Anime Today: Sunday Without God… Without God

The last few weeks have seen the wrap-up of the 2013 summer anime season, and with it, a number of pleasant surprises… as well as a number of letdowns. Sunday Without God, a creative series that showed a lot of promise in its early episodes, unfortunately, can be counted as one of the latter. Now while I could get into the many technical flaws of the series (and believe me, there are many), the main area I would like to focus on here, and the area most relevant to the general theme of Beneath the Tangles, is Sunday Without God‘s disappointing lack of God.

Ai Astin
Art by chobi

I am always skeptical, but still interested in anime that attempts to incorporate some form of the Christian religion or Christian theology (anime such as Chrono Crusade and A Certain Magical Index, as well as many others, continue to prove to me that the Japanese truly do not understand Christianity and simply treat it as nothing more than an institution with a colorful mythology). As such, I began Sunday Without God with an inquisitive, if somewhat cynical attitude. However, episode one introduced a premise by which I simply could not helped but be intrigued: God created, then abandoned the world, and thus caused many consequential repercussions.

Let me bring your attention to the exposition as explained in the first episode (and note its twisted parallels of the account of creation as in Genesis 1):*

On Monday, God created the world.
On Tuesday, God created the polar opposites “chaos” and “order”.
On Wednesday, God went into meticulous detail while playing with numbers.
On Thursday, God allowed time to begin flowing.
On Friday, God looked over the world in minute detail.
On Saturday, God took a rest.**
And on Sunday… God abandoned the world.
“The other side is already full. This world will reach a standstill before much longer. Ah, I’ve failed!”

Now while this concept flies blatantly in the face of Christianity, this is the kind of theology I like to see explored in anime. Not a perversion of the Christian faith, but an exploration of a totally new (fantastical) theology (I should clarify that I believe the creation/abandonment account here, while based on the theistic creation story, does not attempt to represent what real theists believe, but merely an alternate universe; this is why I do not consider it a “perversion,” but something entirely new)! What would truly happen in a world abandoned by God? This question follows several implications: 1) That God exists in the first place, 2) If God were to abandon the world, then the very makeup of life would change fundamentally (as opposed to the deistic view that our reality is a world created and left to its own devices), and 3) That God’s abandonment of the world is a result of its erroneous creation. How does Sunday Without God explore these three implications?

In regard to the first, episode one makes it abundantly clear that there is an all-powerful God. In addition to the creation account provided above, a flashback is shown of the day God abandoned the world (though it is naught but a single shot).

In regard to the second, the fact that life and death are forever on hold proves to be evidence of a world without God. With the exception of burial via Gravekeepers (some strange entities with a number of different properties that set them apart from humans, such as being “spawned” in some strange, lightning-prone land as near-personality-less clones, a point that is hardly explained and seems to be contradicted on several occasions… but I digress), death no longer means spiritual and physical death, as the spirit remains in the corpse even after death (seemingly, to prevent over-crowding in the afterlife). Despite a number of inconsistencies and questioned motives, the fact remains that the world has been turned on its head with no God to look over it.

In regard to the third, God’s statement on “Sunday” makes this quite obvious. In creating the world, he did something wrong, and abandoning the world was his way of making the best of the situation (skeptics of Christianity might equate this line of thought with the concept of salvation via Jesus Christ, but that is far too complicated a topic to be covered in a simple aside here).

So at this point you may be thinking, “All of this seems interesting, and much deeper theologically than most anime that try to incorporate God or Christianity, so why, Japes, did you say that this series was disappointing?” Well, I will concede that the first episode, which is the episode that presents all of these ideas, is a solid start to what could be an exceedingly interesting series. However, episode one is where those thoughts begin and end. Essentially, my main problem with the series at this point is that it introduces a plethora of unique ideas and concepts in order to create a brand new world, then stops entirely in order to pursue mere side stories (which, in and of themselves, are not bad, per se, but merely a reflection of the lack of attention the writing pays to the actual, core concept of the series).

There truly is not much more to say on the matter of theological concepts in Sunday Without God. Content past the first episode indicates that the writing, while promising at first, follows the common Japanese tendency to totally ignore western theology in favor of convoluted side stories. Maybe I’m over-thinking things. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Maybe I should not have been surprised, for the title, Sunday Without God, seems to reflect more of the series than I anticipated.


*For the sake of those reading, I would like to clarify that I do not hold only to six-day/young earth creationism, but am a supporter of the theories of theistic evolution, progressive creationism, and young earth creationism.
**Interestingly, the creation story here  places God’s day of rest on Saturday, just as Jewish tradition would have it (thus the sabbath being celebrated on Saturdays). However, there is likely no real significance here, due to the industrial calendar moving to the week beginning on Monday and ending on Sunday. Additionally, the writers probably wanted to end the week on Sunday in order to tie the significance of the Christian worship service and God abandoning the world occurring on the same day.

16 thoughts on “Anime Today: Sunday Without God… Without God

  1. I pretty much agree, but there’s one slight problem after finishing the anime. They pretty much butchered the characters development and just gave us a compressed storyline that honestly, if we think about it there’s isn’t much to connect with.

    I say this because I read a good amount of bits from the Light Novel (currently being translated by Baka-Tsuki) and I was amazed by the chunk of dialogue that was cut from series. Although this is understandable, I feel it doesn’t do justice for this type of series where we just want to enjoy the characters, after all it’s pretty much a journey for Ai, as it is for Scar and the group with her.

    As for Japanese not understanding christianity, it’s very hard to ditch that type of comment for me as anime/manga/etc is a whole subculture. I think that those seeking christianity know their stuff. However, the lazy research done by writers/mangaka is just a complete different subject. (emphasis on lazy as I don’t think they would really put a strong resemblance)

    Well, that’s just my opinion of course :]

    1. Gosh, yes, there are so many technical flaws with the series (character development being a major one). I’ll take your word for it that that is mostly due to cuts from the original content.

      While Japanese culture and otaku culture are, indeed, separate cultures (and it is probably unfair to apply such a blanket statement to an entire people group), the majority of the Japanese truly do not understand Christianity. Shinto (not Shintoism) is so entirely prevalent and fundamental to their worldview that western religion simply does not make sense. That does not mean there are not those who have studied it (I would say the majority of westerners do not understand eastern religion, but of course there are those who have studied it), but, generally speaking, the understanding level is low. Additionally, since Japanese otaku culture is a subculture of the Japanese, that lack of understanding carries over. I would say that this, factored in with the lack of research by the writers, carries over into creating the disappointment I found in the anime.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I thought there was at least a little something more explored on the theological end, at least when Hampnie theorized that the whole “God abandoned the world” concept may in fact be incorrect and that God is still around; he’s just granting people a wish of not dying, and then later providing Gravekeepers when they started wishing they could die properly. That there are other cases of wishes being granted seems to support his theory.

    Either way, though, this perhaps does show how humanity shapes their concept of God and how that concept can differ.

    That said, I do think the show could have explored its theological aspects more. I mean, I did like the exploration that it did, but it was ultimately not too complex, and in the end, the only reason I really liked the show is because Ai is just that awesome.

    1. Having watched the series over the course of the season, it’s quite possible that there are actually some deeper moments of which I am forgetting. I think I recall the part you are talking about, which definitely does some positive exploration of theological concepts, and if what Hampnie said is true, then that sheds an entirely new light on the final arc of the series. That said, perhaps I was a little too hard on the series, but, even as you said, even with that extra element, the anime still falls short of what I had hoped it to be.

      Also, yes, I would say Ai was the reason I kept coming back every week to watch it. She is pretty awesome/

  3. Too bad you didn’t enjoy the show – I found it quite satisfying both from a general and theological perspective. I wanted to share some thoughts on the issue, but the comment got too long so I just threw it in as a post on my blog xD.

    1. After reading your post, I feel quite humbled. While I still feel disappointed by the series, I almost want to watch it again now just to look for some of the themes you mentioned. Perhaps one of my issues is just a matter of expectations?

      1. I think the show betrayed everyone’s expectations – with the ambitious premise, it seemed there was no way the author could turn away from the standard structure of a western novel: 1. introduce the setting, characters and premises 2. explore the consequences of the premises on the setting and characters in detail, show the characters in conflict – changing or failing to change the world around them 3. provide a conclusion hinting at a more general truth regarding the world. But in fact, you saw how whimsical the storytelling turned out to be – we only know about things insofar as Ai cares about them, and Ai herself has no clear idea of how to achieve her goal, traveling wide and far and getting herself into ever weirder places and situations.

        But at some point, I found pleasure in the show’s continuous refusal to meet my expectations and go down the trodden path. It’s the Little Prince kind of work, where scenes are not linked with setting or character-related casualty, but instead represent a lineup of issues the main character has to confront/discuss. Each of the three journey arcs that ended up animated confronts Ai with a basic issues regarding her “save the world” plan: 1) do you understand the world well enough to even try and save it? 2) what do you do if people don’t want to be saved? 3) what do you do if saving somebody means sacrificing somebody else? We see Ai increasingly stumped by the issues, even as her strong desire to save everybody remains unchanged, so the tension between the two factors is constantly increasing.

        With the anime ending where it did, nothing gets resolved, of course. So it’s perfectly natural for there to be some frustration regarding the content xD. Still, I’m still very curious where the author is going with all of this, and I hope I can find out at some point in the future.

  4. An interesting statement made by G. K. Chesterton in the Everlasting Man is that pagans have always had the idea of there existing one preeminent God who created all things. Thus, all the references in Plato and Aristotle to God and a certain missionary whom the Aborigines understood as teaching them about a particular Creator God of theirs when he preached about the Christian God.

    The problem with pagans though is that this Creator always seems especially distant, unlike the Judeo-Christian God. They perceive God as the First Mover and Creator of some already existent stuff, not as the Being who sustains all things and loves all things. So, a pagan might respond to the absence of such a God by just trying to make do; while a Jew or Christian would fast all week and cover himself with sack cloth, tears, and ashes until God showed Mercy.

    It’s too bad that the series did not delve deeper into its premises. That practically removes any motivation I had to watch it!

    1. When Christianity was first preached by missionaries in Japan, they asked the people for a word with which they would describe the all-powerful and great being called God in the west. The people suggested “hotoke” – the Japanese word for the Buddha. Confusion ensued xD.

      I wasn’t disappointed with the show’s execution of its premises, unlike Japes, so I would heartily recommend watching it. It has some non-standard storytelling (it feels jerky on the surface level), but is an interesting experience quite unlike most current anime series.

      1. I’ll take your word for it. Too many shows seem unwilling to go beyond the normal standards and expectations of their genres, which is unfortunate: being unexpected and original is what drew most fans to anime in the first place.

        I hear that a similar confusion occurred in China. When missionaries started speaking about the Son of God, the Chinese far too readily believed. It was not until later that the missionaries found out this was another term for the emperor. But, Asian missionaries have always had it hard: St. Francis Xavier preached to the Japanese by reading aloud the translation of the gospels made by His first convert and holding up pictures of Biblical scenes. Somehow, this actually gained him converts!

  5. The entire of concept of God abandoning Creation AND no one being able to die or be born piqued my interest. I couldn’t wait for the anime to air and started reading the manga adaption.

    To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

    So much so in fact that I did not watch the show. I am glad that someone directed me to Baka Tsuki so I can read the LN. Also the main character just turned me off. Blatantly manufactured, by-the-numbers moe-loli characters anger me. That is why I could not get into the series.

    Well, one of the reasons. The other reason is what has been said succinctly in this article. I wanted more information on God abandoning the World, not side stories. Look, I loved Kino’s Journey, YKK and other shows of this type but a concept this big is going to loom like, to paraphrase an old adage, a (missing) God in the room.

    Even with Cytrus’ wonderful analysis of the show, I feel that because the series takes the journey-not-the-destination route, and the irritating main character, I will not be watching it.

    I wanted Sunday without a God not Natsume’s Book of Friends – and I LOVE Natsume’s Book of Friends.

    1. Yes, the series dangles a cookie in front of the viewer only to replace it with fish salad as soon as you reach out, doesn’t it ? xD

  6. I think the side stories are good (I’m on episode 11 so far), I mean they introduce characters who do not really appear again but have their depth and development, and the arcs to introduce interesting themes. But I don’t really like the overrall show

  7. Sunday without God focues only on side stories and doesn’t really go into more depth about God abandoning the world and all. Why is it that whenever the protagonist is a little girl the writer has the urge to make them a giant cliche of a complete goody 2 shoes. The main character’s goal is to, “save the world”, but doesn’t really do that at all (I’m on ep. 11), and the man and female gravekeeper follow her like she’s the boss. The writer might as well have made the protagonist’s goal to be something like traveling the world. Well at least the side stories do explain how God abandoning the world has affected others.

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