Shiki 20.5

Last summer’s Shiki was a series that always made you question whose side you should pick. At first, when vampires were picking off innocent characters we’d barely gotten to know, one by one, they seemed like the bad guys. But once we got to know some of those so-called baddies, and learned that for the most part they maintained their personalities, we started to sympathize with them and question the ruthlessness of the remaining humans. After all, both sides wanted the same thing: to survive.

This extra episode, taking place before the final climactic two episodes that answers the question ‘who will win the village’ (answer: no one), definitely paints the humans as the bad guys. The vampires here, including a beside-herself Nao, are at their wits’ end, running from hunters and running out of places to hide. Cornered in a sewer that gets progressively narrower as they climb deeper in – like a nightmarish H.R. Giger drawing – they couldn’t get more desperate.

Yet, to the humans, led by an overzealous young man who seems to enjoy killing them a bit too much considering they retain a lot of their human qualities, basically bullies the less assertive members of his hunting party to wipe out these remaining vamps. When they run out of stakes, they tie them all up (including Nao) and wait for the sun. It’s a truly horrible scene – graphic and hard to watch, and another sign that the humans here may have pulses, but otherwise have lost their humanity. They had a choice in their actions, the vamps don’t (beyond suicide). You can’t help but lament Nao for her hideous plight. Rating: 3.5

Sket Dance 14

Click here to read more reviews of Sket Dance, including the first thirteen episodes.

It’s poll time in Class C, and students will vote for the most popular, smartest, strongest, biggest otaku, sexiest, et cetera. One quiet, shy, nervous-looking kid named Uchida approaches the Sket-dan with a challenge: to make him popular. What follows is a series of ridiculous attempts to make him only appear strong (a rigged kendo match with Shinzou) or knowledgeable in anime (a radio show where Usui and a third guest don’t let him get a word in edgewise).

These failures only lead to more self-loathing on Uchida’s part. Meanwhile, the real reason for wanting an award is revealed: he has a mom in the hospital and doesn’t want her to worry. So he lies; tells her he has gobs of friends. But it turns out, he wins an award without any of the play-acting: most of the class voted him the most kind, due to all the little things he does to make life better for others. They may have been quiet about it, but they did notice his kindness, and he gets acknowledgement. This was a nice resolution, true to his character and not manufactured.

This is another episode that makes me glad Sket Dance doesn’t star a kid like Uchida (or Teppei from the first episode, who has a cameo here). Guys like Uchida are fine for one episode, two tops. Sket Dance’s primary strength is the chemistry between the members of Sket-dan (and the diverse array of colorful supporting characters); it isn’t anchored by a single character. The episode is conscious of this, as Bossun fails to win any awards, while Switch and Himeko both win (with Usui winning two, including most popular). You can’t win ’em all. Rating: 3