Author: K-Ske Hasegawa
Manga-ka: Asuka Izumi
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “Shinigamis are usually thought of as dark and scary, but not Momo. She’s the beautiful and sympathetic messenger of death who helps people transition to the other side, prevents others from ending their own lives, and carries messages from the dead to the living. Based on the Japanese light novel series that later became an anime, Ballad of a Shinigami is a collection of stories about people coming to terms with death that alternately sad, funny, and heart-warming.”
The first book to win me over to a purchase after reading a short sampler in CMX’s recent SDCC sampler, Ballad of a Shinigami is a collection of episodic chapters that are all strung together with the appearance of a mysterious Shinigami fully clad in white. Instead of leading humans towards death, she subtly steers them back on the road to life.
I really enjoyed each chapter in this story, all of them with a different impact than the last. The first few stories have a similar vein of plot, all starring individuals who’ve both begun to lose their attachment to life after suffering traumatic losses in their youth. They must all find strength from different sources in both their pasts and present, and Momo, a youthful looking Shinigami dressed entirely in white, appears before them to give simple though hope-filled messages. Her words aren’t answers to any of life’s riddles but they offer inspiration to their receivers to look at things a bit differently.
The fact that Momo didn’t play overtly direct parts in the different stories was one of the winning elements of the book. She herself is a nice character, calm and kind, but I like how she’s a thread that connects the stories instead of the revolving focus of them. It allows the individual stories and characters more time to flourish as independent chapters, resulting in some short but compelling content.
My favourite story in the book was that of a young man who as a child witnessed the death of his parents. Since then he’s been plagued by the sight of Shinigami and suffers from nightmares each night. He tries to cope with his anxiety by taking drugs, not realizing how much he’s begun to withdraw from those around him until a girl in his class begins to help him break free from his shell. However Momo then appears before him with a question, one that leads the boy to discover what’s truly been in front of him before it’s too late to stop another tragedy. The climax is dramatic and the scenes that lead up to the story’s finale are both touching and heart-rending, a good example of a story well condensed without loosing its charm.
Pleasing for the eyes along with the heart, Ballad of the Shinigami has some really pretty artwork. The subtle expressions on characters’ faces are suitably potent and equally as important in regards to the strength of the story’s overall execution. No scene looked out of place despite the wide variety of scenarios and styles used to represent them, from the darker moments of bloodstained knives to the cute chibis used to emphasize the funnier moments (of which there are a pleasant mixture of amidst the variations of fluff and distress).
Taken as a whole, Ballad of a Shinigami is a first volume that I have no regrets in purchasing. Though a pretty quick-to-finish read, it did little to damper my delight at the material; a simple but affecting collection of stories bound together as inspiring tales of hope. Volume two has certainly earned a place on my to-buy list in volume one’s place.