Death Parade: Obfuscation and Morality

I spent last weekend, a bank holiday where I just took some time to relax, fully getting enamoured by a catalogue anime in a way I hadn’t done for some time. I finished the entirety of it in a weekend. I don’t think I’ve had myself done with an anime ever since completing Monster Musume. And that wasn’t an anime I was head over heels in love with, indeed it was second last in my anime rank last year, but it was addictive enough that I had to go onto the next episode each time to see what shenanigans happened next. The same was true for Death Parade. I finished it easily and as such, spoilers etc.

I think the common factor, if there is at all between an anime about the consequences of your life and an anime filled with girls that are a sexual deviant’s dream, is that they were slightly episodic with an overarching arc that slowly grew. Though episodic is by itself normally a bad thing for me for going onto the next episode, as my slow watch and general abnormally low ranking of Cowboy Bebop can attest, and I prefer arc stories, as my love of Fate/Zero and Re:Zero can attest, the best way to keep me watching fast is to sell a somewhat self-contained story with good characters that leads to the promise of more like it, but not enough constant plot to exhaust you. I had the same thing with Assassination Classroom, which was probably a better example than Monster Musume but for practicality reasons I didn’t get through the entirety of AssClass in one weekend.

This doesn’t mean Death Parade is now my favourite anime, it was certainly a good anime and I got a lot out of it but I didn’t find my life all consumed by it as I did with F/Z/AssClass/Steins;Gate. Yet there were many good and clever things about it that kept me coming back, mainly because it didn’t hold your hand and kept many things obfuscated from the viewer, and had many characters whose motivations seemed unknowable.  I don’t think I’d seen another anime quite like it, although I could find some parallels in themes from some Western tropes.

One series that kept coming to mind was Garth Nix’s Keys To The Kingdom series. If you don’t know it, it’s a fantasy young adult series involving a huge House in a semi-different reality to the human world. Like the Arbiters, the ‘Denizens’ of the House in that series look like humans but aren’t really, have disparaging attitudes towards humans because they don’t understand them and they all are under the influence of a number of nefarious ‘upper-level’ men, like Flower Tentacle guy is. In both, the House and the Arbiter tower, the realm itself is not meant to stand alone but to be connected to Earth even though the Denizens never leave it. Also, and this is the most specific reason, in both works, ‘God’ is not present, having left a while ago to let this non-Earth dimensional realm run itself. If Death Parade were a longer anime I would expect it to flesh out its world more to a similar level to Keys To The Kingdom, there were a lot of questions that weren’t answered. The main difference is that Nix didn’t set his series up to be about death, and the House is not an afterlife, it’s more disconnected than that.

For Death Parade, that crux of the afterlife, the judging and the subsequent sentencing of the guests that come to Quindecim and the other Arbiter rooms, is what sets it apart and provokes most of the meaningful discussion. It didn’t need to flesh out any more than it did, and in fact it was more impactful when it chose not to explain every decision made by the Arbiters, leaving you to fill in the gaps and make up your own interpretation based on indicators like the masks on the lifts. Even the information we got is sketchy. At one point Ginti calls the void the worst place you can ever go to, yet he was saying that more so that he could by whatever means necessary, immoral as it was, judge Miyu and get rid of her than to impart us the truth. Can we trust that anything in Death Parade was as it was? Everything in the Arbiter realm is confirmed to be a dummy, an unliving piece of material, animated by magic until it gives out. The physical dummies of guests go to the empty black void at the bottom, but they are stripped of their minds and souls, seemingly. Where did that go? To the real void? Or to Heaven or Hell?

And for that matter, did the reincarnation work? We see no sign of that either. For all we know, it could just be that the entire setting of the anime is a doll house. But that would eliminate a lot of the drama, so I’m going to stop that line of thinking. But the reason I’m going at this is that the anime could be drawing on a long list of religious influences, Judeo-Christian with Heaven/Hell and even the realm the anime takes place in as Purgatory, or Buddhist or Vedic religions with the reincarnation and void, though the priorities for which is better differ between religions. That was part of what drew it to me, which outcome is better, and I don’t want that question to be answered. Which is why I’m impressed they left it reasonably open. Even though generally the cast consider reincarnation to be better, with statements like Ginti categorically saying the void is bad, they’re presented in such a manner that you don’t need to believe that that is infallible exposition. Indeed, people who have lead painful and torturous lives and therefore have been broken by the world are more often than not in the series given what may seem to be sweet release from that rather than being sent back to live it again, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Decim were taking that into account in his judgements.

There was the music, the OP has not received a bad comment that I’ve seen and it certainly made an impact on me but also the ending was something to look forward to, particularly as it often came after a stressful session of judging, so all ready to release the emotions. Music was great.

The final part that made this such an essential anime were the games. The tension that these added, even though it wasn’t guaranteed that the loser would get a bad result, was fantastic, as were the emotions that it all brought up. It was a familiar process after a couple of times through and yet it never got boring as different games and different personalities ran the gauntlet at Quindecim, finally concluding with Chiyuku who we had spent the entire series getting to like. The format allowed a look at different types of death, how it would have affected those close to them (particularly for the suicide cases) and all-in-all was a pretty excellent examination of the human experience of death. And it was written by someone who had never experienced death as well!

Death Parade, a great anime, one I’m glad I watched. And I caught that Light Yagami cameo, claps for that.


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