Friday, July 17, 2015

Feature Friday: Death Parade

I had a weekly series called Feature Friday on this blog when I first started, but it fell through the cracks when I was trying to decide what exactly this blog was going to be. I recently decided to bring it back, so from now on every Friday I will be featuring some bit of pop culture that I really enjoy and think is worth sharing. Unless, you know, I forget. It happens.

This week I submit for your consideration, Death Parade, an anime written by Yuzuru Tachikawa that aired earlier this year.

I want to include the opening just because it cracks me up. The music is so upbeat and the animation is so goofy, and it makes it seem like you're getting ready to start a silly, lighthearted anime. And then the first episode happens and you just sit there feeling confused and betrayed. By the end of show I had actually decided it really fit the feel and message behind the show quite well, but that was definitely not my first impression. So if you want a giggle, watch this first, and then read the premise of the show.

The premise of Death Parade alone should, I think, be enough to convince you to add to your Netflix queue. When two people die at the same time, they are sent to an arbiter to be judged. The individuals do not know they are dead, and the arbiter uses this fact to convince them to play a game, with the implication that they are playing for their survival. In reality, the games are meant to bring out the darkness of each person’s soul, so the arbiter can determine whether that soul should be reincarnated or sent into the void. The games themselves are variations of the usual classics, bowling, darts, air hockey, but all with a twist intended to increase the players stress levels. The main character of the show is Decim, the new head arbiter of the bar QuinDecim, and each episode showcases one pair of humans sent to him for judging.

Didn't see that coming based on the opening, didja?

Death Parade is fascinating because it is far more focused on character development and psychology than on an evolving plot. The primary question of the anime is, or at least was to me, pretty clear from the first episode: is it truly fair to judge humans and determine the fate of their souls based solely upon their actions in extreme situations? The show actively questions the very structure of the rules of its own world, and it heavily emphasizes the impact and consequences that question has on and for the characters, both the arbiters and the humans they are judging. What happens when a system with so much at stake is fundamentally flawed?

I found the psychological aspect of the show endlessly fascinating. It essentially raises the question of what it means to be a good or bad person. Many of the humans sent to be judged crack under the intense pressure of believing their lives are staked on the games, but does that make them an inherently bad person? During the judging you are also given flashes of the humans’ memories leading up to their death and, at least for me, these memories often offered explanations for the way the people reacted to the games. I found myself disagreeing with many of Decim’s decisions, because to what extent can you judge a person’s actions and responses to stress without putting those actions in context with their individual life experiences? What I really loved about the show is that Decim himself is not stagnant in this regard. He regularly questions both his judgments and the very system of judging he represents. And that, I think, is the best part of the show. It establishes a flawed system and, rather than suggesting nothing can be done to change established institutions, it forces us to ask what could be done differently, better.

I’m really struggling to explain how fantastic this show is without giving spoilers, and I’m not sure that what I’ve written will make sense to someone who hasn’t seen it. If that is the case you’re just going to have to trust me and queue it up because even if I failed at explaining it, Death Parade is such an amazing show and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is even slightly interested in the premise: it will not disappoint. As an added incentive, the show is only one season long, so there is not a huge time commitment to watching it like there are with many other anime (*cough* One Piece *cough* Naruto *cough cough*). I flew through it in two nights of watching. I am normally skeptical of single season anime because they always feel unfinished or rushed to me, but even in this respect I think Death Parade is pretty much flawless. The pacing is great and the ending is satisfying; it leaves it open to potentially being continued in an OVA or second season, but it does not need one, and I highly doubt it will get one. Even if I do desperately just want more Decim in my life (and oh my gosh I freaking do; I have so many Decim feelings you don't even know) I can honestly say I was happy and satisfied with the way it ended.

Have any of you watched Death Parade already? What did you think of it? And if you have not seen it, would you consider it? Let me know! And if there is something you love that you think I should check out and potentially feature in the future, tell me about it below!

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