I guess it’s fitting for a series that had a dead-ringer (pun intended) for a finale after three episodes to have an actual finale that didn’t remotely feel like one. This was a series that was full of contradictions and the ending was no exception – it was emotionally devastating, gorgeous, utterly confusing and shockingly abrupt. And in the final analysis I’m left trying to figure out what to make of an episode that impacted me emotionally in a profound way, yet on the surface appears to make absolutely no sense.
I suppose it makes sense to start with the ending before discussing the series as a whole, so here’s what I can make of it as best I can. Sharper eyes (and better readers of French) than mine noticed that in the news article Ai was reading in last week’s episode there was a mention of a male student being dead, and that Alis’ name appeared. Knowing that after-the-fact, I wasn’t totally caught off guard by where things went this week. There’s a lot that doesn’t add up for me – like, for example, how the eff did Alis manage to get himself killed while Dee, who was hanging from his hand, survived? How was it that Alis was then able to leave this fantasy world in the first place, if he was already dead and buried good and proper? And how did Ai manage to bring him back if he’d been buried by a true gravekeeper?
All I can do is guess, I guess. Maybe the reason Dee didn’t have a body when she left the wish world is because her real body was inside it, and even this mythology has actual rules – one of them being you can only have one body at a time. Circumstantially, that makes sense because Alis was able to have a body outside the box – because unlike Dee, he didn’t have another body still inside it. Of course that doesn’t explain how he got out in the first place, but I don’t even have a guess for that one. As for the ending itself, the only thing I can speculate is that it was simply a wish by Ai – like the wish that Hampnie made to die, and that Class 3-4 made to keep re-living their happy days forever. Wishes carry weight in this world, obviously, but I wouldn’t have thought reviving someone who was dead and buried by a gravekeeper was on the table. But truthfully, I can’t think of anything else.
Of course the recurring pattern of Kaminai is to end every arc with a complete WTF moment, so this one isn’t much of a surprise. It’s not as though “Class 3-4” was especially rushed, though – the pacing was probably the best of any arc so far, and right up until the very end – and I mean the very end – I was prepared to overlook the pretzel logic and praise the ending as a really fine elegy, a proper tone to end this sort of show with. Don’t get me wrong, I like happy endings, I love them – but this one didn’t sit well with me. There was a bittersweet poetry to what was happening, a real nobility to the sacrifice Alis was making. In an instant, that was gone – the heart was in the right place, but the thought was misplaced IMHO.
That the ending of “Class 3-4”, even if it hadn’t pulled the switcheroo at the last second, wasn’t going to be a true series ending was a given. Kaminai never felt like a cohesive whole in any real sense, just four loosely interconnected mini-series. How could a story centering on two characters who weren’t even in the first half of the series give it any kind of closure? Yet this last arc did accomplish a lot, not least of which giving us in Alis a character who came close to matching Hampnie Hambert for screen presence and pathos (and likewise presented a seiyuu from Hunter X Hunter in Uchiyama Kouki who’s impressing the hell out of me with his range). I would have liked a lot more about the mythology of this strange world, but resigned myself a long time ago to the fact that I wasn’t going to get it.
The star of Kaminai, undoubtedly, was the world it created. As the characters who linked the four arcs together Ai, Yuri and Scar were all eminently forgettable – none of them as interesting as the shooting stars who passed through the series in their respective stories. But the settings (apart from the rather generic Gora Academy) were the constant draw. Kaminai has a wonderful transportive ability, creating a world that was sad and beautiful and drew you into it gently but urgently. It’s a place of eternal twilight, the setting of the sun on mankind’s time in the universe, yet was full of loveliness – both in the hearts of its remaining inhabitants and in the surrealistic dreamscapes themselves.
Making one-cour anime out of long (never mind ongoing, as Kaminai is) manga or LN series is always a matter of “choose your poison”. Rather than an anime-original ending or blistering through the entire canon, Madhouse simply decided to adapt small pieces of it on their own. We saw the obvious drawbacks in this approach, but there are positives, too – in some sense each of these arcs feels more complete than the series would if it had been adapted in conventional fashion. Not knowing otherwise I would never have guessed this was a LN adaptation – it feels much more like a manga, where the images tell the story as much as the words, and lacks any of the superficial trappings and artifices that have come to define the LN medium these days.
There are some hugely interesting ideas behind Kaminai, and fascinating questions asked , but almost all of them are under-explored in the anime. That leaves us to enjoy it for the pleasures it did deliver – the beauty of its settings, and the masterful way it used them to communicate a mood. Watching this series is an immersive and instinctual experience more than an intellectual one, and it tends to linger best in the memory when the specifics aren’t dissected too closely. While it falls well short of greatness, Kaminai does manage to be truly distinctive, and that alone gives it more staying power for me than most series I watch.