There is something kind of magical about a series that opens with a premise so extraordinarily thought provoking you are almost drawn in against your will. You need to know how this story will explore the question they have laid before the audience. The answers may not always be satisfying, but the journey is usually interesting and even if it isn’t, just by asking the question, the story has opened a conversation for viewers which means it can take on a life of its own beyond what the writer intended.
Sunday Without God, or Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi, does just that and opens the story essentially by asking viewers to imagine a world where death no longer holds real meaning. In this story, fifteen years ago, God abandoned the world and closed the gate to Heaven, leaving the souls of humankind trapped in limbo. What that means is people die and then they just keep walking around. However, eternal life (or unlife) isn’t that great and so Gravekeepers appear and are able to bury the dead so that they actually rest (or stay dead).
Ai is the Gravekeeper for her mountain village but she knows little of the world. One day a stranger arrives who changes Ai’s life and forces her to see the world a little differently.
It’s an intriguing premise and one that has so many possibilities for exploration. While Sunday Without God may not have been fully up to the task of addressing the concept, it certainly gave it a good effort.
The first thing that struck me about this anime was how beautiful it was. Every scene is just a feast for the eyes. Whether they are showing souls dancing in the air, the trees, leaves, sunlight or anything else, it is truly beautiful. And the music that accompanies most scenes is rich and lovely to listen to while conveying a lot of the mood of the current scene. And this anime is all about atmosphere.
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While at first it seems Ai is just another overly cute anime protagonist who is going to save the world with peppiness, there are a lot of dark undertones to the world in Sunday Without God and the plot never shies away from dealing with these. And Ai, to her credit, tackles most obstacles head on with very little denial of reality or insistence that something isn’t right. She works to overcome things on her own.
Which means the aesthetics of this anime are amazing and our protagonist (after we get through the initial scenes of her life before she was aware of anything) grows in leaps and bounds and takes us on a journey of discovery about life and its purpose (even if it gives us few answers on the way). The support cast are also a great asset to this story each with their own idiosyncrasies, backstories, and needs in this broken world they find themselves in. It is hard not to get drawn into their stories and to imagine yourself in such a place and to wonder how you would react given the circumstances that befall them.
The greatest strength of Sunday Without God is that it doesn’t wave a single solution around but rather lets the characters make natural choices and leaves the audience to imagine what else might have been.
Sunday Without God is episodic in that there are distinct story arcs within the greater journey Ai is taking. The first few episodes deal with her meeting a stranger who changes her perception about the village she was raised in. The next arc takes her to a city that is almost entirely populated with the dead who are trying to live their own lives. Then we have a school arc, because they just kind of had to stick a kid in school (and to be honest this is the weakest of all the arcs but it does lead very nicely into the final arc). And lastly, Ai is recruited by a boy named Alice and asked to help him destroy his world. The explanation behind that request is more mundane than it at might at first appear but it is an excellent story to end on.
While some characters travel with Ai, each arc brings new characters into the fold and then they go their own ways. This is both a strength and a weakness. The strength of this is that we continually meet new characters appropriate to the current setting and we also don’t have to keep inventing reasons for others to still be hanging around. But it’s a weakness because some characters are really interesting and then they are left behind. In a longer series, this could have been a nice touch as Ai may have had a chance to revisit these characters when she was a little bit more worldly. Unfortunately, in 12 episodes, mostly these characters are simply forgotten.
I’ll be honest and admit that if you are after something fast paced, Sunday Without God is not for you. Even though there are occasional moments of action, the show focusses very heavily on character dialogue and interactions. This is a story about how people deal with life, death, and what comes next and it is very focussed on their reasons and their emotions. Large lengths of time are focussed on characters either sitting and talking or driving together and talking or eating together and talking.
And, as I already mentioned, most of the characters come into the show and then go again. So other than the immediate change that Ai manages to bring to people there isn’t a lot development of anyone other than Ai. They just aren’t in the show long enough to grow. It often leaves you wondering what is going to happen in the future to that character. Will they simply go back to how they were? Will they fall into despair? Will they find their own way?
This is a show full of fascinating moments and ideas. I love the initial story and watching as Ai confronts her rapidly expanding world. I also love the city of the dead and how we see the different views on death and life. But my favourite character is Alice who isn’t introduced until the school arc and doesn’t really do much until his request for Ai’s help. The relationship between Ai and Alice and how they work together to save/destroy his world is really interesting.
Overall, I love Sunday Without God. It is sweet and thought provoking and just a pleasure to watch. However, it is also heavy at times and the plot is slow moving. I’d strongly recommend that if you haven’t watched the anime, at least watch the first three episodes and see the first story before you make up your mind about it. It’s well worth checking out.
Images from: Sunday Without God. Dir. Y Kumazawa. Madhouse. 2013
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