The premise of Sunday Without God is one of the more unique settings I’ve encountered – the world was created by God, who was present as a great light in the sky, but after resting upon completing the creation of the world, God declared it a failure and abandoned it. The fact that there is an actual God that people could see and hear is interesting enough to me, but the show takes it one step further when God’s departure results in death no longer existing; that is, a human continues to exist even after suffering fatal injury and cannot die of old age. The last miracle bequeathed upon humanity is the gift of the Gravekeepers, those individuals who are able to “bring peace” to the living dead.
It’s a fascinating premise, at once macabre and thought-provoking, and the choice of the production team to set it against bright-coloured backgrounds and strongly lit scenes adds a pleasant contrast that almost lures you into forgetting the depressing nature of a world without death. Ai is the protagonist, a twelve-year-old girl given the position of Gravekeeper after her mother dies, and she spends her days happily digging graves for each member of the rural village she lives in. When a stranger arrives and slaughters the entire population, Ai’s first reaction is to do combat with the black clad, silver haired Hampnie Hambart. He easily defeats her, and when Ai regains consciousness, Hampnie proceeds to tell her she is not, in fact, a Gravekeeper, as they are emotionless beings without parents.
Now, while I appreciate the concept and the aesthetics of Sunday Without God, this first episode has left me perplexed and intrigued at the same time. I honestly cannot tell what Hampnie’s motivations are – we know only that he is looking for a woman called “Hana.” His apparent ability to kill things with guns strikes me as odd, too, especially when the anime takes pains to say very clearly people cannot die. Does this mean Hampnie is a Gravekeeper, or is it something else? Ai’s naïve, childish conversations with Hampnie are entertaining without crossing the line into predictable, and her sunny attitude is endearing. Her devotion to the position of Gravekeeper is understandable but there are hints throughout the episode that she may or may not be what the village tells her she is. These mixed signals leave me confused – are they or aren’t they telling the truth?
The set up for the Gravekeepers is also decidedly Magical Girl-esque and while I’m not taking points away for this (rather I’m hoping it’s a twist on the archetype) it means I’m more wary of the tropes involved – Magical Girl is not my favourite genre. Regardless of genre, however, I give Sunday Without God kudos for making their iconic item ornate shovels that are actually used in combat. I also rather like the Final Fantasy 10-style fireflies that whisk around the graves.
The animation is pretty smooth but has a tendency to be washed out by the super-bright lighting, and I’m not sure if that’s intentional. Being super-bright provides contrast for the macabre setting, but if I can’t make out details on a character it defeats the purpose. The music’s alright as well; I didn’t notice it much during the episode with the exception of an exchange between Hampnie and Ai where the music was more noisome than atmospheric.
Overall, I’m intrigued but not quite sure what to think yet. I’m hoping the next episode of Sunday Without God grounds the audience with some context because this first one forgets to do so.