the artistic, the scholarly, and the emotional

No, this isn’t a post about despair.


Well, I think Itoshiki-sensei got it almost right. I’d say that the three groups are the artistic, the scholarly, and the emotional. And maybe a special fourth. When I first wrote about Shigofumi, I compared it to a cross between Jigoku Shoujo and Kino’s Travels. I said that Shigofumi had the shock nature of Jigoku Shoujo with the morality play behind Kino’s Travels. I even wrote that, “Usually, for this type of series, there’s only two top tier stories that can be told: the first and the one that dives into the observer’s past. We saw this pattern with Kino’s Travels and with Jigoku Shoujo and even Paranoia Agent, and I don’t see Shigofumi being any different.”

Well, I like to think I’m right. The best arc and stories of Shigofumi are the ones that deals with the past of our quickly un-loli postal carrier. These are the A+ stories, while the episodic ones don’t come close and just seem like filler. Maybe best case, it’s like Cowboy Bebop where even if Spike isn’t fighting Vicious, it’s still damn enjoyable. Maybe worst case, I go write a post about how True Tears has sunk below Kimikiss instead of finishing an episode of Shigofumi.

But the thing is… even the filler episodes are enjoyable. While I do think Fumika’s story is an interesting and gripping one (especially with various characters evolving on the spot so to speak), what impresses me are the filler. Even the filler where Fumika only shows up for a few minutes, and I go, “Wait, she has less screentime than Enma Ai!”. Thinking about it a bit more, what exactly is the difference between something like Jigoku Shoujo, Kino‘s, and Shigofumi? All three combine morality with shock and an emotionally detached protagonist… well… to answer that question, I’ll have to bring in a notable mind on the topic: Itoshiki-sensei. And maybe a few special guests later on.


One of Itoshiki-sensei’s (many) rants is that everything can be divided up in the artistic, the scholarly, and the athletic. Well, I think he’s off, but not too off, when it comes to shock morality plays involving detached protagonists.

One new category that I think Itoshiki-sensei needed was the materialistic. I don’t have any other way to describe my reaction to, “Wait, Enma Ai is getting a third season?” besides, “Damn, Aniplex must be printing money with this franchise. I don’t get it.”

The scholarly is simple. It’s Kino’s Travels. Because the story is about Kino moving from country to country, the main focus are the countries themselves. What Kino shows us are how technological and societal decisions can have such huge outcome, and how, literally, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For example, Kino once visited a country that has hyper democratic, where they would vote for the good of the country. Eventually, the country self-destructed when they deemed that they themselves were destructive to the country and voted themselves to death, literally. Kino’s Travel takes a more scholarly approach in trying to figure the morality in its actions. It goes primarily in Kino seeing the effect, and then the cause, and then we’re left to ponder the relationship between the cause and effect. Meanwhile, the driving force is Kino hertrapiliciousself being part detective part historian. While you can argue that the art is pretty, it’s not central to the story, nor are any emotional attachments. Kino has relatively few, outside of her talking trash bucket she calls a Motorrand.

The artistic is simple as well. It’s Mushishi. And that brings us to a special guest, Ginko. Mushishi is one of these series that I’ve reached a “Well, unless Ginko starts piloting a Gundam, I’m running out of ways to praise it.” plateau. Unlike Kino, Ginko embraces the psuedo-science of being a “mushishi.” The hows and whys of it are not important, but what is important is the effect on people’s lives. While there are emotional stories, the stories aren’t effective because they are emotional: they are effective because there’s a layer of art that enhances and catalyzes the emotions that are there. It’s a living, breathing fable, and it’s effective because the art brings out the fables. When I write “art,” I don’t mean animation quality. I mean, the sum of the whole. It’s about Ginko’s actions, the way the story is presented, the soft-spoken nature, the weather, and everything else that sums up the whole. It’s not lines and palettes, but it doesn’t exclude those either.

(Jing, King of Bandits fits this category as well. After reading Jing and Twilight Tales, the anime should have been a cross between Mushishi and Jigoku Shoujo instead of shounen action.)


The emotional, well, that’s where Shigofumi comes in. Unlike Kino’s and Mushishi, Fumika doesn’t use science or art to get her message across. Sometimes, with her stories, the morality is buried, and unlike the other two, the morality is not necessarily bad. The episode about Chiaki’s past came right after Fumika’s past, so while the viewer thought it would be a logical continuation of Fumika, it was really a 90 degree turn to Chiaki. The story was about love and how it can be fleeting or eternal or both, but that’s not what the story ultimately wanted the viewer to dwell on. Another example is when Chiaki saves the cat… the morality of the story got kinda lost in both Chiaki’s attachment and Fumika’s disattachment to the cat as well as the cat’s emotional connection with its owners. It’s not like Kino’s where Kino analyzed the morality or try to really drive the morality home like Ginko, but it’s a human look at all sides of the story. At the climax of the episode where Fumika gives Chiaki her shigofumi, there was no lesson to be learned. Instead, let’s just say it got really, really, really dusty in my living room. Damn allergies.

That’s Shigofumi‘s strength, and it’s stamp. The stories themselves aren’t about right or wrong but about people and the emotional toll on the people. In that respect, it’s nothing like Kino or Enma. Believe me, I’m surprised as the next guy that JC Staff can do emotional anime. (No, Potemayo hooking up the clerk and the office lady does not count.) But that’s what Shigofumi is. It’s not necessarily a lesson or even shock value, it’s just life stripped down to its emotional core. In that sense, it is similar to Kino and Ginko in that at the core, there’s a lot of sadness… but there’s also hope and happiness if you know where to look for it. I think this part is illustrated well by Fumika’s friends.

And that comes back to the filler episodes. Most anime can’t do the same type of emotional gamut in a whole season than Shigofumi does in 24 minutes. The episode where a terminally ill guy befriends a little girl setup a final farewell scene that was a lot more emotional and believable than Felt crying after Lockon was “killed.” The kicker is that shigofumis are letters from the dead, so for Fumika to be involved, someone must die. We know this. We expect this. It doesn’t soften the blow, and as an extra kick in the pants, the dead uses the shigofumi to convey one last message. It’s a double whammy. It’s like being allergic to both flower pollen and grass pollen in the springtime.

Shigofumi is a strong series, and while the story of Fumika, her quasi-incestuous dad, and her broken self might be the main story of the series, don’t discount the filler. Making a believable 24 minute emotional roller coaster isn’t easy, but Shigofumi is delivering the mail in spades.


16 Responses to “the artistic, the scholarly, and the emotional”

  1. I love these types of posts.
    Glad you’re enjoying Shigofumi.
    Wtf Kimikiss higher tier than True Tears?
    Time for Ham.

  2. Great post. I love Shigofumi. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do!

  3. With Mushishi though, the best episode was definitely A Sea of Brushes. We definitely need a 2nd season and I hope Artland *coughgunslingergirlcough* won’t be involved.

  4. This was a pretty emo post. I thought you said you don’t do emo. :0

  5. Jason, writing a analytical post analyzing Shigofumi’s merits? Without a single mention of American sports?

    Wait, let me check my URL.

    I don’t care anymore. Just shoot me. None. I won’t accept it. I can’t be on the right blog.

    Anyhow, this post was a very interesting read. Unfortunately my brain is turned into mush thanks to school, so I’ll have to reread this later.

  6. True Tears sinking below the level of Kimikiss you say? Well you have my attention and hopefully you will make the post.

    In any case wow a series that can overwhelm your allergies, guess its time to do a Shigofumi blitz.

  7. no mention of Kyou’s thighs
    no comparison to summergi’s melonpan
    no march madness comparison
    nothing getting broken

    A heartfelt post on dust and allergies.
    Are we sure this post is by Jason and not some imposter?

  8. Another show to add to the ‘Deserves More Episodes Than It Got’ list.

  9. Allergy season is hitting the Bay Area hard right now. I think Jason’s mind and nose may be stuffy thus temporarily filling in the cracks from where he was broken by Kana. Aster the drugs kick in the cracks will widen and the Jason will return.

  10. >> Another show to add to the ‘Deserves More Episodes Than It Got’ list.

    Like Baccano :(

  11. Shigofumi is awesome despite being darker and less cute than your typical snow fairy. As a J.C.Staff whore I’m more than willing to forgive its minor flaws. The only major flaw is in the DVD price, which may be more emotional, shocking, and dramatic than the series itself.

  12. I’ll tell you why I don’t write posts like this more often: I open myself up for all these backhanded compliments.

    Sixten, Bandai Visual pulled their release. They are “rethinking” their US strategy.

  13. Hi Jason,

    I been staying away for a while because popularity contests bored me. I alreay know what is my favourite and no amount of voting by other people can change that.

    >>I’ll tell you why I don’t write posts like this more often: I open myself up for all these backhanded compliments.

    I actually enjoyed the post and congratulate you on doing something different. However, I understand if people want consistancy .

    SHAFT is one of favourite studios because they dare to do something different. OK, they may fall flat on thefaces sometimes.. a lot of the time.. but you can’t push the envelope by taking the safe path.


    PS Beware of over-categorisating. It can be detrimental when you try to force things into a pre-existing range of category when it clearly doesn’t. eg. see how the Greek classification of the elements (water, earth, fire, wind) was so influential that the modern elemental table (H, He, Be, B,C,N,O,F,Li, etc) was disregarded for years.

  14. Sixten, Bandai Visual pulled their release. They are “rethinking” their US strategy.

    (Checks around) So they are! Hopefully something good comes of this.

  15. Much like how Kino and Hermes travel to different places that present different aspects of humanity to the viewer, so do Fumika and Kanaka observe situations where we are shown different facets of death. Though in this case, Fumika seems more proactive about how she goes about it than Kino does. I’d also like to think that the filler episodes helped because though the concept of death is a touchy, complex issue, the episodes pulled no punches with the issue, but the execution usually wasn’t heavy-handed. And even in Fumika’s self-arc, we see again how death is an ambiguous thing.

  16. Great post, I watched the second Kino’s Journey movie last night and I’m feeling the need to rewatch the series. Maybe I’ll watch Shigofumi instead since I’ll already watched Mushishi and the only way I’ll pay for overpriced R1 DVDs is if the show is really awesome (and I need to watch the show first to decide if it’s awesome or not).

    Now why can’t we have another season or two of Kino’s Journey?

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