Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 2nd 2013
Momo: The Girl God of Death
DVD - Complete Collection
Though a card-carrying shinigami (license number A100100), Momo hardly looks the type beyond the scythe that she carries, as she is a pretty young girl with white hair who dresses all in white. Accompanying her is Daniel, a talking, bat-winged cat who serves as her familiar. Something of a busybody as shinigami go, Momo regularly gets involved in the affairs of living youths who have recently lost someone and is even known to cry on behalf of the dead, much to the annoyance of Daniel. Across five stories she helps those youths deal with their losses, including one boy who loses his best friend, a boy and a girl who each lose dear older sisters, two children who have lost their mother, and a high school student who is accompanied by his female friend on a final quest established by his recently-passed game-loving grandfather. In a departure from the other stories, she also helps the wandering spirit of a girl who seemingly committed suicide.
The franchise probably better-known as Ballad of a Shinigami (the title used here was a subtitle for the source material) appeared in a variety of forms during the 2000s, including a twelve volume novel series, a twelve chapter manga, a twelve episode TV drama, and this six episode anime series, which despite its length saw a TV broadcast in March and April of 2006. It was reasonably popular in its time and its manga version has been released in the States, which probably explains why Maiden Japan opted to not only take a flyer on this one but also even commit to an English dub, though it is being released only on DVD. At an MSRP of $30 for six dual-language episodes, it is even relatively reasonably priced (i.e., in proportion to current standard prices for 12-13 episode dubbed DVD releases). Whether or not the content merits the purchase price is a much trickier question.
The series plays out as an anthology of individual stories united only by the presence of Momo and Daniel, as only one character besides them (Kouta, the grade school boy featured in episode 1) appears in more than one episode, and he only appears twice. Despite being the title character, Momo only plays a supporting role – and in some cases a very peripheral one – in each episode, as the stories are not really about her but about the young people she comes into contact with and tries to help. Hence those seeking details about who Momo is, how she came to be a shinigami, or the mechanics behind the shinigami business will have to resort to the source material, as Momo only gets enough development here to give a good sense of her character: she is a gentle, practical, and usually kind and sympathetic soul who seems to enjoy helping people, and will go out of her way to do so (which is why Daniel refers to her as a busybody), but is not averse to a bit of tough love when warranted or conveniently leaving out important details in order to subtly manipulate those she helps into discovering things for themselves. Daniel is an appropriate, though annoying, complement as the acerbic, uppity familiar constantly annoyed at Momo's behavior and yet unable (or unwilling) to resist her. Do not expect them to do anything flashy, either, as Momo's modus operandi is all about applying a soft touch.
The individual stories vary in quality but are mostly typical tales about people who lose or have lost loved ones and either have not achieved a proper sense of closure (episodes 1, 2, and 5), are struggling with the responsibilities left to them by a family death (episode 4), or are given a nudge in the right direction by the recently-departed (episode 3). None of them are particularly emotional and most are more prone to be sappy than heartfelt, especially the first episode. The best of that lot is episode 3's “Beyond the Light,” which is also the least typical in that Momo and Daniel have the most minimal roles and the story is more about discovering the joys in life that one might miss than regretting losses. Episode 6, with its emphasis on apparent suicide, stands as the oddball in the series, as the main character is the one that is a wandering spirit rather than one who is seeking or encountering them. Despite resolving things a bit too neatly at its end, it is still the second-best story. Its content also has to be the reason for the TV-14 rating, as the series has no graphic content, no violence, and no real visual fan service; the couple of comments in one episode about seeing panties and referring to a middle school girl as having not developed yet are as far as it goes.
Animation production comes courtesy of Group TAC, a now-defunct studio known for major hits like Touch and Captain Tsubasa as well as mid-2000s fare like Black Blood Brothers, Gakuen Alice, and Tokko. In terms of production quality the series falls in the middle of the pack of the latter three titles. While not bad, the artistry never impresses, as aside from Momo's very elegant cuteness the characters are universally ordinary-looking, rendering quality is mediocre at best, and a muted color scheme keeps anything from standing out. Background art is better but nothing special by current standards. The animation takes a lot of shortcuts, though it hides them better than Tokko does and looks respectable when it does animate things.
The entire musical score seems to take its cue from opener “no one,” a gentle, low-key number most remarkable for being sung entirely in English and showing off Momo's cuteness better than any of the episode content. Most of the rest of the music is similarly innocuous fluff, although it does muster a bit more impact and effectiveness in some scenes. Better is closer “White Messenger,” a pleasant adult contemporary-styled number done by the same artist who performs the opener.
ADR directing is credited to both Jason Grundy (a recording engineer who has directed some dubs for Funimation) and Joey Goubeaud (a long-time editor and production manager who has no prior ADR credits). That may help explain the uneven quality of the dub, which distinctly varies in effectiveness from episode to episode. The dub is at its best in episode 3, where seasoned veterans Chris Patton and Brittney Karbowski take the lead roles, though Luci Christian also has some good work in places and Jessica Boone is perfectly fine in an unusually subdued (for her) performance as Momo. Nancy Novotny only manages to heighten Daniel's annoyance value, though, and some of the younger kid performances are iffier. The big issue that some will have with the dub is undoubtedly the consistent mispronunciation of “shinigami” as “shinigomi,” which is done the wrong way by enough different actors that it has to be a directing issue. One character also refers to a “cramming school” instead of “cram school.” The script creates no other problems, however, and the subtitles opt to use “Reaper” instead of “shinigami,” which may have been unnecessary but is probably for the best. Curiously, the Japanese dub performances have a consistently slightly odd resonance which almost makes them sound more like they are doing a bonus commentary than actually acting out roles. Even if this is a problem with the sound mixing on producer Seraphim Digital's end, it is still off-putting enough to equal out the dub grades.
Extras for the release include clean opener and closer, extended episode previews, and a variety of promo videos. In other words, nothing substantial will be found here.
Ultimately these six episodes make a pleasant but unmemorable diversion. Though they clearly strive for some degree of substance, they more commonly go down like cotton candy: sweet enough and tasty enough but definitely not filling.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Momo is enormously cute and has an interestingly different character for her role, a couple of good stories.
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