A man and a woman wake up in a bar. They don’t know how they got there, they can’t leave, and the bartender is just a little bit unnerving. Then the bartender announces that they will need to play a game. Thus begins Death Parade.
Given the nature of the series, it is impossible to review Death Parade without spoiling some of the plot points. If you really hate knowing too much then just finish this paragraph and call it a day. Death Parade is amazing. It is really dark and yet delves into what it means to be human and finds small bits of hope to cling to in an otherwise really bleak and somewhat arbitrary world. If you like anime that make you think and feel then you need to check this out.
For people who want some more details, let’s continue.
The bar is Quindecim. We learn later in the series that Quin was the previous bartender and now that position is held by Decim. He’s an arbiter and it is his job to judge humans. Two people who have died at the same moment will show up at the bar and he will have them play a game in order to make his judgement and then one will be sent to the void and the other will be sent to be reborn.
Decim is a fascinating character. He isn’t human and he doesn’t really get humans. As an arbiter, he isn’t supposed to. It is his job to simply make the judgement. However, his boss, Nona (who is in charge of the tower where there are many such bars and arbitrators), introduces him to a human assistant, Chiyuki. This is where the series becomes more than just another dark supernatural piece and becomes a real study in character. Chiyuki’s arrival, and her reactions and questions about the judgements, have a definite impact on Decim. However, this isn’t immediately apparent. There is a slow, and well thought out progression to Decim’s evolution throughout the series and even by the end he hasn’t changed much but the seeds for future changes are certainly there. This makes Decim a believable and interesting character. He takes on what he has seen throughout the series and internalized it. Whether this was what Nona intended all along is left ambiguous, though it certainly seems that she was after something along these lines.
That’s the other thing I love about Death Parade. It doesn’t feel the need to endlessly explain everything (except perhaps the rules of the game of the week which Decim explains in excruciating detail to his latest human victims). There are certainly clues about the world we are in, but most of the action takes place within Quindecim and is seen from Decim and Chiyuki’s views which means there’s a lot they just don’t know. The other part of this is that we don’t need to know everything to understand the story. The story is about Decim and Chiyuki and the impact their meeting has had on one another. The machinations of the afterlife or anything else are setting and the rules within that world are consistently maintained even if they aren’t fully explained. While the show leaves the audience curious about what else may have been and where things might have gone, it doesn’t leave you feeling frustrated at a lack of detail or questioning how one part of the story fit within the boundaries of the world they had established.
The rest of the cast are a joy as well (not that they all particularly nice characters as most aren’t but they are fun to get to know). Ginti clearly exists to contrast with Decim as another arbiter. He has little (or no) respect for humans and doesn’t much like Decim. He’s also fairly competitive which seems like an odd character trait for someone who is supposed to make judgements (though Ginti’s existence makes you wonder whether Decim’s cool and fairly personalitiless facade is actually the out of character one). Ginti, possibly inspired by the events in Quindecim also ends up making an interesting choice during a judgement and for awhile a human girl stays with him. The affect on his character is also reasonably subtle and again, the contrast between Ginti and Decim is pronounced and interesting as a discussion point.
The other character I have to mention is Oculus. He is an enigma. We learn very little about him but he seems extremely powerful and it is clear some of what Nona is doing is behind his back. There’s some interesting characterisation and while this storyline is never really developed it adds some intrigue and depth to the main plot that you are getting a front row seat to. Of course, Oculus and Nona would be the clear argument as to why this series needs a continuation because it is their stories and what they are up to and standing for that is never really explored here.
Beyond the characters and the intriguing character study most episodes present with the victims of the week approach, Death parade has some of the coolest music you will come across in an anime. And this music is coupled with visuals that at first seem understated and fairly dull until you start seeing some of the details in the bar and then you realise there is actually a myriad of colours packed into some of the scenes. It’s actually a really beautiful anime in a very dark and slightly old-fashioned sense. The removed memories being portrayed as shards similar to that of a broken stained glass window, the silver threads that we occasionally see in Quindecim, even the pool table that was more like a galaxy, they are just beautiful touches that shine in this very bleak environment.
I will put out a caution though. Episode 2. I personally loved this approach and thought that while it was quirky it was the absolute perfect way to establish the duality of Decim and Chiyuki. Episode 2 is essentially a rewatch of episode 1 but from Chiyuki’s viewpoint. While this might seem like a tedious approach it actually does a brilliant job of filling in a lot of the ‘what the’ moments from episode 1, establishes our second protagonist, and sets up the main plot for the rest of the anime. Some people find this episode really irksome but for me it is just part of the general quirky theme that seemed to be prevalent throughout the series.
The only other caution I’m going to place on this series is that I personally can’t watch more than two episodes in a sitting. The stories and themes are quite confrontational at times and if you are emotionally invested in the show it can be quite draining. This one definitely isn’t an anime I’m ever going to choose to marathon but rather is one where I’ll watch an episode or two and walk away and mull over the events before continuing.
So, if you want an anime that has some subtle yet fascinating characters, deals with the issues of life and death and what comes after, is visually stunning and comes with a great soundtrack, check out Death Parade. It may not be your cup of tea given how hard it is trying to be quirky and cool at times but to be honest it is a near perfect viewing experience. Just my opinion though.
What are your thoughts on Death Parade?