Final Thoughts: Death Parade

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EVERYBODY! PUT YOUR HANDS UP! The games have ended and it’s time to pass judgement on Death Parade. The follow up to 2013’s one shot Death Billiards is full of emotional highs and lows, but do the moods swing too much for its own good? Join Jel, Artemis, and Aquagaze as they share their final thoughts on the series.

Jel’s Final Thoughts

People are simple. Throughout the high stakes parlor games of Death Parade we see the guests get angry. They get defensive. They try to give back as much harm as they take. However, people are also complicated. We see guests smile. They help each other. They have the capacity to love others more than themselves. Which of those two descriptions fits humanity best? That’s the question Death Parade asks, and the answer it finds is “both”. From the moment the ridiculously inappropriate opening song crashes through the intense first episode to it’s reprisal after the incredibly bittersweet final scene, the series’ emotional highs and lows remind us just how unique and valuable we really are.

Right away Death Parade stands out from other anime with its adult cast and macabre setting. This swanky version of the after life is dotted with classic bits of horror imagery, from the mysterious heroine’s raven hair and pale skin to Decim’s creepy mannequin collection. Even more striking than the visuals is the subject matter. Through the stress of the games the guests reveal pasts filled with broken homes, abuse, depression, and death. Even with the fantasy setting and the occasionally exaggerated acting, the guests’ problems all feel very real and relatable in a way you rarely experience in an anime. It’s tough to watch in all the right ways as it really makes you think about the series’ message.

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But even though Death Parade carries a heavy tone throughout, it never becomes dour or cynical. At times, it’s even outright fun. The grotesque horrors of Death Arcade or Death Air Hockey are tempered by the goofy absurdity of Death Twister or the sweet nostalgia of Death Old Maid. Through Decim’s eyes the series admires those who pursue their passions – no matter how trivial – and appreciate the people that love them. It cheers us on as it lets us know that we are capable of living happy, fulfilled lives.

As a result, you might accuse Death Parade of mood whiplash and I must admit some of the intense moments get too melodramatic for their own good. There’s also a little too much time spent on the behind the scenes processes of the After Life that untimately become inconsequential. Those are minor complaints however, and as a whole Death Parade is a unique and satisfying experience that hits emotionally harder than nearly any anime series I’ve seen in a long time.

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Artemis’ Final Thoughts

Death Parade isn’t the be all and end all of anime, and I doubt it’ll come to be considered a classic of the medium, but it certainly leaves a memorable impression, and was easily my favourite show of the winter season. With an intriguing cast, fabulous art direction, and one heck of an OP, Death Parade was probably already destined to attract plenty of attention, but it isn’t all style over substance; some fairly weighty themes sparked lively discussion and debate among the blogging community, and every episode managed to bring something new to the table. This isn’t to say that the series is flawless – episode 8, ‘Death Rally’, seemed to stick out to a lot of people for its hackneyed mystery story trappings, while other episodes just laid it on too thick for some viewers – but in general, Death Parade’s very theatrical and often melodramatic nature actually tends to work in its favour. An energetic, provocative, and entertaining ride.

Aqua’s Final Thoughts

Death Parade is a frustrating show to talk about. It revels in the ancient art of the mood whiplash, shifts genre on an episodic basis, from psychological thriller over romantic drama to slapstick comedy, offers questionable conclusions to its nerve-wracking conflicts, only to revise them five episodes later, and seems unable to tell the most toxic of misanthropy from the most innocent of idealism. It’s difficult to criticize because so many of the flaws it amasses throughout its run — in particular, its unapologetic melodrama and bizarre misogynist tendencies — are later acknowledged and even made up for, but that doesn’t mean it never committed them in the first place. Death Parade is not afraid to take risks and possibly screw itself over if it means a more satisfying resolution in the long run. I was all but ready to drop the show when Decim sent a woman to everlasting damnation over her possessive, abusive husband simply because she’d cheated on him, if the show itself hadn’t set its records straight immediately afterwards. It’s a bizarre formula, but ultimately one that worked in the long run. From the macabre opening minutes to the heart-wrenching finale, Death Parade grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go.

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Over the course of its twelve episodes, Death Parade ricochets from around the entire emotional spectrum, though one particular sentiment excels in its complete absence: subtlety. Poignant highlight episodes like ‘Rolling Parade’ and ‘Story Teller’ paint beautiful, intimate portraits of human warmth, yet the show’s main concern lies with its many shocking twists. Except no smouldering train wreck à la Code Geass here, but even a carefully thought out shows like Death Parade can get a bit lost in its own relentless quest to baffle viewers. Its individual stories clearly outclass its larger context, resulting in interesting characters like Clavis or Castra being thrown overboard. Furthermore, several episodes are so jam-packed with deception and intrigue a complete lack of dark truths becomes a twist in and by itself, and while the show’s reputation will have you on the tip of your chair until the very end, the emotions occasionally flare so highly the result will be far from the intended one. It’s a bit of a growing pain, as greenhorn writer/director Yuzuru Tachikawa does show the occasional flair for subdued storytelling. From his brilliant camerawork — that skating sequence! — to his cinematic use of colour, the Shinichiro Watanabe protégé needs only to tone down his penchant for melodrama to grow out of his senior’s shadow.

Though far from flawless, with its engaging episodic writing, thematic nuance, gorgeous art design and top-tier production values, Death Parade is more than anything an incredible début for Tachikawa. Alongside Kyousogiga‘s Rie Matsumoto, he is one of the freshest talents the anime industry has seen in years. While I’d have no problem with Death Parade‘s universe being fleshed out further — which is never going to happen anyways, because shows like this never sell — I’d love to see the man getting more opportunities for showing off his creative prowess. Death Parade is a polarizing, discrepant glimpse into Tachikawa’s world. Though shameless in its manipulation of your emotions, it begs respect for its cunning and profound insight, as opposed to the hammer-wielding bluntness of Clannad or AnoHana. Rather than overblowing the most theatrical of clichés, it captures both the joys and griefs of life in ways few other anime has managed. Death Parade is, contrary to what its title may imply, very much a show about life.

Death Parade is available, both subbed and dubbed, on Funimation.

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