Image result for Death Parade

  • 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.

Image result for death parade drinking game
I did like the moral that a good drink can make everything better

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).

Image result for Death Parade decim threads
what would you call those?

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.

Image result for Death Parade twister
as opposed to the right 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.

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the bar itself is also more striking than Quindecim

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….

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The main reason I kept watching

Favorite character: Nona and Clavis

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

Image result for Death Parade

33 thoughts

  1. I sort of liked Death Billards, the short film which was produced during Young Animator Training Project’s Anime Mirai in 2013 and which spawned Death Parade. Little Witch Academia emerged from the same thing, as well.

    That being said, I never got around to checking out Death Parade. I can’t say I’m a fan of exposition being this unsubtle which makes me rather hesitant to check it out. Maybe one day.

    >Tequila changes people

    I can’t handle it ever. Will throw up immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My brother was so adamant abt me watching this that he said he’d rewatch it as well. I think we sat down for the first 2 or 3 eps and it just didn’t convince me. I might try it again at some point, I might not. Lol, nice review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am one who neither loved nor hated Death Parade. I did enjoy it, though it could definitely have been better than it was. I thought it was a pretty unique show, and a relatively fun ride. The first episode was absolutely the best episode, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed Death Parade but it definitely has its flaws – chief among them for me, as you already pointed out, is that the side-characters, along with much of the setting, is shoved to one side when both clearly deserve a lot more breathing room.

    But that OP tho. So good!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting post.

    I love Death Parade and regard it highly, so I think it’s mostly just preferences that cause views to differ. Going off what Jon Spencer said, the order you watch a show in tends to affect your sentiments for each show – to use his example, I only jumped into YoI at the midway point during simulcast season because I gave into the hype, while Death Parade I watched as it was simulcast. However, my sentiments for YoI are mostly fan-based while Death Parade’s sentiments are based more on how I critically approach the show, so it really just comes down to cleaning away the veneer created by those perspectives (or the lack thereof) in that case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be honest I am rather disconnected from the community so I usually have no clue about the hype. This was a rare exception and even then, I only found out how beloved it was after watching it.
      This said I have little patience for drama and tend to be much pickier towards the genre than most other genres.
      I hope you enjoyed the review even if you disagree with it.

      Like

  6. I remember watching this as it aired. Everyone was praising it, and… I wondered why. I don’t remember many details. I remember not being impressed with the first episode, and then getting my hopes up slightly at episode 2 (when they pulled back the curtain), which were then curshed fairly soon. The meloest of dramas? Yup. It’s a bit odd. It felt somewhere between empty and downright nihilistic, but covered up with a heavy doese of trade-marked sentimentality. All icing, no cake.

    The system made no sense either: basically, you either get re-incarnation or eternity alone in limbo. Which, if you think it through, means that you get re-incarnated until you fuck up, so – frankly – what’s a few lives more or less? Just accept your fate and go to hell. Considering the quality of people in this show, that might actually be the better option anyway.

    I also felt that the show shot past regular sexism into downright misogyny, especially early on, but I couldn’t you tell you why anymore. I might recall one or the other detail if I tried, but I don’t feel like trying.

    I did actually like the show’s style, though. It looked pretty good. And I agree Nona was a great character, but I have a feeling that – had they focussed on the beaurocracy – they’d have messed that up, too. The Death Billiards OVA was okay and should have stayed a one-off, IMO.

    I remember liking After Life, but I saw it only once nearly 20 years ago and remember very little, except that it was dominated by bright and gentle colours and was generally very quiet and slow (in a good way; I wish I didn’t have to add that, but people these days often use it to denigrate a show). It might be time for a re-watch, if I can find it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As I said, I don’t remember much. I noticed some sort of pattern in the early episodics; the feeling receded in the second half but never went away entirely. I’d have to re-watch parts to make it all come back, but I don’t really want it to come back. I don’t hate the show, but parts of it were distinctly unpleasant. (I’m going to see if I talked about the show online back then, and if I find anything of note I’ll report back.)

        Maybe you didn’t pick up on the misogyny, because it wasn’t there and I was seeing things.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Seems I was rather terse about Death Parade in 2015, saying general stuff like “it took them 12 episodes to arrive at a point that would have been interesting as a point of departure.” I did find a series of reviews that came pretty close to my impression of the show, except that the reviews are even meaner to the show than I would have been. Why didn’t I find these reviews in 2015?

          Like

  7. Ah, too bad you didn’t enjoy this one. I actually enjoyed the ice skating scene here more than Yuri on Ice stuff. Probably because Yuri was a show that was super hyped that I didn’t buy into much at all. I enjoyed Death Parade a lot on the other hand. I think that the bar is supposed to feel a bit empty from a symbolic standpoint but it didn’t really bother me. Any way, enjoyed reading even if you didn’t enjoy the series.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I actually loved the YoI routine practices. The way the clothes moved, wrinkled and folded with the movements was super impressive to me and really reminded my of Hockey practice. I just realize how Canadian I sounded there…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember that I already watched this one but I cannot remember what happened (maybe because I also didn’t like it much). After reading your post, yes I remember the pointy faces now and the great animation. Sorry to hear that it was not up to your liking tho the bar does look enticing : )

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh my God, I already thought you were awesome, but thus confirms it. You know the movie After Life: that is so cool. It really is a gem of a movie, but not many people know about it. To see it come alive in this post (pun intended) is just very cool 😀
    I haven’t seen this series yet ( yup I know big surprise huh), but I am one of those people that sometimes doesn’t really enjoy hyped up series either. That doesn’t mean that this will be the case for this one as well, but still after reading this review I am at least going to lower my expectations for a bit 😊 Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I watched this series back when it originally aired, and it the hype surrounding it back then was absolutely insane. Everyone was talking about how the show was a contender for Anime of the Year, so I went in expecting a real masterpiece.

    Unfortunately, like you, it didn’t quite click with me. I can definitely see the appeal, and the visuals are spectacular, but story wise it’s nothing I hadn’t seen before, hundreds of times.

    It’s not a bad show, but it’s nothing particularly special, and I didn’t find myself enjoying it all that much. The games themselves were pretty cool though.

    Nice to hear your thoughts on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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