Anime Review: Shigofumi

What is it about episodic anime that I like so much? Even discounting the comedies, few shows in my all time favourites can maintain a storyline for more than a few episodes at a time (in before ADHD accusations). Mushishi is one that springs to mind constantly, each episode a sublime story of human struggle, each an individual ball of emotion so powerful that they threaten to bounce out of the screen and wreak havoc in my room. It continued to occupy my mind while I watched Shigofumi, mainly in the form of the question: “Why aren’t you more Mushishi?”

Of course, to stand up to Mushishi is by no means an easy task, but I should first explain why the comparison arose in my mind. Even before the show started airing, the premise reminded me of Mushishi: a young girl not of this world, delivering letters to people from the world of the dead, the last miracle afforded to mankind. You have a mysterious protagonist, dealing with the supernatural, and how that supernatural affects people in normal, everyday situations. Both used the supernatural as a lens into the everyday, a looking glass that reveal what truly makes us humans. Love, guilt, familial bonds, pride and the other things that rule us and our behaviour. It certainly could not be co-incidence that both Ginko and Fumika have silver hair, right? Here’s my spiritual successor to Mushishi! Rejoice!

Well, the first episode wasn’t what I was expecting, but the ending certainly caught my attention. At this point I was mainly lamenting why the stabbing in School Days didn’t happen in the first episode as well, but at least we got a NICE MEME out of that fiasco. Then the second episode rolled around, and, even if it was a little heavy handed with its symbolism, was thoroughly enjoyable. Then the ball really started rolling and the show turned to what it really wanted to do – to make a hammer out of its lens and bludgeon the stupid out of us.

What made Mushishi so great? The immaculate animation? The simple yet endearing character design? The astounding water colour backdrops, the music, the characters, the stories? EVERYTHING? What made Mushishi really stand out is its subtlety. It never felt the need to rub its themes into your face, but when it talked it was a quiet, soft sort of talk that creeps slowly into your heart and makes a nice little home there. On the other hand, if you didn’t want to listen to its lessons and think about them, it was perfectly content with just telling you interesting and arresting stories. It’s a rare commodity in anime, what with its plethora of panchira, giant robots and other similar quirks. So subtlety, above all else, cemented Mushishi‘s spot as one of the best anime of all time in my mind.

Not so with Shigofumi. Fumika opens episode two with these words: “It is my duty to deliver the strength of the sentiments written inside these letters. The strength of love. The strength of faith. And… *dramatic stop of music* Hatred.” The symbolism of the building and the rocket were nice, as was Asuna’s final act of freeing it from the constraint of the tarp, but having Asuna’s voice-over soliloquy explain everything actually lessoned the impact somewhat. It’s alright, considering that they had to fit in the explanation for the Shigofumi as well in the space of two episodes, I could forgive the unnecessarily explicit back story and voice-over. There’s potential here, I still have my hope.

Then the bludgeoning. Ok, that’s a bit unfair, no one was bludgeoned until episode 10, only stabbed, but the creators were never subtle. They make a point, and then they sharpen that point until you started worrying about when they’ll stab you with it. Take episode 3 for example. Two themes were prevalent, one being the way that society plays the blame game, and the other being the distance between people. The overt way in which the episode repeatedly presented them, through the TV news presenters, Senkawa’s father, and once again, the soliloquy, annoyed me.

Why am I focusing so much on this? It’s because Shigofumi is, unfortunately, not outstanding in any other way whatsoever. But for this one point that irked me, it neither impressed nor offended – and that’s precisely what exasperates me so much. There is so much potential here, and I feel it has all been wasted. None of the characters are particularly memorable; the animation was done well but there were no outstanding moments; the art was consistently good but bland; the music was ok; and the stories weren’t anything to write home about. Even the final arc, which should have been the draw card that the whole series was building up to, was underwhelming.

This review is undeniably negative, but I wouldn’t have written it at all if I didn’t like Shigofumi. Despite all the things I’ve said about it, I still found the show to be a nice watch. It’s hard to explain my overall sentiments about it, but if I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be disappointing. I couldn’t stop comparing it to Mushishi, something that I shouldn’t have done. Taken on its own merits, Shigofumi is a show that fares far better than much of the dredge that the anime industry churn out on a regular basis. It’s not outstanding, but with one exception it doesn’t do anything else terribly bad, and sometimes you can’t ask for much more than that.

In terms of shows in similar to it, I would recommend Mushishi and Darker than Black over Shigofumi. However, if you’ve already seen those and would like something similar instead of the endless lame jokes and panties-shots in your episodic anime, Shigofumi is something that you should check out.

3 out 5 dead people would send you a shigofumi to ask you to watch this show.

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9 Comments

  1. Coaxen
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Hm… as far as I remember, one episode was exceptionally good. That one with the game creator without a job and that little girl.

    I also think that Shigofumi should be more like Mushishi. It had lots of potential. This series reminds me of Shinigami no Ballad. Some people told me it’s too slow. While I think that that series had exactly the thing that Shigofumi lacks…

  2. Caraniel
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I agree fully with your assessment. I remember watching the 1st ep and thinking ‘hmmm this has potential’ and then getting to the last ep and being distinctly disappointed. Its still a good show, but it really could have been so much better. Much of the concept was wasted IMO.

  3. Posted May 5, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I definitely think it was the scriptwriter that contributed to the WOW moments we all had. It is a pity it ended in a lukewarm fashion. Nevertheless, it was compelling, and I think that’s why a good amount of us enjoyed it.

  4. Jasana
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I’d rather compare Shigofumi with Jigoku Shoujo – both have young girl not of this world (at particular time :)) dealing with people, but Fumika delivers letter from one person, already dead, to a target (with last words, or last revenge, or whatever they wanted), while Ai takes target to Hell to take out revenge of still alive person. In both shows, problems described at episodes have 100% real causes, only the final points get some supernatural stuff – while Mushishi deals with problems caused by Mushi = started from a supernatural assumption.
    Comparing all three, Mushishi clearly wins :) Jigoku Shoujo gets 2nd place and Shigofumi gets 3rd – IMHO.

  5. Leviathan
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I love this show.

  6. Posted May 5, 2008 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    It’s very enjoyable in a passive sort of way. The first episode was a lot more engaging but it fell into drama-dom at the end.

  7. Becky
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Your love of Mushishi warms my heart. :D

  8. George
    Posted May 7, 2008 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    It’s always a mistake to make comparisons with Mushishi–that show was in a class of its own.

  9. Veester
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    I dunno… I found kanaka particularly endearing, cuz she was a crazy-genki staff. And I agree about applying crits on Shigofumi because of comparisons between mushishi and Shigofumi… I’m now glad I didn’t, because it certainly made the watching ‘that’ much more enjoyable.

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