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Why does it seem like every time a show features some sort of traumatic/weighted scenario, its rating is overinflated to death? Because some characters go through horrible situations or the “deep” plot isn’t all nice and fluffy suddenly it has more merit as a source of entertainment? I only note this because this series is rated rather high on most anime databases, and while it was airing, I could not escape the roar of praise the general community had for this series. As with all others, however, the noise died down and I casually adjusted back to life without seeing this anime cover photo every time I logged in to MyAnimeList. So, what’s all the hub-bub about? Well, I’m probably not a good indicator of such, as in my eyes, Death Parade can be summed up in a single sentence:
Don’t be a dick.
While I find the technical aspects of this show lacking, there is a curious intrigue involved with just how inadequate a lot of the things that are shown mean to the overall picture. Upon finishing the first episode, I groaned to myself and thought, “Oh, joy. Another episodic series about random people’s deaths and how the afterlife judges them accordingly. Guess I can’t expect any character development or a reasoning behind this entire set-up.” Then, I watched the second episode, and it completely pulled the rug from under my feet. Episode two is almost the same as episode one, except it does exactly what I expected it not to. It provides an insider perspective of the events of episode one, and explains why everything is as it is and what the point of the series is. Well, blow me down. I may just like this, after all!
Thus, the series continued, interspersing episodes involving random, one-off stories and further insight to the inner workings of the afterlife. While there was some repetitiveness to the one-off stories, there was enough to keep the stories fresh by means of the random characters’ actions (that occasionally through off the arbiter’s script). While I didn’t enjoy all of the episodes involving the judgments, I was satisfied with the way they managed to keep the stories of the victims entertaining is somewhat different ways, even if their scenarios are beyond ridiculous. Episode six was the epitome of Death Parade’s potential for making lemonade out of pencil shavings using the MacGyver method.
Now, imagine my surprise when, initially, I was ready to dig my own grave after the first episode, only to be more unimpressed by its efforts to appear complex! Death Parade almost should’ve been one one-off episode after another! It’s really quite amazing how as the final episode credits rolled, the organ that keeps my body functioning felt not a tinge of empathy whatsoever. It felt not an ounce of enlightenment nor a snippet of impact. The biggest issue I have here is that this series feels so unmotivated that it doesn’t even bother to try and create any hostility for its ultimate moral message.
Don’t be a dick. Yes. Death Parade’s urging throughout the entire series is so. Incredibly simplified, but otherwise correct. By means of judging the “darkness of the soul” of each spirit landing within the afterlife, an arbiter, bereft of all empathy and understanding of human emotions, is instructed to put the newly dead through a test, disguised as normal games one would find almost anywhere. By the end, they are to determine if the souls are worth reincarnating unto the tangible world or sending it to the void, a black hole where spirits are doomed to wander alone forever. All seems fine and dandy after the first episode, but very early on, the festering of foreshadowing rears its head when a normal human is brought to help the arbiter with his tests. As the tests continue, she becomes more and more inclined to help those going through such torture, opposing the intellectual and emotionally-decrepit styles of the arbiter. At some point, the arbiter harbors the desire to acquire these emotions himself in an effort to understand his human helper.
Little do these two know, the arbiter’s “Creator” had the intention of setting him up with the human all along in an attempt to influence his apathetic nature. This is, however, frowned upon by the head guy behind the afterlife’s organization (I guess?), so she does so with all secrecy, alluring the attention of certain discipline. This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the anime’s deeper tendencies. What is it that she really wants? Does she believe emotions are suitable for judging the complex human soul? Will she be caught eventually?
And she does. She does get caught. The head guy finds out and promptly slaps her on the wrist and tells her he doesn’t agree.
…Is that it? Really?
Not only that, but the last five episodes or so become very dramatic; so much so that the once occasionally fun scenario of human judging becomes a circus for preachiness. The arbiter is trying to do his job and the human girl keeps getting in his way and yelling about how mean he is. How what he’s doing is torture. How he’s not capable of making rational decisions about whether or not a human soul is good or bad if he can’t understand their grief. This eventually leads to finding out more about the human girl’s past and how the arbiter finally manages to unlock the emotions that were within him all this time. Finally, he can understand her. He can better understand the intricacies of the human psyche. All he had to do was shoot tears out of his eyes. Incredible.
And not a lick of conflict, either. The head guy sits and grumbles about how he doesn’t agree, but does nothing. The entire series ends as though it had accomplished something important, about how the world should be better off knowing that Death Parade isn’t just about torturous bingo games or some structured, apathetic system of Heaven or Hell. No, it is resolute in its sworn motto, one donned by many other series before (and inevitably after) it.
Say it with me, folks:
How utterly uninteresting.
My apologies for the incredibly heavy spoilers, but I felt the need to justify my low score for this series, and spoiling the plot is the best way to put my thoughts to greater use. There’s just so little new here, and while its presentation of the afterlife and its system can be fun, the ultimate message is horribly cliché and the fact that they don’t even challenge it is just disgustingly self-inflating. Animation and design is lovely, and the effort put into making this show look great is definitely worth praise. Characters are distinct and properly endowed with the look of the otherworldly. It’s just the story, and to some extent the characters, that bring this series down to an Earthly level. Again, perhaps if it had remained an episodic series that showed only subtle hints of a development of emotional understanding with the arbiter, it could’ve turned out to be a decent show along the lines of Bartender. Instead, it overexplained and overdramatized something that didn’t need to be so excessively in-your-face.
Personal Score: C
Critical Score: C
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.