As the best show of the 2015 Winter Season, Death Parade presented a unique version one part of the human lifespan and delved into the minds of its many characters to see how far they could be pushed and why. Set in a chilly, classy atmosphere of a surreal, English-like bar, with characters refreshingly designed with maturity, and engaging versions of a familiar games, Death Parade swept me away to observe psychological exploration and experience twists and shocks of life and death alongside humans just like me.
I’ll need to spoil the big reveal of the first episode to go into any type of depth. If you haven’t seen Death Parade, go watch the first episode. It’s an amazing ride, definitely worth your time to see without any pre-knowledge of the story!
Everything past this paragraph will deal with spoilers.
Psychological Thriller | Mystery | Drama | Games
Winter 2015 | 12 Episodes | PG-13
Once your life has ended, you’re judged without your realization. Your fate–Reincarnation or the Void (compared to Heaven or Hell) is decided in the afterlife by one of many non-human arbitrator at a bar. These arbitrators will pit you in a game against someone also immediately deceased, to observe and judge how you both respond and play the game while under the assumption that your life is on the line. Your memories of how you died, which are slowly returned to you during the game, are also viewed by the arbitrators as they judge your life and your choices.
In Death Parade, we follow one arbitrator in particular, white-haired Decim and his human assistant with no name, as they process the many unique individuals that enter their bar, Quindecim, directly after their deaths. Decim and the other arbitrator soon find themselves questioning the very system of judgement they’ve been told to execute, and the value of human emotion.
WOW. Just, wow! Death Parade blew my mind on so many levels. The show excelled at building intense suspense nearly every episode; introducing brand new characters and making them real and relatable; building the edge-of-you-seat sense of thrill; and leading my expectations one way to surprise me later in the end. While I personally don’t see the afterlife being anything like this (I hope it’s not!) the setting and process made an incredibly good story with lots of thought–provoking themes to chew on.
Honestly, I was never left disappointed by an episode of Death Parade. My favorite episodes were the ones when two strangers competed in a game for their lives. These were startling, entertaining, and profoundly intriguing. The games were all familiar –darts, bowling, video games, air hockey–but were presented and played dramatically. Since there were few rules, we got to see how the characters chose to play; either for their agenda, if they got aggressive, or even if they decided cheat.
One of my favorite parts of Death Parade was getting to meet the different characters who came into Quindecim nearly every episode. We saw a husband and wife play together, a singer and a fangirl, a reality TV star and a shut in, and even a detective. Each character’s personality and back story was wonderfully executed throughout each episode. When they slowly regained their memories of their life, they would often take intense, or other surprising, actions to win the game.
I really love this part of psychology, in seeing how people think and react; this was certainly a hook for me when I watched the first episode. Some characters I loved and empathized with, others I completely misjudged, and others I hated by the end. Simply put, each new character was always well realized and memorable, for which I give a ton of credit to the writers.
Sometimes, the show focused on the arbitrator’s lives between judgments during slightly slower episodes. While those weren’t as thrilling, they gave peaks into the world of the arbitrator and how they processed the dead. We even got to see another arbitrator, Ginti, run his bar and judgments too. The black-haired woman’s story line was also told in the slower episodes, making them essential to the show and a place to catch my breath.
She was my favorite character, her and Decim. There had been a glitch when the young woman arrived at Quindecim, so her memories were removed (she lost her name in the process) and Decim took her as an assistant. I loved these two characters! Not only were they very handsome together, but they interacted well and made a great team, as Black Hair often saw things in their visitors that Decim would miss. Black Hair’s story line was intriguing to follow and her story’s resolution in the last episode was incredibly moving.
I think Death Parade did a good job working with a repetitive subject and balancing the different emotional tones. And while the show was most often dark and tragic, it had some fun too. There was one episode with a happy ending and another that was quite humorous and full of laughs! I never felt that the show got repetitive, as it was careful not to rephrase or present the same things too many times. Since the games were always engaging to watch and the characters always felt unique, the show never got dull. It was always fresh and engaging for me!
Death Parade’s world is a fascinating, theatrical take on the eastern idea of the afterlife. Once one has exposed the darkest parts of their soul during their gameplay, they’re sent to either the void or reincarnation. People who were selfish or cruel or even acted violently out of true love, were ones doomed for the void. Meanwhile people who’d lived good lives, were decent, or missed their chance to live fully, got to be reincarnated. This is an interesting way of deciding someone’s worth, but it’s incredibly flawed because sometimes its hard to tell who is who.
Surprisingly, that seemed to be the show’s point. The arbitrators became aware of the systems flaws as the show progressed. At times, Decim was startled to discover that he had misread someone’s true motivations and completely misjudged their actions. I thought it was amazing the show set up a detailed system of judgement and then had the characters discover holes in that very system. There’s so much meat to discuss in this area of the show, so I can only scratch the surface here.
Basically, Death Parade presented a fascinating version of the afterlife’s process and wasn’t afraid to examine it. I love it when shows can do that, and I think that’s what a lot of people loved about it too.
The animation was pure gold. It is far and beyond the best the animation I’ve ever seen in my life. I personally really loved the style and atmosphere especially. I’ve struggled for weeks to find the right words to describe Death Parade’s visual aesthetic and why I love it so much… Words like ice and English and sophistication and theater often come but don’t seem to do it full justice. I just loved it. To death.
I can’t say enough times how much I enjoyed Quindecim’s atmosphere. While Ginti’s bar of harsh reds made a nice contrast, I was completely bewitched by the classy sophistication and purplish blue color palettes that soaked Quindecim. There was even a floor to ceiling jellyfish tank that I would always stare it when ever it came on-screen, and Decim’s shelves of liquor bottles always caught my eye. If I could live in Quindecim, I would. XD
The show has the anime style, but the characters look quite realistic, as they feature normal sized eyes and actual, visible noses; this made for a refreshingly mature tone. The arbitators’ designs and their outfits were also an immense highlight for me, I just loved how they were all dressed! Boss Nona’s suspenders and her fishtail braided hair, Ginit’s rolled up dress shirt sleeves, and elevator operator Clavis’s multicolored head and adorable smile. This style is awesome.
Simply put, the animation style, coloring, character designs, and overall atmosphere was enchantingly glamorous and tinged with a strange sense of realism. Everything was very pleasing to the eye and expressed a tone or emotion which simply sprang off my screen to me.
While I’m talking technical elements, the sound of this anime was fantastic. The Japanese voice acting was stellar, with each voice perfectly fitting their characters or aiding personality. I tried watching this with a English dub, and while it sounded okay, the actors didn’t quite capture some of the true desperate-ness that I first heard from the Japanese cast. The soundtrack was also great, with lots of jazz. I like jazz a lot and it added to games’ atmosphere and bar setting.
Also. Best opening ever. It was certainly happier than the show, but the music was incredibly catchy and fun and the animation sequences made me want to be an arbitrator and start dancing. If I could sum that OP up in one word, it would be theatrical and deliciously so!
Considering nothing is perfect, I must point out a few flaws I found during the show. There was story thread involving Nona, Decim’s boss, and the god-like Oculus, that wasn’t fully resolved by the end. The show left that mildly interesting plot hanging; a shame, as it dealt with how emotion might affect one’s judgement on another, for better or worse. Another minor complaint of mine is that several of the secondary characters like Quin and Castra felt underdeveloped or unnecessary. We saw a little of their jobs in the afterlife, but we didn’t see them enough for me to connect.
The show is certainly not perfect but for me there were so many things I really enjoyed and loved that the few things I didn’t don’t even hurt my rating score. 😀
Death Parade was a story about death and the ugliness of the human heart, but it was also about the value of human life and how precious our time on earth is. It discussed human emotion and how we live through emotion and how we show, and hide, our emotion. Somehow, Death Parade managed to handle these hefty themes without suffocating us as viewers. We even had some great laughs, some truly heart-touching moments of human connection, and we were all blown away by its animation quality and over all style that raised the bar for all similar anime to come.
It made us think and clutch our chair’s arms with suspense and mull over life and death. And it reminded us that Twister is a really awesome game! XD
Star Value: 5/5 | Re-Watchabiliity: High | Definition: I’ll definitely take that drink, bartender.