Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi offers up the first strong final episode of the season.
Talk about a split decision… That’s certainly how I feel about Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi right now. All things considered that was a very good – not great – episode, with more of the great atmosphere this series has in spades (pun intended). But that was a seriously WTF ending – if it turns out to be for real, probably the most artfully executed false main character death since Ned Stark. The problem is, unlike with Ned Kaminai killed off the main reason I was watching the series, character-wise. So the burden of proof is on it to show me why this was a good idea. And, presumably, to give us a new OP next week.
Things started out innocently enough, by this series’ standards anyway. Ai and Hampnie continued their road trip, with Ai dreaming dreams of her mother and Hampnie sharing the revelation that his profoundest wish (“like all immortals, in any age”) was to die. Well, there’s the framework for the rest of the series, I figured – but then things took a turn I certainly wasn’t expecting. While walking across a rope bridge spanning a waterfall (one of the loveliest scene compositions of any anime this season) Hampnie and Ai see a firework explode overhead. Hampnie promptly kicks Ai off the bridge and things are never the same again.
Apart from the seeming death of the best character in the series, the quibbles I have with the episode itself are mostly in terms of pacing. It wasn’t so much that it felt rushed at times – though it did – but that so many things of such consequence happened that they were trivialized in the process. Hampnie’s wish alone would have made a good intra-episode McGuffin, but on top of that you had the reveal that he was Ai’s father, the events with the freakshow that kidnapped him, the reveal about Ai’s village, Hampnie’s real name and the ending itself. Of Hikoutsu (Yoshino Hiroyuki – again, the seiyuu and not the hack writer) there was really no explanation or exposition – they more or less dropped out of the sky to make the plot happen. It’s not a problem in concept – I could very easily see a legendary immortal like Hampnie gaining his own legion of unwanted and undead goth Hampnie-wannabe otaku in this insane, spiritually desolate world, and it could be a very interesting thread to pursue. But with no background and no prequel, they just felt like a device.
And then there’s that ending, which felt very much like a series finale. I won’t deny that the moment when Ai, Yuri and Scar busted into the cabin to rescue Hampnie was artfully staged. It had that rare combination of beauty and disquiet that Kaminai has proved itself deft at creating, and the slow-motion was used to great effect. Once again though it seemed pretty arbitrary – out of nowhere Ai is an action hero, complete with her own catch phrases? I think all this would have worked better both with more buildup to the events, and more time spent on the events themselves. By the time the gang was dead (dead-dead) I was pretty well tapped-out – so when the big bombshell dropped, my reaction was more numbed than saddened or shocked.
It’s only in retrospect that the sheer audacity of what happened revealed itself to me. Apparently Hampnie was granted his wish – to die a “normal” death, where has leaves behind loved ones and carries a few regrets with him. It’s only when he realized that he had a reason to live that he was granted his wish to die – only the power of regret liberated him. It’s a very interesting and poetical turn of events, but it was overwhelmed by the sheer busyness of the moment. After Hampnie awoke undead (not before revealing that his true name was Kizuna Astin), he apparently violated his own principles in order to spend a little time with his daughter before he was given his proper burial. I don’t know about you, but I would have liked to have seen some of that time, and not just in a 30-second flashback. Hampnie deserved better, and so did the series. There was real emotional power here but not as much as there should have been, because of blockbuster exposition fatigue.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the question of whether Kizuna/Hampnie is really dead – whatever that means in Kaminai’s context. I suppose it’s possible that this is another troll, and that God is going to be a douche and deprive him of what he seemingly wished for. Selfishly I kind of hope He is, because I was grooving on Namikawa Dasikue’s performance and the character in a big way. Hampnie was sullen, mysterious, a classic dark hero – and far more interesting than Ai or anyone else we’ve met so far. Fortunately the premise itself is an interesting one, and in terms of world-building Kaminai has already proved to be well above the norm – so there is considerable hope for the show, even if Hampnie is really gone. But great characters make great anime, and I hate to see them go under any circumstances this early in a series’ run – it remains to be seen whether there’s anyone else in the cast (among those we’ve met and those we haven’t) who can pick up Hampnie’s mantle. And if anyone really needs to.