Anime that span a maximum of 15 episodes always get my interest, mainly because I can watch them in a couple of sittings. I also won't be suffering any repercussions of anime hangover, like after watching 200 episodes of Sailor Moon. I remember surfing the net, looking for any Sailor senshi tidbits that I've missed, or juicy trivia that might appease my craving for more Moonie stuff (more! More!).
So I welcomed watching Yami No Matsuei with open arms. It's only 13 epsiodes, born from the manga created by Yoko Matsushita. The hot bishies are a definite plus. What could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, Yami No Matsuei has hot bishies...and only hot bishies. You can count the bishoujos there with the fingers of one hand. And for someone like me who's very much straight and heterosexual, I was dismayed to learn that Yami No Matsuei has yaoi undertones. Lots of them.
The shinigami in EnmaCho are assigned to nine places in Japan. They work in pairs so they are usually eighteen in number. The shinigamis can also summon "shikigamis." These shikigamis are like guardian forces similar to the ones in Final Fantasy, and would only help the shinigami they have agreed to serve.
Yami No Matsuei is about Tsuzuki Asato, a shinigami who is disliked by many in EnmaCho because he has a tendency to laze around, eat too much sweets, or suddenly disappear just to buy sweet cakes. He also overspends his allowance on food alone (looks like Usagi's male counterpart to me). This is a predicament because the shinigamis in EnmaCho do not earn that much money. It's no wonder no one wants to have him as a partner. Although it may appear that Tsuzuki is a no-good slacker, he is the most powerful shinigami in EnmaCho. He has the ability to summon more than half a dozen shikigamis (no small feat). And he's also hot (oooh-la-la!).
In the first episode, Tsuzuki is given a new partner, Hisoka Kurosaki. Hisoka is approximately a decade younger than Tsuzuki, and has no inkling of who had killed him, which is why he agreed to become a shinigami in the first place. Their first mission is to find the culprit of the mysterious deaths that appear to be the work of a vampire. The vampire resembles a popular singer from Hong Kong. As they investigated further, they found that the singer, Maria Won, reportedly committed suicide a couple of months ago, but that she was revived. The only way she could continue to live is for her to have human blood, ergo her vampire-esque disposition.
Enter Muraki Kazutaka, a silver-haired doctor who loves collecting antique dolls. Tsuzuki incidentally met him while looking for Maria Won after one of her blood meals. Muraki turns out to be the one who revived Maria Won. The singer had committed suicide to escape her abusive aunt, who considered her a money-making machine more than a human being. The aunt, devastated at Maria's death (and the loss of her income), sought Muraki to revive her. Eventually, Tsuzuki and Hisoka managed to release Maria Won from Muraki's control. But that is not their last encounter with Muraki Kazutaka.
Hisoka discovers that it was the doctor who had killed him, when Hisoka unknowingly witnessed one of Muraki's murders. To shut him up, Muraki killed Hisoka and left a mark on his body that sealed Hisoka's memories.
Meanwhile, to Tsuzuki's discomfort, he realized that Muraki *wants* him (yaoi alert!). This was shown in more than one occasion, when Muraki did not hide his intentions of wanting Tsuzuki for himself (figure out what the word "want" denotes).
All 13 episodes of Yami No Matsuei are divided into 3-part missions (the last, entitled Kyoto Chapter, has four parts). Each mission always involves a victim of the day (the day stretching to three episodes), with Muraki behind the misdemeanors most of the time. There are also scenes showing who Tsuzuki was before he died and became a shinigami, Muraki's reasons for his interest in Tsuzuki (yep, there's more to Muraki's desire for Tsuzuki) and Muraki's family's skeletons in the closet.
Of course, the show wouldn't be complete without a cast of supporting characters: Konoe, who's chief of EnmaCho and shares Tsuzuki's interests in sweets; Tatsumi, who is Konoe's secretary and a tightwad when it comes to money---he has tight reign over Tsuzuki's allowance; the Gushoshin, twin deities who are the record keepers of the files of the dead and the living and would sometimes help Tsuzuki and Hisoka in their missions; and Watari, who works as EnmaCho's version of a computer hacker.
The series culminated in the 13th episode, where Tsuzuki and Muraki faced-off. However, I can't say it ended with a bang, if it even ended at all...
Artwork is exquisite. I found no fault at how everything was drawn. Tsuzuki is hot, and so is Muraki. Hisoka is cute, but he looks terribly young to be labeled as gorgeous as Tsuzuki. There was lots of blood and gore but it was executed with finesse that anyone watching it, while disgusted, would find it tolerable and integral to the story's plot.
The score is average, although I have to comment on the closing theme; it has a wild west feel to it which I'm not particularly fond of. Sort of like country meets J-pop. Ouchhh. -_T The seiyuus, as always, are up to par. Miki Shinichirou (Weiss Kreuz's Youji, Fushigi Yuugi's Mitsukake) portrayed Tsuzuki while Asano Mayumi (Ayashi No Ceres's Suzumi) did Hisoka.
As for the plot...my bias on yaoi aside, it was good. The concept of life after death in the form of a judiciary office metting out reward or punishment, while not new, is certainly unique in the way it was shown (shinigamis in two-piece suits and long coats?). It has its own mix of horror that departed from the usual single-themed formula (vampires, zombies, ghosts, the devil). It also has unexpected twists that misleads you through a couple or three episodes, which makes watching all three episodes (as is usually comprised of a mission) in one sitting a must.
Now for my gripes: Yaoi, yaoi and yaoi. Too much eye candy wasted on yaoi, it's really a shame. While it's acceptable that Muraki lusts after Tsuzuki--after all, he's the villain here--what made it worse is that Tsuzuki also has a certain attraction towards Hisoka. Although it was subtle, there was no mistaking it. For example, there's this scene where Hisoka was taking a bath and told Tsuzuki, who is in the other room, that the result of that morning's fortune telling says that they are "not compatible" (try not to interpret it out of context). Tsuzuki looks deeply disappointed 0_0
At the start of suggestive themes like that one, I tried to be optimistic and thought that there's probably a twist somewhere, that Hisoka is actually a girl. He even sounds like a girl, for crying out loud (with Asano Mayumi doing the voice, it's no wonder)! Tough luck. Hisoka is a "he" up to the very end T_T He even fell in love in one of the episodes, and it's to a girl, to my relief. So it's no loss to the shoujo side in me, although I was aiming for Tsuzuki to have a normal, heterosexual relationship. After all, he's the hottie, not Hisoka. It's really a big loss T_T
To make matters worse, the 13th episode didn't look like the finale to me. Muraki is still on the loose, and the way the episode ended is the same as with the other regular episodes. I was thinking: there's probably a 14th or 15th episode, only that I've missed it. But nope, there are no follow up episodes, and the 13th episode is begging for an OAV. It's really ironic that some anime provide OAVs but should have actually ended with the regular episodes, and yet Yami No Matsuei, which is in terrible need of a couple or so OAVs just to provide closure, doesn't have any T_T
Internet shrines devoted to Yami No Matsuei suggest that people still wanting more of Tsuzuki and Hisoka should consult the manga. I don't see any harm; the anime did a good job plotwise, if only it didn't end so abruptly. Although I'll still have to psych myself up for the more intense yaoi scenarios in the manga -_-