"People do not live just so that they can someday die. It is because they are alive that they someday die." -Decim
"Welcome to Quindecim", an ominous and deep voice states as the hiss of hydraulics release pressure and allow the cold steel doors to open. Two people step out. "Please, come have a seat here." The people have no memory of why or how they've come to be at the Quindecim. "One, I cannot explain where you are, or how you came to be here. Two, we will now have you play a game. Three, we will have you select a game by roulette. Four, you will stake your lives on this game. Five, until this game is over, you may not leave the bar."
The alternative to playing is explained as "not something they want to experience."
The tiles light up in sequence, backed by a crest. It flips and reveals what's a seemingly mundane bar game. The participants, totally unaware of their circumstances, begin the most important game of their life: their judgement.
Artwork and Animation: 9
Dark, ominous shades permeate the show. A whirl of blacks, purple, reds, and blues set the foreboding tone, and the dynamic of bright lights and shadow interplay beautifully. Madhouse has created a product of passion with Death Parade, and it shows through their impeccable attention to detail and care in creating this show.
Character design consistency is strong, key frames are fluid. 3D CGI is used very subtly here, under the excellent disguise of cel-shade- to great effect. It never looked fake, it never stuck out: just smooth. Character's anguish, regret, anger, and hope shine through on their faces. While animated, I really felt like the characters were experiencing real emotions. They ugly cry, they bleed, they contort in unbridled rage, and overall feel really human.
Smooth would be the best way to define the art here, everything is neat, crisp and fluid. Swirling lights, darks, and brilliant displays of energy color the typically dark palettes of the show. Much of it takes place in a darkened ballroom, and really allows the lighting and brightness of the conflict to be cast against the darkness and shadows.
Sound and Voice Acting: 10
Despite not being able to speak Japanese, I was able to empathize with the characters through the voice performance. The high quality voice acting was able to convey emotion, tone, and mood clearly, despite the language barrier, and be effective in that. Numerous times I was struck by tears from the pain and suffering, or from the inspiration and hope that were brought out by the voices.
The OP is a bit deceiving, as far as the content and tone of the show go. It's a very catchy, upbeat, danceable tune: "Flyers" by BRADIO. The ED is a more melancholy, emotional performance in "Last Theater" by NoisyCell, which is a new favorite of mine. Both are excellent. As far as background music goes; there's a lot of silence in Death Parade, which really allows the vocal performances to be more impactful and emotionally powerful. What BGM there is typically consisted of soft piano music, which played in wonderfully with the more subdued and introspective moments.
Upon entrance to the Quindecim, we're treated to the sight of a white haired, steely, dispassionate man known as Decim, purveyor and arbiter of souls. He's described as "all drinks and seriousness" by his boss, a seemingly young woman with cold eyes and demeanor to match, Nona. Decim's purpose is to ensure that the entrants to the establishment agree to, and carry out their contract to play a random game of chance, enforce the rules, and execute the results. Though he seems hard-hearted and unsympathetic, Decim is shown to have a more... humanistic side. His statement, "I have respect for those who have lived fulfilled lives" is very telling of his true heart, and is the principle which guide his judgements.
Kurokami no Onna, or "The Black Haired Woman" (Onna for short)
is our first entrant to Quindecim. Utterly devoid of any memory, even that of her own name; Onna is conscripted to be an assistant to Decim, and to facilitate the judgement process. Throughout the course of Death Parade, Onna provides a strong presence of morality and reason to the cold, calculating judgement that typically took place before her arrival. She is an idealist and optimist, wanting to believe that there's redemption to be had in even the darkest of souls. Through her input and occasional intervention, the outcomes of the judgement are not always what they at first appearance should have been.
Aside from her role in the assistance of Decim, she follows an arc of her own; one of discovery. As she learns about the process of judgement, she likewise learns what it meant to have truly lived. Like any other guest to the bar, she knows that there must be a time in which she too must be judged.
A minor complaint here would be that supporting characters such as Nona, Ginti (who each get an episode a piece to themselves) are underutilized, along with Clavis, Oculus, Quin, and Castra.
Death Parade takes a rather unique approach in how it unfolds the story and morality lessons within. It combines the best aspects of episodic, arc-based, and linear storytelling all into one, which sounds weird on paper, but works to great effect onscreen. Each episode typically contains two entrants to the bar, who then play a game designed to be maximally stressful, or to draw on their inner natures of suspicion, deceit, jealousy, anger, hatred, greed. The characters react in a variety of ways: their desire for revenge, enacting their sense of justice, playing off their own regrets, or their longing for redemption. They are then set to be judged based on their actions, as their memories alone (which are compiled and studied by the arbiters prior to the person's arrival to Quindecim) would not suffice.
Death Parade is a very character driven story. Given the limited amount of locales (excluding flashbacks and memory recalls) we're given a lot of screentime with the same characters, but it never felt rehashed or rushed. For a one cour show, the pacing is absolutely phenomenal. It would have been an easy setup for a completely episodic show with the one episode characters coming in to be judged, and being sent away at the end. Alternately, it would have been just as easy to use arcs, 2 or 3 episodes a piece for one judgement. Again, Death Parade takes these along with two subplots (with major implications) and assimilates them into one extremely cohesive, subtle story focusing on moral ambiguity and the nature of what it is to be human.
Memento mori: "Do not forget that you must surely die someday. As such, that is all the more reason to live now."
In this story, memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning "remember that you must die" takes a front seat on the rollercoaster of feeling and emotion that Death Parade evokes. It's been explained that the souls of the dead come to be judged at this mystical bar, however, what happens when a soul is never judged? This question is explored within the show, in two different formats and in two different ways. We slowly find that there's much more to these arbiters throughout the run of the plot, that all is not as it seems in their role as judge of the souls between the void and reincarnation.
Subtlety. The first plot point to address is that of Onna, and her quest to discover her identity, and with it, her reason for being at Quindecim. Afterall, only those who die at the same time as another person are 'invited' to come, yet she's alone. Every other episode or so, we're shown a small clip of Onna in her room at the Quindecim, and each time, she discovers a new object that was previously not there. I didn't catch this the first time I watched, but after going back, it was there. Each object that appears has bearing on her life before death, and serves as a mirror to the more episodic plot going on. As she slowly recovers her memories and identity, she must take part in observing and assisting the judgement of those who also recover their memory through triggered points in the games that they play. Towards the end, she receives an episode entirely of her own that brings with it many revelations of her time before, and how she looks to the future.
Balance. MADhouse really has a taste for the dramatic in this show, however, it's not all doom and gloom. Just at the point when it starts to feel like Death Parade is getting formulaic, it's turned on its head. Episodes 1 and 2 provide an interesting dynamic in that you're given the same thing to watch, yet from two entirely different perspectives. Death Parade takes themes and brings them to the forefront of each episode and sets them opposite each other, to reflect and deepen the meanings and duality within. Episode 4 and 8-9 are standouts here.
In 4, we see a subversion of what it means to love. A celebrity mother with a tragic past who cares nothing for anyone but herself, yet 'loves' her children, and a misunderstood young man who hated himself and resented his new step-mom for selfish reasons that made a tragic mistake. Their positions in the story are two sides of a coin… one parent, one child, both with familial issues, but stemming from very different reasons.
In two later episodes, Death Parade takes a darker turn, dealing with murder, malice, and revenge. When two people commit unspeakable crimes in the name of justice and revenge, despite being for noble reasons, does that make them justified? Again, the moral ambiguity- one for protection of loved ones, one for a twisted sense of justice; both killers.
I enjoyed every minute of Death Parade. I laughed, I cried, I was angry, I was reviled. Death Parade explores a huge range of emotions, thoughts, moods and feelings. The emotional impact of this show is not to be understated. "Feels" gets tossed around a lot when describing this show, but it goes much deeper than that. Death Parade is a cross section and examination of human nature. On trial for your life, presented with some of the most stressful and painful memories and experiences you've had, is it your actions that define you, or the intent behind them, or some third thing that makes you only human? Whose place is it to decide if what you've done is damning or worthy of life again?
I'm loath to give out a perfect score other than categorically, but Death Parade gets so many things right in such a complete package of a show. Emotional depth, empathy, charisma, mystery, intrigue... It's all here. Believable characters, and a sense of connection with the events going on while being spun a rather unique narrative on morality and examination of the human condition, Death Parade is a true gem. Refreshing in many ways, this show is one that should be considered a modern classic.
"Judgement must be performed hand in hand with both life and death. it is something that must be performed hand in hand with humans."
+ Great characters
+ Mysterious, gut wrenching plot
+ Beautiful dark art
+/- Some supporting characters need a little more time
"Life is something which is always met with unfairness; there are those who live fulfilled lives, and there are lives that pass away in no time at all."