Usually when I review a drama episode, I watch it while reviewing to give authentic reactions that aren’t colored by knowing how the episode ends. With the first episode of Shinigami-kun (死神くん), though, I ended up watching the episode through first. That probably delayed this review, because I got rather confused about what to say about it. It was at the same time both a compelling hour and one that left a lot of questions about where this drama is headed.

We begin with Onishi Fukuko (Ohara Sakurako), who is at a hospital visiting her best friend Kobayashi Mami (Takada Riho).

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Mami, however, is not in her hospital room, but preparing to commit suicide.

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And she in fact jumps, but survives. It seems as though she is caught by some force, which cushions her before she lands in the bed of flowers.

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She hears a voice telling her that it’s not her time to die. That’s Shinigami-kun (Shinigami No. 413 played by Ohno Satoshi), who further states that death is only allowed if it is determined by fate. So . . . did Shinigami-kun just save Mami’s life because she’s not on the list? Why is he speaking to her at all if she’s not supposed to die?

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Anyway, Fukuko speaks to Mami, who tells her about the voice of the Shinigami.

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After that, we find out that not only is Mami’s face scarred, but she has also lost her sight. The fact that she was able to get up to the roof to jump despite recently losing her sight is a bit strange, but I’ll let that pass.

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Back in school, Fukuko tries to convince others to give Mami a visit in the hospital, but they spurn the request, calling Fukuko ugly.

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A month ago, Fukuko remembers being bullied . . .

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. . . and Mami, who was then a model and a popular girl at school, defending her. For some reason, the cross-gender bullying is especially jarring and disconcerting, even though it’s presumably just as damaging as boys bullying boys and girls bullying girls. The boys just seem particularly brutish.

Mami . . . on the one hand she defends Fukuko, but on the other she smiles when the brutish boys complement her.

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Fleeing her memories as well as the recent insult from the boys, Fukuko encounters Shinigami-kun for the first time. He tells her who he is and I was thankful that she put two-and-two together quickly, remembering what Mami had said about a Shinigami.

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Shinigami-kun congratulates her on being scheduled to die in three days, but she ignores him and walks away. I don’t have any particular problems with this aspect of the plot, as explained so far. This is pretty standard stuff for angels of death, and especially Terry Pratchett’s Death – possibly the most fully-developed character of the type. Since I’ve seen the rest of the episode, I can tell you that Shinigami-kun’s character is also very much in-line with the sympathetic death type character, so his personality is easy to appreciate.

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Perhaps the most annoying parts are virtually every scene with Mami. They’re realistic – I just find the character’s personality repulsive.

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Shinigami-kun decides that he has to convince her that he’s really who he says he is. I get the feeling that this is already going beyond what he’s supposed to do, and that people generally ignore the warning because they don’t believe the Shinigami that approach them.

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Demonstrating his authenticity isn’t too hard, but here Shinigami-kun says something that I had trouble swallowing – he says that he can’t show himself to anyone other than the person about to die and other concerned parties. Now, clearly that was added in to account for the fact that he appeared to Mami, but why? That additional “other concerned parties” clause doesn’t make sense at all given lived experience, and is also ripe for abuse (and we find out that the Shinigami leadership already doesn’t like how far their new recruit does, so why would they give their agents such a license?).

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Understandably dispirited, Fukuko isn’t in any mood for dinner. In her room, she’s surrounded by evidence that she’s always played second-fiddle to Mami, and she wonders what it was all about.

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At which point, she gets another visit from Shinigami-kun. On the one hand, this scene would have been horribly slow without him. On the other, I feel we were seeing a little bit too much of him at this stage.

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The bit about him mistaking tears for sweat is probably a bridge too far.

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He comes off as a bit pushy when it comes to seeing her do something useful in her last three days. While we appreciate him being so concerned, maybe this was a time for Fukuko to think about it more for herself.

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She does end up having a flashback to a moment where a boy took interest in her, only to be diverted by Mami. Perhaps it was enough for her to have this memory without him showing up.

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After all, he talks with her immediately afterward, and that conversation is more substantial – his interpretation of what a date is was especially funny.

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At this point, it sounds like Fukuko’s main desire for her remaining time among the living is to go on a date. That struck me as strange, since I would think the relationship with the other person would be the more important part, and not the date itself per se, but I’ll forgo second-guessing the bucket list of other people.

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And so she meets with the guy who showed some interest in her, but he seems more interested in Mami.

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Can she turn things around with him in the time she has left? Is there any point to doing so?

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Is that really the only thing that she wants to do with her last day or two?

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Well, no, it’s not, but I’ll leave out the remaining details for your enjoyment.

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So here’s one problem that I had. What we’ve seen with Fukuko feels very authentic – Ohara-san did a remarkable job of bringing verisimilitude to the role, and Shinigami-kun was a reasonable death. However, the world of the Shinigami and especially the way the episode ended felt like the complete opposite – it was utterly ridiculous. I was looking forward to seeing Kiritani Mirei-san in this, but after seeing her character, I’m less enthusiastic. Also, the notion that everyone gets a three-day warning before their death is unworkable when set against lived experience, and there are already too many holes in the supposed rules that the Shinigami are supposed to follow. It’s fair for Shinigami-kun to bend the rules, but it’s not really clear that he’s bending them rather than breaking them. And if he can get away with breaking one rule governing death, where does that end?

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But the thing that really had me in turmoil was the setup for the second episode. After watching this episode, I realized one thing – they can’t keep going on like this. They can’t make every episode be a situation where a mortal is about to die and Shinigami-kun helps them to make the most of their last three days, because that will get too depressing. Fukuko’s story was a good way to introduce Shinigami-kun, but a bad model for how the rest of the plot will go. It was a compelling episode as a stand-alone, but inadequate as a way to start the main plot of the show.

It looks like the writers agree with me (I don’t really think they had any other choice), so they conveniently had Shinigami-kun leave his notebook in the mortal world, and we’ll see what happens in the next episode when a guy finds it:

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Now, we’ve seen this sort of thing before – Death Note, right? (If you haven’t already watched the anime Death Note, please do so) This could go very well or very badly, depending on how they do it. Did Shinigami-kun leave his notebook behind deliberately, or by accident? Is the guy who gets it going to go all Yagami Light with it (which would be bad because of the overlap with the anime), or will there be a different dynamic? More importantly, will this set up a more substantial plot that will last a few episodes, or will it start and finish in the second episode?

I couldn’t decide how to approach the review of this episode because my impression of the drama will almost certainly be determined more by how these questions about the second episode are answered. The story of Fukuko was solid, poignant, and compelling, but that story is also over. While we were introduced to Shinigami-kun, we didn’t cover much ground this time in terms of his own story, which is presumably what we’re hoping to see  in future episodes.

On the bright side, Shinigami-kun is an amusing character and Ohno-san is well-suited to the role. That said, while Fukuko was a great character, we no longer have her around, and the other characters that are in it for the long-haul (Shinigami-kun’s boss played by Kiritani Mirei-san and the Shinigami Chief played by Matsushige Yutaka-san) are not interesting at all.

So, a fine episode, but there’s no telling how the drama is going to go. We’ll see what happens in the next episode.