace changes from ” what’s killing these people” to “how do I, the doctor of this town, the authority on blood-born illness and hopefully the first one to listen to when say 20-30 people just suddenly get sick and die over the course of 3 days, convince these people that vampires are behind this.” after that, the carefully maintained balance between viewer and character gets buried, and you the viewer now know everything from who-dunnit, to when where, why, and to whom. Of course, all you can do with this knowledge is sit there progressively frustrated and losing your grasp on the urge to shout ” LISTEN TO THE DOCTOR YOU FUCKING IDIOTS. ” loud enough that the pixels on your screen might react favorably.
this is the timeline of shiki
1-7 what’s killing these people?
3-22 viewer learns “Oh, vampires, neat!”
7 two kids prove for themselves it was vampires, shame nobody is listening to them.
8 okay so the doctor knows it’s vampires, now we’re getting somewhere.
9-18 Man… it’s a shame NOBODY wants to listen to this doctor guy and these two kids
that are trying to save their sorry oblivious asses.
19 THERE he killed one RIGHT in front of you, will you dumbasses finally start believing
20-21 Vampire killin time!
22 way to go doc, sacrificing yourself to end it all… wait seishin you idiot what the fuck
are you doing!?!? she’s the one that sterter this whole thing and you’re just gonna
help her escape to go kill untold numbers of additional people!? pffft monk my ass…
It’s this issue that makes shiki fall from what i think it should have been, the timing, the first 2 episodes build up an awesome suspense murder mystery vibe, but the fact there are 12 episodes between the time that it’s proven to be vampires, and the time something is actually DONE about them, left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt a little angry having watched 6 hours of ” Vampires, that’s ridiculous, get out of here you crazily inadequate loon, sure you’ve got video proof of the autopsy you did on one, and you seem to be able to keep their victims alive through blood transfusions and you know, keeping them inside the hospital away from the vampires, but that’s just crazy talk here in our quiet farm town.”
aside from the 6 (9 if you consider that you the viewer know from episode 2 and the villagers are ignoring OBVIOUS signs.) hours of frustration, it’s a really great anime with great storytelling.