(This is just a simple repost of my review on MyAnimeList, for archiving purposes, but you’ll get to see my thoughts on an “oldie”. Expect more of these over the next few weeks.)
I will skip the summary, I assume you have it at the top of the page. Suffice to say, the undead, no more babies, and a little Gravekeeper three years too young to exist, Ai. As my other reviews show, while animation and mood are nice, I focus on acting and story. So this will slant in those directions. For that reason, you will find I am rather negative towards this series.
I am not someone who has read the book series, so when Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi (hereafter KIN) popped up on the season’s list, I was intrigued. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I purposefully approached the series on its own merits, without research about the background, to let the show stand on its own. I am always of the opinion I should not have to do homework to enjoy a work. There was but a brief description about the premise, and color me interested, I tuned in the very first week.
After the first few episodes, I wanted this show to blow everything else out of the water. I wanted to LOVE this show. I wanted to parade this series around come the fall like it was the next Fullmetal, or Death Note, or Madoka. It very early on demonstrated a theme of “hope within absolute darkness”. It had little girl tea-party heartwarming alongside the living dead. Ai was a fantastic character, really every character is fantastic. This show was going places. I was sad at the end of the Humphney Humbert arc, but who wouldn’t be? But I was left with a complete sense of….contentment. KIN had an excellent pace, and seemed to know exactly where to put its focus. The art was beautiful, eerily beautiful for a show about (essentially) the twilight of humanity. The music was spot on, and voice actors perfectly cast. Of all the series I was watching (some five), KIN was at the top of my list, the one I anxiously stood on edge for to see next week.
The second arc was similarly splendid. It elaborated on the themes of the HH arc. It built on that Ai being a Gravekeeper was a splendid thing. And in Ortus, it was a dangerous thing. The kingdom of the dead. It was a natural development in the consequences of such a world. It was excellent political development without bashing you over the head. Things were strange to our eyes, with fascinating culture of the dead (like the wearing of Venetian masks to hide the decay of flesh, an unspoken but fascinating concept), and here we learned of the true power of wishing, and that prayers of those close to death seemed to come true. I was still excited for KIN. I still held it up high.
But at that point, the structure broke down. And it’s not hard to see where things went wrong. In the tug of war between remaining faithful to the books, and telling a good story for TV, it was the books that won. The series is divided into four arcs. Each one, I presume (again, having not read the books, but judging from the pace) was based on an individual book. While this keeps the material fresh, and avoids hammering the same points over and over, and we see the characters grow perhaps more than we might have, it leaves the short series, a mere 12 episodes, without focus. The Humpney Humbert arc and Ortus arc were connected. Not tightly, but they built off previous themes and expanded on the logic of the universe. The School arc mostly existed to explore the concept of wishing. It introduced us to Dee and Alice, who would be the main characters in the Bubble World arc, but Ai’s status as a Gravekeeper was little more than a flimsy pretense to drag her into the school. After that, it was never important. There was no sense of how this little girl would meet, and pass, or fail, the challenge that came with “saving the world”. The Bubble World arc was almost its own series entirely. Even Ai doesn’t notice when her shovel goes missing, so absent is the “important” job of being a Gravekeeper from the front line that it seems almost superfluous to the entire show by the end. We get the sense that Ai is a special child, but not because of her Gravekeeper status. This could have worked for the series, but the disconnect between pieces leaves much to be desired.
As difficult as it is to say, I would rate this series almost within a “dramatic slice of life” category. While there is episode-to-episode continuity, there is no real feeling of change beyond characters entering and exiting. Scar almost seems to come along because we needed an extra butt filling a seat, and even then she and Yuri are mostly shoved aside after the Ortus arc. The two characters who seemed to be role models to Ai at the beginning, one who would teach her to be a Gravekeeper, and one who would teach her to be Human, really didn’t do anything besides be old enough to drive. Which is a shame because they both have such interesting backstories and personalities. They kept getting shoved aside for guest stars, and when Dee and Alice show up it seems like we traded out old models for new ones.
Ai herself changes little. She goes from seeing “the world is this way” to “okay, the world is not this way, but it should be” The problem is that, while this is growth, this growth is complete by episode 4. She then halfway reboots, paying lip service to the previous lessons, but still holding on to her naivete. Only in the Bubble World does she seem to have a more worldly view that things are happy, but wrong, but this change doesn’t seem to come -from- anything.
On the whole, KIN’s strengths are in its concepts, and its flaws are in its execution. A world without traditional death, and with Gravekeepers, who seem to be some organic AI? Fascinating. Number of times that is relevant to the series? Three. And one is monologued at us. A kingdom of the dead, the true realization of Ai’s mother’s hopeful dream? Wonderfully shot, beautifully animated, but there are no true consequences of this visit. An organization that seeks to check the power of the prayer? Could be truly interesting. But came off as little more than stuffy old people being mean old people. A bubble world where someone died, yet still had a wish fulfilled? A few -hours- difference that strains credulity? Never even brought up. Scar, a Gravekeeper who is good natured, yet heartless in her pursuit of duty? We are told this, and it is conveniently side-stepped in Ortus, and never comes again. Or her later transformation into something more sapient? Nothing. Yuri, a man who lost his family, and really only takes in Ai at the beginning of some misplaced sense of responsibility for the death of his daughter and his love/hate relationship with Humphney? Not important.
While all these issues CAN be put off in a lengthy book series, they are woefully crippling to a 12 episode anime. A series can not be entirely about set-up, there has to be some rolling resolution to go along with the introduction of all the elements. Perhaps that is not possible. Perhaps the books themselves limit the continuation, but I cite Fullmetal Alchemist, which took the identical starting material, and made their own conclusions. Conclusions that some people find superior (though I am not among them). This series had ways to avoid the four-arc trap. They could have focused more heavily on two, they could have stayed loyal and halfway in, diverted from continuity. They could have merely edited the ending to tie all four chaotic arcs together (there was an easy way).
In summary, out of everything this season, Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi was, personally, my biggest disappointment for summer 2013. If its mission was to interest me in one day picking up the novels? Sure. I’d say it succeeded, if only to find out.* If it was to be an entertaining show I could recommend? It falls just short. I can’t bring myself to call it anything more than average. Watch it if it intrigues you, by all means. But if you’re looking for that next special series, I, grudgingly, must vote that you move along.
(*I will add that, so many months hence, I never bothered, and don’t feel keen on bothering to.)