Thoughtful Thursday: The Character and Actions of Seishin Muroi

(Warning: Major spoilers here for the anime Shiki.)
(Note: I do not own the images in this post)

Shiki is a 1998 novel by Fuyumi Ono, which inspired a 2007-2011 manga and a 22-episode anime series airing in summer 2010. I’m writing about the anime since I have no access to the novel and haven’t read the manga. If you haven’t seen Shiki, I highly recommend watching it. It’s in my top current top 20 favorite anime series. Shiki is a dark and psychological tale, focusing on the conflict in Sotoba village between humans and shiki. (The shiki are corpse demons similar to vampires). Seishin Muroi is violently hated by the vocal fools in online forums, but he’s my favorite character in Shiki, and one of my top 20 favorite male anime characters ever. Let me tell his story.

First, we must bring to light some basic information about Seishin. He is the lifelong friend of the Sotoba village Doctor, Toshio Ozaki. Seishin is also an employee at Sotoba’s Buddhist temple, and is set to inherit the temple and the job of a head monk when his sickly father passes on. While Seishin really wanted to be free to choose his own path, he agreed to be the future priest, or Junior Monk, because otherwise the people in the village would have no religious leader. They wouldn’t take kindly to a stranger taking the position, either. Muroi’s agreement to give up his freedom is one cause for his melancholy nature, which we’ll explore more later.

Besides being Junior Monk, Seishin Muroi writes stories and books. He’s published six novels and two collections of short stories by the start of the anime. They aren’t very popular, but they’re at least circulating among a few readers. Tales written by Seishin are poetic and imaginative, dark and philosophical, always including the theme of death. The Junior Monk is a person close to death. By that I mean he has to deal with the deaths of villagers frequently. Starting in episode 3, Seishin forms a unique bond with Sunako, a shiki, who has read all his books and stories.

In the first part of the series, many residents of the tiny, isolated village of Sotoba are dying off from what appears to be an unknown disease. Muroi is nothing but the definition of helpful and dedicated during this time. As a monk, he helps plan and conduct funerals and burials, comforts and counsels the family of the deceased, helps them set up enshrinements in their houses, gives incense, and prays for the spirits of the departed. Seishin is generally a warm-hearted person, and very kind and reassuring compared to the other temple employees. We see him helping Megumi’s distraught friend in episode 2, allowing her to bend the rules a little and place a present in the ground next to Megumi’s coffin.

Seishin is fairly quick-witted. He at once guesses that the cause of so much death might be an epidemic, and he works closely with Toshio concerning these matters in episodes 1 through 6. In episode 5, he gathers some disturbing information suggesting that the cause might be something even darker than an epidemic. But though he was already suspecting supernatural causes, Seishin didn’t want to believe Toshio in episode 7 when he said the real cause was the Shiki. More than being addled by Toshio’s sudden belief in corpse demons, Muroi is just upset that his friend seems so angry, bitter, and desperate. The Junior Monk can already tell that the Doctor will become a mad dog of relentless violence in the pursuit of “justice.”

There’s a crucial scene for this Junior Monk in episode 11. This is shortly after he and Toshio saw shiki with their own eyes, attacking the clinic. Toshio is digging up a grave to further prove that deceased villagers are rising from the dead as shiki. He also says he’s going to wipe out all the shiki, after catching a few and dissecting them. Seishin makes it clear he doesn’t think that capturing and killing the shiki is right. Toshio yells at him and accuses him of not caring if Sotoba gets wiped out. This illustrates the tension between the former best friends and the differences in how they view the value of sentient, thinking beings.

The friendship of Seishin and Toshio is severed once and for all when the Junior Monk discovers that Toshio experimented on and killed Kyouko after she “rose” as a shiki. This is where Seishin parts ways with the thoughts and beliefs of the vocal majority. In his voice-over lines of the next episode preview at the end of episode 13, he says the following.

“I, who am no shiki, treat the lives of shiki and humans as more or less the same.
It appears to me that my behavior has gone beyond that of humans.
I look at human and shiki alike, from a distance, the bird’s eye view of gods.
However, I am no more than a human.”

~Seishin Muroi, Shiki

Even after becoming aware of the shiki in the village, Seishin Muroi continues his job as the Junior Monk. He helps with Kyouko’s funeral in episode 15. He comforts Kaori the human and Tooru the shiki with the same compassion, in episode 17. Then he goes to Kanemasa to visit Sunako and stays with her from then on. While staying at the Kirishiki manor, Muroi gives his blood as meals for Sunako and Tatsumi, but not enough for him to die. Tatsumi entrusts Seishin with looking after Sunako, and the Junior Monk agrees. He has several interesting talks with Sunako before the villagers discover where they are and start attacking.

In episodes 21 and 22, Seishin tries with all his might to save Sunako from the rampaging villagers, who are killing everyone, including fellow humans. In the end, Seishin “rises” as a Jin-Rou or Werewolf, a subspecies of Shiki. He goes to the abandoned church and kills the evil old bearded man who was trying to murder Sunako. Then, Muroi convinces the despairing Sunako to flee with him from the burning chruch. They leave Sotoba, the last surviving shiki.

Long story short, Seishin “joined” the shiki. Why? What made him go to the Kirishiki house? My my answers result from careful observation of all scenes in the anime that include Seishin. There are several reasons why he went to Kanemasa, but one reason is more powerful than the others: how he cares for Sunako. In episode 3, Seishin first meets Sunako on the stairs near the temple. On the temple grounds is a broken-down, western-style church. Sunako visits Seishin there at least 5 times (episodes 4-6, 8 & 11). Their many talks help foster their friendship. Plus, Seishin feels understood quickly because Sunako read all of his published works.

Seishin Muroi cares about Sunako because she is wise, charismatic, courageous, and yet very vulnerable. Despite being a “vampire,” an enemy of holiness, Sunako still believes in god and feels deep, unspeakable sorrow at being forsaken by her god. Muroi respects that and wants to help bring spiritual peace to the girl. By his nature, he’s always been an ally of the forsaken, persecuted, and ostracized people– a quiet champion of outcasts. Seishin wants to be there for the one whose kind is most persecuted by the world, and most rejected by god. In a practical sense, he also wanted to protect Sunako from all the crazy killing the villagers were starting. Those are probably the main reasons he went to over to the shiki side.

There is also another reason that I think factored in to his decision, even if he didn’t consciously know it himself. Seishin half-hoped to die. Episode 3 reveals that Seishin once tried to kill himself by cutting his wrist. He discusses it with Sunako a little in that episode, and more in episodes 20 and 21. At first, the Junior Monk didn’t know exactly why he did it. But in his later talks with Sunako, he arrives at an answer: that he had despaired. Seishin also implies that shiki killing others is a form of their despair. As for him, though, why did he lose heart?

We aren’t given enough information in the show to know why exactly. However, we do know Seishin is a profoundly thoughtful, poetic, and idealistic person with a melancholy temperatment. On the MBTI, Muroi would probably be an INFP: moderately Introverted, highly iNtuitive, highly Feeling, and moderately more Perceiving than Judging. As a former INFP of the gloomy type myself, I know there’s no shortage of reasons why people like Muroi and I become despondent. Usually, it has to do with the big issues. The innate sinfulness of all humans. The mistreatment and extinction of animal species worldwide. The state of our society or culture. The lack of true justice with mercy. The nature of death.

So we don’t even need to know why Seishin despaired, as long as we understand his personality. With biting derisiveness, some have called him “the suicidal philosopher.” All that aside, though, there is a more practical and likely answer to this question. Seishin didn’t want to become the Junior Monk and next head of the Sotoba Buddhist Temple. He was pressured into the role by his father and the villagers. We don’t know how old Seishin is or how old he was when he slit his wrist, but the younger you are, the more terrible it feels to have freedom of choice taken away and to be trapped in a pre-determined lifestyle. With Seishin being such a free spirit, it’s no wonder he tried to escape the world of duty and obligation.

In the present (the last few episodes of Shiki), does Seishin still hope to die somehow? It’s likely. However, the reasons are different now. The Junior Monk was deeply hurt by Toshio rejecting him and accusing him of not caring about the village. It made him feel like he might indeed be a traitor to humanity. But he couldn’t help his desire to join the outcast, spiritually lost shiki. Muroi therefore decided he deserved to die, and might as well go see Sunako.

I don’t think, however, that he truly wanted to die. Rather, he was prepared for and resigned to the possiblity. Maybe Seishin expected to die from giving blood to Sunako and Tatsumi. Maybe he expected the crazy, rampaging villagers to kill him. If the first, then at least he had been helpful to the shiki. If the second, well then, so be it. Seishin Muroi believed he deserved to die.

Another possiblity for why the monk went to Kanemasa was that he wanted to become a shiki. I don’t buy that, though. Given the chaotic state of Sotoba, and the fact that he predicted mass violence, Seishin must have known becoming a shiki wouldn’t work. It can take 3-5 days for them to “rise,” and of course, the majority of shiki victims do not “rise” as shiki at all. There was no way Muroi could have guessed he would become a Jin-Rou or Werewolf, and there’s no proof he knew the details of how shiki and werewolves worked.

Besides, shiki do not become shiki because they want to. If Seishin said something brazen like “make me into a shiki,” Tatsumi and Sunako would have killed him without even biting him. Just because he wants to be the spiritual counselor and friend of the shiki doesn’t mean he wants to give up his humanity and become one of them. After all, someone like Seishin would (and will) have great trouble attacking people for blood. On that note, it also couldn’t have been easy for him to kill the evil old man in the last episode. He only did it to save Sunako’s life.

The moment Seishin Muroi took a life, he must have changed on a deep level. He betrayed and essentially gave up the teachings and beliefs of Buddhist monks. That’s why, when he says these words to Sunako in the burning church, he’s talking about himself as much as about her.

“God never says a thing. And God’s silence has nothing to do with life or death.
When you became isolated from the living world, you were excluded
from God’s jurisdiction at the same time.
There is nothing that protects you.
You are not even eligible to be accused of or punished for your sins.
Yet you continue to live, unable to abandon your beliefs and your deep attachment to God.”
~Seishin Muroi

Seishin is a character similar to me and one that I feel I really understand; he’s also an important main character in Shiki, as the one who provides a contrast to Toshio, and the one who gives the perspective of treating humans and shiki with equal repect for life. Besides that, the Junior Monk is a great example of character development and change over the course of a series. Shiki is an amazing anime I recommend to anyone who can stomach the violence. One thing the show handles well is its characters, and one of the best of them is Seishin Muroi. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of him and his actions.

Thank you so much for reading! This has been 7mononoke of Anime Rants! Ja ne!

7 thoughts on “Thoughtful Thursday: The Character and Actions of Seishin Muroi

  1. I disagree a bit, about Muroi treating human and shiki lives as equal. I mean, if he did, then he’d take issue with the shiki for feeding on humans, even invading and taking over the village by eating its residents. For that matter, the shiki certainly don’t have any regard for human life, as with the aforementioned invading and usurpation via ingestion thing. They could use blood bags or even just limit how much they feed on any given person, but they don’t do that. They attack, feed, hypnotize, kill, and they do it so insidiously, keeping control of the entire situation. They even mean for to take over the village and feed its residents with people taken from the city, including children. No one is safe from them. They behave in a way wherein peaceful coexistence is impossible, and so Toshio’s approach of kill or be killed is all that is left. He does brutal things, things which are arguably monstrous as well, and so there may be little to no difference between human and shiki after all. But that’s the point: the lesser the difference, the less right the shiki have to do as they do, and the more right the humans have to defend themselves and avenge their loved ones, by any means necessary. So if Muroi truly believed the two were equal, then he would have to acknowledge the validity of Toshio’s actions as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, it’s so good to hear someone making that argument in an intelligent way instead of just saying “Fuck Muroi, he’s a wuss.” Thanks for taking th time to express your thoughts on my post. I’ll try to give a satisfactory reply.

      In my opinion, you’re basically half right. Muroi believes shiki and humans are equal, and he’s a Buddhist monk who thinks that nobody should be killing each other, ideally. The first thing he says of the shiki in episode 11 is that they are murderers, but he still disapproves of killing and experimenting on those murderers. Seishin’s belief is more of a spiritual one, or an idealistic one, where he doesn’t think violence is a good choice.

      In a practical sense, I don’t think Muroi ever actually says he thinks the villagers are “wrong,” he at least knows they have to something. In episode 20, when he hears about the villagers searching for killing all the shiki, Muroi’s response is to make a commment like, “I wonder if they’ll kill me.” Knowing that it would be “justified” if they did. The turning points where Muroi “rejects” the village, in episode 11 and 15, are actually just to show his loss of connection with his best friend, Toshio, and how despondent that leaves him. He doesn’t preach to Toshio, even finding out what he did to Kyouka. He just looks horrified, before turning and walking away. I suspect he didn’t want Toshio to become a murderer, and that’s the main reason he was so upset.

      Now, I said that you were half-right. What I meant by that is, even though Muroi thinks humans and shiki should be treated with equal respect for life, he takes a strong personal liking to the shiki, or at least to Sunako, and chooses to protect her. It’s not that he thinks the shiki are more (or less) worthy of living– it’s just that Sunako’s emotional and spiritual position speaks to him on a deep level. Seishin has always felt like an outcast, and sometimes he doesn’t even feel human. He has a wealth of caring for the unholy, the criminals, the monsters, etc., because of how they are all outcasts of human society. He wants to “save” Sunako, or if that is impossible, because she is beyond redemption, he wants to at least be by her side.

      So, on an ideal or spiritual level, Seishin thinks humans and shiki are equals, but that shiki are like murdererous humans. Since everyone else in the world rejects murderers, as well they should, the eccentric Seishin cares for them, or at least, for one of them. Wow, that was a much longer winded reply than I meant to give at first. Thanks for letting me ramble and express my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Also, reading through my post again, I think I see why I stirred up some disagreement. I must have still been angry about all the trash talking and roasting on the streaming site comments where I rewatched Shiki. The villagers aren’t “crazy,” you’re allowed to dislike Muroi, and the old man whose name I can’t remember who Muroi kills may not be evil by most definitions. Maybe calling Toshio a mad dog was a little much, too?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That old man is interesting to me as well.

        The first time we see him, he’s whooping his son into helping search the mountain for a lost girl. Seemed all right at first, but the more I saw of him, the more I realized he wasn’t just heavy-handed, he was outright abusive. There’s a reason his son was so terrified of him.

        When it came to the fight to exterminate the Shiki, he was the most brutal, merciless, and self-righteous of the humans. At the very climax, with the world burning around them, the line between man and monster was very much blurred indeed as he, a vengeful brute, hunted a mass-murdering little girl. I mean, I wanted him to succeed, so no other humans would fall prey to her, but… still… he was terrifying in his own right, and he wasn’t so upstanding as he seemed to believe he was.

        Liked by 1 person

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