At the opposite end of the cute anime spectrum from Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokoro-chan is this fellow short OVA. Shinigami no Ballad’s six episodes revolve around different human lives touched by Momo, a sweet young Shinigami (god of death) who cannot help herself intervening when she knows she can make a difference to a tragic situation. Thus we have her, along with her black cat Daniel (played by the seiyuu for Mai-HiME’s Mikoto, Ai Shimizu, obviously a girl much equated with cats!), helping an aggrieved boy to redirect his anger away from those who don’t deserve it, or playing the Ghost of Christmas Present to the spirit of a girl. All, perhaps inevitably given the subject matter, infused with a great deal of bittersweet melancholy.
The first episode was my favourite, dealing with the feelings of guilt and denial that can be felt by one who loses a loved one, but other episodes also brought a sympathetic smile to my face. But other than the two kids in the first episode, I can’t say that any of the other characters were really memorable for me, nor that Momo herself made much of an impression, barely appearing in most episodes, and always a somewhat distant, if beautiful figure. That’s the trouble with such an episodic anime: unless the characters that link the disparate elements are really likeable, familiar or both, each plot must be judged on its own merits as though an entirely new series, and weaker ones stand out all the more for it. That said, the show began to feel a little repetitive, even after only a few episodes.
Stylistically, the anime is very well-conceived, much like director Tomomi Mochizuki’s previous project, Zettai Shounen (which I really should resume watching soon). We see a fair few brave decisions, from bizarre camera angles to very realistic facial movements on very non-realistic faces. The colour palate changes subtly for different moods and levels of reality, and plots are generally formulaic, but very tight and well-paced.
But ultimately, Shinigami no Ballad just doesn’t have anything that makes it stand out, and it’s difficult to form a connection with most of the characters. Six episodes like the first might have made a superior OVA series, but equally, might have made the show more samey and flat than it already was. I really wanted to like this show, but – perhaps appropriately – there just wasn’t enough substance there.
On the other hand, I for one am quite pleased that a show ostensibly about death was really predominantly about love.
(originally written 6.7.06)