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There and helping

There's a whole small subgenre of "caseworker in the after life" books, movies, and manga, the sort involving desk jobs, bureaucracy, and sometimes field agents. After Life, the Japanese movie, is one. Beetlejuice is another. I know I've seen at least parts of two different anime series in this genrelet, but can't think what they're called off-hand. Help? Or indeed, suggestions of any other works like these.

I don't think the Divine Comedy counts because even if you count Virgil as a field agent, there's no bureaucracy he's a part of, i would argue.


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(Deleted comment)
Mar. 23rd, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
I have a copy of Haunted, I'm pretty sure. (I've won a couple of Armstrong novels in BSFA raffles and have yet to read any of them.) If the angels are a part of a bureaucracy, then absolutely it counts.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
Kelley Armstrong's books were what came to my mind too. There is enough bureaucracy that promotion is a possibility, at least. As well as Haunted I'd say No Humans Involved is the other one in that series with the most about the caseworker angle, though again it's really from the POV of the client.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
A Matter of Life and Death directed by Powell & Pressburger (released as Stairway to Heaven in the US).
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
If bureaucracy is essential, then I guess It's a Wonderful Life doesn't count, as I don't remember Clarence having a bureaucracy to deal with (plus George Bailey aten't dead yet). But I would argue that Defending Your Life counts, even though Rip Torn is more like a partner in an afterlife law firm, representing the dead Albert Brooks, than a civil servant.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
The TV series, Dead Like Me is a major example of this. It features a girl who gets killed by a toilet seat which was fallen from an international space station, and then has to work as an agent helping other newly-dead people into the afterlife. The whole premise of the show is that even after dying, she is stuck in a tedious job she doesn't enjoy, so barely anything has changed for her.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
This is starting to look like a far more robust subgenre than I'd realized. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised given the importance of purgatory and the moments of judgement before rebirth. I knew there were plenty of afterlife plots - just not that so many involved bureaucracy.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia says this is Bangsian fantasy, or at least that that's the term for afterlife-themed works. Looking through their list of such works might be helpful, even if not all are of the bureaucratic nature you're looking for.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you! "caseworker in the after life" wasn't getting me very far in terms of search results.

(Also, exciting: Bangs wrote Baron Munchausen. Or perhaps just one of them?)
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
A Life Less Ordinary plays with the same idea, with Heaven being depicted very much like a police station.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
Heaven Can Wait (the 1943 Lubitsch film of the title). Also, Carousel?

And Kipling's WWI short story 'On the Gate' presumably counts?
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
Ooh, Carousel! And speaking of classic American theater, would Our Town fit? The Stage Manager's role shifts over the course of the play, but at the end, he certainly seems to fit the 'agent of the afterlife' function.

There was also an odd little movie a while back called Defending Your Life, with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep, which had a huge afterlife bureaucracy with a lot of waiting rooms.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
I'm also having some vague recollections of something like this trope in the final section of D M Thomas's The White Hotel, a book I was really happy to forget.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
I see quite a few manuscripts that play with that sort of conceit... I usually don't like them though!

Perhaps another example in the genre would be the Meryl Streep film Defending Your Life? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101698/plotsummary
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
This is the basis for the plot of the graphic adventure game Grim Fandango.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
Oh! I even watched part of that game when maxineofarc was playing it because of the worldbuilding - but hadn't remembered a thing of whatever she'd told me about the plot.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
The Celestial Bureaucracy page on TV tropes might have some more examples. I think Grim Fandango is my favourite example.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
Oooh... how could I forget Grim Fandango... that's a brilliant example. Downtrodden office worker in trouble for failing to get his quota of souls.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
Not sure it counts but "How the Dead Live" by Will Self is a sort of self-management afterlife where the dead just get on with it in ignored suburbs of London... in this case somewhere near Dalston. There's a spirit guide to help them along though. The idea of continuing a sort of mundane ordinary life after death is there but it's not quite what you're after.

Does the angel in It's a Wonderful life count? (I've never seen it but it's enough of a cultural reference point that I almost feel I have).

Spirited away perhaps... not quite a desk job but working in the bath house of the afterlife?

If we're allowed other media then the computer game Sam and Max had an episode (205: What's new Beelzebub) set in Hell as a bureaucratic office -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrwB8xdWvgM


Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
Oh... and the entirety of the excellent radio series "Old Harry's Game" "starting Andy Hamilton as Saaaaataaaan". It's all about hell depicted as a troubled business. Full of dialogue about the pits of the damned overflowing, trouble with the computers classifying sinners, the innocent being accidentally damned due to a glitch and so on.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
There was an old (? for certain values of old, I guess) shojo manga called Omukae desu, that had that sort of thing. Then there's Kurosaki Corpse Delivery, although that's less clear. (I think only the latter is translated....) Those are just two that I can think of off the top of my head, because there are lots

Daoism has a very strict bureaucracy for the afterlife (and the deities in general) which then crept into other religions in the area as well. There are loads of tales about someone who died, went before the file clerk, and was informed that it was someone else with the same name who was supposed to die. (Likewise, you could avoid your fated death by bribing whatever came for you into going to collect the Mr X from the next village--apparently bureaucratic errors are about as old as bureaucracy. There are a number of rituals/"magic" that are built upon official paperwork, including health and longevity ones, due to the worldbuilding above.)

(Fun fact, Daoism often took over local cults by giving the god a position in the heavenly bureaucracy. Leading to one god complaining through a medium that, sure, he'd gotten a promotion--but without meat sacrifices, he couldn't actually do anything for his worshippers anymore. Meat being unclean for most Daoist sects of the time.)
Mar. 23rd, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
I think there are even some Jewish/Christian/Muslim folktales about how it's best to die at the end of the week, since the angels, in a hurry to knock off for the weekend, won't look too closely at your file.....
Mar. 23rd, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
There's always the oft-forgotten but excellent Mulberry
Mar. 23rd, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC)
green_trilobite suggests a movie called The Adding Machine; also, Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man has Death getting fired by some sort of otherworldly bureaucracy. More as I think of them, no doubt.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
even if you count Virgil as a field agent, there's no bureaucracy he's a part of, i would argue

No, Beatrice seems to have called in a favour there. The Inferno, however, has, or perhaps is, a pretty elaborate filing system.

Would The Screwtape Letters count? Also, the bellhop in No Exit appears to be part of a large system of some kind, and mentions that he gets a weekly day off.
Mar. 24th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
I can think of many such stories: "Oh! Heavenly Dog" is a Chevy Chase movie with a man reincarnated as a dog (thanks to the requirements of heavenly bureaucracy) to solve his own murder. This movie shares a lot of elements with three movies that are based on each other, apparently starting with "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941), Warraen Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait" (1978) and finally Chris Rock's "Down to Earth" (2001), all taking the premise that due to bureaucratic mistake a man dies before his time and is then given a second chance by being put in the body of a millionaire.

Sartre's "Les Jeux Sont Fait" imagines the afterlife having certain bureaucratic elements and again having life restored to fix something that was not supposed to happen. Also, it illustrates certain Existentialist truths.

A very old example would be "the Journey to the West" where the Monkey gains immortality by (among other things) descending to Hell and has his name removed from the list of people who will die. Later an emperor cheats death by bribing the appropriate officials in Hell borrowing the hell money of some very pious (still living) peasants. As mentioned this notion of the afterlife as a bureaucracy is apparently a common one in Chinese religion and myth.
Mar. 24th, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
A Matter of Life and Death is the first one I thought of, but there's the French novel Sept jours pour une éternité... (Seven Days for an Eternity) by Marc Levy where representatives of god and the devil are sent to earth to see who can do the most good/evil in the space of a week and thus decide the fate of the world... god and lucifer are depicted in great big offices like CEOs of companies. Not translated into English yet, but a great read. More info on the Marc Levy website
Mar. 24th, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
Descendants of Darkness is another anime/manga that focuses on agents of the underworld.
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