Japanese Title: Death Parade
Related: Death Billiards (side episode)
Similar: Death Note
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 12 episodes
- Superb intensity and a thrilling premise.
- Realistic understanding of human nature.
- Sharp dialogue and to the point.
- The first episode.
- Second episode.
- Non-game episodes aren’t as interesting.
After death, all go to a bar in Limbo, a quiet place, where bartender Decim waits to judge passing souls, pitting them against each other in pub games like bowling, darts, and arcade cabinets. These are no mere games, however. Each point, each strike…each miss has consequences, for they inflict pain on the opponent, or worse, reveal one’s true self in this parade of death. Reincarnation awaits those found worthy, the eternal void for all others. Actions and emotions make a dangerous game.
Death Parade is an anime few people talk of, so I entered its muted atmosphere not knowing what to expect, much like the dead contestants. Further like the contestants, I found myself stunned by what I had seen. Death Parade has not only one of the best first episodes in anime, but of any TV series out there. Tension, suspense, emotion, drama, and full character arcs, all synthesised in twenty minutes.
Although the games involve an element of physical pain for losing points, the true conflict lies in mental torture. Anyone can create the blandness of a SAW-like competition; few can elevate it to the inner core of psychology and emotion. Death Parade nails this element.
As a game progresses, memories from the players’ lives return, piece by piece, and it is in how the characters react to these pieces that determines who they truly are. Best of all, Death Parade does not go easy on the characters out of pity. Yes, you will pity many among the dead, but like reality, pity will not erase a poor decision. As more memories return, the greater the strain and conflict becomes on these people, escalating tension to breaking point. And it is brilliant.
However, Death Parade isn’t all success. After the masterful first episode, comes the series’ worst episode, where they explain everything from the first, doing away with the subtlety and different interpretations of the characters’ actions – was the character telling the truth or lying? The second episode is designed to explain Limbo and the concept of the judgment game, but it explains too much. Furthermore, other episodes show all we need to know about Limbo anyway – could probably skip episode two altogether.
Overarching the several games is the plot of Decim, a novice arbiter, and his assistant, the ‘Black Haired Woman,’ who seems most human of all Limbo residents. She adds humanity to the arbitrations, an offset against Decim’s no-nonsense, stoic attitude as he learns the intricacies of passing judgement. His jokes are so serious that no one even considers he may be kidding. I like their story, particularly where it concludes.
This in mind, episodes that don’t focus on a game or judgement aren’t as interesting. I would have thought God playing galactic billiards with a manager would be fascinating, but it’s not. If there were one thing I would have added, it would be deeper world building in Limbo. We get too little to be interesting enough.
Death Parade was a complete surprise to me. I can’t even remember how it entered my backlog, yet I am delighted to have watched it, picked at random from my list. Do yourself a favour and watch Death Parade – also hope this Limbo isn’t real once you die.
Art – High
With emotion being a core element of Death Parade, the artists did an excellent job at capturing it, especially the negative emotions. Great imagery and use of composition to compound tension.
Sound – Very High
When the emotions hit, positive or negative, the actors truly deliver – in either language – accompanied by great dialogue. It can shift from happiness to madness in a few sentences, yet still feel believable. Strangely, I have never seen an OP more opposite to the tone and theme of the series. Love the song, but it is far too cheerful.
Story – High
A bartender judges whether the dead deserve another life or the void by observing their decisions during pub games. An engaging look at the human condition and life’s choices, save for a couple of episodes.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Must watch. Insightful, tense, and conflict-driven, Death Parade is necessary for any anime fan. Note: While Death Billiards (the proof of concept for Death Parade) arrived first, watch it after the series, as it’s merely a weaker substitute to the first episode.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)