#1 The Tragedy of the Grim Reaper
Momo is a Shinigami, a Japanese God of Death. She and her winged cat familiar Daniel are tasked with guiding the souls of the recently-deceased to the afterlife; a job that she has a unique view on.
You see, Momo cares deeply about people, in spite of being destined to end their existence. She goes to great lengths to make sure that the spirits are left without any regrets that would tie them to our world, but also that those they have left behind are given peace of mind. She’ll even reveal her existence to living people and meddle in their lives, just to make the slightest difference.
She’s a fascinating character with a mysterious personality to match. A perfect protagonist for a melancholic anime like this.
#2 Fantastic mini-stories
Ballad of a Shinigami is a bit of an oddball in terms of anime. It’s a TV series that only got to run for 6 normal-length episodes, as opposed to the usual cour length of 11-14. Strange, but ultimately this format turned out to be perfect for the show.
Its 6 episodes all tell wholly different stories. Each is a largely-standalone plot about Momo “helping” different people, but whereas a similar format made Hell Girl unbearable to sit through, its modest length here assures that Momo’s story doesn’t even come close to outstaying its welcome.
I also appreciate that each of the 6 stories has a very different premise. The first episode is a bit of a mystery in which Momo is very absent, and you are just watching some people’s daily lives unfold wondering what may happen to them. Episode 2 flips this around immediately, as Momo appears right away to inform a boy that he’s going to die soon, urging him to sort out his final desires ahead of time. Yet another episode outright begins with a character who is already a spirit, but who refuses to let Momo and Daniel take her away.
#3 Budget anime done right
This anime released in 2006 and was produced by Group TAC as one of its final, major projects before the studio fell into decline. While no longer the powerhouse it once was, the studio managed to pull it together and produce a fine-looking anime under Ocean Waves director Tomomi Mochizuki.
I find the artstyle the show went with quite serene. The colors are muted and the characters less eccentric, certainly compared to anime that were getting popular around the same time. This makes Momo stand out incredibly well, as the stark whiteness of her dress and hair give her the image of an angelic being. This, in turn, contrasts nicely with Daniel, who is all-black.
Ballad of a Shinigami also knows how to work around its limitations, by putting the most effort in the scenes that matter the most. You do often notice that the anime cheaps out in places, such as with a football scene that looks notably off, but no such annoyances are present during the emotional highlights.