The Catchup 2: Shigofumi 4-7

Yes, friends, this is a twisted show

This is a show, in the end, that doesn’t fail to surprise–even if not all the surprises are (in my opinion) welcome. As the mystery of Fumika’s identity continues to deepen, the twists and turns get stranger and the potential for this show to shine–or go off the rails–becomes more evident.

I’ve come to realize that episodes 1-3 really were, in a way, rather exceptional episodes. They brilliantly set the stage for the show’s essential concepts and, in episode 3, got the main plot thread going by the end. Moreover, on rewatch, episode 2 turned out to be much better than I remembered, especially when watched back-to-back with episode 1. The compactness of the story and the effective use of visual motifs really made it shine. So when episode 4 gave us the kind of the letter that I was hoping they wouldn’t do too many of–the “I really did love and care for you more than you knew” sort–I was somewhat disappointed. I became even more disappointed when episode 5 descended into slapstick humor, though important plot elements were revealed, and though I admit both Chiaki the new postal employee and some of the antics were, in fact, funny. The show seems determined to walk a fine line between heavy, reflective drama and sly humor, and it’s a very tough rope to walk on, so I don’t blame it for being a bit unbalanced. Episode 5 really almost felt like a different show altogether. But by episode 6, while lacking in surprises, the show had regained its footing to a certain extent and I was looking forward to episode 7…

Let the squeeing begin
Let the squeeing begin

…but then there is this man, Fumika’s father. Look at him again.

He’s just making himself taller, that’s all
He’s just making himself taller, that’s all

Yes, this silver-haired bishounen who makes the ladies sigh is clearly bonkers. You’d never guess he’d have the wherewithal to even have a child, let alone–as we discover–more than one. So what happens at the end of episode 7 is in fact believable given the parameters. But still…I sometimes feel like this show doesn’t quite know which mood to stick with, and it jerks the viewer about in shifting so abruptly from one to another. This flamboyant over-the-top character just doesn’t fit.

Speaking personally here, I know I’m probably being unfair and over-critical. I suppose by now you’ve gathered that I was drawn to this show for its seriousness and emotional resonance, and a lot of what happened in episodes 4-7 simply didn’t fit my mental picture of what I wanted the show to be. It clearly wants to be more than a reflective meditation on the aftermath of death, and that’s a respectable goal. It was just jarring for me: though upon further reflection, the wide contrast between this show’s “serious” side and “everything else” is already evident in the pair of main characters–Fumika versus her staff, Kanaka. They are, in fact, a classic comedy duo–a straight woman and an outrageous, loud partner who makes constant wisecracks. Kanaka’s voice grates against and subverts the otherwise oppressively grim mood the show would probably adopt. Sometimes this works, as it does in episodes 1-2. Sometimes this actually fits the happenings, as it does in the Schrodinger’s Cat episode, especially when we encounter Chiaki and her own opposing staff. But it was around episode 4 that I was beginning to tire of Kanaka interjecting so loudly into every scene she appears in. It just occurred to me too that Fumika is also in a way a kind of magical girl, where her staff is also her “stuffed animal helper.” The creators seem to know this, because they put in a quasi transformation scene!

No, there’s no nudity in this one
No, there’s no nudity in this one

One can see this in a couple of ways. This is, at least, a much better genre blending and subversion than, say, Myself; Yourself–each episode is usually fairly consistent in mood and tone within itself. As such it’s a worthy experiment and may help appeal to different audiences. The other is that this is a sign of a show in search of an identity. This particularly is starting to feel acute at this point. I would have been quite happy had it gone something along the lines of Mushi-shi where each episode or mini-arc had covered, in a well-written way, one person’s struggle to come to terms with the letter, with Fumika perhaps playing second fiddle to the recipients. But the show has definitely begun to shift in the direction of revealing Fumika’s past, why she’s not quite dead, etc etc etc, but with lots of stops along the way.

In the end I may just be griping, because I still like Shigofumi very much. It’s still this season’s most interesting watch. Even at its worst, it was never boring, and still had the power to make me say “WTF?” by the end of episode 7. It may be that episodes 1-3 were so good that I expected more along those lines rather than the strange blends that we’re getting now. The show hasn’t run out of ideas at least–I loved the idea of the weird “endless silver road” and the recharging station for the staves–and so, at the very least, this is the standout for originality in this otherwise lackluster season.

3 thoughts on “The Catchup 2: Shigofumi 4-7”

  1. I’m behind (just finished the Schroedinger’s Cat episode), but bear in mind the director of this series is Nadesico’s Tatsuo Sato.

    Nadesico is another series that walked that line between slapstick and seriousness, with great success.

  2. With a show that deals so intimately with death and the grieving process, the slapstick is there to amuse viewers. The suicide and abandoning mother episodes in particular affected me, and though I can’t account for the “healing powers” of Shigofumi’s slapstick, I’m sure that’s why it’s there. Unless of course, you’re like me and you save Minami-ke episodes as a chaser during Shigofumi viewing. :P

  3. @dm: ah. That does explain some of it. It’s been a long, long time since I saw Nadesico, and I remember I rather liked the dramatic parts which came late in the show and in the film.

    @THarris: perhaps. I still feel it was handled a bit clumsily, but it might be a function of me watching all these episodes in one huge chunk rather than one week at a time, like the real intended viewers are doing. And my “therapy” for terribly serious shows is either Minami-ke or Azumanga Daioh. :)

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