by Asuka Izumi
Adapted from a Japanese novel, Ballad of a Shinigami is a series of short stories that follow a shinigami (a Japanese death spirit somewhat akin to the Western Grim Reaper) as she performs her duties to the dying. The comic isn't really about her, though, but rather the people she meets – usually teenagers. Sweet and sentimental, the stories show a kindlier side of death while celebrating the joy of living.
I haven't read the original novels, so I can't comment on changes between that version of the story and the manga adaptation. Perhaps they focus more on Momo and her adventures as a shinigami. Here, she doesn't do much. She might appear to a girl and deliver a loved one's final message, or she may warn a boy to be more observant of those around him, but other than acting as a cosmic messaging service Momo has little personality. We never learn much about her – she says that a shinigami is created when a person commits suicide, but her own history is forgotten so she doesn't elaborate. Pale and dressed in white, Momo's little more than a ghost.
Luckily, the other characters are much...livelier. The book opens with a short but touching story. A kid around the age of 10 or 12 is planning to jump off a building because his friend died after they got into an argument, and he wants to apologize for his cruel parting words. Momo appears and tells the kid that the friend forgave him, and even delivers a parting gift – two little hair ribbons, thus revealing that the boy is actually just a tomboyish girl, and the friendship likely would have had a romantic element had the two children continued to grow up together. It's only twelve pages, but very effective.
The other stories are pretty good, too. The supernatural world remains vague, although hints are dropped that indicate that Momo is some sort of rogue shinigami who doesn't do her job “properly”. But again and again, the human characters are very believable and convincing. For a series about death, the book is pretty balanced between joy and tragedy.
4 out of 5 stars
To read more about Ballad of a Shinigami Vol. 1, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Written in Red (The Others#1) by Anne Bishop
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor
2010: Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori #1) by Lian Hearn
2009: Dan Brown Returns with 'The Lost Symbol'