Death Parade is a good idea that was poorly executed
My only exposure to Death Parade prior to watching it was in a Death Parade themed party room at Anime Detour 2017. I had heard of the show, but I didn’t know any plot details. If I had to guess the story that night, I would have said it was about hot goth guys making cocktails.
I don’t think I was too far off.
Death Parade is a 12-episode anime series that aired during the 2015 Winter anime season. It’s based on a short film called Death Billiards that was created by Yuzuru Tachikawa for Anime Mirai 2013 (the same year as Little Witch Academia).
It’s about a bar in the afterlife called Quindecim run by the creatively named bartender, Decim, and an unnamed woman who serves as his bar-back. When people die, they’re sent to Quindecim so Decim can decide whether they’re to be reincarnated or not. He determines this by making them play a game. The game could be anything from darts, to Twister, to an arcade game — anything.
The majority of the series follows this simple formula:
- Two people arrive at the bar without memories.
- Decim tells them they need to play a game before they leave.
- They try to escape.
- After failing to escape, they give up and play the game.
- They regain their memories as they play.
- Decim judges them.
It’s simple. It’s predictable. But it’s enjoyable. Relaxing even. The short film follows the same formula. Chronologically, it fits somewhere in the middle of the series.
Flashbacks ≠ Good Writing
Death Parade’s biggest strength is in its episodic content. Whenever it attempts to go any deeper, things feel awkward. Uncomfortable. I’ve seen episodes of Naruto that do a better job about telling me the importance of valuing my life experiences
Around episode ten they start to go into the backstory of our two leads, but it just doesn’t work. They establish early in the series that the people in this world are literal empty shells with no emotion. To expect the audience to care about a blank slate with a cool character design is a tall order.
It shows just how limited the concept explored in the short film is. Either that or the writers aren’t experienced enough. Death Parade may have worked better if the series was only six episodes and they hinted at something bigger but left it up to the audience to interpret it.
It’s Still Fun, Doe
But that doesn’t mean that Death Parade isn’t enjoyable. Even during it’s most problematic moments, I found myself craving more. Decim may lack a personality, but his deadpan delivery and matter-of-fact existence is what makes him interesting.
The Death Games are also super fun. Even after 12 episodes and a short film, I found myself hungry for more. There’s just something about turning a game as innocuous as Twister into a death-match between a boy band heartthrob and his biggest fan that warms my heart.
Speaking of which — Decim may be the main character, but Ginti, his hot-blooded bartender rival, steals the show. His existence defies the internal logic of their universe, and that’s why I love him. He’s always angry. And the boy band fangirl stays behind to keep him company after her death-match for no reason. The juxtaposition of their personalities result in the more memorable scenes of the series.
Death Parade has its share of problems, but it’s still a solid show. I wouldn’t call it a must-watch, but it’s worth checking out if you have a few hours to kill and you’re caught up on everything else.