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Ballad of a Shinigami, Volume 1

Review

Ballad of a Shinigami, Volume 1

written by K-Ske Hasegawa, illustrated by Asuka Izumi

Ballad of a Shinigami shows that gods of death don’t have to be scary if you bring some creative license to them. Shinigami are creatures of Japanese mythology associated with death and the big beyond and have been important characters in such series as Death Note and Descendants of Darkness. In Ballad, this death-bringing being is a cute little girl with a scythe.

Her name is Momo, Japanese for “peach,” which only makes her cuter. At her side is a winged black cat named Daniel, who can talk. Momo doesn’t remember her life before she was a shinigami, but in the beginning of the volume, it’s hinted she may have committed suicide. Suicide victims, we’re told, turn into shinigami.

Though this series is about Momo, she feels more like a background character. Each chapter in volume one has a different storyline, all involving death, and Momo comes in and out of the focus. The main characters change in each storyline. The first story is about someone contemplating suicide, and the last one is about an elderly woman who reminisces about her first love before she passes on. There’s also a story of a boy who saw his mother kill his abusive father and who still has nightmares about it. In another tale, a boy mourns the death of his older sister. Despite dealing with such heavy subjects, the manga never lets itself become maudlin or overly morbid.

Ballad of a Shinigami is an interesting mix. There are a few gory pictures in it, but mostly it’s pretty tame. There’s always the overhanging gloom of death in these pages, but death can also be shown as peaceful. The symbol of death is a little girl, basically the epitome of kawaii (cuteness), but she carries a scythe and takes away people’s lives. All in all, it feels like a quiet book, but it’s about an explosive subject.

This manga is only part of a Ballad franchise. Before the manga, there was a light novel series by K-Ske Hasegawa, which is now available in English from Seven Seas Entertainment. There’s an anime, too, so Momo definitely has her fans. There is something subtle yet powerful about the whole idea of Ballad, and it’s curious how the manga will turn out. It’s set itself up so that it could have Momo’s story parallel the stories of the people she meets in each chapter.

Ballad of a Shinigami will probably attract readers intrigued by unique imagery and contradictory symbolism. Its cover with a little girl holding a dangerous weapon immediately catches attention. Momo doesn’t look very dangerous, but she holds the power over life and death.

Reviewed by Danica Davidson on October 18, 2011

Ballad of a Shinigami, Volume 1
written by K-Ske Hasegawa, illustrated by Asuka Izumi

  • Publication Date: June 9, 2009
  • Genres: Manga
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: CMX
  • ISBN-10: 1401220584
  • ISBN-13: 9781401220587