Human nature and the exact meaning of the term ‘darkness of the soul’ are this episode’s main themes, though I guess you could say that about the whole show. For the first time, we see the arbitration process break down – the Assistant can’t help but interfere in the process especially given how strongly she feels about the way the decisions are made and Decim is certainly affected by the case she makes. I’ve mentioned this in past posts; I’ve always agreed that there is a logical reason to put people in strenuous situations in order to see their worst but I’ve wondered whether it’s fair to decide a person’s fate based on the worst version of themselves. It’s something that the show has mentioned without delving too deeply so it’s good to finally get to see what the characters themselves make of the system. From a more plot-oriented perspective, I find myself somewhat less enthralled by the sequence of events that led to both men’s deaths (do we find out how Shimada dies?) and the reveal of how the two men are connected, at least compared to how engrossed I was last week. This was still a good episode but I’m not sure if I would call it a great one – things got a little hairy at the end and Decim made a few calls that I felt were uncharacteristic and turned what could have been a neat, clean ending a lot messier.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when Death Parade does it right, it is one of the best shows at playing with your emotions on a weekly basis. Of course, a very large part of that is the show’s setting and format; knowing that the characters will experience pain, misery and judgement in the next twenty minutes immediately raises the emotional stakes in the audience’s mind. This week was a little different though, since we already know these two characters somewhat and have had more time than usual to connect with them. I don’t think I would consider myself attached to them though; both men’s stories are just too alien and unfamiliar for me to feel that instinctive empathy towards either. Of course, Shimida starts out as, and remains, the more sympathetic of the two while Tatsumi starts off appearing dependable and trustworthy before showing a fairly psychotic and broken side of himself. For the most part, I wasn’t too shocked or surprised by the various minor twists – the rapist having an accomplice, Tatsumi seemingly getting off on killing those he passed his judgement on – but the reveal that Tatsumi was the second man present while Sae was being assaulted did make me sit up. It was clear by that point that Tatsumi didn’t have all his screws tights but there is something especially perverse about watching a crime happen for the express purpose of being able to punish the criminal after it’s done. It’s not entrapment, not really, but it’s a little exactly like the police waiting for a murderer to kill someone just so that they can go in and get him on a murder charge as opposed to a lighter breaking and entering charge. It’s not that Tatsumi is a bad person – or no, I should say it’s not Tatsumi started out as a bad person – in fact, it was interesting to see how, as he remembered more and more, his mind deformed further and further. The tragedy of his character was how he let the anger and grief corrupt him and turn him into a human being almost as bad as the ones he went after. Taunting Shimada continuously was vile but I wonder what purpose it served – did Tatsumi want to prove that Shimada, when pushed to his limits, was just as bad Tatsumi himself? If so, he’s right in saying that he and Decim are quite similar in their attitudes towards others.
On the other hand, we have Shimada. Shimada, to me at least, was the more sympathetic of the two yet I can’t get myself to forget the fact that he is a murderer. He’s not an accidental murderer, or someone who got caught up in the heat of the moment. He planned the murder and while yes, it was an act of vengeance, it was still premediated and felt like it was done in cold blood. I know that technically speaking someone killing out of hatred or anger isn’t really a cold-blooded killer but the fact that Shimada was willing to kill not just one guy but two tells me that although his motivation is understandable, he still has that inner darkness that lets a man kill another. If I had to pick one, I would that of his flaws, Shimada’s inability to control his fury is his biggest one. He was goaded into killing yet again at the episode’s end, despite knowing what was at stake – it would be one thing if he didn’t know that heaven and hell lay in the balance, but him giving in to his anger was also him giving up on rebirth and getting back to his sister (in a more figurative sense than literal, since it was the consolation that the Assistant offered him in place of hurting Tatsumi further) which tells us that at the end of the day, when Shimada is angry, he would rather have vengeance for his sister instead of returning to her.
The truth is, though, that it’s incredibly one-dimensional to confine people to statements like that especially when there are such extraordinary circumstances in play, which brings us to the point of today’s episode. Sure, in the red-tinted mist of fury, Shimada chose to give in to Tatsumi’s taunts instead of being the bigger man but does one moment of raw emotion really sum up who a person is? I mean, why is Decim (and the audience because to be fair, I was guilty of it too until I stopped to think about it) ignoring the great many acts of kindness and compassion in Shimada’s life? He loved his sister, took care of her, worked hard to provide for them and even in the Quindecim he was the one who was concerned for his fellow man and showed enough basic human decency to not score a free point when his opponent was down, even with his life allegedly at stake. Yet, suddenly because he was pushed (quite forcibly, I should add) into hurting Tatsumi, all that is negated? I’m not asking the question rhetorically either; if I take it to an extreme, I do think that there are some acts that are so heinous that even one act in a lifetime can taint all the good that they do but I struggle with whether Shimada’s murders were bad enough to condemn him for eternity. Yet, if you think about it, I would think that Shimada was destined for the void no matter what because if characters can be condemned to the void for cheating (episode 1) and generally being unpleasant (episode 4), then surely a murderer, no matter how justified, has no right to rebirth? There’s a discussion to be had here about moral relativism and how punishments for sins cannot be binary in nature, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for whoever reads this.
In all of this, we have yet to touch on how this week’s episode will affect Decim and the Assistant. Right from the beginning, I feel like the Assistant found the whole arbitration process uncomfortable and though, for a while, it seemed like she would get accustomed to it, the last few episodes have highlighted the fact that it’s not so much that she herself doesn’t like the way the process works but that it might be one of the things that separates the Arbiters from Humans. People cannot see their fellow human beings being toyed around with; to anyone with the most basic kind of empathy, something like that is disturbing and off-putting (I wonder what it says about people like us who enjoy these shows, then) whereas the Arbiters are dispassionate and some, like Ginti, derive some kind of twisted pleasure from it. I suspect that the Assistant saw the parallel between Tatsumi and Decim and realized where that line of reasoning ends – soon enough, Decim would have been willing to let Shimada torture Tatsumi, just so that he (Decim) would know that Shimada was not a good person. The logic there is a little circular because in putting him under that extreme level of pressure, you are changing who he is and so the person you’re judging isn’t the person that walked into the Quindecim but rather this monstrosity you’ve created yourself. I still see the merit of the argument that the stress brings out the inner darkness but there reaches a point where you wring the person in question too hard and it permanently changes him/her and so, sure you get the darkness manifested, but it’s under circumstances so extreme and exceptional that it’s not an accurate reflection of who the person was when alive.