Everybody that I know, regardless of race, gender, age or sexual orientation, associates Valentine’s Day with at least one negative memory. Whether it’s a relationship that they feel remorse over ending or a habit of viewing it as a day that’s a testament to their inability to function in the field of romance, I know of absolutely nobody who looks back on Valentine’s Day without at least one bad memory. As is fitting with the stereotype of the regular anime viewer, I spent all of last Valentine’s Day alone, huddled with a blanket draped over my head, watching a show with several characters that shared my predicament. A blizzard was raging outside, and I was in absolutely no shape to attend class.
Last year’s was probably the first Valentine’s Day that I ever felt connected with an anime, where I felt myself drawn into the show and put into the position of several characters who felt as I did: Lungs ravaged by coughing, limbs unable support their weight, and their voices growing increasingly feeble. Anemia also featured prominently in the show, though thankfully I turned up negative for that. It’s with somewhat laughable irony that I associate this day of materialism and gooey love with Shiki, now one of my favorite anime/manga series of all time and easily one of the most soul crushing things in existence. So what better way to celebrate the anniversary of that living hell than to write about my experiences with the series that kept me sane and slightly depressed through it all?
It wouldn’t do much good to write about the technical aspects of Shiki in great detail—The characters have weird stylized designs, the music’s amazing, and the violence is visceral. The plot is easy to predict and occasionally runs in circles up until a certain point, meaning one could watch maybe three episodes of the first half and the last three of the second and they’d probably get a good feel for the rest of the series. But by doing so, they’d be short changing much of the slow boil that makes it a compelling and occasionally painful watch. Really, whether somebody will like it depends on their tolerance for bizarre design choices and a slow, mounting plot. If neither are particular bugbears, it’s something well worth checking out.
The thing is, even though I loved it and I’d tell you the same things then, I picked hardly any of it up the first time past some basic details (People die, some come back as vampires, globules of tears ensue en masse). Because I was either doubled over wheezing out my lungs or trying to sleep most of the time, I missed several key plot points and was too fatigued to realize it. All I remember from that day is crying at the end while suppressing the coughing that had bruised my ribs at that point, and seeing Ookawa, the resident liquor shop owner, lift up a moving truck. And yet I’d still call this one of the most intense experiences of my life, since at the very least the memory of my feelings remains strong.
Several months later after the cough subsided and after some pretty embarrassing mislabeling in my first Shiki Specials post, I decided to take the evening before Halloween and the entirety of that day to re-watch it the entire way through. And even though I picked up on much more and enjoyed it on a deeper level, it didn’t leave quite the same profound sense of emptiness that it did when I first watched it… there just wasn’t that awe that came with the delirium of sleeplessness and a lack of oxygen. Of course I’m not saying that Shiki’s best viewed when your lungs want to leap up through your throat, but I wouldn’t have felt quite the same attachment to it if the circumstances for me watching were different.
There’s a lot that I like about Shiki, delirious or no. The themes present (Social isolation, survival of the fittest, the fragility of social bonds) are universal, easily understood by pretty much anybody with an ability to reason out abstract thought. The characters are likable for the most part, even the ones that we aren’t exactly supposed to be rooting for. And again, the music is just fantastic, having gotten me through several tumultuous nights of sleep. Also, there is something to be said about an experience that leaves me feeling drained for a few days after I complete it; whether it’s a good thing or not is up for debate. But I’m not going to delve into any of those topics here, since I’d like to at least pretend that I’m still on the same page that I was at the beginning.
Just in case I meandered a bit too much in getting to this point, I’ll reiterate that last year’s Valentine’s Day wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable if I didn’t have something like this to keep me entertained. Yes, it failed in distracting me from my cough and even managed to make me believe that I was going to die in some of my less lucid moments, but it was an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything—not even a set of nice lungs that doesn’t occasionally decide to make me feel like the world hates me.
To those who read this far, I wish you a happy, healthy Valentine’s Day, whether you’re alone or with the one you love. And may you not have your vitals sucked dry by the undead.