Death Parade – Anime Review
Synopsis: There is a place after death that’s neither heaven nor hell—a bar that serves you one chance to win. You cannot leave until the game is over, and when it is your life may be, too. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Death Parade is the full series realization of an original animated short by Studio Madhouse by the name of Death Billiards. The premise is pretty simple: Two people arrive in a bar, they’re forced to play a ‘Death Game,’ and we gradually learn how the two came to be here, as well as the secrets they carry. It’s an intriguing premise, with lots of room for some really fun and interesting stand alone episodes. Death Parade delivers on that account, but it also tries to throw in an overarching plot and that’s where things fall to pieces.
Linny: Death Parade uses that intriguing premise to explore the depth and range of human psyche, especially in relation to self preservation and inter personal relationships. You may even find yourself wondering how you’d react were you to find yourself in the shoes of one of the many people who end up having to play the deadly judgement games thanks to the interesting little twists and reveals thrown in, making a lot of the judgements more gray than black and white. Not every single tale we get is top notch, but most of them are enough to make you sympathize or shudder at the complexities, twists and turns of human morality and life itself. But it’s also unfortunate that once Death Parade tries to go beyond just an episodic series, it starts to stumble and struggle to keep its overarching story as convincing and intriguing comparatively. The battle of wits, skills and captivating character building reveals in every episode deliver so much emotion, action and suspense that the main plot line struggles to match those levels.
Tom: The big problem is there just isn’t enough time devoted to the overarching narrative. Death Parade spends too much of its time delivering on that stand alone premise to really develop the overall story to the point where it might work effectively. I’m not preaching that they should’ve cut the stand alone nature to service the through story. Instead I’d argue the through story should’ve been toned down or cut entirely to allow for the stand alone nature to act as the central element. The show really does such an amazing job with its stand alone stories that there’s no need for an overarching narrative at all. That said, the narrative doesn’t get everything wrong. It does give way for some awesome emotional journeys for both Decim and Chiyuki, our two reoccurring leads who run the death games, which helps to form a powerful emotional conclusion to the series, though the ending is far from perfect in other aspects.
Linny: All along, Death Parade does a great job of introducing all sorts of people and personalities with stories of love, heartbreak, revenge, hope and tragedy. Every death game centric episode keeps the viewer eager to see what twisted game and tale of fate will play out next. But then there’s the main story, which ends up feeling rushed and only gets more frustrating when it ends on a rather unsatisfactory note. The audience is left with a lot of questions, the kinds that make you question the point of the story you just watched rather than leaving you with a mysterious but satisfied feeling.
Tom: The emotional finale is undermined by a rather uninteresting finish to a messy overarching plot. As Linny mentioned there’s a lot of unanswered questions and ideas floating about that you don’t even really care about. The biggest problem amounts to the half-baked nature of the through-narrative. This gets into spoiler territory–
[WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW]
–but the entire concept surrounding Decim, and the other arbiters of these death games, being emotionless puppets who judge humanity without having emotions of their own, rings hollow when everyone, besides Decim, has a vivid personality. If I’m supposed to believe Decim and the rest of the Arbiters don’t have emotions, then they can’t be running around with smiles, cracking jokes, getting angry, etc. The way the Arbiters are characterized flies in the face of the very heart of the narrative and causes the entire concept to come toppling down in on itself.
Otherwise, Death Parade is amazing when it’s doing its stand alone stories, as well as the emotional conclusion to Decim and Chiyuki’s story.
Linny: Despite all our criticisms, Death Parade remains one of my personal favourite semi-dark psychological dramas. For those concerned about the twisted death games and their gore level, I would suggest that it be avoided only by those extremely sensitive to any and all implied physical pain and punishment. While there is some bleeding and screaming during the games, they never get outright bloody or explicit. Death Parade’s most glaring flaws is its failure in pulling off a convincing and satisfying overarching story. Even in one or two death game episodes, you may be left debating if the final judgement given was the right one, though in those cases one can almost understand that it was perhaps done to show that life and death can’t always be black and white. That said, Death Parade is still a perfectly binge-worthy show for fans of psychological dramas that explore the human psyche. Just remember to brace for when it goes beyond the one off stories.