Let’s start with something that I didn’t think I mentioned in my first reaction, or at least not in detail, the opening. I hate the opening. The party rock music is tonally deaf to the show itself, which is somber and pensive. The animation, while as technically pretty as the rest of the show and good at presenting the characters in a gothicly saturated light, fails in all other regard. The games especially, which could be the source of dark irony as games meant to be fun are now mediums of physical and psychological horror, are just shown as what they are, games. No context, no clever play. It would be one thing if it at least as memorable, after all one of my favourite anime openings of all time is season one of Ghost in the Shell, but Death Parade’s opening is skippable.
The ED is a little better. Not my taste in lyricism, a little too Three Days Grace, but it fits the show better. The visuals change depending on the episode. The standard is a sufficiently creepy look as Decim’s mannequins, but occasionally it will show still images that tell you more about the episodic characters, which actually makes watching the end credits worthwhile.
As for the direction the show has been taking, there are two answers. Partly, it’s more of the same. People die, arbiters judge, and we the viewer’s enjoy seeing the new interesting but disposable characters. I will give Death Parade massive credit, the characters are indeed interesting. While the episodes (at least, five out of six so far) are formulaic, it’s a good formula. Characters are introduced, an arbiter tells them the rules, and the game begins. Throughout the game the players slowly regain snippets of memory, changing our perceptions of them, and changing their perceptions of the situation. The arbiters will apparently influence the games in order to bring out the darkest parts of the players personalities.
While this is predictable, it never feels cheap, or at least hasn’t yet. I think that’s because it’s hard to think any of that was ever the important bit anyway. You know from the start that the people who show up at the Quindecim bar are dead, and though there are two elevators, neither one can really change that. The audience knows that there are no consequences, and who wins or loses the game doesn’t actually matter.
Instead, you focus on the characters, Death Parade does a damn good job making them worth watching. In each episode, the show does for two characters what most others need a season to do for one. It makes them complex, clearly flawed, yet also likeable, sympatric, and human. In some cases I found myself favouring one over the other, which I think the show invites for. It knows its audience and how to lead them just far enough one way so that it can bring them back the other way.
The only issue I have with all this is the final judgements. So far, I haven’t had a single case where I had a strong opinion at the end, and given that I’m one of those asshole “critics”, that’s surprising. But the show itself seems to withhold judgement too sometimes. In one instance both characters got the same fate, which breaks the internal mythos. In another case, episode six, we never actually know their fates. I get that judgement is not what Death Parade is necessarily about, but it’s impossible to not be curious. I have more to say about the episode six case, but we’ll come back to after looking at the other way the show has developed.
Aside from the norm which has been in place since Death Billiards, Death Parade has been developing its recurring characters and world. The black-haired woman (who is still unnamed) is apparently a bit of an anomaly. There is apparently a hierarchical structure to the post-death judgement organization. And we’ve met a new arbiter.
The new arbiter, Ginti, was introduced in episode five, and is the arbiter presiding over episode six. Just his presence is interesting because of Decim. Decim is calm, cool and collected, exactly what you’d expect an arbiter to be like, and if there were other arbiters they would essentially be the same. But that’s not really the case. Ginti is short tempered, aggressive, and seems to hate humans. The way he treats the players is different. Which is exactly why not knowing the fates in episode six is so aggravating. We know he has a different style, but what are his judgements like?
The main question I have now is, will this all be done in one season? We’re halfway through now, and we’ve just started introducing God and the politics of limbo (vote for giant spider and he might not skewer you!), that’s gotta be building to something. In fact, for a proper ending, it needs to build to something, a climactic point greater than any particular episode’s judgements. I’m just not sure if that can happen without brushing the episodic stuff to the side for a bit. There are six episodes left, and that’s probably enough time to tell the story, I just don’t want to see this dragged into a second season.
If it ends well, Death Parade could be one of the best and efficiently compact anime in recent memory. Until then
Don’t Lose Your Way