Sunday, December 13, 2015

[Anime] Death Parade Review

Death Parade - 7.5/10

Parade (noun): a procession of people, often in costume, celebrating a special day or event.

Death Parade is a cavalcade of people whose time has come, usually in an unexpected manner.  So shocked are they at the transition that they have forgotten that they are dead, and so they continue to put on their usual face (farce?) until they are apprehended by the inescapable truth of their demise.  It is the purpose of arbiters to prompt and observe this transition, using it as the basis on which to judge the nature of the person.

At its core, Death Parade asks what constitutes a good person and a meaningful life, using the clarity of death to expose people to their essence.  The series begins in a fairly straightforward way, with it being assumed that a good life is one which results in reincarnation and a bad one the void.  However, cracks begin to appear in this narrative almost immediately.  The verdicts rendered often seem strange...misplaced.  What becomes apparent is the judgments of the arbiters are, in fact, flawed.  Or, more precisely, perhaps the very idea of judgment is flawed.

This is where the series comes into its own, with the dawning realization of the conundrum of Quindecim: how is it that judges, lacking empathy, can fully comprehend the nature of the people whose fates they are deciding?  And, more deeply, is judgement even possible after having truly felt as another?

The Good: 

The stories of the people who come into Quindecim.  The way in which the layers are peeled back, exposing people's loves, desires, fears, and hopes is what makes the series tick.  It is the concreteness of the individuals that allows Death Parade to pursue its central themes so effectively.  To merely state that judgement is flawed is one thing.  To see desperate, confused humans struggle against their own weaknesses and mixed motives, is another.  This brings me to what are two of the most diametrically opposed, yet equally powerful, scenes in any anime: the judgement of the murderers and Chiyuki's ice skating.

At the end of episode 9 it has become apparent that the murderers are entirely different.  On one hand is a kind brother who was driven to rage and violence by the assault and rape of his beloved little sister.  With the other is a man who is dedicated to the eradication of evil, but at the cost of allowing it to occur so that he may justify striking them down.  Goaded beyond restraint the brother gives in to his darkness and inflicts heinous suffering on the older man, in vengeance for his inaction.  The sad episode ends with Decim overwhelmed by the evil he has produced, sending both to the void.

By comparison, Chiyuki's ice skating scene is sublime.  A beautiful, wordless review of her life and a potent reminder of its waste.  Set to the lush Moonlight Night, I have found myself on more than one occasion rewatching this scene just to dip into its poignant tranquility.  It is a reminder of how much love went into just one person's short life.

Supporting all these events, the art of Death Parade is on point.  The design of Quindecim is elegant, with its muted ambiance and cool colors falling away into the darkness.  Combined with the silent jellyfish above, it generates a sense of the otherworldly.  The smooth musical score also adds to the calm background.  Also as an outlier, the opening song is incongruous yet extraordinarily catchy; I can't hate it even while feeling it is such a mismatch with the rest of the series.

Finally, as I close out this segment, I would like to make mention of miscellaneous touches that I personally enjoyed:

  • Chiyuki's "skin" first comes off at the wrist where she cut herself.  Later as she further degrades it is from the knee, where the wound that precipitated her death was located.
  • The visual designs of Nona and the young Chiyuki were particularly enjoyable for me.  The former was diminutive yet imposing, an appropriate stature for her role.  The latter was simply adorable.  When she said her favorite part about Chavvot was her smile, and then mimicked it with her own big grin, was really sweet.
  • Spike and Yagami Light making cameos was pretty funny, and both extremely appropriate for their respective series.
  • Chiyuki's name means "knowing happiness."  I love that.

The Bad:

Death Parade, for all its grandeur, often stumbles when it comes to the details of its execution.  In particular, the depiction of Quindecim and its inhabitants.

Quindecim is part of an overall apparatus for judgement, which has various departments, overseers, a bureaucracy, and all the trappings that come with a government agency.  This peculiarly Eastern view of the afterlife never sits right with me, because it clearly moves beyond metaphor into a quasi-literal interpretation.  In Death Parade we are given just enough details that the setting is concrete, but with many loose ends that it is insubstantial with many dangling issues.  The most egregious of these is Oculus' comment that God has since departed to leave the running of things to him and the other arbiters.  Wait!  What was that again?!?  This may be slightly important...and it is never touched on again.

Speaking of Oculus, he is a prime example of the type of addition the series did not need.  Quin, Nona, Ginti, and the rest are fine characters in their own right, but are ultimately a detraction simply because they take time and focus away from the better elements.  Their own stories and interactions are just not that important compared to the real people.

Finally, an issue that stuck with me from my particular translation was that the arbiters were continually referred to as having no emotion.  Their depiction was entirely incongruous with this statement.  They display exhaustion, anger, frustration, disillusionment, boredom, and even sadism.  Perhaps this was a translation error, but it was one that nagged at me the entire time.

Even with all these problems taken into consideration, I still give Death Parade the highest recommendation.  It is extraordinarily powerful and moving when it is at its best.  It will make you think over your life and, if you are receptive, remind you not to take its wondrous confusion for granted.

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