Shinigami No Ballad

November 19, 2010

When you think of Death Gods and shinigamis in anime, Bleach comes to mind, right? Then there are others like Kuroshitsuji, Death Note, Full Moon Wo Sagashite and Zombie Loan to name a few. In the case of Shinigami No Ballad, a 6 episode OVA, shinigamis here are indeed the soul reapers they are. But they don’t unleash powerful moves to fight their enemies nor look scary. Instead in this drama and slice-of-life series, we have Momo a cute shinigami girl in white and her pet cat with bat wings, Daniel, going around in facilitating the inevitable event in life: Death. But Momo is no cruel little girl as her presence would give those whose time are nearly up hope and ease their suffering. Here are some of the lives she meddled with, erm, I mean touched.

Episode 1
Kouta Seto and Mai Makihara are close elementary school classmates and one day while walking home, they see a homeless kitten at the park. Mai decides to keep it knowing well her asthma problem. Kouta suggests putting it at the shrine. Mai hears the sound of bells but Kouta thinks it’s just her imagination. Mai and Kouta go to feed and tend the kitten at the shrine daily. So much so Kouta’s pal Takashi Saiki isn’t happy that the kid is more interested in reading books about cats rather than play football with the boys. He mocks him to go marry Mai if he likes her so much. During their usual tending at the shrine, Mai has difficulties breathing but luckily Kouta had his asthma kit to save her. Naming it Blue because of its eyes like the sky, they decide to be its ‘parents’. They leave hand-in-hand. This time another sound of the bell ring and Kouta too heard it. It is Momo and Daniel watching them.

At times, Kouta goes tend to the kitten alone. He even asks his mom if she could raise his allowance. Of course not. She thinks it is sufficient. One rainy day when Kouta forgot to do his homework, Saiki gladly lend him his. Because of that, probably Kouta felt indebted to accept Saiki’s offer to play against another class. Well, Saiki felt Kouta as the trump card. Kouta tells Mai about this so she doesn’t mind. After the match when Kouta gets home, Mai is tending to the kitten when she suddenly experiences breathing difficulty. She makes her way out of the shrine coughing non-stop.

Soon Mai’s mom calls Kouta’s mother since the former is worried that her daughter isn’t back yet. Kouta starts to fear the worse and rushes out in the rain and to the shrine. All he saw was the kitten and Mai’s handkerchief which she earlier left as blanket for the little feline. When Kouta rushes back, she sees the ambulance going away. Next day in school, a vase of flower sits on Mai’s table. Mai has passed away. After school, Kouta goes back to the shrine and takes the kitten with him. Putting it back at the park where it was first found, Kouta starts blaming it. Then he hears those bell sounds. It is Momo and Daniel, asking him back if he is saying that this entire thing isn’t his fault. Noting that the kitten will die if left in the rain, Kouta thinks he is seeing ghosts! After introducing herself as a shinigami (she even has a licence number! A-100100) and her job function, Kouta doesn’t care what will happen to the kitten. So Momo is going to take away its life. Before her scythe strikes, Kouta changes his mind and shields the kitten.

Momo explains she was here to collect Mai’s soul but the latter was reluctant as she feared Kouta would abandon the kitten if she were to go to heaven. Kouta feels he can’t do it alone when Mai’s soul appears. She believes he can save it, just like how he saved him. She thought by saving Blue, she could be strong like him and didn’t regret it. She wishes for him to take care of Blue before disappearing. Momo hugs Kouta and wishes him to do his best. As Kouta hugs Blue, Momo sheds several tears. Why? Because the dead can’t cry so she cries on their behalf.

Episode 2
Mitsuki Asano is floating in the school pool staring at the starry sky when he suddenly sees Momo and Daniel. She tells him he will die soon and wants him to live life to the fullest. He is also surprised to see his classmate Yutaka Fujishima at the pool. She tells him to get out quick because she has released a piranha in it! Why? Because she hates swimming and wants tomorrow’s class cancelled. Wow. Going to such lengths, eh? Next day at the science lab, Asano learns she got the piranha from her dad who loves rearing fish as a hobby. So technically her house is one big aquarium. They chat about stuff which made Fujishima burst into laughter.

That night as Asano lies in his sister Subaru’s room, Momo and Daniel appear once more. After flashing her shinigami licence card once more, Asano believes his time is near though Momo doesn’t tell him when. Momo however feels it is wrong for him to think he should’ve died rather than someone else since nobody can be replaced and it’s fate. Asano isn’t happy about this fate thingy because Subaru had such a bright future and a cheerful girl but was taken away so quickly. She replies fate is that which carries lives, it won’t change as long as you’re alive. As Momo and Daniel disappear, Asano wonders if he has seen her before long ago. A short flashback how Asano was at Subaru’s death bed when he was young.

Next day, Fujishima hints that she likes him and asks if he’d like to go anywhere for summer but Asano says that he will die soon. This causes her to be upset because it’s fine if he doesn’t like her but she thinks he’s making fun of her with such crude jokes. Fujishima rushes out as Asano sees Momo sitting on a table nearby. She wonders if he could tell her properly that he likes her. Insisting that he’ll die soon, Momo says that he isn’t the only one. Plus, she was asked to encourage him to do his best by Subaru. Asano decides to rest in the infirmary. So happen Fujishima is there too. She asserts that she likes him even if he hates her. After thinking back the times spent with her sister (something about how there are fishes in us humans, that’s why we like to swim. Huh?), Asano sneaks into the school pool and dives in. But he starts to drown. Luckily Fujishima was there to pull him out. She is scared to lose him and was willing to dive into the water she hated so much. He hugs her as she cries in his arms. Asano asserts he wants to live.

On the way home, they both talk about the shinigami girl. Since Fujishima notes that he wasn’t told the exact day when he’ll die, that makes them both the same. It made him realized that everyone lives knowing they’ll die someday and that they live by carrying their own lives. Then they both hear the sound of the bell. Asano remembers meeting Momo before. When Subaru passed away, Momo appeared before him to tell him that she’s taking his sister away. He wanted to come along but she insists he has to live his share of life. Asano notes to Subaru that he is fine. As they hold hands, Momo starts crying. Daniel teases her for being a cry-baby. Plus Daniel mentions about Momo’s habit about coming to people who aren’t scheduled to die yet. But she thinks nothing wrong of it. Next day in school, Asano notes a surgery scar on Fujishima’s chest and the latter decides to try out swimming after all.

Episode 3
Kantarou Ichihara decides to skip his supplementary class and go play a final RPG-like game to find a treasure left by his late grandpa. But he is stopped by his classmate and childhood friend, Tomato Fujiwara (yes, that’s her name) who was told by Kantarou’s mom to make sure he attends the class. Since he is adamant to go on his treasure hunt, Tomato joins him. A series of flashbacks show how Kantarou and grandpa love playing video games together. That old guy loves playing them so much because of the excitement and something one will only understand once you reach the end. While taking a train, Kantarou only hears the sound of the bell. He also sees a pair of young children: A boy and girl with red hair wearing a hat. While the train is waiting in transit, Kantarou and Tomato decide to step out for a while and admire the ocean and talk about the days they spent together when they were young and also his grandpa. Kantarou spots the same pair of children again at the pier but they soon disappear when he turns back.

They finally reach the village of Kantarou’s late grandpa. Smooth Tomato manages to rent a room by telling the innkeeper that they’re siblings who made a mistake while transferring to another train to visit their grandfather in the countryside. In the room, Kantarou sees those children playing marbles. The boy reminds him of his grandpa. He is snapped out of it when Tomato comes by. He remembers back then when grandpa told him when he saw a shinigami and described the beautiful shinigami that was Momo. He told him that the game will be over soon. That night when Kantarou couldn’t sleep, he tells Tomato about how his grandpa saw a shinigami before his death. Tomato thinks he was easily deceived. She also lets him know that she is moving away soon due to her parents’ circumstances. She continues that she isn’t as strong as everyone think she is. But she finds herself being relied on by everybody and had to go along with it. She wanted to depend on people sometimes. Kantarou knows she has been pretending to act strong all the while but notes she still tried her best alone. So she says she’ll rely on him a little and jokes of sleeping with him. Kantarou mentions how grandpa had a girl he really liked when he was young. She had hair as red as the setting sun. Though they promised to always be friends, they were separated. It seems like pieces of those memories are buried in his village and thus he came to find them.

The next day, the duo begin their search but with the simply drawn map, they’re not getting anywhere close. And they have to do it before sunset because they don’t have money for another night at the inn. Kantarou hears the bell sound and spots the children again. They chase after them and this leads them to a tree. Kantarou notices the boy as grandpa as a child. Digging at the root of a tree, it reveals a rusty box and inside it a pouch containing a beautiful marble and a note from grandpa saying the next thing for Kantarou to do is to find his own treasure. Kantarou tells Tomato that he’ll come visit her no matter how far they’re separated. It is revealed the pair of children is Momo and Daniel in disguise. As they watch the teenagers hold hands, Daniel thinks Momo is enjoying watching all this. Well, she did say this is a game.

Episode 4
Chiaki Kazama plays the role of a mother and makes breakfast for her dad and little brother Fuyuki. In class as she’s making a shopping list, the boy that she has a crush on, Nakayama, suggests her getting cheaper toilet rolls at the supermarket. He then notices a stain on her sleeve (due to this morning making breakfast). After buying the necessary stuff, her friend even knows she likes Nakayama but couldn’t be honest with her feelings. Though Chiaki tells her opinion about him, Nakayama is standing there and heard everything. Embarrassed Chiaki excuses herself. Back home, she is pretty particular about the stain on her sleeve when Fuyuki comes in and asks her what the heck is a shinigami. No, it’s not some game or manga character. In fact, the white haired girl and her cat are in his room playing with him! Gosh. What does that tell you? As he describes Momo and Daniel, this has Chiaki remember the time her late mom described the same thing to her on her deathbed. She entrusted the care of Fuyuki in her hands. That night right after bath, she got spooked by the sound of the bell (a cyclist happened to pass by) and a cat (he was trying to avoid it) so Chiaki goes to sleep with Fuyuki.

Next morning, she looks sickly. Probably why Fuyuki comments that her French toast isn’t as good as mommy’s. Developing a fever in class, Chiaki’s friend advises her to go home early. Nakayama offers to walk her home but she insists she can do it herself. Fuyuki is even called home early. They had a little quarrel on food so Chiaki couldn’t care less if Fuyuki wants to eat or not anymore. While Chiaki is sleeping, she hears the bell sound and rushes downstairs to see Fuyuki with Momo and Daniel. After learning the pair are the shinigami Fuyuki talked about yesterday, Chiaki gets defensive and pleads not to take away Fuyuki but they say they’re here just to babysits him. Shinigamis do that too? Thinking that they’re going to take her away since her illness may be some serious disease, they deny that too. Chiaki tires out.

As she is resting, she learns that shinigamis visit a house only when the feelings of a soul they carried away remain. In this case, her mom. Daniel actually babysit Fuyuki like accompanying him to brush his teeth and read a storybook till he fell asleep. Momo tells Fuyuki that the memories which were left over by her mom were actually with regards to Chiaki. She says not to rush herself too much since she’s trying her best to play the role of a dependent big sister. Chiaki starts dreaming as her mom teaches her to make delicious French toast. She says not to hurry to be like mommy and don’t have to push herself too hard. Chiaki sleep talks so Momo thinks she is calling her “mother”. Daniel teases her that she doesn’t even have a boyfriend yet so Momo pinches Daniel’s cheeks. Next day as Chiaki gets better and the siblings prepare to go to school, they see Nakayama outside. He is worried about her cold. She thanks him for everything. Fuyuki can read the atmosphere so he heads off first. Chiaki and Nakayama too head to school together holding hands.

Episode 5
A bunch of kids sneak into the school to investigate the rumoured ghost woman. They think they see one and run for their lives. Actually it’s just Eko Miyazawa in a white sheet. She decides to flee before the patrol comes but the sheet causes her to be stuck at the fence hole. She is ‘rescued’ by Kouta and Blue who happen to be patrolling the area. After hiding from the guards, Eko isn’t pleased Kouta accidentally got his hands on her boobs. However he says that there was ‘nothing’ there. This earns him 2 slaps. TWO SLAPS, baby! Saiki then comes running to them and is relieved Kouta isn’t caught. As Eko leaves when Kouta hears the sound of the bell. Kouta spots Momo and Daniel as they chat a little. However Saiki couldn’t see them so he starts to get scared when Kouta tells him straight he was talking to a shinigami. Eko remembers the time when her late sister managed to secure a dream of being a teacher. That night when Eko’s mom takes her to the lake filled with fireflies, Saiki happen to chance upon her. Eko and Saiki talk about the latter’s kimodameshi (test of courage) and wants him to stop it but he insists the ghost really did appear (Eko, who else). Then Saiki tells her how Kouta is able to see a shinigami ever since Mai passed away a year ago. Eko gets a little squeamish.

Next day, Eko requests Saiki to take her see Kouta. She wants him to hear her out. After knowing he can really see ghosts, she wants him to help her out by accompanying her into the school again. Apparently there’s a rumour that a female ghost is appearing and causing mischief at school. She thinks the ghost is her sister who was a teacher at that school. She isn’t happy with the bad rumours spreading about her doing bad things and tried to drive away kids who went there for kimodameshi but it didn’t work. She wants Kouta to see if he could prove that the ghost isn’t her sister. He refuses because the ghost may actually turn out to be his sister. She slaps him and they both trade insults. Eko tells him off that she doesn’t need his help so he wishes her luck and goes back to his football match.

Eko sneaks into the school that night and got her skirt stuck at the same fence hole. Luckily Kouta was there to help her out. As they patrol the halls, Kouta doesn’t feel anything. They hide from the patrolling guards as Kouta wonders why she is bothered by her sister rather than a ghost. She replies she has something she couldn’t tell her. Back then, Eko didn’t like to be compared to her sister who was better in lots of thinks. Though her sister tried to encourage her, Eko told her she hated her and wished she disappeared before she was born. On that fateful day itself, Eko died in an accident and as a result she hasn’t been able to smile. Kouta understand what she’s saying and relates his experience he had with Mai and the encounter with Momo.

As they continue searching (they’re both holding hands? I think to prevent them from getting lost), they see a firefly and follow it to the classroom of Eko’s sister. Eko sees her sister there and in tears goes up to her. She apologizes that she was jealous of her and didn’t hate her but rather herself. She still loves her. As the room is filled with fireflies, Eko’s sister thanks her before disappearing. Kouta sees Momo and Daniel as Momo rants about the radiance and beauty of the moon. Of course that kid doesn’t understand what she’s blabbing but thanks to her, he can see weird things. Momo apologizes but says those effect will fade once he grows up. Then noting the smile in Eko, the radiance that he couldn’t see in her has returned.

Episode 6
Sakura Kosakai notices something amiss but couldn’t put her finger on it. In school, she tries to buy her favourite katsudon dish from the vending machine but finds she can’t push the button. Some ‘lucky’ guy takes her free meal. Walking over to the music room, she hears the senpai she admires, Matsumoto, playing a lovely piece. She calls out to him but he ignores her. Thinking back, she remembers she was brought by her friend to confess to him but she saw him kissing another girl. Dejected, Sakura accidentally and unconsciously fell off the pedestrian bridge. Yeah, she’s dead. She rushes back to that spot and sees Momo and Daniel sitting there. After confirming them as shinigami, she really thinks she’s dead. How did she ever forget that? And that was just this morning. The duo are to take Sakura to the next world but she wishes to say her last farewell first. Returning home, noting that it has been 3 days since her death, she sees her mom and sister Mayume living their normal lives calmly, having normal conversation and not grieving. Sakura also sees her best friends Miyuki and Sawako cheerfully chatting away as though they never cared for her. Then at Matsumoto’s place, she hears him play another one of his beautiful pieces but she remembers that kissing incident.

That night, Sakura thinks her existence was insignificant since nobody showed they cared and everybody’s going around fine without her. Thinking she made the right choice, Momo wants her to look around a little bit more. Back at her own home, Sakura sees her family making Sakura’s katsudon portion in hopes she would return. Then Matsumoto comes by to give the family his piano recordings because he promised Sakura to do this previously. She also sees Miyuki and Sawako folding lots of paper cranes for Sakura’s sake. Sakura starts to get emotional and she realizes that she doesn’t want to die and carry on living even though she’s pathetic. Momo agrees. Wait a minute? Can shinigamis bring a dead soul back to life? Well actually, Sakura isn’t dead but lying in hospital in a coma. Due to some mistake, her soul went wandering around. Though Daniel did make some cheeky comments, Momo never did mention she died. Sakura’s body has just mild bruises so all that’s left is for her to go back into her body. Sakura thanks Momo for everything but notes that even though this is farewell for them, she will meet her again one day. Sakura opens her eyes to see her mom next beside her. She returns to school and doesn’t care for all the minor details because she’s glad to be alive. As it starts snowing, Momo sheds her usual tears. Daniel mentions Sakura would’ve eventually come back alive without her meddling. She says as long as the souls she carries have life, she wants them to continue living with all their might because peaceful souls are pure white like the snow and are extremely beautiful.

Touched by a Shinigami…
This series may be short but it is sweet. Though death is the main theme, it is subtle and the main focus here is the will to live. It makes you think about your own mortality and with such a short time on this planet, we must not wait until kingdom come and do something that we should have done. Otherwise we will regret it. I find Momo and Daniel to be odd as a pair of shinigamis. Because of shinigamis’ main duty to reap the souls of the dead, we don’t see Momo ever taking one here (at least not directly). Momo should be more fitted to be an angel instead given her meddling attitude to change the lives of those who do not see the reason to live anymore. But then again, she isn’t your usual shinigami. Even if those who face death, I’m sure with Momo around, they will go in peace rather than in fear. It’s also rather odd to see Momo crying for others since it gives an impression that she loves watching a good happy ending. Well, notice how all the episodes end on a good note rather than a grim death?

I realize that the main characters in focus for each episode are young people. In fact, all of them still in school. It goes to show that death discriminates no one. When your time is up, you go. No extensions, no shortening. Life can be tough and painful and times but death is certainly not the way out nor the answer to life challenges. I also noticed that in every episode (except the last episode), the main characters in that episode end up holding hands with their loved ones. So you see, you can’t be thinking about death, right?

The opening theme by KOY is called No One and this slow ballad is entirely in English. Though there are approximately 5 lines throughout the song, but the melancholic words give viewers a hint on what to expect from this show. “I cannot touch you, but I can kill you”. The ending theme is also by KOY, entitled White Messenger is another slow pop but this time in Japanese. Something about the voice acting about this series that I noticed. I seem to notice that a big chunk of the characters do not really sound like in agony, anguish or pain. The speeches here are like polite and calm and even if there are some circumstances like being afraid, it is rather mild. For instance, Eko’s slap felt and sounded more like a tap than anything else. Or when Momo pinched Daniel’s cheeks, the latter wasn’t squealling in pain but sounded soft and gentle remark instead. Probably that’s why in the title it has the word ‘ballad’ in them, eh? Slow and easy.

There is a 12 episode live action drama adaptation of this series but I didn’t watch it. As a total opposite of death themed animes like Jigoku Shoujo, death is portrayed via a gentle approach rather than a violent and vengeful one. Heck, having such a cute shinigami, who wouldn’t be tempted to go with death, if you know what I mean. If the world had more of Momo and Daniel, probably many of us would turn over a new leaf and live life to the fullest. We all take things for granted in life until we start losing them. We don’t know what is important or considered by others as precious till we face death itself. So now I have realized that I have to live my life and not waste any more precious time. Without further ado, let me go back to watching all my favourite animes. Can I live forever since animes are never ending? Hope Momo won’t catch me while I’m in the middle of it…

Shinigami No Ballad