This season is showing promise, especially by the normally low standard of summers past. No series has yet managed to burst through the gate with two outstanding episodes, but there are a good number of intriguing series out there, and Kaminai definitely falls into the latter category. I liked the premiere a fair bit and thought it showed great visual flair despite the abjectly awful Niconico stream, and the full HD second – complete with an OP and ED full of faces we haven’t seen in the show as of yet – was a feast for the senses.
I think a discussion of this series has to start with Namikawa Daisuke, who’s carrying the series so far with his performance as the “immortal monster” Hampnie Hambart. That Namikawa-san has an uncanny ability to portray a huge range of characters is more than obvious, but there’s something that ties all the best ones together. Namikawa has an intensity that’s rare – I would say almost unequalled – among seiyuu of his generation. There’s a seething, tortured energy to so much of what he does, and it provides a sense of danger always lurking just below the surface. His characters are almost never conventionally nice men (Waver might be called an exception) but they’re always fascinating, and there’s a kind of wry mirth in his delivery that suggests that he always knows more than the person he’s speaking to.
All those qualities are important for Hampnie, who walks a very thin like between villain and protagonist at the heart of Kaminai. He’s a killer who doesn’t kill, a man who can’t die who kicks and punches little girls, points guns at them and then shows concern for their welfare and gives them piggyback rides. The best compliment I can offer is that I can’t imagine anyone else playing Hampnie besides Namikawa-san. And while I haven’t immediately warmed to Ai as a character, her interactions with Hampnie – and Toysasaki Aki’s performance – were much more compelling this week. They were very good together, the slightly sarcastic edge Ai brought to her observations a perfect compliment to Hampnie’s detached irony.
The other element that stands out in Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi so far is the atmosphere. Simply put, the series has oodles of it – it’s managed to completely draw me into the sad, bizarre yet strangely beautiful world it’s created. Part of this is the eerie stillness of the landscapes, where there never seems to be a breath of wind and the sunlight always seems to burn as if in perpetual dusk, a world facing the sunset of its existence. Part of it is the subtle but completely fitting music, used sparingly to give the mood a nudge at just the right moments. Collectively it’s remarkably successful at creating a setting that feels complete and distinct, even if it remains full of mysteries.
The premiere, of course, was pretty much nothing but mysteries in terms of events on the ground. This episode goes about starting to provide some explanations, and that process begins with the arrival of Yuri Dmitriyevich (Fujiwara Keiji). Or rather, it begins where the previous episode left off – with the woman Hampnie introduced as a “real” gravekeeper. Her name is Scar (Noto Mamiko) though it seems she’s had many names, all given her by humans. She seems very much as Hampnie describes – inhuman, selfless, almost robotic. And she puzzlingly confirms that Ai is a gravekeeper after all, as the villagers she buried are properly dead. When Yuri arrives on the scene, guns-a-blazing, more exposition follows on his heels. He shoots Hampnie, who describes Yuri as his “best friend”. They grew up together, but Hampnie “killed” Yuri’s wife – a wife who was already dead, seemingly much as the villagers were. He claims he’s come seeking revenge, while Hampnie declares that he simply wants to end his life but doesn’t have the will to do so himself. And so, wounds healed, Hampnie skips town, Ai in tow (and on his back) before their promised duel.
There was a lot of information flow here, and I’m not sure how ready I am to take all of it at face value. At the “campfire” in the fireplace of a destroyed house (a gorgeously realized scene in every way – I love the imagery of smoke rising from a chimney with no walls or roof surrounding it) Hampnie shares the reality of this world with Ai: when people die of natural causes they seem to remain very much themselves, but gradually become more and more focused on their own “survival” until they become beasts. The supposed words of God on that fateful day turn out to have been after-the-fact embellishments – God said nothing, people simply stopped dying and being born. Hampnie tells Ai she’s likely a hybrid of gravekeeper and human, as she was born three years after that day; he also talks of the “half-dead plague” that turned hundreds of millions into zombies. And he offers his theory on himself and the world: God was an “idiot” and the world a boring place, and he simply tried to grant humans their foremost wish – not to die. When they later wished to die, he sent them gravekeepers. And when the change in the world meant that Hampnie’s own weak body (he was born an albino) became stable, he wished things could go on like that forever – and God granted that wish, too.
The whole scenario has the aura of a “be careful what you wish for” fable, complete with a moral. I’m not normally crazy about exposition via explanation in this way, as it tends to feel very unnatural – but this mostly worked, because Hampnie choosing this moment to tell Ai what he did felt pretty organic to the moment. I’m not exactly sure where the story goes from here, because there really doesn’t seem to be a way to “fix” everything (perhaps the “secret” of Ai’s village could prove otherwise, though). Rather, Kaminai may be a sad reflection on a dying world, with a cast of misfits and lost souls trying to retain their dignity and find a little meaning in the twilight of existence. That doesn’t seem as if it would be an uplifting experience to watch, but it has all the earmarks of an emotionally meaningful and fascinating one – and the evidence is that Madhouse has a team in place to tell that story in an effective way.