Author’s Note: This would normally have been an article for our ANI-MONDAY segment, but unexpected delays occurred. In the future, anime recommendation articles will continue to be posted on Mondays. Anyway, on with the article.
Death is a subject that many people don’t like to face, but it’s something that is ultimately inevitable. As depressing as it may sound, we all die, and we all have our own ideas of what happens after we die. We have no way of knowing exactly where our souls go in the afterlife, an uncertainty that allows authors and artists to create and explore the concept in their own ways.
This is exactly what the makers of Death Parade set out to do.
Death Parade is 12-episode anime series that aired during the spring season of 2015. Yuzuru Tachikawa, who wrote and directed the show, based it on a short anime film released in 2013 titled Death Billiards, which featured two recently deceased people playing a game of pool to determine the fate of their souls.
Death Parade takes this idea and makes it the basis of the anime, expanding on the concept further. The afterlife is made up of a seemingly infinite number of bars, each of them run by bartenders known as arbiters. When people die, their souls are sent two at a time to one of these bars where the arbiter coerces them to play parlor games (such as darts, billiards, and card games, among others.)
While the games commence, the patrons are intentionally put into stressful situations that test their humility and overall deep-rooted personalities. Once the games are over, the arbiters judge the wayward souls and decide whether to send them for reincarnation or banish them to the void.
One day, a black-haired woman shows up by herself at one of the bars known as “Quindecim” without any memories of her life or even her own name. Given her unique circumstances, she is allowed to stay at the bar without getting judged and begins to assist the bartender (appropriately named Decim) with reading the patron’s characters and making final judgments.
The majority of the show’s format is very episodic in nature, with two new patrons appearing at the bar every episode. Each episode and game presents pairs of complex and tragic characters, most of which died unfortunate deaths while also sharing a certain connection with one another while they were alive. They arrive at this mysterious bar with no knowledge of where they are or how they got there and are immediately forced to play a game or face certain death. Only, there is one fact the characters are not aware of: they are already dead.
This adds an intense sense of dramatic irony, as the characters slowly begin to regain small snippets of their memories as the games go on. And when the reality of their tragic deaths finally sets it, it leads to some absolutely heart-wrenching moments.
Aside from the typical formula of the show, the story focuses heavily on the “black-haired woman”, her interactions with Decim, and her attempt to regain the memories of what happened to her. She does have a name, but much like The Bride in the Kill Bill movies, her name goes unmentioned until nearly the end of the series.
Throughout the show, we are also introduced to several other arbiters, patrons and someone who claims to hold a god-like status over this afterlife.
The story of Death Parade is dark and dreary and takes a macabre look at the human condition. It explores the psychology of the typical person and how their true intentions and characters can be exposed under desperate circumstances. The colors and aesthetics, full of dark blues and grays, add to the overall gloomy feel. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as a few characters come along to break the mood with some comic relief (most notably Ginti and Mayu.)
Much like another anime I review (Kaguya-sama), Death Parade possesses one of the most fun, catchy opening themes I’ve ever heard. Unlike Kaguya-sama, however, this opening has a bit of a different tone from the actual show.
Personally, this is one of my favorite anime of the last few years, with particular moments that have stuck with me since my first viewing. There are a few plot points that aren’t fully fleshed out and could benefit from a second season, but what is there is more than enough to create a compelling universe and provide enough twist and turns to keep you on your toes the entire time.
If you’re looking for an intense anime drama with a very macabre but very fascinating premise, you may want to take a trip into the world of Death Parade.