Anime Review: “Death Parade” – A Philosophy Major’s Paradise

Written by Reece Mawhinney August 10, 2015

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Spawning forth from an animated short called “Death Billiards”, Death Parade has quite a simple premise. When people die, they are first sent to a limbo world where they must play games in the presence of arbiters whose job it is to decide where their souls will ultimately end up (don’t make the assumption it’s between heaven and hell though). A pair who died around the same time are pitted against each other and so, knowing the person you’re playing against isn’t exactly uncommon and as their memories start to return after the shock of death wears away, you’ll find emotions start running high fast.

Still, that doesn’t particularly set up for the most interesting concept in the world. Survival games are way too common in today’s media. Hunger Games being the most obvious example. On the surface, Death Parade’s only switch from the trend comes from how the games that the dead are forced to play are bar and arcade games…and twister.  It would be easy for Death Parade to be a simple show whose plot has been done many times before, but it isn’t. And that’s what is very interesting about it.

“Humans all behave the same way, like idiots. They all forget that someday, they’re gonna die, so the moment they come face to face with death, they cling to life.”

Our protagonist is the arbiter, Decim (pronounced Deck ‘em, like with cards). White hair, eyes that seem to hold no emotion at all and a face that gives nothing away about what he’s really thinking. He’s definitely got the looks of what you would want in an arbiter; someone who’s detached from the situation and can make a decision free of bias, right? Well, actually, the show smoothly uses these emotionless arbiters to ask the question “If you don’t know of human emotion, do you really have the right to judge those who live by it?” The first episode of this show is very clever in that, the pair we see being judged seems to be an open and shut case with an obvious solution. By the second episode, we’re properly introduced to our second protagonist, who for the most part is known to us as the black haired woman. A simple amnesic human who has been assigned to be Decim’s assistant by his boss, Nona. We see the first episode again through the woman’s eyes and it becomes clearer that the first game may have more to it than meets the eye. On this note; the chemistry between the two mains is really strong and definitely a highlight of the show. You will not get bored watching these two interact. It’s really natural and fun to watch.

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While Decim ultimately comes to a decision for all that walk into his bar, we’re never lead to believe that he’s perfect and always in the right and this initial theme will carry on to hold up the show. It’s left up to the viewer at home and that’s another good thing about this show. Very few types of people are actually portrayed as some type of inexcusable villain. Rapists and sadistic serial killers are pretty much the only ones that the show shakes its head at. Death Parade’s main objective seems to be about getting the audience to decide what their own feelings are on the matter.

“Country of birth, time period, parents, location… various factors make people’s lives unequal from the very beginning.”

Death Parade looks amazing, by the way. It manages to be dark and have a suiting atmosphere whilst still being colourful. It’s not pastoral or anything, like, hell no. But the world isn’t drab or boring. There is a definite vibrancy present that’s birthed solely from the animation and art style. The different games in particular are animated with this incredible force and fluidity. It’s really excellent stuff. The music is nice sounding and well-suited. Apart from the opening and ending, which I’ll be surprised if you haven’t heard something about already, there’s probably only one song that has any particular emotional power put into it but that’s pretty standard for anime and the soundtrack it has is still good.

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Now, whether you will enjoy Death Parade’s structure is really whether you prefer continuative narratives, like most adventure shows, or mini-story narratives. This show definitely falls into the latter which, for me, is perfectly fine because the mini-stories we get to hear are excellent. They actually range from serene and playful to desperate and sick. It gives the show a lot of time to explore a great variety of interesting and fully-developed characters. Altogether, they really show off the many different aspects of life. Death Parade manages to highlight all the different colours of life beautifully. In particular, episode 9 had me sobbing. Not for being a sad story; it’s on a different side of the emotional spectrum but definitely a really powerful episode. However, and maybe it’s because the stories of the minor characters were so good, the main plot, focusing on our protagonists, fell kind of short for me. The main story has a major issue of simply lacking a proper why. It doesn’t actually feel complete. I can’t say the ending isn’t satisfying, it just feels a bit empty from a narrative perspective which is sad because on the thematic level; Death Parade is near perfect in saturating any philosophical minded person’s quench. Death Parade explores the concept of death and judgement, obviously, but it also takes a lot from Buddhist sensibilities and explores the importance as well as the isolating effect that our emotions can have on us.

“People aren’t as complex as you think they are. They’re simple, and they get sad or angry over simple things.”

Overall, I feel like Death Parade’s a better show to think about and be inspired by than it actually holds as a standalone narrative. It’s a massive shame because there’s obviously a lot of effort in this, from all angles, and that’s what makes it good but I feel like it needed an actual conclusion of some kind which it just doesn’t deliver on in the end.

My Rating: 8/10

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