- Genre: Drama, psychological thriller, supernatural
- Episodes: 12
- Studio: Madhouse
It is an inevitable truth that all things alive must one day die. As humans, we all struggle to accept this fact and to find some sort of meaning to justify our existence. We like to think that what we do and who we are matters on some level, no matter how small it may be. It turns out, we’re right! After we die, the sum total of our lives is calibrated and judged to see if we’re worthy for a second chance. But how do you quantify a life, how can you really see if someone has earned their due in simply making an impact on the world? Turns out it’s with bar games! I KNEW IT!
Death Parade has been high on my to watch list for some time now. One of my very favorite movies is After Life, it’s a fantastic take on what happens right after we die and just a stunningly beautiful story. You should watch it, right now, go ahead – I’ll wait. That was awesome, right!? I figured that Death Parade would be basically a slightly darker version of that movie set in a bar. I was entirely sold.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a strength of conviction roughly equivalent to a wet tissue and many of you kindly pointed out that I really should just man up and admit when I like or dislike a show. So here goes: I did not like Death Parade.
Death Parade is a Madhouse production so naturally it looks great and the animation is on point. The design team opted for a unified character aesthetic which gives the show a unique and recognizable look (everybody is very pointy) but also leads to “one face syndrome”. This made for an unintentionally hilarious moment in episode three, when a plot point had a character undergoing extensive plastic surgery to their face, only to end up looking exactly the same. In every other respect though, the character designs are interesting and well thought out. The backgrounds are also nice but could have used a bit more detailing. Quindecim for instance often felt oddly empty.
For the most part, the animation was fluid and very well done. No loss of detailing or odd proportions. The few action sequences featuring Decim’s “threads” we’re mesmerizing. I wish there had been more. On the other hand, the climatic figure skating scene at the end of the series was completely acceptable but felt lackluster after seeing Yuri!! on Ice, and the CG was just horrendous. I don’t know what happened there, but with such a high-quality production all around, this janky integration was unacceptable (also a little hilarious).
As for the actual story, how should I put this… Death Parade is the meloest of dramas. The base premise is well trodden territory. It’s a story that has been told time and again and examined under almost every possible angle. It’s also one that I happen to enjoy a lot. The reimagining of the classic monotheist judgment/purgatory scenario, contrasted through the lens of Shinto/Buddhist sensibilities, lends itself to a wide range of enthralling possibilities. It’s certainly an ambitious undertaking rife with pitfalls.
Death Parade tackles its challenging subject matter through a series of episodic tales presenting specific judgments, while slowly unraveling the mystery of Chiyuki’s presence at Quindecim. This isn’t a bad approach at all but it does present some specific obstacles. For one, you are left with only the length of a single episode to fully develop most characters, give the details of their lives and deaths, and provide all the action of their final judgment, this will inevitably lead to some cut corners. For some reason, souls are only judged in pairs within Death Parade’s universe, which allows the characters to play off each other, adding some nice narrative tension, but even further reduces the amount of attention that can be given to any one in particular. As a result, our connection to the supporting cast is generally superficial and the narrative resorts to having most people react in an exaggeratedly hysteric manner to force empathy. Admittedly, I have a personal pet peeve against demonstrative angst in lieu of actual characterization, so this rubbed me the wrong way.
Moreover, variations of this issue permeate most of the narrative elements. In an effort to keep the main cast mysterious and engaging, they have been left largely unexplored making their motivations and reactions seem somewhat random. A repeated line that arbiters are without emotions is a particularly funny when you consider that most of the cast seems off their mood stabilizers.
The show has no confidence in its audience. Morals and dilemmas are carefully spelled out, repeatedly. If you accidentally happen to miss any of the extremely heavy-handed visual symbolism, don’t worry, someone will come along to explain it through straight forward exposition any second. If you happen to get frustrated at opened ended narratives, this show will be refreshingly clear. I just happen to prefer my metaphysical musing a bit more inconspicuous. On the up side, the story is impossible to lose sight of. There are no twists or surprises and it is unlikely that you will get confused in any way even if you doze off for a bit. Finally, although every episode introduces a new cast and new games, they were surprisingly similar in tone. Only the twister game in Ginti’s bar really stood out for me.
I did like Nona’s character a lot and I found the actual bureaucracy of judgment intriguing. It’s a shame the show decided to push that aspect to the background. And yes, that intro is a lot fun. I watched it almost every time. It’s a little misleading tough. As I’m writing this, I have a sinking feeling that this show was in fact a deeply ironic satire that went completely over my head. Honestly, if this is just a comedy, spoofing overly serious metaphysical thrillers by turning them into soap operas then I take back everything I said. It’s brilliant! They did miss the golden opportunity of having people throwing drinks in each others faces every episode though.
I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t an element of not being able to live up to the hype here. I had heard nothing but good things about this show and the fact that I couldn’t enjoy was a real disappointment. This said, if you’re actually reading this to try to figure out whether to give this show a chance, it is worth noting that most people enjoyed it. Some of them enjoyed a lot. I did not.
Random thoughts: A super interesting point was brought up at the end of the series about the innate and universal nature of nonverbal communication. In the show, they refer to smiling, and how we naturally do this when we are happy regardless of culture and education. When you think about it, crying is also very odd, especially when you consider that it implies a waste of precious fluid and the physiological drawback of impeding your vision. From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems a very unlikely behavior to develop naturally….
What this anime taught me: My lack of coordination has doomed me to the void
Tequila changes people
Suggested drink: Memento mori
- Every time we see a jellyfish pattern – take a sip
- Every time we get a close up of Decim’s eye – take a sip
- Every time we see the dolls (mannequins) – take a drink of water
- Every time we see Decim’s strings (?) – take a sip
- Every time someone is disappointed the elevator doesn’t work – take a sip
- Every time the CG is jarringly obvious – take a sip
- Every time someone realizes they’re dead – gasp
- Every time we see Clavis – cheers
- Every time we see Chiyuki wake up – take a sip
- Every time Decim explains a game – take a sip
- Every time Decim apologizes because he can’t answer a question – take a sip
- Every time an arbiter uses their remote – take a sip
- Every time someone gets a memory rush – have a snack
- Every time we see Chavvot – take a sip