Much like the previous special, 20.5, “Twenty-first Slaughter and Madness” veers off the main plot and characters and shows us some side stories. Whereas the the first special followed a more traditionally chronological story, this second one views the events as a whole from the very beginning of the “epidemic” to the burning end of the village, all through the eyes of an overprotective mother, Motoko Maeda. She lives with her husband’s family, a time-honored custom, and has to put up with a classic, evil mother-in-law. Ignoring Motoko’s fears, Tomiko Maeda disregards her husband’s strange lethargy, resulting in his ultimate demise. So follows the rest of Motoko’s family, husband, daughter, mother-in-law, and son. With each death, she spirals further into madness; in the end, her mind blames the loss of her husband and children completely on father-in-law, Iwao. She becomes so bent on hatred and revenge that she not only turns in Kanami’s mother–who has turned, but refuses to kill–but also starts the fire that eventually overwhelms the entire village.
While not as much time is spent on Yano Kanami’s story, it does serve as an excellent contrast to Motoko’s experiences; Kanami’s mother refrains from feeding off and killing her daughter, and in return, is able to live off of Kanami’s freely-offered blood. This mutual trust between family members allows Kanami to keep her sanity, when so many others in the village have allowed their fear and emotions to overwhelm their fair judgements. This mutual love between mother and daughter reveals the gaps in the Maeda family bonds, gaps that destroy them and drive Motoko to self-destruction.
Despite both of these specials taking a turn from the main road, they successfully bring fresh views to the overwhelmingly depressing tale, views that force you to question your ideas of right and wrong, as well as your notions of “humanity.” As a whole, Shiki does this very well from episode to episode, and these specials only improve upon the artistically crafted narrative. As I watch Motoko burn Sotoba, and herself, I can’t help but applaud her actions. After all the horrors that have ensued, by both shiki and by humans, the fire may be the only way to cleanse the madness that has consumed the entire village.