Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed, Anime Secret Santa 2015 [Part Three; Final]

Alternate Postage Payment Method for Greeting Cards.

Shigofumi Letters from the Departed Shigofumi Stories of Last Letter

[The third and final of my three post list from the Reverse Thieves Anime Secret Santa 2015 exchange]

For anyone comparing postal dates, this may seem more than a little strange. Putting up the last of my 2015 Secret Santa posts up in March (though two out of three on time is still double the requirement!).

Shigofumi, or at least how I had been writing about it, did not fit the kind of subject matter I wanted to send out during the end of year holiday season rush. For many, it can be an emotional time. On the joyous side of that equation or otherwise.

In a way, I suppose my posting delay will allow for me to better a particular point just a few paragraphs from now. Though that was by no means intentional.

The old saying goes that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

As their modern formalities go, this also brings in a unifying factor of the postal system. At least as far where I live. Return to Sender marks for things heading back through the mail pipeline in the event of one’s passing. Important letters with data for filing your federal and state level taxes. And everything in between which can be mailed involving either of these classic bits of inevitability.

What must be mailed, as is often the case. Not everything can be done in digital form yet. There are record keepers and databases dependent on you receiving or someone sending back paperwork related to your death or your taxes. These matters must be handled. Or the letters will keep coming. Bouncing around. They will not stop.

I first experienced the internet in the mid-1990’s. Far more cumbersome browsers, to say nothing of the actual process for finding a website. But you could even then find folks who had set up places to just talk about something they liked. Fansites to media characters positioning themselves as “Shrines” right down to the titles themselves. And they may as well have been, in a certain way. If I had a school paper in need of some quotes or rudimentary historical biographies, finding good enough educational industry sources was within reach. Scraping materials related to, say, a television show or movie I liked? Never mind imported ones, like anime? A right royal pain. So poking around and finding the odd fansite or shrine was often a relief. Whole webrings, or hell, the Anime Web Turnpike (which only shut down in 2014, surviving almost twenty years), would become address books. All trying to streamline that location process.

What would happen after a while, of course, is some sites I used stopped being updated. In time, a lot of sites were no longer updated. Folks move on from on hobby to another. Their work to free time life balance changes. These things happen.

But in some rare occasions, it was because someone had passed away. The word had to come trickling out from other sources, sure. By all means there are more pressing things for a family to do in the immediate aftermath than to alert visitors of an anime fansite their loved one may have owned. This would become tricky knowledge to keep in anything close to a cultural memory though. The sites were by no means updated to reflect why they were no longer posting new images or whatnot. But of course, they would get new visitors wondering why the updates stopped. So I think about such things sometimes.

Buried deep in the drafts folder of my queue on this site is a post with a long timer on it. I push its date back as a regular routine, so there is always months and months of headroom. In practice, it is a dead man’s switch. Just in case.

Barring a more organized shutdown, it is the last post I can leave for you.

I have the opportunity, so I use it.

Shigofumi is a series about using such opportunities.

Shigofumi Letters from the Departed Shigofumi Stories of Laster Letter Fumika Kanaka Eyeglass Telescope Magnifier

Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed is twelve episode television series by J.C. Staff from 2008.

While a light novel series exists, and even began publication in 2006, this is an anime original series as far as planning, production, and creator intent are concerned. This can be something of a wishy-washy technical area. But, the light novel aspect will be useful in a bit.

On that creative team front, there are some key headliners. Ichiro Okouchi on Series Composition and Screenplay duties, coming in hot off fulfilling the same in the bombastic (through both plot and sales numbers) Code Geass television series. Meanwhile in the directing chair, Tatsuo Sato. Who has planted their feet in everything from mecha homage love letters like Martian Successor Nadesico to the less dialogue and more visual exploration antics of Cat Soup. It is a combination with every potential to gun for explosive, theatrical sensation. All pedals pressed down to every floorboard. Production strength possible through sheer momentum alone. So a lot is riding on where they want to go and being able to barrel through anything in the way.

As the novels did begin to come out first, aspects like character designs were well prepared to roll out with them. Which in this case I feel forms the third key creative part to triangulate what Shigofumi wants to get into and gleaned some inspiration to. Kouhaku Kuroboshi. The longtime artist for the Kino’s Journey series of light novels written by Keiichi Sigsawa, now with almost twenty volumes released in over fifteen years. For what Kuroboshi gets into with their art on the side these days, they maintain an active Tumblr and less updated blog presence.

On a surface level, some comparisons are simple enough. Kino is a young woman in heavy gender obscuring attire who travels the countryside with a talking object. In her case, a motorcycle with a penchant for dry humor named Hermes. Kino has a particular connection to and is skilled with a handy sidearm as well. Her series is an anthology work, exploring the ways different groups of folks across cultures lead their lives. Shigofumi stars Fumika, with her own set of ample gender obfuscation wear. She also has her own talking object sidekick. In the anime series, a slapstick joke oriented staff named Kanaka who wishes to be considered human (the books feature another staff with a different personality). Fumika also has her own character connection a pistol she carries with her, and knows how to use it. As a mail carrier for the titular letters from the departed, Fumika does not journey around the world much. But instead, she has an operational zone she is responsible for making deliveries in. The anthology aspects of her series in turn focus more on the diverse situations of people within.

Those who will die, often in a most extravagant fashion. Granted one final correspondence due to extreme circumstances. Those who will in turn receive their words. Be it for healing or for twisting harm.

If only in broad strokes I kept the Kino’s Journey connection in mind when watching Shigofumi. In trying to triangulate what the creative team were going for, the series is a convenient grounding rod. I am sure it had key inspirational purpose in planning sessions. One hires Kouhaku Kuroboshi for a reason, after all. You are aiming to draw on certain aesthetic qualities and media associations, at least. And Kuroboshi is in a position which has allowed them to be rather selective in anime projects over the years.

Shigofumi Letters from the Departed Shigofumi Stories of Laster Letter Fumika Construction Site Sunset Crane Tokyo Bay

To call a media piece “melodramatic” is, in modern use, most often used and intended as an insult.

Writing stretched beyond its means. Making hard power plays it is not deemed to have cashed in enough emotional resources to earn, and so on.

On a base level though, this is a whole creative style with hundreds of years of history. Sensational, rhapsodic pulls for extreme emotion and aiming to provide large levels of entertainment returns for limited time investment. It is why certain tell tale musical stingers may come off to many as comedic now, through the years of trickle down cultural cues from the heavy use of such measures from orchestra sections. But at its core, it is an approach aiming for raw maximization in minimal space.

Shigofumi is, for me, not a good Drama with a capital D. To go back to those Kino’s Journey comparisons and differences, it hurls its slower aspects out of a window. Okouchi is not a subtle writer, and fair play to it: Shigofumi is not a subtle series.

Shigofumi is like having a selection of bottle rockets strapped on model drag race cars and aiming them at a ramp in a wooded backyard. How far, how fast, how off course things may go. How many multipliers are in play and crashes had before the whole affair comes to a halt. Given the mechanics of the last letters from beyond the grave, they are not privileges every person gets. As a result, Fumika tends to be delivering the final words of someone who went out in a time of serious physical and/or emotional distress.

The series is one built around the idea you could even have the most whirlwind weekend of wonder. Your whole life coming together before you. And still smashing you out of existence. And Shigofumi is often interested in far, far worse situations.

For me, this is when the show is at its strongest. Fumika’s line of work delivering these last letters plays well to providing a revolving door of characters and situations. Ichiro Okouchi and Tatsuo Sato can ramp events up at a ludicrous pace with freedom. Most of these characters are not seen again. One time use only, like those bottle rockets in the woods. So the situations can focus more on building a staggering number of leaps. The journey toward an eventual death scene. Then the letter delivery to whoever they wished to write to and a reveal of its contents. And we move on to the next.

I grew up in a rather rural part of New Jersey, but elsewhere in that state we do have Kingda Ka. The tallest and second fastest roller coaster in the entire world. The whole ride lasts under thirty seconds. A lot of Shigofumi reminds me of that.

So much is in service to not just blasting to a finish point, but how high can things go in a hyper confined space before they must come down.

Shigofumi Letters from the Departed Shigofumi Stories of Laster Letter Fumika Kanaka Gun Drawn Train

To run with that roller coaster comparison a bit further though, Kingda Ka is a particular ride.

Minor weather or other incidents can render the entire operation out of commission for extended periods of time. With Shigofumi being its best for me when it can fire a character down the tracks for an episode to see what happens, it has a similar quirk. It is at its worst for me when it tries to have twists and turns building and stretching across arcs.

As a matter of personal taste, anthology series are some of my greatest anime loves. But I often find extended time where they try to build the backstory of a central linking character less interesting. Kino’s Journey is fine to have an episode dealing in where her name, attire, and so on comes from. Meanwhile, things like the later Episode 0 prequel fall flatter for me. Mushishi has a lone episode where we get clued in to how Ginko lost an eye and aspects of his mushishi seeing abilities. Which is fine for the needs of that series, and we see little of Ginko outside his direct mushi investigations. Even something like Space☆Dandy cares rather little for where the lead character has been, or trying to slot that into a larger narrative. He is just a dandy guy in space. Everything else may find itself retconned or reversed by the next episode anyway.

Shigofumi never goes into much exploring the kind of religious qualities or divine structures which would allow its dead letter carriers to operate. This is to its benefit. Explaining its spiritual world order would be distracting at best and destabilizing at worst. So it is well aware of the strength in keeping various background ideas unexplored.

And Yet.

Several episodes of the middle and end of Shigofumi are tasked with building, escalating, and resolving a central motivational arc for Fumika. The trouble with this, for me, is twofold. The first is it pulls time away from providing more and other character stories for exploring. So we get fewer letter deliveries and less time spent on rotating character tales in and out. Which is what I feel the series is best at, and less of that would of course be detrimental for me.

Corresponding to this, by having multiple episodes given to a central Fumika narrative this also means the series has to swerve from another strength to something which feels more out of place. The full speed ahead acceleration of events, traumas, revelations, and so on are kept in check and made enjoyable by episodic running time elsewhere in the show. With Fumika’s arc, the series has several episodes to keep ramping things up in her story line. Fumika not only has her own traumas, but some of the more dire and severe imaginable to need to work though. It is a tricky and dangerous assignment to give a writer like Okouchi while also removing his brakes.

There are, in effect, two different shows trying to occupy the same space but with the pacing of one. Which does get into a very interesting area in a meta-textual sense when reflecting on the series as a whole after the fact. It may even be what they were going for. One could perhaps even argue the series would not be built to handle something like Fumika’s arc, since as a person nobody would be.

It is such a delicate series of areas to attempt to delve into. I think Shigofumi is working at its best when taken as a more melodramatic series. Taking bank shots on coincidences of circumstance. Just how bad someone’s day went. Indeed at times perhaps even humor in more over the top catharsis. The creative team can go rather far even in limited episodic time, and such restrictions are helpful when events can not overstay. The series utilizing the same tools and speeds for Fumika’s extended arc of episodes does feel less deserving than what her personal narrative should receive.

In the abstract, Fumika’s story is something I feel would be well served by having its own show. Which does seem a bit odd to say, since she is the center of this one.

But, a place where her personal story in particular could be treated with more running time, slower pacing, and extended explorations of the parties which key into her background and existence would be very valuable. Few works want to acknowledge or come to terms with such subject matters which are present there.  Even with giving additional room compared to any other character story, Fumika’s arc moves far faster than I would prefer. I can feel disappointed to various extents because I want such material to be treated better than I feel Fumika’s story has space for.

The post office would recommend a far more appropriate sized and reinforced parcel box for the weight aiming to be sent. They would ask for additional postage.

But at the end of the day, they do want to help. And Fumika does help so many others.

I just wish Fumika’s personal character arc had a more premium delivery option.

Shigofumi Letters from the Departed Shigofumi Stories of Laster Letter Chiaki Smoking Clouds Matoma Staff

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