Judge Paul Pritchard delivers this review from the other side...the other side of the Atlantic that is.
If you could send someone a letter after you die, what would you write? And who would you send it to?
Proving that not all anime is concerned only with giant robots, scantily clad schoolgirls and gravity defying smackdowns, Shigofumi: The Complete Collection confirms that the medium is just as capable of providing insightful and dense storytelling as any other format.
Facts of the Case
The name Shigofumi derives from a combination of the Japanese words for "after death," shigo, and "letter," fumi. A shigofumi is a letter written by the recently deceased and delivered by mail carriers, who have themselves long since departed this mortal coil, to the addressee, usually a loved one or friend. These letters from beyond the grave are born from a great emotion felt by the deceased, be it love or hate, and contain information that could not have been expressed while the writer was alive.
Fumika is a mail carrier, and, accompanied by Kanaka (a talking staff no less), is tasked with delivering shigofumi and won't let anyone, or anything, get in her way. However, when Fumika delivers a shigofumi sent from a teen suicide victim, a series of events unfold that sees her own past unravel, bringing shocking revelations to light and her own existence into question.
Spread over two discs, Shigofumi: Complete Collection contains all 13-episodes of the series.
The creators of Shigofumi have taken an interesting concept and realized it with a near flawless execution. With the series running for a mere 13-episodes, the show's writers have crafted a supremely entertaining and thoughtful anime that is gripping from start to finish.
Unlike a large number of lesser anime, Shigofumi refuses to titillate with excessive violence or inappropriately dressed schoolgirls. Instead, the writers deal with much deeper and far more interesting ideas. As the series progresses, it begins to delve into some seriously dark issues, ranging from grief, revenge, and unrequited love to child abuse and disaffected youth. Indeed, during their original broadcast, Episodes Three, "Friends;" Six, "Shout;" and Eight, "Beginning" were altered or not shown at all. All are presented here as originally intended. Each of the three episodes mentioned deals with difficult subjects, and adds to the notion that Shigofumi is aimed very much at the adult anime viewer.
Episode Three, "Friends," which deals with teen suicide and a parent's violent attempt to understand why his son took his own life, is a powerful piece that will most likely prove quite shocking to viewers not familiar with such subjects being dealt with so aptly in an animation. There's a palpable sense of despair that resonates from the grief stricken father, while a stark emptiness surrounds the actual suicide that feels so pointless and avoidable. Though perhaps lacking a little in subtlety, the episode serves as an admirable meditation on the inability to express one's most inner desires and feelings, even to those closest to us.
In sharp contrast to the anguish expressed in Episode Three, Episode Five, "I'm Home," is a beautifully structured chapter that deals with Fumika, and fellow shigofumi mail carrier Chiaki, attempting to deliver a shigofumi to a cat. As the story develops we learn that the letters addressed to the cat are from its now deceased owners, who have included the keys to their old apartment so their beloved pet can return home. While this alone would have made for an emotionally satisfying episode, the developments regarding Fumika herself, while only really hinted at, prove to be gripping and serve as the launch pad for the storyline that will come to dominate the series up to its conclusion.
As the series moves forward, the character of Fumika gradually becomes central to the plot, having initially been on the periphery. Quickly questions arise such as why Fumika appears to be aging despite all mail carriers being dead, and just what is her connection to a comatose schoolgirl lying in a hospital ward. Not wanting to give anything away, I will say that the level of intrigue that builds up around Fumika proves absolutely riveting.
To be sure, it is the writers who are the real stars of Shigofumi. While the animators have achieved a reasonably high standard, despite some rather generic character designs, and the score that accompanies each episode is first-rate and adds atmosphere by the bucket full; it is the skillfully written twists, perfectly honed character arcs, and moments of genuine emotion that will keep viewers watching one episode after the other. Better yet, having fashioned such an enthralling world, the writers have been clever enough to leave certain elements, such as the more detailed workings of the mail carriers and the organization they work for, a mystery.
Presented in a 1.78 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Shigofumi: Complete Collection looks pretty great on DVD. Colors are mostly strong, while the image is sharp and free of faults. The only audio option available is a Japanese 2.0 track. Dialogue is perfectly clear, while the musical score is reproduced flawlessly.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One word: extras. Three more words: where are they? When the series was first put out on DVD in Japan, Bandai Visual released sets containing two episodes each, and included a raft of extras that included a commentary track. Apart from clean opening and closing titles, Shigofumi: Complete Collection is devoid of supplemental materials. Though this seems to be fairly standard practice with anime released in the West, it doesn't mean I'm going to let Shigofumi: Complete Collection off lightly for following this trend.
As I have hopefully made clear, Shigofumi isn't light entertainment, and needs a certain level of concentration from the viewer. Unless you are prepared to actually invest time in the show, it would be pointless picking it up; this isn't something to be put on in the background while you potter about with other things.
Anime fans not yet familiar with Shigofumi should seek it out now. Those new to the format, or looking to find a way in, should certainly consider picking up this exceptional series.
Despite an annoying lack of extras, the court has no choice but to hand down
a not guilty verdict.
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