For general information on this series: Ballad of a Shinigami entry
This review is for the first volume of Ballad of a Shinigami by K-Ske Hasegawa (with art by Nanakusa). The English edition was released by Seven Seas in March 2008. The second volume was later released, but the remaining ten novels were never localized.
Though the English localization of the series was discontinued, this poses no issue for enjoying the first volume of Ballad of a Shinigami, as the novel is made up of self-contained short stories. However, it should be noted that these stories will likely only interest a very selective audience, as the subject matter and general atmosphere of the series is quite unorthodox.
The stories all deal with death in some form–meaning the character will soon die, someone the character knows will soon die, or the character wishes to die. In this volume, the characters in question are all young, the age of early middle school students seeming to be the average. The only element that ties the four bittersweet stories together is the eponymous shinigami–Momo, the goddess of death. Like a grim reaper, her duty is to send souls to the afterlife, and she is assisted in this work by a winged talking cat named Daniel. Though Momo plays a (generally small) role in each story, she is neither a narrator nor a viewpoint character.
While the general atmosphere of the book remains constant from one story to the next, the tone can vary quite a bit. As expected, there’s certainly a lot of sad things that happen in Ballad of a Shinigami, but the characters also often find hope, redemption, or some kind of positive understanding of their world or circumstances. And while the plot of each story is overall quite straightforward, they are well-written pieces that for me at least managed to achieve some kind of emotional effect.
The translation of this novel is a good one for the most part, and there are a few translation notes in the back of the book. What is perhaps most unique though is the actual book itself–its physical size is very small, intended to mimic the size of most light novels in Japan.
Ballad of a Shinigami isn’t what I’d call a page-turner or even a particularly thought-provoking book, but it knows when to be sweet and when to be bittersweet. And though the various protagonists have little room for character development, they are at least sympathetic and their thoughts and feelings are quite understandable given their situations.
Cho’s Rating: Recommended