Shigofumi Review

31 03 2008

 A letter from the afterlife.
Genre: Mystery, Letter Delivery
Main Studio: JC Staff
Episodes: 12

Back in deepest darkest January, I had this show pegged as my ‘best show of season’ type thing. I guess it still is the best show of the season, but it really hasn’t been a very good season now that I think about it. That’s not to say Shigofumi is bad by any stretch, it isn’t, but it just isn’t quite as good as it could have been.

Shigo means ‘after death’ and fumi means ‘letter’, making ‘After death letter’. Actually that sounds like a totally different show detailing what people do after they receive a death threat. Anyway, Shigofumi are letters from the recently departed that are delivered to the living that the dead have beef with, or other unfinished business. Delivering these letters are a group of staff-carrying dead girls dressed in cute postal worker outfits. Shigofumi follows the exploits of Fumika, a relatively new Shigofumi delivery person as she goes around doing her thing, and eventually gets wrapped up in a larger plot concerning her true nature, her past, etc.

She can fly
Oh yeah, she can fly. Did I mention that?

The main concept of the show is really strong, and the initial two episodes are by a far way the best episodes in the show. They introduce the concept, and tell quite a dark story in an appropriately mysterious and well directed manner. The first episode even manages to pull a twist that even surprised jaded old me, which is quite an accomplishment. Initially Fumika while being the main character barely gets any screentime, with most of the episode is spent focused on the living recipients of the letters. Fumika would show up, be sullen and mysterious, explain yet again what the hell a Shigofumi is, and then she sodded off.

The few episodes after the initial plot arc were all stand-alone and also barely involved Fumika. I don’t dislike her or anything, but the concept of short stories about how a letter from the afterlife might affect people really interested me for some reason, and these single episode stories generally work really well. I therefore was slightly disappointed when a plot about Fumika’s old school friends investigating her started up, and began to take up more and more time of each episode. This plot eventually became the show, and the initial stand-alone structure was mostly done away with.

Shigo-what?
Shigo-what?

Of all the mysteries presented in the show, I would say that the main plot concentrates on what is arguably the least interesting one. On one side we’ve got a mysterious organisation that seems to be highly efficient at delivering a Shigofumi to people, even though no-one on earth seems to have any idea what they are (I can only assume that they only just started up or something). Also we have lots of dead girls who have somehow been conscripted into working for them, issued a hyperactive talking staff/computer/email client things, and given a delivery area to work. Even though we only see a couple of deliverers, the scenes in the weird otherworld imply that there are probably hundreds of them. I personally wanted to know more about this stuff.

Unfortunately what we received were a bunch of revelations about Fumika’s family, an alter ego, and her old school friends. None of these characters apart form her totally insane and fruity father are particularly interesting. There is also a love triangle thrown in that don’t really go anywhere, just because you pretty much have to put that sort of thing in a show just in case any girls happen to be watching. I will give credit where credit is due though; the show did not end how I expecting (Think Tuvix), so that was at least something. It also wrapped up the presented plots satisfactorily.

What-Fumi?
What-fumi?

It does definitely gains marks for having a genuinely unique premise, and it contains some really dark scenes such as one where bloody hand-print of a baby is mailed to its father who is responsible for it being aborted. Also there’s a bunch of stuff about suicide which is always fun. Of course I expect there are people out there who will enjoy the main plot more than I did, the parts which I haven’t spoiled anyway. I think it comes down to whether or not you are okay with a mostly character driven main plot, which is something I am fine with if it doesn’t totally obscure any real plot from occurring. A good (hah) comparison would be those episodes of Lost where the flashback has nothing to do with anything except giving us a better look at some character. I hate those as well.

Another minor criticism I would have of the show is that some of the stand-alone episodes have good premises, characters, but endings that are either oddly unsatisfying or just plain confusing. I’m really not sure what the message of a couple of the episodes was supposed to be. Specifically, that’s episodes 6 and 10, so if anyone does know what the hell I was supposed to gain from them, then please leave a comment or something.

Badasssss
“It’s a letter sent from the afterlife, Biatch!”

I should probably say some more positive things about the show at this point. Let’s see, it has reasonable art, excellent music and atmosphere. The opening has nice visuals but is accompanied by Ali Project’s most phoned in anime theme yet, though it probably sounds the same as all their other work to those unfamilar with Ali Project’s stuff. The animation is servicable, and occasionally really well directed, especially when Fumika busts out her sweet gun, which she does disappointingly infrequently.

Overall I would still recommend Shigofumi to anybody looking for something a bit different, if only for the first two episodes. I would hardly classify it as a work of genius like Paranoid Agent, Texhnolyze or Happy World. Wait, scrap that last one.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Shigofumi. A Letter sent from the afterlife.





Winter Anime Season ’08 Roundup

21 01 2008

The winter season is roughly two episodes in now, and I have to make the choices of which shows to watch, and which to ignore. Here is a list of the shows that I am currently watching that started this season. Not a very good season I am afraid, and I’ve ended up watching far more Renai shows than could probably be considered healthy.

Shigofumi ~Stories of Last Letter~
Production: J.C. Staff
Genre: Drama, Supernatural

anime-winter-shigofumi.jpg

There are some things that can only be said after death.

Shigofumi is one of the most promising shows of the season. It is the tale of a girl named Fumika who is a postal worker… of the dead… and her talking staff. I’ll admit that it probably sounds dumb at this point, but trust me it works excellently. Fumika is the bearer of the titular ‘Shigofumi’, which are letters containing the last words of someone who has died, addressed to an earthly recipient. The format of the show appears to be arcs regarding a specific group of characters and the effect the Shigofumi has on them, and only Fumika and Mayama (the staff) remain as regular characters. The tone of the show is light and comedic in places, but overall is quite dark, and occasionally slips into Higurashi levels of darkness.

The animation and visual quality is very high, not like Gundam 00 level or anything but still exceedingly good. Unlike most anime, this show has a very strong opening episode and is very much worth watching if the concept interests you even a little. The first episode has a decent twist towards the end, and shows that it’s willing to go far enough for the show to be actually interesting. I am a little concerned that the show won’t be able to keep going at such a high quality after this great start. All in all, this is definitely a show to keep an eye on, and it would certainly win an award in the ‘Most Promising New Show’ category if there was some sort of award ceremony, which there isn’t.


Zoku Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei
Production: SHAFT
Genre: Comedy

zoku

Continuing from where the excellent first series left off, SHAFT continues to bring their excellent art, directional and writing styles to a show with a great base concept. The concept being, for those not in the know, a man who can only see the bad things in the world which often drives him to suicide, is the teacher of a class of people with huge personality quirks. Most episodes are based around exploring one of the characters quirks. These include, girl who can only see things in a positive light, a stalker, a hikikomori, a girl who is exactly as bad as she looks, an illegal Chinese immigrant, and a male student with such little presences that he frequently disappears.

The format seems to have changed a bit from the previous season, as at least for the first 2 episodes, the opening act has been totally off the wall weird. For example, the first episode the entire opening act is a gag based on a summary from the jacket of the manga’s first volume. In the first act of the second episode, the class is visited by Commadore Perry in a bizarre sequence where the characters only speak gibberish which is helpfully translated into Japanese by subtitles. The rest of the acts have been more normal episodes of the show. The first episode deals with the girl who is constantl being labelled as overly normal, despite her trying to convince people her quirk is being a truant.

One of the main selling points of this show is certainly the art, which if anything has improved in this season. They still cut to super-flat shots, and censor things using the Director Shinbo’s grinning face. The new OP is enormously catchy, and has been going around in my head for days. A perhaps overlooked aspect of the show if the voice-acting cast, which as of episode 2 includes Takehito Koyasu or Ilpalazzo for Excel Saga fans, who seems to only be able to do the voice of characters who wear glasses. I really can’t recommend this show enough, but you should probably start with the first season if you are going to.


Spice and Wolf
Production: IMAGIN
Genre: Sort of Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, a bit of everything really.

Spice and Wolf

Set in what seems to be medieval Europe, a travelling merchant named Lawrence Craft finds that one of his trade villages are a bunch of filthy pagans rather than the more common religion which is presumably Christianity. During a vist in the middle of the pagan harvest festival, he accidentally picks up their local god of the harvest, who takes the form of a wolf-girl named Horo. Due to the march of technology, the villagers no longer need her godly powers so much, so out of boredom decides to accompany Lawrence.

While I’ve probably made the show sound totally out-there fantastical, it’s remarkably down to earth and Horo very rarely does anything supernatural. The show appears to be going to concentrate on the trading aspect more than I would of expected given the premise. A lot of the show is the simple interaction between Lawrence and Horo as they ride around beautifully well realised medieval locations. Lawrence is quick-witted and thoroughly likable, and Horo is adorable and quite unpredictable.

The animation and direction is fine, as are all other product aspects that I could mention. The opening is really nice, and the ending has some hilarious Engrish which is always fun. This show interests me because I really have no idea where it’s going, and how the fact that one of the characters is a nature-god is going to affect anything. Based on the first two episodes this show is already on my ‘watch immediately’ list, hopefully it can keep it up.


True Tears
Production: P.A. Works
Genre: Drama, Romance

True Tears

Here we have yet another Renai show and this time not based on a Key game. The main character is a student who has a talent for art named Shinichirō who lives with an orphan girl that he fancies. There’s also this weird girl Isurugi Noe who is a weirdo, who does weirdo things. The theme of the show seems to be about tears but it’s unclear in what sense, I can tell it’s probably going to be mostly abstract though.

I really haven’t got that much to say about the show at this point to be honest. It’s sort of vaguely entertaining, and Noe is amusing to watch. The production values are fine, with the odd exception of the crowd scenes. They have for some reason decided to use 3d characters for crowds which stick out like a sore face and don’t work in the slightest with the rest of the show. I don’t know where it’s going, and almost don’t care. I’ll give it one more episode to impress me.


H20 ~footprints in the sand~
Production: ZEXCS
Genre: Drama, Romance

H20

Another damn Renai based show. This one is about a blind guy Hirose who’s moved into a remote Japanese mountain village, and his interactions with the other students at the local school. One of students a girl called Kohinata seems to be hated by everyone in the village, and I mean they really really hate her. In the first two episode she gets repeatedly punched, kicked and generally beaten. Of course Hirose wants to know why everyone hates her, but no-one will tell him, presumably just to really drag things out. The whole show feels like a bit of a Higurashi wannabe with a worse setting and less likeable characters. I’m gonna spoil things in the next paragraph, so please don’t read it if you care about spoilers.

From what I just said you might imagine the show is slow paced, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They seem to have crammed a whole season of plot development into two episodes. Hirose stopped being blind when a mysterious girl who only Hirose can see or hear called Otoha gives him his sight back. This is done without any fanfare whatsoever, and just comes across in about the same as if he were making a cup of tea. Hirose also manages to befriend the beaten Kohinata far more quickly as you’d expect. I’m half expecting them to reveal the whole mystery in Episode 3, and just end it there. If this show doesn’t do something right in the next episode, I’m probably going to drop it.


Rosario + Vampire
Production: Gonzo
Genre: Fanservice, Romance

Rosario

If there’s one thing Gonzo can do its produce a good looking show, but unfortunately for the most part their shows are largely mediocre. They seem to have one A team, and about five B or worse teams. Ever since Gankutsuou finished, I have been waiting for something from them to at least give me a glimmer of the genius went into that show. Last season they gave us the godawful Dragonaut: The Resonance a show I gave up after 5 episodes, and this season they give us a fanservice packed show that seems to just be an excuse for lots of tits and butts. Not that there’s anything wrong with tits and butts of course.

The show is about Tsukune Aono who is so bad at school he can’t get into a high school, but his parents manage to get him a place at ‘Yokai Academy’ which turns out to be a school for supernatural monsters like Vampires, Orcs, and other less defined monsters with tentacles and things. He’s currently stuck there for a month because the bus only goes by once a month for some reason (He could probably walk though if he thought about it). Fortunately, he befriends a vampire girl named Moka who likes pressing her breasts into him. Things could definitely be worse for Tsukune, as a Succubus named Kurumu is also after him. Oh yeah, Moka also turns into an eviler and fightier version of herself whenever she takes off her Rosary (Rosario?), which she does towards the end of each episode.

So, this show isn’t really very good, but it’s not exactly trying to be highbrow in the least. It is just a fanservice show, so if you want some ‘service there is there is more here than you could possibly stomach. Being a Gonzo show it looks amazing, pay special attention to the trees. Wow, damn good trees.


Minami-Ke Okawari
Production: Asread
Genre: Slice of life, Comedy

minami-ke okawari

This show is unfortunately not currently being subbed, as the sub group from the previous show are being retarded in a way that only subbers can be (They are subbing Rosario + Vampire, and Spice and Wolf which are both being done by one or more other groups as well). Should anyone start subbing it, I will do another post about it I guess.