Much like the results of these games, Death Parade won’t promise you a perfect time or an ideal answer. What it will promise you is a sincere plea to appreciate life, and it definitely worked for me. Once again I apologize for the lateness of both last season and this season when it comes to posts, but personal matters and college finals drain a lot of energy. We’ll catch up during the month of June and start the summer season on time. Thank you for all your patience.
Before I start elaborating on that statement, let me just say that a lot of my praises for this show remain warranted. The presentation is stunning, the stories get creative, the world is fleshed out, the characters are interesting, there’s some emotionally powerful moments, and it raises enough questions for the audience to think about once it’s done. But maybe it raised more than it could possibly handle, as everything beyond the setting and episodic stories gets reduced to that of a glorified set-up. Character dynamics are cut before they’re even given time to become arcs. Flaws about the judgement system are brought up only to get labeled as unimportant. And when Nona’s experimentation is confronted by her boss’s strict belief on maintaining status quo, it’s quickly brushed aside in favor of a “maybe next time” decision. I can deal with lack of answers for the supernatural aspects or whether the results of each judgement was right, because the former has enough major details to connect and the latter is meant to be the subject of discussion. But if they’re going to make such a big deal about a flawed world, more seeds for change should be planted before it’s over.
I can let that slide though considering the difficulty of meshing an episodic format with a linear one. What I can’t let slide is that this show just isn’t subtle about its cynicism. Given that the show focuses heavily on the unfairness of life before and after death, a lack of optimism is necessary. But it’s so intent on hammering this message that it exaggerates crucial details in the story, making some potentially disturbing moments downright silly. This problem is especially prevalent in the 2 part murder story in ep 8 and 9. Here we have a set-up that not only indicates both contestants are guilty, but forces Decim to realize constant provocation will only force the bad side of people. That’s all we needed to know to make this entire arc powerful, but apparently that wasn’t “SHOCKING” enough to grab the audience’s attention.
So it reveals from the start that both are murderers, shows that their stories are connected by the mother of all coincidences, and ultimately brought to their downfall by equally rotten motivations. And once all is revealed, it tries to offer one of the contestants a morality test where he chooses between temporary revenge or a chance to meet his sister again, only for him to succumb to his temptations. What stops this from being tense and emotional? Well his past with the other makes the revenge redundant, the presentation seems to glorify his downfall rather than focus on the horror (seriously slow-motion stabbing with hard rock as a woman cries and a man throws up blood?), and the entire test becomes stupid once you realize it could easily be solved by putting duct tape over the victim’s mouth.
So if the story remains unfinished and confronting death becomes silly, what saves it from becoming a disappointment like Madhouse‘s other recent anime Parasyte? Well there’s one consistent character arc that ultimately becomes the heart of this show: Chiyuki(Kuro-onna) planting some empathy into Decim. While his cold demeanor was present no matter how the games turned out, Decim has always shown a robot-like interest in the humans he judged(Ginti sure didn’t). He can’t understand or relate to them, but no other dealer would keep the remains of his victims solely for the sake of memory. What transforms this robotic trait into his own humanity is none other than Chiyuki’s voice as a human. She wasn’t able to change the outcomes of 3 brutal games(remember one was nice), but she was able to point out how a judgement system absent of human understanding was inherently flawed when it came to judging humans(obvious it is).
Once this fact hits Decim, he decides to take a different approach specifically for her. With the help of a children’s book author and a trip through an ice rink, he helps Chiyuki rediscover her memories through her lost passion of figure skating. The following backstory is not only void of silly details, but asks the audience if it’s right to end their lives when what makes them feel fulfilled becomes impossible. The final episode then answers that question by offering a more disturbing question: would you erase someone’s existence to get a 2nd chance at life? Ultimately she isn’t able to decide, shifting between moral limits and personal desire before Decim reveals it all to be a test. But while the fair offer seems to be a sham, their emotional growth is unmistakably genuine. Seeing Chiyuki regret the emotional pain she inflicted on her mother through her death helps Decim experience sorrow and empathy. For the first time he experiences the lust for life so many of his visitors were denied, and it motivates him to search for the good in people rather than the bad. Their departure left me an emotional wreck, and eventually had me smiling at its final message: life is unfair, but never worthless.
So it didn’t turn out as perfect as I thought it would be, leaving much of its early mistakes intact until the end. Does that mean it’s bad? HECK NO! This is still one of the most original concepts to come from anime in years, and not once did I ever doubt its quality. By showcasing a world where judgement of one’s soul is flawed, it makes living life seem all the more precious. I was worried that it would follow in the footsteps of Parasyte and become another let-down, but MADHOUSE finally has a modern show worthy of their past greatness. What else can I say? Death Parade delivers!