Calvin: I wonder where we go after we die.Welcome... To Hell! I'm Old Scratch, and I'll be your waiter tonight. The only table we have is by the bathrooms, the specials menu only has food you're allergic to, there's a massive markup on the wine, and I'm afraid we're a bit busy at the moment, so the wait is... All Eternity! This is a popular portrayal of the afterlife in comedies and Urban Fantasy: Heaven and Hell are much like our own universe, only flanderized to be either perfect (but often not totally perfect) or unbearable (but in a much more annoying than angsty way). For some reason, restaurants seem to be a popular depiction, as waiting for your food can feel like being stuck in purgatory. It may be A Form You Are Comfortable With for souls who are still living who see or visit it. Can overlap with A Hell of a Time or Ironic Hell. Compare Cool and Unusual Punishment.
Calvin: If you're good or bad?
Calvin: If you're good or bad?
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Anime and Manga
- Inverted in Amakusa1637. At one point, the locals ask the time-traveling protagonists to describe the "Heaven" they believe they come from. When the protagonists comply, they are themselves shocked and moved when they realize the modern society they describe - one of electric light and heating, religious tolerance, rule of law, and ample food - is, in fact, Heaven for the medieval peasants. A paradise that they'd been taking for granted.
- Not only is the afterlife medieval Japan complete with social classes, but people are still born and die in it. Die in it in any manner that doesn't destroy your soul, and you reincarnate back in the living world. Note that Hell is separate from this setup, and we don't quite know how it works. Especially since we've only seen it maybe once, waaaay back around Episode 5.
- We've seen how to get to Hell in The Movie, provided this plot point is actually canon and not non-serial. If a human has commited great crimes in life, the human's soul is cast into Hell for eternity and chained. The guards of Hell may attack and eat these people, but it's mostly just people standing around. The sinners can also gain superpowers, will revive from any mortal wound, can use their chains to their advantage and can discreetly enter the human world. So...not that mundane.
- In Hito Hitori Futari, when you die, you go back to school. Or you should, but instead, you skip classes.
- In Angel Beats!, the afterlife for people (or at least kids and teenagers) is an idyllic boarding school, where they are expected to conform and become model students. Those who fall in line are eventually "obliterated", or simply disappear without a trace. The heroes are actively rebelling to fight against this. In fact, the school is for kids who've lead hard or disappointing lives, and are at the school to enjoy their youth and ultimately let go of their negative feelings before they can pass on, and (presumably) reincarnate. While the main characters, and possibly the other students know it's the afterlife, the main characters all think being "Obliterated" is actually ceasing to exist.
- In 5 Centimeters per Second, Takaki has a recurring dream almost exactly like Heaven in The Great Divorce (see Literature below). The most salient feature is that he's with Akari. This may be something else, though.
- Haibane Renmei takes place in a mundane version of purgatory, where children and teenagers are purified from their sins before going to heaven.
- Japan's afterlife in Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru is strikingly similar to everyday life. The Egyptian afterlife is the classical one, though.
- The entire basis of Descendants of Darkness is a Celestial Bureaucracy, with plenty of this trope to go around. Simply put, even the dead have to do paperwork.
- One episode of Galaxy Angel had everyone go to various domestic hells, acting out insanely boring jobs, after dying during a mission. Except Millefeuille, her version of the afterlife was an aversion of this trope, being a medieval castle.
- Johnny the Homicidal Maniac:
- The comic depicts hell as the real world without the decent folk mixed in with everyone else. In heaven everyone is omnipotent, but content to sit on a chair doing nothing for eternity. Until Johnny pisses someone off.
- It should be noted that Hell isn't much of a punishment, since the damned are too self-absorbed and stupid to derive much punishment from it. It's implied that the person who derives the most punishment in it is the devil, who's stuck managing the freakshow for all eternity with no-one else to talk to. Christianity teaches that Hell was created as punishment for the Devil and the Fallen.
- In Poodles from Hell, a dead cartoonist communicates with a living one to explain aspects of the afterlife through illustrations. The first place you go when you die is a quite ordinary coffee break room. You can sit there and sip on a coffee or soda and think things over before proceeding.
- In Secret Six, Purgatory looks like an abandoned shopping mall. Sounds about right.
- The depiction of Hell in Highway to Hell. It included a diner and a strip club.
- Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life: Heaven is the cheesiest Vegas-style cabaret you could possibly imagine, complete with sub-Tony Bennett crooner and terrible dancers. And to make matters worse, it's always Christmas there.
- Wristcutters: A Love Story featured an afterlife for suicides where everything was exactly like the real world only depressingly drab, broken, and devoid of color or warmth. Also, you weren't allowed to smile. In other words, pretty much what depressives think life is like anyway.
- In the movie Made In Heaven, Heaven has a wide variety of places, but each one is pretty much Earth-like with a few extra abilities, like the ability to create objects mentally. The protagonist falls in love with a "new soul" who has not yet incarnated, and builds a house for her before she is incarnated to Earth, and the main plot begins (where he must incarnate to find her).
- In the Albert Brooks comedy Defending Your Life, the "in-between" plane is an idealized resort setting where the dead dine in fine restaurants and generally enjoy themselves until it's time to be judged (based on how fear governed or did not govern their actions), after which time they will either be sent "forward" if they're deemed ready to become "smarter" beings or reincarnated if the powers that be decide they still have more to learn on Earth. Their Judgment takes place in a courtroom setting, complete with lawyers and counselors. When it's time for the souls to go to wherever the powers have deemed they are to go, they travel there on trams like you'd see in Disney World.
- The Bothersome Man invokes this trope flawlessly, depicting afterlife as a consumerism urban life so normal it's devoid of all deep emotions and feelings (even the consumerist ones, including smell, taste and alcohol highs), complete with absolute contentment and indifference of all the people around (even if you've just cut off your finger on an office cutter). Needless to say it's vague about the city being Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.
- Heaven, or at least part of it, is depicted as a large and rather mundane office environment. (Humorously, this is what is actually believed in Chinese Mythology.)
- And if you kill yourself, you become a civil servant and must work there.
- They do briefly mention a possible next life, after a term served as ghosts is up.
- R.I.P.D.: Heaven is a large, bustling police department...overseen by the Bureau of Eternal Affairs.
- In some ways, the afterlife featured in the J.W. Wells & Co. books by Tom Holt is not at all mundane, being an empty white expanse. However, considering the only activities that take place there are classes in basket weaving and intermediate Spanish, it probably counts.
- In Briar's Book, Briar follows Rosethorn into the afterlife and finds her facing a huge, badly overgrown and disorganized garden... the sort of challenging project both of them could happily work on forever, being plant mages.
- Discussed in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment: Svidrigailov speculates that maybe the afterlife is just a small, dark room with spiders in the corners.
- The Discworld book
FaustEric involves a discussion of how, since most of the damned become numb to the physical torments of Hell, the demons have devised ways to inflict mental torments — namely, incredible mind-destroying boredom. There's a lengthy discussion of how such a Hell would be like a cheap hotel room with nothing to read and only one TV channel (in Welsh) and the ice machines not working and the bars not open for several more hours. Although the actual Hell is a distilled version of that boredom, it's the same kind of idea. For instance the Sisyphus analog doesn't even get to try to push his rock up a hill. Instead he has to spend eternity memorising the endless and everchanging instructions on how to move objects safely.
- The Nac mac Feegle from the Discworld series believe that they're in the afterlife, and refer to dying as "going back to the Last World".
- Elsewhere is a novel centering on afterlife speculation. It has freshly-dead people go on a sort of boat together. Whatever killed them heals, and then they arrive in Elsewhere, where they are greeted by recently-dead relatives and friends. They age backwards then, and as newborns are taken back on the boat to be reincarnated. There's a society not unlike what the living have, and people tend to go for different jobs - Marilyn Monroe became a psychiatrist, for example. It's possible to pay to look at the world of the living and communicate through water, but that's generally frowned upon.
- In Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, before you can truly get to heaven, you have to meet five people to learn the meaning of your life. Afterward, you choose your heaven. Usually it is some place you liked or missed out on in life. It may even have people you loved in it. For example, Eddie's wife Marguerite's heaven is a constant stream of happy weddings, because she loves the magic of them.
- In C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, Hell is a very drab city right after everything has closed for the evening. And your neighbors are jerks. (You are, too, but you're less likely to notice.) And it's raining all the time and there's nothing to do except bicker with the neighbors and make houses that don't even keep the rain out. All the interesting people are millions of miles away...and really aren't that interesting when you meet them.
Heaven — at least the part closest to Hell — is a beautiful vibrant natural setting, with everything bigger than life and more real than reality. And that's before sunrise. The very natives glow with light. Unfortunately, if you're a visitor from Hell, it's hard to enjoy, even after you get past being a jerk — walking is painful, and lifting anything heavenly is almost impossible. If you stop being a jerk, though, you become more solid.
- Though at the very end, the narrator is carefully cautioned that he is only dreaming it and he must make it clear that it is a dream, with the implication that it was A Form You Are Comfortable With.
- In one of Mercedes Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdoms books the protagonist visits a local afterlife which is basically total apathy. People freshly arrived will work out of habit, making nets and cleaning clothes, or they will wander seeking answers, but the work never goes anywhere - nets never get bigger, the clothes aren't cleaner - and bit by bit they forget everything, until they lie down and sleep. They can be roused, but not into interest, and if reminded that they are dead they will attack.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry sacrifices himself, Dumbledore is amused to learn that the in-between-life-and-death place he finds himself in resembles King's Cross Station.
- In The Lovely Bones, each person has their own heaven, but they overlap if they meld together well. The narrator (a junior-high-age girl who was murdered) has a high school like the one in her hometown, but with swingsets, and she never has to go to any class except art. The other residents include teenage boys who play basketball on the blacktop and adult female athletes who use the sports fields for practice. She has a roommate and an intake counselor. They can get whatever they want in heaven (as soon as they specifically figure out that they want it), but this seems to apply only to mundane things, like dogs for the narrator or speaking English without a Vietnamese accent for her roommate.
- The afterlife in The Brief History of the Dead is basically the same as the world of the living, except nobody ever ages and people spontaneously vanish when there's nobody left alive who remembers them.
- In J.R.R. Tolkein's Leaf by Niggle, Purgatory is a workhouse where you unlearn all your bad habits, the Earthly Paradise is where you get to finish your unfinished creative projects, and beyond that. . . well, the only people who know are those who go there, and they never come back.
- In The Magician King the afterlife of Fillory is a big, dull room, with badminton courts, ping pong tables, card tables, and various other amusements. It does not take the dead very long to get bored of them, and most of them just sit around. One shade says that it's like someone tried to make it a nice place to hang out, but didn't put much thought into it.
- In "Hell is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang, Heaven is very much like life, except that you live it in your eternal body, which is your mundane body fixed up. Hell is like Heaven, except that you spend your eternal afterlife knowing that you made the wrong choices, and will never get out.
- Another Note hints that the "Mu" afterlife spoken of in Death Note may be this. Specifically, the narrator Mello is writing a report on a long-since-closed case from beyond the grave. He gives up the clinical narration style in favor of one more like a live storytelling, on the grounds that someone other than Near might read it.
Live Action TV
- In Scrubs, one of JD's fantasies has him going to Heaven and finding it's really a diner that doesn't serve flapjacks, making him briefly wonder if flapjacks are actually evil.
- The Ancients' form of Limbo in Stargate SG-1 consists of a diner. Apparently, the food's quite excellent. It's heavily implied that the Ascended Plane looked like a diner because Jackson Cannot Grasp The True Form of it, so his mind substituted a diner instead.
- In "The Misfortune Cookie", an episode of the 80s revival of The Twilight Zone based on a 1970 short story of the same name by Charles Fritch, a food critic gave a bad review of a Chinese restaurant before he ever ate there. When he came back on request to give them another chance, he was inexplicably ravenous, to the point of ordering everything on the menu and still not being satisfied. When he got his fortune cookie, it said "You're dead", over and over again.
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- An honorable mention goes to the Q Continuum. It's not heaven or hell, of course, but as home to a race of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, it's certainly on par. To show why he wants to commit suicide, a Q philosopher shows the Continuum to Janeway as a tiny town on a dusty backwater road where nothing new ever happens.
- When Janeway gets to visit, it's when two factions have gone to war. As such, it resembles the American Civil War.
- B'elanna goes to the Klingon hell, and finds it to be an eternity on Voyager, but with no mission for the ship and no respect from her crewmates. Neither Klingon afterlife is quite analogous to Heaven and Hell. It's more like the Greek Hades (eternal boredom) for the dishonored dead and (of course) Norse Valhalla for the honorable. This may have something to do with the fact that Klingon legend states they killed the gods for being more trouble than they were worth.
- Supernatural: Crowley the Demon, when he becomes King of Hell changes Hell from fire and brimstone, to an eternal waiting room.
- It's actually worse than that. The damned are condemned to wait in a queue that stretches on forever, slowly moving forward one soul at a time, only to discover when they get to the front, they're at the back of the line again.
- Whose Line Is It Anyway? often played this for laughs with any depiction of Hell. It has televisions that plays UPN, naked The Golden Girls, and Friends, the PA system constantly has Michael Bolton music on, and Drew is down there. When asked to come up with "a vision of Hell that does not involve fire or brimstone", Greg came up with driving eternally in Mississippi.
- Billy Joel's "Blonde Over Blue" dwells on this idea:
"In Hell there's a big hotelWhere the bar just closed and the windows never openNo phone so you can't call homeand the TV works but the clicker is broken"
- The Eagles' "Hotel California" could be seen as a metaphor for addiction or for Hell, although Word of God is that it's about the music industry.
- In "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Everything You Know Is Wrong," the singer ends up in Heaven, where St. Peter gives him "the room next to the noisy ice machine - for all eternity."
- The Rock Opera A Passion Play by Jethro Tull describes a Heaven so mundanely good that the dead main character is bored of it, wishes to live in Hell, than finds Hell equally mundanely evil. He decides neither are his cup of tea, and that he is better off on Earth, neither aspiring to be entirely good nor evil.
- "The Afterlife" by Paul Simon, encapsulated the refrain, "you've got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line"... until the last verse, when the narrator finally meets God.
- The video for "Run On" by Moby has the main character die and go to Heaven, where Angels help employees over telephones and have "Employee of the month" awards. The main difference is that, unlike on Earth, things work as they should (The coffee is actually nice and the copier works), the coworkers are friendly and the main character quite enjoys it.
Myths & Religion
- A number of mythologies have a rather blah, dreary afterlife. The Mesopotamian version with vulture heads and all the dust comes to mind. And in Greek Mythology, if you're not heroic enough to be in Elysium or bad enough to be in Tartarus, you wander the mists as a shade.
- In Church of the Subgenius mythology (such as it is), there's a section of Hell called "West Heck", that's just like the living world, only more dreary and depressing. The implication being that you could be there right now and not even realize it; you just think that your life sucks.
- According to Principia Discordia, bad people (but not jackasses) end up in the Region of Thud. Christians call it "Paradise".
- One of the traditional Chinese views of the afterlife can be summed up as "exactly like your previous life, but with worse lighting". The dead have the exactly same needs as they did in their mortal life, and so must be provided offerings of (fake/paper-mache) food, cash, houses, servants, etc.
- There's an allegorical story, often used in Christian sermons, regarding the nature of heaven and hell. A man is shown hell in a dream: it consists of a tall table set with an unlimited feast. The damned are given extremely long-handled forks with which to reach the food, which would otherwise be unreachable. Unfortunately, this also means that they are able to effortlessly block one another's access to the choicest foods, meaning that everyone goes hungry. The man is then shown heaven, which is identical except that everyone cooperates and so there is enough food for all. The Aesop: the only difference between heaven and hell is the company.
- In Dilbert the afterlife is shown to be... an eternity in a cubicle. Next to Wally.
- There's a Gahan Wilson cartoon where Heaven is a slum and all the angels are alkies with cardboard wings and burlap robes. One of them happens to remark, "I always thought this place would be a whole lot classier."
- The Far Side: Heaven is so boring that literally all you do is sit on a cloud. ("Wish I'd brought a magazine.")
- Sartre's No Exit features the afterlife being three people locked in a room together for all eternity. The room is designed so that you just barely don't like it, and the people in the room are chosen so that no one can stand being in the others' presence. This is the play that gives us the quote "Hell is other people", after all.
- In Sam & Max: What's New, Beelzebub?, Hell is a rather dull office where it's always 4:59 p.m., every day is Monday, the coffee is cold, and the refrigerator is room temperature.
- Afterlife has an impressive selection of really quite creatively unpleasant punishments in Hell, yet the flavour text for many of the various heavenly rewards make it sound like spending eternity in an upmarket retirement home next-door to a highly sophisticated yet slightly tacky theme park. It actually sounds like it would get really, really boring after a while. Oddly enough, this trope actually forms the basis for a game mechanic; you have to build structures to siphon "Ad Infinitum" from the various rocks scattered about the map, (which the rocks are a source of because they're infinitely heavy) and thus can keep all of Heaven's rewards and Hell's punishments perpetually novel.
- The various Netherworlds depicted in the Disgaea series are far from mundane, but the fate of sinners possibly is; you are stuffed in a penguin suit and forced to do manual labor for low pay. Eventually you will earn enough to be reincarnated. About the only time this fate is truly hellish is if you wind up working for Etna.
- Fairly common in Interactive Fiction; examples include Beat The Devil and Perdition's Flames. Both are heavy on the suburban dreariness and light on the fire and brimstone.
- In Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Game Over sequence shows that the dead have to wait in an extremely long line for millenia. This is actually an aversion, though, since the line is actually the line to get into the real afterlife, which is described as The Nothing After Death followed by reincarnation. Or you can just give Charon some of your Macca to skip all of this and restart the fight where you died.
- Jack presents Purgatory as essentially a suburb where no one can die, though the residents can leave and be reincarnated at any time. But very much averted by Hell and Heaven.
- In Achewood, Hell consists of a dreary town with a KFC and a small eatery with toilets that lead back to Earth. Everyone drives a 1982 Subaru Brat, and there are telephones that allow you to call home, but change your side of the call into a telemarketing pitch.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Purgatory is a restaurant with poor service — it takes literally centuries to be served, since there's only one waiter. And the only things on the menu are your sins in life ("roast baby potatoes sprinkled with lied to your mother about brushing your teeth").
- In DDG if you are not good enough for heaven, or evil enough for hell, you end up in Off World, which contains diners, cinemas, and television shows where you can pay off your karmic debt doing deeds for other souls. Our Heroine Zip is doing just that as the the co-host of a gameshow.
- In Pictures For Sad Children, Hell is a hotel somewhere in Central America. There's nothing preventing you from leaving, and the punishments are poorly-implemented attempts at ironic punishments. For example, for an internet addict, the only punishment is that the wi-fi is slow and costs money. Also, Wikipedia is replaced with a message that whatever trivia you were looking up is stupid, but the rest of the Internet works fine. Furthermore, it seems to be that you can escape into the bodies of the dead by climbing through the ceiling tiles. Somehow.
- The Ring of the Slightly Damned — where people who have no place in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory go—is an afterlife filled with pretty much only piles of brown rock.
- Heaven in Minus is depicted as being just like real life — except everyone's immortal, has ghost tails instead of legs, can fly, and everyone feels too good to be mean to each other. It's briefly handwaved that the afterlife is mundane because the mundane is what people like to do.
- In Hell(p), Hell is depicted as a sprawling Vice City ruled by demons. Apart from them and people with occasional Bizarre Human Biology, there's nothing exceptional about it on the surface. Inconveniences sure exist, but seem to be the result of poor/uncaring governance rather than malice.
- Helvetica has people appear in the afterlife as skeletons, where they are then clothed, housed, and can take up a job or apply for university. None of them have any of their memories, however, and Detective Lucy states that they will all return to dust in the valleys they came from (although it's not known whether or not his claim is true; Good Heavens seems to have been there for a long, long time).
- The Simpsons: In the Bible Stories episode, Hell consists of a barbecue, except that they're out of hotdogs, the coleslaw has pineapple in it and they have German potato salad.
- Family Guy apparently has both regular Fire and Brimstone Hell, and this kind of hell as seen in Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story. When Stewie briefly dies after getting crushed by a lifeguard chair, he finds himself in a drab, crappy motel room with Steve Allen.
- South Park portrays Purgatory as an airplane on the runway waiting for its turn to take off, with the Fasten Seatbelt and No Smoking signs active and no indication of how long the wait will be. Some depictions of Hell also makes it look quite mundane, although Satan does his best to liven it up with the occasional luau. By way of contrast, Heaven is mostly Fluffy Cloud Heaven, but full of a particularly straight-edge group of Mormons doing arts and crafts projects and putting on plays about how much it hurts to lie. Apparently, the rules for getting into Heaven have been temporarily altered by allowing a wider array of people to go there, when Satan decided to invade Heaven. It's not clear if the rules were changed back after Hell's defeat.
- In the Dilbert series, the title character becomes disillusioned when he finds out (temporarily) that the afterlife is an office, much like the one he works in. Also, the people who worship Wally believe the dead spend eternity with him. When Dilbert returns to the afterlife later in the episode, it's the same as before, but Wally's sitting in the next cubicle.
- An episode of The Mask has The Mask ending up in Hell after Stanley accidently sells his soul to the Devil, or "Bob" as he's known here. Rather than the traditional Fire and Brimstone Hell, this underworld is instead focused on excruciating, mind-numbing tedium. There's TV, but they only show daytime talkshows, there's food but the only food served is liver, lima beans and rice cakes, and everyone is forced to wear polyester clothing. Naturally, Mask is horrifed, and ends up challenging Bob to a dance contest to get out.
- There's a silly animated video on the Web, about a man who farts in his cubicle, gets sealed inside, and lights a match to read the pink slip he's been given (and farts again). When he goes to Heaven, he winds up in a cubicle.
- In Kevin Guilfoile's web mystery series, Madalyn Murray O’Hair in Hell, the part of Hell Madalyn lives in (the City of Dis) resembles a dingy city where movies are dubbed into languages no one can understand and the only thing on television are shows from 1978. Originally it was part of a Fire and Brimstone Hell, but the residents made some tentative improvements and, when no one punished them for doing this, they began renovating Hell so that it eventually resembled a somewhat tolerable Crapsack World.