So, now that I’m done with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, I figured that it’s time for a new series. There are a bunch of anime that friends have recommended to me but I’m a little reluctant to do a series that have already ended mostly because I like to binge watch shows and doing Game of Thrones and House of Cards (both of which I’m very behind on) in a disciplined manner is straining my binging heart. One of the shows running in this current season, Death Parade caught my eyes because of its premise and while it isn’t a ‘guaranteed’ hit like Gurren Lagann, I figure it might be worth a watch. The premise is as follows: after death, humans go to either heaven or hell. But for some, at the instant of their death, they arrive at the Queen Decim, a bar attended by the mysterious white-haired Decim. He challenges them to the Death Game, wherein they wager their lives and reveal their true natures. Decim himself is the ultimate arbitrator of who wins and who loses, who lives and who dies (source). It’s going to get intense and it’s going get psychological. It’s going to be a big change from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Also, in terms of the format, I’ll be keeping it light and formal and super-rambley like I did with Gurren Lagann, but I’m not going to focus too much on sort of ‘reacting’ to the plot. Instead, I’ll be commenting on the way the series is going and the effectiveness of the episode. This means that there will be spoilers below. Be warned.
All in all, I thought that was a really good first episode. It wasn’t perfect – in fact, there are a great many things that fell just short of the mark, but it was intelligent and well-executed. With a couple of minor adjustments, it could very well be a runner from anime of the season. This episode in particular is especially interesting because it leaves you (or me, at least) in an emotionally confused state. In the beginning, you think that the tragedy of the episode is that happy, newly married couple is going to fall apart because someone has to go to heaven and someone to hell. Then the pregnancy is revealed and the stakes rise, to the audience as much as to the characters, because now the loss is magnified. Once the accusations of adultery fly and it’s implied that they were the result of a misunderstanding, you begin to wonder whether the couple ever had a chance at happiness and you mourn the loss of a potentially wonderful life they could have had together. By the very end however, you can’t help but wonder what you’re supposed to think. Could they ever have been happy? Was it for the best that they died just so they could reach this rather well-designed bar and come clean to each other about everything? It’s because of episodes like these that I absolutely love the psychological genre. I firmly believe that our true natures are best revealed not when times are good but rather when we are under tremendous strain and in the harshest of environments.
There is a line however, a very fine line in fact, between doing the genre well and overdoing it. For the most part, this episode stayed on the ‘good’ side of the line but the final twists seemed convoluted and rushed. Let me explain: by the time Machiko confessed to her adultery, the audience was emotionally spent and it felt like the episode’s climax had come, passed and reached its resolution. Her final revelation felt like an attempt at reigniting a dead flame because by the time she said it, it felt more like an afterthought or a frustrated attempt on her part to cause some pain to the husband that believed the worst of her and had hurt, both physically and emotionally. It wasn’t made very clear that she was telling the truth either – her final confession could have been a result of spite as much as anything else (though this would be true regardless of the accuracy of her confession). However, there are a few signs that only insanely attentive viewers would have noticed:
The fact that that isn’t her husband implies that she isn’t lying about loving someone else and her wedding band in the shot above implies that it was after her marriage. So, she definitely was cheating but anyone could be forgiven for thinking that she was just lashing out in spite. That final twist could definitely have been better handled. The characters are otherwise, very promising. There are more arbiters than Decim himself as the post-episode scene revealed (as did the opening) but one of them is more special than the others, it would seem. Decim’s character himself is pretty well done – he is stoic and unemotional, as one would expect of someone who probably has seen thousands of scenarios like this before, but at the same time, in order for him to be an arbiter of any kind, he has to have a certain moral core that lines up with what is expected of heaven and hell.
I also want to talk about that ending. Takashi’s resurrection seems to imply that he was deemed worthy of life (a new life, but life nonetheless) but was he really? I mean, until the very end, Machiko’s story about the nickname Matchy (which could actually have been her friend, for all we know) seemed very plausible and as far as Takashi knew, it was likely to be true. He didn’t know for sure that Machiko had cheated on him yet he intentionally hurt her, seemed fine with killing an innocent foetus and then would very likely have proceeded to assault Machiko had Decim not intervened. Does a scumbag like that really deserve resurrection? Is he really the ‘good’ guy? This is actually interesting for a bunch of reasons. Look at this shot from the episode’s beginning:
Notice the masks on top of the elevators. Takashi seems to be the bad guy here and he certainly plays to that expectation throughout the episode.
In the final shot, the masks have switched positon but the people have not. I want to talk about the implications of this. First off, Takashi is an asshole. I mean, out of jealously he killed an innocent foetus (regardless of whether it was his or not, that’s just not ok), he assaulted his wife (indirectly through the darts, but intentionally which is what matters), he was a jealous, pathetic little shit who honest should not be getting the ‘good’ treatment. But what about Machiko? She cheated, yes, but that’s basically it. Even if she played around with her husband, while it’s deplorable and pretty scummy too, I don’t really think the two compare. So, what the fuck is up with the show’s morality? Well, what if resurrection is the punishment? It would go against the Christian/Western philosophical train of thought but it would line up with the actions of the various characters. Likewise, being sent to the ‘void’ sounds grim but according to Buddhist/Eastern philosophies, that’s how you end suffering and get yourself out of the cycle of reincarnation. Just some food for thought.
Plot and characters aside though, I have very mixed feelings about the production value for the show. The key frames are very well drawn and the small snippet of CG animation was pretty cool too but there are just far too many poorly drawn shots in between. It’s bad enough that even my amateur eyes can spot it. I know that it’s often a budget thing but I hope it gets better – a show like this deserves it. I also really enjoyed the opening song; it was light hearted and totally inappropriate for the show but I loved it nonetheless. On the whole, this first episode was not only enjoyable but rather surprisingly thought provoking too. I’ll be looking forward to episode 2 eagerly.