Would you like to play a game?
Based on the “Death Billiards” OVA from a few years back, Madhouse picked up the one-shot and made it a full-fledged series. Is the real thing as good as the first shot? The Inverseman finds out.
A majority of the cast of Death Parade is dead or has never lived at all. Within the tower that represents the afterlife, people are judged by arbiters in their various bars. The humans have yet to remember their lives so the arbiters subject them to games which create “extreme circumstances” to shock their memories back. From there, the arbiters judge whether they are reincarnated or are sent to the void. Decim is a new arbiter recently created and one day takes a mysterious girl under his wing.
The level of emotion is incredible in the story. With each client Decim and his assistant receive, we pry very deeply into the oft-lauded, oft-cliched, and for lack of better words “human condition”. You can see the very real reactions to matters both good and bad in the human clients, the Assistant, and the newly-“born” Decim. The themes are powerful and resonant. What is judgment? What is the value of a human to one who will never die and has never lived? What is the litmus for a “fulfilled life”? What is the significance of life in the first place when people are born, live, and die by the very second? I found myself asking these questions as I watched the series; the anime made me think, and that’s all to its credit.
This could be a series that bogs you down with convoluted world mumbo-jumbo, but the world is well fleshed out and conveyed to the audience without the need to hours of exposition, a big pitfall most other death-related shows fall into. Sometimes it can be slow going into the story though and the middle episodes feel slightly weaker than the rest to “buy time”, but regardless, all the viewer has to do is watch to understand how the afterlife works and take in the casual bombshell plot twists as they come. Instead the show gives us its premise and we see how its cast navigates this strange beast called “life”. I particularly love the foil of the Assistant in her more emotional and empathetic “humanity” to Decim; it creates a curious and charming chemistry.
The ending was actually quite satisfying. While the writers could have gone in numerous grandiose directions and rushed out an ending, Death Parade isn’t that type of series. True, there are some details that aren’t investigated, but they are tangential at best and don’t pertain to the main story. The story has an open-ended feel which could opt a second season, but it ends well on its own, especially as we see the resolution to Decim’s struggle wrapped up so emotionally. The small details, such as the Information Bureau or a certain last-minute plot twist, however do just leave us with teases that I debate were even as important to the main story in the first place. Perhaps the story would have been tighter without them?
Madhouse’s art direction is beautiful, overflowing with style and personality, and the soundtrack is wonderful to boot. Modern jazz flows through your ears and suddenly you want a drink yourself! The acting is fantastic. Asami Seto and Tomoaki Maeno play off each other well with the Assistant providing a more “human” hook for the viewers to the stoic and strange Decim. Actually the English dub is currently out with FUNimation’s push to “simul-dub” its newest licenses. Perhaps in the future I’ll update this with my dub thoughts. Overall, this one of the more mature and thought-provoking shows I’ve seen in a while, and I definitely recommend it. Join me next time as I try t out-drink an oni.
– A powerful world that shows and doesn’t tell
– Very real characters
– Is not afraid to ask the “big questions” of life
– Fantastic production
– Middle episodes enter a slight slow-roll before the drama picks up again
– Small details that seem stapled on but don’t seem to add much to the story or world
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