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It must have been well over a year ago now, that Death Billiards was made, I watched it, and I realized I wanted to analyze and write about anime. Now, I never did write about the Studio Madhouse film, but now I’ve got my second chance, a chance at redemption or reincarnation you might say, as the OVA is now being made into a full anime under the name Death Parade.

I want to love Death Parade like I did Death Billiards, and I still think I will in time, but as of the first two episodes I haven’t been so impressed. Let’s start with the easy stuff. The animation is great. It’s a high end Madhouse work, and it’s the same style as was seen in Billiards. The soundtrack is wonderfully quiet and rarely takes over; rather it sticks to the background and lays a somber midnight sheet over everything. As for the OP, I don’t like it. It feels tonally disconnected from the show, propping it up as a Soul Eater-esc shounen show with gothic style rather than what it really is, which is… well, let’s get into that.

The first two episodes, which are all I’ve seen so far, introduce the show’s concept to people who haven’t watched Death Billiards. That being, when two people die at the same time, they are sent to the Quindecim Bar where the bartender, Decim, has them play a game. The two people think they are still alive but the loser of the game will die. In actuality, Decim must judge the two while they are playing, and choose who to send to “heaven” and who to “hell” (that’s not quite the dichotomy, but you get the idea).

"If you die in the game you die for real!"

“If you die in the game you die for real!”

Just like in Death Billiards, Death Parade’s central concept is interesting. Where the two differ, in my eyes, is execution. There is a significant difference between making a twenty-five minute OVA and a full twelve episode show. The OVA didn’t have to worry about where it was going long term, so Decim and the Quindecim Bar were simply an aesthetic backdrop for the conflict and characters of the two deceased. In the series however, some of the attention is shifted to Decim and the new recurring characters. This has good and bad consequences.

On the good end, Decim, Nona, a yet unnamed black-haired girl, and presumably more characters as the show goes on actually have some depth. As it’s still early, the only one I can really comment on is Decim. I like him. He’s not the perfect supernatural arbiter who can read people’s souls at a glance that he came off as in the OVA. He’s clearly introverted, and has weird hobbies like collecting mannequins. But most importantly, he can make mistakes, and, trying not to spoil anything, he has made a pretty big one already. The frustrating side to this is that it was a pretty obvious mistake. I understood what was going on right away. While I am happy Decim isn’t a Gary Stu at his job, I would hope someone hired as arbiter of life and death would be more qualified than me.

Decim

As for the bad… The first two episodes center around a couple who died on their honeymoon, and they find themselves at the Quindecim Bar. After a little prodding and implied threat, Decim convinces them to play a sadistic game of darts-and-your-organs-are-the-dartboard. While I’m still intrigued by the concept, the execution here is clichéd and predictable as it gets. The two get small glimpses of their memories back, leading them to believe that their partner had been cheating on them.

The entirety of the two episodes plays out as a cheap excuse for the kind of sadistic torture porn that you only get to see in anime, yet despite loving shows like Rin, Higurashi and Elfen Lied, I just couldn’t get behind it. I think it’s because the characters torturing and being tortured were inconsequential. They weren’t complex or interesting, and I doubt they’ll be important again after the second episode. I just couldn’t like or dislike them enough to get behind any over it.

What I enjoyed most about the original Death Billiards were the deceased. Two guys, complete strangers, both with their own flaws and blessings. I was enamored with both characters and cared about what Decim’s judgement would be. This time around, I’m more interested in Decim, while the episodic characters are disposable. It’s still early, and I’ve only seen one pair of deceased, but I don’t think this problem can be overcome in an episode to episode format. Still, I am going to keep watch, right after I post this in fact, and would recommend at least checking it out. But you should watch Death Billiards first; that OVA is fantastic.

Don’t Lose Your Way

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