One of the things I love most about anime is the creativity that goes into them. There are some shows that truly break the mold and aren't like anything else on the market, especially in the U.S. Sure you'll hear Bobby, John, and I complain about "me too" anime, clichés, and a sense of déjà vu that comes from watching shows nestled in specific genres, but Shigofumi is cut from a different cloth.
This 13 episode series (12 episodes from season one and one OVA) from J.C. Staff was aired in 2008 and has been licensed for a Region 1 release by Sentai Filmworks/Section23. It was originally a series of novels by Ryō Amamiya, though the books are unfortunately not available with an English translation.
Shigofumi puts forth an interesting premise. Basically the show takes place in a world where the recently departed are given the opportunity to write a letter to whoever they want. This letter is then delivered to the target recipient and the contents are for them and them alone. Are they parting shots? Last words of love? Clues about a murderer's killer? The possibilities are endless, really, and the show nails the concept.
When I first started watching the series I was under the impression that it was going to be episodic. I mean, the concept just reeks of formulaic potential! Fortunately that's not the case. The show continues to evolve throughout its 13 episodes, characters are recurring, and the protagonist gets nicely fleshed out by the end.
At the center of everything in Shigofumi is Fumika. She's an angelic sort of being who is charged with being a mail carrier for the letters of the dead. It's not an easy gig, mind you, so she's accompanied by an artificially intelligent staff named Kanaka. As the episodes progress we learn that there was a bit of tragedy involving Fumika in the past when she was "alive". It would appear that she was involved in the murder of her father, though the details aren't revealed until later in the show.
At first Fumika seems cold and emotionless as she gets involved with recipients of the letters. Gradually the series begins to warm her character up a little. By the halfway point the show becomes more about her as a character than her role as a mail carrier for the afterlife. Personally I would have preferred it if the Shigofumi aspect were focused on more. It's touched upon a little at the beginning of the show, but is brushed aside once Fumika starts to get more interesting. The two kind of go hand in hand as elements of the show, however, it certainly does feel like a lost opportunity to explore the Shigofumi theme.
One thing I'll say for Shigofumi is that I was impressed by how dark it was. Sure, there are similarities to Hell Girl, but rather than explore horror story elements with tons of gore, Shigofumi delves into psychological darkness. Child abuse, parental neglect, and shadier sides of humanity find a way of creeping into each and every plotline. It's handled well and adds a nice rich layer of context to everything.
If you enjoyed Hell Girl, then you'll definitely want to check out Shigofumi. The concepts are different, yet similar in that they both deal with death and similar service rendered. The letter carrier of the dead theme isn't focused on quite enough to really make Shigofumi stand out, however, the character development is much appreciated. Fumika is interesting and the world that was built up around here certainly draws you in during the 13 episodes here. Strongly Recommended
Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. The show looks very good with some clean animation, solid designs, and sharp details in the transfer. There's a degree of softness to the show, but that's a part of the production; it was simply intended to be that way. Some light grain works its way in, and artifacting is present, but never distracting. The quality of the transfer as a whole is impressive, however, and several scenes stand out because of it.
Unfortunately the audio is not quite as impressive as the video in the case of Shigofumi. Japanese 2.0 with English subtitles is the only way to take the series, though to be perfectly fair this isn't the kind of show that needed a robust 5.1 track with booming LFE. What's here is adequate for the content, and nothing more.
Clean opening and closing animations make their way onto these discs, as do a selection of trailers. A unique inclusion entitled "Shigofumi Picture Dramas" is featured here. These Picture Dramas are a collection of still shots with dialogue that expands upon story elements and character development. They are totally worth checking out, though I would advise that you do so after completing the series since they include some spoiler material.
While not a complete homerun Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed is a real treat. The dark nature of the show, unique concept, and great character development set it apart from others out there. Similar to Hell Girl in tone, the show finds itself as kind of a niche title. It's certainly not universally appealing, but those looking for something a bit different from the norm will want to give it a spin. I'm going with a strong recommendation for this one!