The human race is now immortal … that’s a good thing, right?
What They Say:
Fifteen years ago, God abandoned the world and closed the gate to Heaven, leaving the souls of humankind trapped in limbo. With the dead unable to rest and the living unable to have children, the world is slowly coming to a halt. The only key to mankind’s salvation rests with the Gravekeepers, mysterious beings charged with the task of sending the deceased to their final resting place. Twelve-year-old Ai, one of the last children in the world, soon finds herself shouldered with the burden of becoming her village’s newest Gravekeeper. But beneath the village’s unassuming exterior lies a dark secret that is revealed with the arrival of a gun-wielding stranger in black. With her position as a Gravekeeper now uncertain, Ai has no choice but to set out to put the living dead to rest. But in a world where no one can die, is death truly the ultimate blessing? A journey unlike any other begins as Ai unlocks the secrets to life and death on SUNDAY WITHOUT GOD!
The disk set is available in two language formats using 2.0: Japanese with subtitles and an English dub. However, when Sentai Entertainment did the English version of the soundtrack, some of dialogue sounds like the actors are whispering while, in the same scene, others can be heard clearly. This imbalance is not on all of the episodes, but when it occurs while there is music is blaring in the background, it make it next to impossible to discern what they are talking about with this one-sided conversation. Strangely, the original Japanese is fine with voices in the foreground and accompanying melody softly balanced in the background. If you don’t mind boosting the volume for those rare moments, the English format works fine, if you don’t mind scanning back to those misunderstood sentences or activating the subtitles; but, that latter solution defeats the purpose of needing to read your anime.
The widescreen format really helps to define this series. From the simplistically beautiful country villages to the vast expanse of the cities and the foreboding wastelands, the series makes full use of all of this visual imagery to define the emptiness of this abandoned world. As the group travels from one location to another, you can see how desolate the land has become with the lack of humans and the planet’s dependency to have them maintain the status quo. As nature begins to reclaim the Earth, the norm of seeing an occasional wanderer or the lack of wild animals emphasises what seems to be the end of the world. This is fully realised as the animation uses the full screen to show this expansive difference from those concentrated population areas versus the abandoned outer limits.
Due to the desolate nature of the series, the stark image of the main characters surrounded by grave crosses and funeral flowers does suit the set packing. The beautifully grim backdrop of a sunset mirrors the end of a life with Ai and her Gravekeeper shovel in the foreground ready to bury that person so they can rest in peace. And that contrast is carried on to the back with the use a solemn black and a stylised shovel to magnify the white text for the series synopsis; the case itself is almost decorated like an offering to a grieving family.
Although the menus may be basic, Sentai Entertainment did keep the solemn sunset background used on the case while changing the foreground of each disk by using a different character set. This gives each one an individual appeal with a variation of that same theme, all surrounding around Ai and her difficult task in trying to save the world. But at the same time, the smiles on their faces while they are with her helps to soften what may seem like an impossible mission.
Although Sentai included their normal additions of the series’ textless opening and closing animations plus some trailers for their other acquisitions, the surprising bonus of an OVA helps to soften the mediocrity of those blasé extras. This additional episode helps to flesh out the characters by showing a side of them not seen the in regular anime: a comical escapade in a hot spring, Alice and Hampnie’s first encounter and the warming scene of Hampnie and Alfa meeting for the first time. It’s things like this that make a DVD set worth more than an ordinary collection and a pleasure to watch.
Fifteen years ago, God abandoned the world by stating that there was no more room on the other side. At the same time, humanity was cursed with immortality. Although they could still die, there was no place for their spirit to rest and thus, those that do did receive a mortal wound could still wander with those injuries intact. Earth became a land of both the Deceased and the Living, cohabitating peacefully in separate pockets of population. But, in one more cruel joke to those who wished to pursue this morbid subsistence, from the ether were created a new race to enforce the chaos – the Gravekeepers. These unfeeling individuals may look human, but they have no emotions or personalities to interfere with their simple task: to lay to rest those who had passed. They were the only ones who could give the Deceased a proper burial; even if one of the cursed was interred, they would not be able to rest without the Keepers’ direct action.
And so begins the tale of Ai, a cheerfully optimistic twelve-year-old girl who lives in an isolated mountain village. Five years ago, she had to bury her mother Alfa who was the Gravekeeper of the area; after her sad end, she now inherited the duty of keeping the graves for the hamlet with her shovel. Every morning, she would hike up the hill overlooking the town and continue her chore of digging the forty-seven plots for the villagers. It was a game and she looked forward to completing her task. By the next morning, the little Keeper persevered in her duty until the last grave was dug; the pleasure of knowing that her work was complete beamed on her face until she noticed that there was no one to congratulate her. Hiking down towards the town square, Ai collides with a stranger and introduces herself as the town’s Gravekeeper; amused by her answer, he tells her that his name is Hampnie Hambart and has a job for her. Instantly, Ai becomes overjoyed and becomes convinced that he is her father since her mother told her so! Hampnie growls that is impossible and takes her to the square.
Once there, Ai is horrified by what she finds: all of the townspeople have been killed. He then tells her to do her job as a Gravekeeper – lay them to rest. If she is a true Keeper, then she is the only one who can do it. Taken aback by what she has been told, she admits that she thought her task was to only dig the graves; he explains that everyone in this village was a Deceased and it is now her place to inter them. His actions only paralysed them, she must be the one to bury them otherwise, they will never know peace.
As she tearfully bids goodbye to the only place she has ever known as home, the pair leave the town and head to parts unknown. Hampnie scowls at Ai, asking why she is following him and what she will do now. Almost as to answer him, a beautiful woman dressed in a suit and carrying a shovel identical to Ai’s appears. He states that this is a real Gravekeeper: they may look human, but have no emotions nor attachments; to prove his point, he asks the Keeper called Scar what other names she has had. She blankly states that she never had a name, but has been called Murderer, Maria, Reaper, Killer … then vanishes as mysteriously as she appeared.
He angrily repeats his question and states that if she doesn’t answer him properly this time, he will kill her. Her timid hesitation angers him even more but as he is about to pull the trigger, a shot echoes and Hampnie is struck in the chest. The gunman runs out and snatches Ai as his victim struggles to his feet. This man is his old friend Yuri and demands that they have a duel. but Hampnie laughs and asks him how can he kill a man who is immortal? Or does he just want to die now that his wife is gone, by this man’s own hand? Does he want revenge or help from his friend to commit suicide? Nevertheless, they agree to meet in the square tomorrow morning for their duel.
As dawn breaks, the pair make their out of town, opposite of the agreement. Hampnie explains that he never had any intentions to fight his friend; they had been companions since they were children and the only reason he killed his wife was to save him from the suffering. Once someone becomes a Deceased, the longer they remain, the more likely they are to become feral as they collapse both physically and mentally. Besides, he still had to find Hana – the woman he once loved and one more thing, a way to die. He doesn’t want to be the last human alive on this world, he would go insane if that happened! When he finishes his explanation, a loud whistling is heard overhead, just before he kicks Ai unceremoniously off the bridge into the river below.
She wakes up coughing up water and sees that Yuri has saved her. As she thrashes around trying to find the idiot who dunked her, Yuri explains that he had been kidnapped. He feels sorry for him, for he now understands why he killed his wife as he pulls out a picture of his family with Hampnie and Hana; Ai is amazed as she see the woman whom he called Hana – she knows her! And just as before, Scar appears before they can depart to rescue the moron they both call a friend.
In an abandoned shed, the gang begin to interrogate their prisoner, asking Hampnie how cannot be killed and how they can become like him. He begins to fade in and out of consciousness and rambles that he only wants to die with his friends and family crying over his body as they mourn his loss. Of course, this angers them even more, but it is forgotten as Scar kicks in the door. Ai rushes in and begins crying that she finally found her Father; Hampnie brushes it off and reminds her that he isn’t old enough and aside from the fact that humans stopped having children fifteen years ago. But, as she begins rambling off facts about her mother, he begins to realise that this woman named Alfa and his Hana are one in the same. How could he forget her this easily? After the bandits are wiped out and he finally accepts that this his daughter; now that he has his happy ending and can finally die in peace, he reveals that Hampnie is not his real name, but wants his child to know that it is Kizuna Astin and that would make her Ai Astin.
Once Kizuna wakes up, he now knows that he is now among the Deceased. But instead of feeling depressed, he wants to spend his last day as her father, doing all of the things they never got to do and fill her thoughts with nothing but happy memories for they both know what she must do next. As the sun sets, they make the climb up the hill as he lies down in a grave next to Alfa; at last, he can be next to her in his final moments. With one more scoop of dirt, Ai’s mother and father have departed and she is alone once more. She then makes the decision that she wants to save this world for both the Living and the Deceased, but she will need help as Yuri and Scar join her on her journey.
It is appropriate that the main character’s name is Ai: in Japanese, her name means love. As a Gravekeeper, Ai tries her best to maintain the balance the worlds so that both groups can live in peace. But her naïvety of living in an isolated village amongst the Deceased proves to work for her since she does not know prejudice; this objectivity helps her make connections with those who the Living would shun – namely the Deceased. Normally a living person would shy away the other, but since she was raised by them after her mother’s death, Ai does not know the difference. So, that ignorance works in her favour.
Although the plot does move slowly, the evolution of the Keeper characters is what drives the story forward. Ai explores the outside world and is amazed by the diversity of both Deceased and Living populations, and yet she is still able to keep her neutrality and make friends from both sides of the divide. It is her innocence that is at the centre of the series and helps drive the other characters along. However, at the same time, we can see the unfeeling Scar evolve from a simplistic monotone woman into something even more; with the introduction of baby Celia, we watch her gingerly take care of this tiny life and eventually abandon her when the feelings become too much for Scar to handle. It is only afterwards when her friends catch her that she understands – by gaining these human emotions can she now become a true Gravekeeper and perhaps a better person with Yuri.
Sunday Without God is a wonderful anime that shows how understanding can overcome prejudice and in turn can make for a better world. It may sound like a corny moral, but in this case it does ring true. Being able to watch an anime which doesn’t have explosions or excessive gore is a pleasure and a relaxing change of pace in the non-stop world that we now live in.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 21st, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray player connected by HDMI