by Asuka Izumi; story by K-Ske Hasegawa; adapted by Shel Drzka
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.99 US$9.99 US
You may know the term “shinigami” from the popular Death Note series, where the death god is black and goth and scary. Ballad of a Shinigami, based on a light novel series (translated in the U.S. by Seven Seas) and later anime, turns that concept on its ear by featuring a young girl, all in white, as the messenger of death. Except few people actually die in this book — instead, they’re affected by past deaths of parents or siblings.
It’s appropriate that this series is being published by CMX, part of DC Comics. Their sister imprint, Vertigo, put a similar friendly face on the end of life with Death, the Sandman’s sister and one of the Endless. Momo is a tad younger-acting, though, without the sense of eternal wisdom about her. Instead, she’s a friendly ear to those suffering. And she rarely does much.
Her presence is the common factor in a series of short stories. A girl gets a last message from a dead friend. A boy who can see shinigami gets a warning about the girl he’s recently met. A boy and girl who spat realize their deeper feelings for each other. An old woman, about to pass, tells a story of first love and misunderstandings. The only other continuing character is Daniel, Momo’s talking cat. He provides both exposition and humor in the few moments he gets on-stage.
The art is heavy on faces to convey the various emotions of loss and resignation, with a focus on moments instead of movement. The characters are attractive, which made me want to know more about them; that’s a help when there’s a mostly new cast every chapter. The episodic structure allows for pick-up-and-put-down reading, one story at a time.
Momo, in her minimal presence, serves as a reminder to value life, and the connections made with others, because death could come sooner than expected. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)