Director: Yuuji Kumazawa, Series Composition: Tomoko Konparu,Character Designer: Shinichi Miyamae
Voice Actors: Aki Toyosaki (Ai), Daisuke Namikawa (Humpnie Humbert), Akeno Watanabe (Anna), Eiji Maruyama (Yuto) Eri Kitamura (Dee Enjy Stratmis) Rina Satou (Hana)
It started 15 years ago when God forsook the world.
“Heaven and hell are too crowded. It won’t be long before this world is too.”
Those were the last words heard from him and people stopped dying. The dead now walk the earth regardless of injuries even as their flesh rots. In order to save those people God sent one final miracle, Gravekeepers. Only burials by Gravekeeper grants permadeath.
Cut to a European landscape that could be from Kino’s Journey. Green fields stretch into a mountain range, forests spring up intermittently and an aqueduct towers over a village which is where our protagonist lives. The place is beautiful but violence is about to tear everything apart as a mysterious stranger walks into the village and men grab rifles and prepare for a gun battle.
Cut to a girl wiping her brow after digging graves. Her name is Ai and she is the lead character.
She inherited the position from her mother Lady Alfa who died when was seven. On the day of the funeral, Ai discovered that as the last of her mother’s bloodline she must take over the role of village Gravekeeper.
Ai is finished digging graves and heads back to town where she encounters the mysterious man from earlier. The two talk and Ai discovers that he is Humpnie Humbert a.k.a the Man-eating Toy. Humpny Humbert is the name of her father and she starts to follow him but when she gets to the town square she sees the scene of a massacre.
“You did this,” she gasps.
“I didn’t kill them,” he replies. “People killing one another is now a thing of the past. All I did was get them to stop moving. Killing them is the job of the Gravekeeper.”
The two fight. After beating up Ai he reveals that she is not a Gravekeeper. Ai finds her world shattered by his words. Is the man telling the truth? The truth for Ai is shrouded in darkness… or in the case of this anime, it’s buried in a grave.
There’s another version of this first impression based on the first episode alone and it’s pretty disparaging. I hung on for three episodes and thank God I did because things improve immeasurably.
The first episode was pretty much a mess thanks to its awkward narrative structure which hopped around different time periods and relied upon poor dialogue that bluntly mixed moe cuteness with harsh reality. I can see why opening on a massacre might make for a gripping beginning but it meant repetition of scenes and limited world building opportunities to info-dumps and the shock and drama was neutered by the poor quality of the script.
The second and third episodes improved immeasurably. With some of the rules of the world established it started to explore them at a measured pace.
Ai exists in a modern world (complete with vehicles) where God has granted everlasting life but there’s a sting in the tale and it’s the fact that life isn’t eternal it’s just that no one experiences death in the normal sense of the term. People can have their hearts blown out of their chests and still walk the beautiful yet decaying world.
Those with grievous injuries remain although how much of their humanity persists seems to vary and it gradually declines as time goes by. This means that these people are zombies. Only a Gravekeeper can deal with these walkers and so Ai has some gruesome encounters in store. It’s not just the horror movie aspect either, because there is great drama to be found in how people deal with this new state of death. There are also people who would try and hide their injuries or the injuries of loved ones who must hide from Gravekeepers. Some people might deliberately kill themselves just to go through this process of being a zombie. Inflicting violence on people becomes far more complex if you can torture them over and over. Again, there’s great potential for this show in exploring existential questions about life and death and Ai is the perfect character to follow when dealing with these many issues.
Ai is a young girl who is naïve and good-natured. She has been kept safe in a village but with the devastation of her safe haven she is forced into a world with many people adversely affected by God’s abandonment. She is strong-willed but inexperienced and, like the audience, she will encounter all sorts of situations where she must decide if the people involved are right or wrong without prejudging it.
Seeing an innocent travel through a beautiful yet ugly world and go through such horrible things and toughening up through her encounters with people has been the basis for anime like Kino’s Journey. I can’t see Ai turning into Kino. While she may grow, Ai’s characterisation and design seem fairly certain to remain cute and clumsy. She is earnest in her mission to save the world and will probably become tougher but remain just as cute.
Indeed, one of the more surprising and gratifying aspects of the anime so far has been the fact that in exploring its ideas it isn’t afraid to bring up grisly situations and bump off characters. The third episode ended on a completely unexpected note which caught me off-guard and totally blew my mind because it defied my expectations and saw the anime improve in my estimation.
If the fourth episode can pull the same quality out its hat that the third one did and further explore the ideas properly then it will be worth watching and a highlight from the summer season.
Here are the OP and ED: