Fumika is a mail carrier, but not your average one- the mail she delivers is no ordinary correspondence. Instead, her duty is to deliver Shigofumi, the last letters of the recently deceased to members of living. Together with her companion and talking staff Kanaka, Fumika steadfastly carries out her tasks, but what is the truth behind Fumika’s past and her appointment as a mail carrier?
When I first talked about Shigofumi in the obligatory season preview blog post, my initial reaction was to peg it as the successor to Shinigami no Ballad, a series with a rather similar premise (just replace mail carrier and talking staff with a shinigami and talking cat visiting various characters of the week). Unfortunately, much as I love the manga, the animated version of Shinigami no Ballad had always felt a little underwhelming, and my hope was that Shigofumi would manage to get the formula right.
And indeed, when it started, it seemed as if Shigofumi might just be able to blow all other competition out of the water, with an opening two-parter than started as a tender character piece before taking an unexpected twist that turned it into something very different. If every arc could have the well-crafted impact of this one, we’d be well on our way to seeing one of the first contenders for the best anime of 2008- or so it seemed at the time.
Unfortunately, it was a honeymoon period which was not to last, for Shigofumi was about to prove that the one thing it lacked was consistency. Even the last minute editing of a couple of episodes could not disguise the fact that later stories lacked the impact of the first, instead going down less engaging routes such as father who takes a class hostage (edited to make it look like he was just a disembodied head) in an attempt to understand why his son committed suicide, or a recently deceased old couple who want their Shigofumi delivered to their cat. Perhaps it would have been entertaining enough under other circumstances, but Shigofumi had set itself a high standard, and now it was failing to live up to that.
Unexpectedly, however, it was not the episodic stories that got the bulk of the series’ attention- instead, the main plot focused more on Fumika and the truth behind her past. Now, in previous reviews I have complained about main characters such as Mononoke’s medicine seller receiving absolutely no character background, but on balance I prefer that to the other extreme- revealing far too much. Instead of giving us perhaps an episode or final two-parter about Fumika, her story is introduced as early as episode four, and it soon begins to dominate the more interesting material. Even I, who welcomed what promised to be a tantalising mystery, soon got bored of it by the time we reached the second half of the series, and when it all culminated in a lacklustre finale, I couldn’t help feeling cheated of what could have been something great.
With so much focus on Fumika and her background, it should come as no surprise that the series builds up a number of supporting characters connected to her. Unfortunately, none of them are particularly inspiring- we have the abusive, mentally unstable father; the obligatory male and female love triangle members, and so forth- a most inoffensive bunch, but hardly an inspiring one. In fact, it is the one shot characters who prove to be more interesting, and so again it is a shame that the focus was not more on the episodic stories.
Visually, Shigofumi has a handful of appealing character designs, but the rest are rather generic, whilst animation quality is more adequate than impressive. In spite of the same old Ali Project song for the OP, however, the soundtrack is one of the better aspects of the series, with plenty of poignant, atmospheric and memorable themes that stand well even outside the context of the series.
Unfortunately for all concerned, Shigofumi showed us what it was capable of in its very first arc, leaving very little room for improvement. Instead, it chose not to live up to its potential, wallowing in average stories and spending far too long on Fumika’s back story for its own good. We can only hope that a better episodic series will be along soon to wash away the bitter taste this one left in the mouth.