What They Say:
Are some secrets best kept with the dead? For most Shigofumi Mail Carriers, charged with delivering messages from the recently departed to those left behind, the question is purely rhetorical as most Carriers are dead themselves and past the point of caring about the still breathing. The solemn girl known as Fumika, however, is all too aware of the mortal perspective, for she is still aging: an indicator that she is somehow, mysteriously, still alive. Yet, neither Fumika’s own personal tragedy nor the knowledge that her mail may be a mixed blessing at best will stay her grim determination to make her morbid rounds. Though the postal scales of fate may be eternally shifted, Fumika will make sure each posthumous posting from the ultimate dead letter office reaches its intended target, even when there’s deadly postage due!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language only with a solid stereo mix encoded at 224kbps where it manages to utilize the forward soundstage well with all the dialogue. The show doesn’t have much of what you’d call action to it, but there are a number of scenes where things are active, such as a rocket launch early on and other similar things with the diverse cast and their lives. But the bulk of it is kept to the focus on the dialogue and the mix here is really pretty good since it captures the quiet moments well and provides decent placement when needed. The opening and closing sequences make out the best for a full sound and dialogue is clean and clear throughout with any dropouts or distortions to be had.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this TV series and OVA episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across two discs in a six/seven format with a decent bit rate that allows it some room to breathe. The show has a fairly real world style to it with a lot of shadows brought into it to give it an edge of darkness. The series features a lot of detail throughout though the first episode is where it seems to shine more with the building where the rocket is launching and the office that it’s worked out of. There’s an interesting palette to it where a lot of it feels like it’s taking place at sunset, which is contrasted with numerous scenes in the cool or cold school setting. The show has a fair bit of grain noise to it which comes across as natural without being too strong or distracting. Colors are pretty solid throughout and the line work has a clean look to it that’s appealing. When it goes vibrant, such as Kirameki’s house with all the glass and mirrors, it’s very striking.
Shigofumi goes with an interesting cover design as it has a deep gray/black background with some mild splotches of a very deep red hidden on it, but mostly a design that pushes the postage angle with the various little widgets here and there. The central focus, inside a white border blood stains scattered around it, is Fumika in her uniform with wings extended against a deep red background. I like the framework and layout but still find Fumika to be a less than interesting looking character. The back cover uses the same layout but flips it a bit as it puts the technical grid along the open spot along the bottom. The border has the same blood splattered look and inside it has several dark and ominous shots from the show. What takes up most of it is a surprisingly text heavy summary that talks about the premise and characters of the show. It mirrors the postal aspect of it nicely and has a good layout in the technical grid with accurate and easy to read information. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.
The menu design for Shigofumi uses a lot of the same elements as the cover with the postal symbols and the character artwork. The shades of blue and gray here give it an ominous feeling from the start around the border, but within it, we get some surprisingly colorful pieces of character and setting artwork. The mixture of the two styles, especially with the very vibrant red, is interesting and I think it manages to work well as a sort of postcard design. There isn’t much to the menus otherwise as the language selections aren’t available and we get the episode numbers and the extras submenus only. Everything loads quickly and is easy to navigate, but once you’re in the show there’s little reason to return to the menus afterward.
The only extras included here are on the second volume with a clean version of the opening and closing sequences.
Shigofumi: Letters From the Departed is a rare series in that it’s an original work that spawned a light novel series which saw the light of day before the anime itself did. The anime series came out in the first quarter of 2008 while the light novels ran for four volumes from 2006 to 2008. The anime series, clocking in twelve episodes plus an OVA episode, give us an interesting show once you get into it, but it seems like it could be predictable at first. The show takes a few odd turns toward the end but what it evolves into during the middle arc results in something surprisingly creative.
Shigofumi revolves around numerous characters that have connections revealed, but primarily with Fumika. Fumika is an operative for the Gospel Office who delivers letters from the recently deceased to someone that’s still living that they want to communicate with. Not everyone gets this option, only a select few do, and the Gospel Office informs the courier, such as Fumika, of it and she and the intelligent Staff that she has head out to try and deliver it. There are numerous regions and different people who deliver the letters and there are some neat little quirks to it. The unsurprising one is that those that deliver the letters have died themselves. The surprising one is that unlike all the other carriers, Fumika has been aging in the three years that she’s been delivering the letters. It sets her apart and makes her a definite curiosity with those who are aware of her situation.
With Fumika delivering these letters, we get to see an opening episode that has two high school students who have a connection. He’s building a rocket to launch on the roof of an abandoned building and he’s doing it because the girl he likes encouraged him. Their story gets complicated and it’s easy to see how the show can be very episodic, almost like a reverse Hell Girl of sorts, but it’s used as a springboard. Through this, we get the tangents drawn in about a detective who sees Fumika and her abilities. And that detective has a son who is friends with a young man who leaps off a building to his death in another episode, which spawns a discussion about the reason why someone would do it that can be answered through the letters. And these characters add more people and we see how it all connects back to Fumika.
With the style of the show, it’s one that could easily make the focus on the letters and how it affects the living for each episode. And we do see that come into play with each of the letters and the impact it has, but everything slowly turns as it progresses and we realize that the real story is on Fumika herself. The connections seem tenuous at first as we start to figure out who Fumika was in her previous life and seeing the way those that are in the living right now are tied to her. Fumika has a really interesting backstory though it’s one that’s hard to really go completely with when it comes to how she became a letter carrier with the special circumstances she has but watching how they try to bring it all together and resolve everything is where it’s at its most fun. Fumika is a complicated character in a difficult situation and those around her are just as conflicted at times because of it and it all adds a level of depth that you don’t often see in these kinds of stories.
Shigofumi has a rather standard design to it when it comes to the visuals. The real world approach is well done with a good amount of detail throughout it and the character designs, while keeping to a real world approach with colors and hair and clothing styles, still manages to look distinct and appealing. A lot of the show seems to work in shadows at times to give it a darker feeling, often with larger objects around the characters casting them over them. There are some great vibrant moments of beautiful animation, notably the Mikawa household with its elaborate glass and mirror design, but there’s an understated richness to the animation. It’s the kind of show where you don’t notice how well animated it is through a casual viewing but more from a close examination of it with the layout of scenes and the little details in the background.
At the end of the series, I’m still feeling uncertain about it overall. There’s a lot to like about it as a whole as it builds up to the real story about Fumika but it takes some time to really make it clear that this is the real story of it. The cast is pretty diverse as each episode introduces something new and you initially think it’s going to be more about the individual students and the like that are getting the letters. But as they become more supporting players to Fumika and acting as the anchors to humanity, the story comes together with some neat twists and turns and one of the most unusual father characters that I can recall. While the core cast is kept small, there are so many people across the series that become involved that it helps to make it feel more based in reality in a way. Shigofumi offers some neat ideas with the letters from the dead and how the world works, but it plays with those ideas as well because of the truth behind Fumika. Shigofumi is a well crafted short series that delivers both in its first run and in repeated viewings where you know the outcome. The devil’s in the details and there’re some really good ones here and some solid thoughts on our place in the world and the impact others have on us.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, Japanese Promos
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 17th, 2010
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.