Yami no Matsuei/Descendants of Darkness (2002)



Meet Tsuzuki Asato, an easy-going, attractive young man with an almost pathological fondness for sweet foods. He’s well liked by his co-workers, though he’s a bit hard on partners, going through them almost as quickly as he would pastries. An all-around nice guy with just one catch … he’s been dead since 1926. Tsuzuki, along with lovely Watari Yukata (a male scientist whose hobbies include inventing bizarre devices and magic potions -- he’s currently seeking a sex change formula) and Tatsumi Seiichirou (one of Tsuzuki’s former partners) work for JuOhCho, a bureaucratic afterlife agency.

JuOhCho is responsible for receiving, cataloging and judging the souls of the recently dead, and its employees are responsible for tracking down and retrieving souls who cling to life on Earth still. Better known as Shinigami (Death), these employees possess special powers that aid them with their jobs. For example, Tsuzuki, who is particularly powerful, can perform magic and can summon Shikigami, powerful magical beings, including the mythical, fiery Suzaku. The Shinigami are aided by a pair of large, talking birds, GoShuShin, who maintain the agency’s massive library and often accompany them on missions.

As the story opens, Tsuzuki has been sent to Earth to meet up with his newest partner, Kurosaki Hisoka, a young, recently dead empath. Tsuzuki’s laid-back attitude irritates the teenager, but Hisoka sticks around anyway, helping Tsuzuki as they track down various restless souls in Japan, including vampires and demons. Their paths repeatedly cross those of a mysterious, elegant human, Muraki Kazutaka. Dr. Muraki has an odd hold on Hisoka ... and desires to possess Tsuzuki for reasons unknown. Muraki knows no bounds in his pursuit of Tsuzuki. No encounter with him goes well (blood and death typically precede or follow an appearance), but the pair find the "good" doctor becoming more intimately entangled with each one of their cases. The danger and tension build, leading to a bizarre final episode, in which Muraki’s exceedingly twisted plan bears fruit.

The anime series is just thirteen episodes, but is based on a longer-running series of manga by artist Matsushita Yohko. These episodes are just a small arc in the overall manga plot-line, so the ending leaves questions unanswered ... and viewers wanting more. Animated digitally, Yami no Matsuei is gorgeous to watch, and is steeped in a fascinating mythology of Matsushita’s design. Tsuzuki is a sweetly affable protagonist, with genuine emotional depth. The series gives a few glimpses into his human life, helping to explain the guilt that drives him now in the afterlife. Hisoka suffers somewhat by comparison to Tsuzuki, coming across as a bit of a cold fish. But he’s got his reasons, which come to light fairly early on. Muraki is just plain creepy, as disturbingly cracked a villain as you could possibly ask for. And the interplay among the three – plus the supporting characters – as the story unfolds, is a joy to watch.

[April Gutierrez]