Title: Shigofumi ~Stories of Last Letter~ aka Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed
Company: J. C. Staff/Bandai Visual/GENCO
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 6 Jan 2008 – 23 Mar 2008
Synopsis: “Shigofumi,” explains Fumika, “a letter sent from the world of the departed.” Fumika’s job is to deliver shigofumi, the last communication from the recently deceased to those they’ve left behind. When met with resistance, Fumika adamantly states, “Those who’ve died cannot lie. Whether it’s kindness or filled with hatred, whatever is written is true.”
Episodic stories: Occasionally very powerful and confronting.
Main story: Filled with illogicalities and horribly anticlimactic moments.
Recurring characters: Annoying, out-of-place or uninteresting, with the sole exception of Fumika.
Mood: Rather dark… but it sometimes swings rapidly and inappropriately.
Irony: Lots of subtle ironies just under the surface.
One can’t help but think of Shinigami no Ballad while watching Shigofumi. Both explore the impact of death on the living in various situations, viewed through the eye of a supernatural “messenger” type character from beyond (and in both cases, accompanied by a useless sidekick), but Shigofumi is a good deal darker than Shinigami no Ballad. The latter’s ultimate message was that death is a part of the natural progression, but this show is more intent on playing up the tragedy of wasted life. One could believe that many of Shigofumi’s stories are inspired by headlines, but on many occasions, its aim to deliver heavy, shocking melodrama comes at a sacrifice of subtlety and believability. If Shinigami no Ballad was inconsistent, Shigofumi is completely erratic.
As is the case in many episodic series, Shigofumi has good episodes and it has bad episodes. Some stories explore tough subjects like child abuse and school bullying without taking a backward step, showcasing humanity at its worst. The raw nature of the exhibitions let me forgive the moralizing typically attached to such cases. These episodes were both thought-provoking and had a healthy serve of confronting realism. Shigofumi also demonstrates what appears to be a great capacity for irony: one episode in particular about the death of a man-child goes on to highlight an ironic contrast between the way he’s regarded by those close to him before and after his death (although I can’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t intentional).
The problem is that Shigofumi’s bad episodes are really bad. A lot of these episodes relate to the main plotline and characters as well. On too many occasions, highly dramatic and gripping situations build towards an intense climax, only to be resolved with ham-fisted resolutions that are high on sap, but trivialize the drama and kill all the suspense. Important characters like the normally cool-headed Fumika make decisions that challenge believability, while others such as Kirameki and his ex-wife are blatant plot devices. Chiaki is largely incidental to the plot and her stories are uninteresting, while Kaname and Natsuka are out of place for most of the time they’re on screen. And Kanaka is just annoying.
I dig that this series had the balls to deal with some serious issues, but while I can’t berate its ambition, its execution is spotty to say the least. There are a lot of very interesting episodic stories in this series, but the overarching story relating to the main characters is an underwhelming waste of potential. The art is suitably dark and gritty and the soundtrack is fitting (check out the lovely, haunting ED theme, “Chain” by Snow*), only occasionally becoming overbearing. Unfortunately, a lot of the impact of the story is muted by an unnecessary pursuit of melodrama coupled with sudden, drastic changes in mood at the most inappropriate times. It’s hard to believe that the same set of writers that put together the hard-hitting and confronting episodes in this could also be responsible for so many hackneyed and anticlimactic moments in the main story, but then again, there’s a lot about this series that’s hard to believe.
The Rating: 5
Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun