Death Parade Review

Recently I had an argument with someone whether anime is art or not. I am strongly of the belief that anime IS art. My most recent case for this argument is Death Parade. Death Parade is somewhat abnormal in its origins. Most anime are either born from an existing video game, manga or light novel. This particular anime is based on the short animated film Death Billiards. Death Parade is a sequel in the form of a 12 episode anime. I watched Death Billiards back in 2013 and was surprised by how much I loved its darker themes and psychological twists. When I saw the announcement I was concerned the show wouldn’t live up to the film. I’m still stinging from how wrong I was.

This Nona, the manager fot he Arbiters, and the Woman with Black Hair.
This is Nona and the Black Haired Woman.

The premise of Death Parade is very interesting. Two people enter a bar at the same time. They have no memory of how they got there. The only thing they are aware of is they are now in a bar known as QuinDecim and that their bartender is called Decim. Decim then advises his guests that they must play a randomly selected game with their lives on the line. The pairs always resists at first but eventually agree. The games themselves are fairly straight forward: pool, darts, even video games. Things start out normally but things generally get much worse. In the first episode they play a game of darts where each part of the board is linked to a body part and hitting said part will cause immense pain. Things begin to slowly devolve between the two participants. Their psyche is affected by the game, which is only further antagonized by the fact that their memories slowly return. When this happens everything gets far more intense and extremely emotional. This is when Death Parade is at its absolute best. The games always have some kind of crazy reveal and it’s never not satisfying.  At the end of the madness we learn why they arrived at Quindecim: their actions are judged by the bartender. I was stunned by the end of the first episode and immediately wanted more.

Dart Board.
The dart board used in the first episode;  it’s legitimately creepy.

Most of you are probably now wondering “Is there a story that comes with all of this?”. The answer is yes. The story revolves around Decim but also involves a character known as the Black Haired Woman. She arrived alone at Queen Decim with all of her memories of her life intact. Decim is unable to get her to play a game and therefore cannot judge her. He then wipes out her memories and has her become his assistant so that he may judge her without her knowing. During the course of the show we learn why Decim lacks emotion. Decim begins to feel emotions early on, adding a nice dose of intrigue to the already fascinating mix. The Black Haired Woman slowly begins to remember who she is as well. The final four episodes are especially emotional and I felt several large tears rolling down my cheek in the last few moments.

Ginti is another arbiter, He has the ability to control water.
Ginti is another bartender. He has the ability to control water.

The animation that was handled by none other than Mad House Studios (Death Note, Casshern Sin). The art style is unique and the animation is flawless. I never once saw a drop in quality and they manage to hit a benchmark that seems nearly impossible in animation. The use of CGI is near impossible to notice.  The show has a decisively darker color palette, yet I never found its coloring depressing. The use of blacks and blues is both professional and calming. Whites and reds are also used for their psychological associations to maximum effect. Death Parade‘s animation is a work of art in its own right and the execution is stellar. Overall, the designs are fantastic. The bartenders are the most unique I’ve seen in an anime. Same goes for the the Black Haired Woman and the side characters; they all feel very distinctive from the character tropes you see nowadays. Even the locations are have distinct characteristics from an architectural standpoint.

The last part of Death Parade that really pulls everything together is its voice work and score. The show has an all-star cast. The people who come to play may only be around for an episode or two, but the performances are all top brass.  The sound design is also fantastic. The sound team provides the appropriate sound effects for each game with great skill. There’s a scene where two characters are playing a 2D fighting game with them as the characters and it sounds like the old arcade days are still alive and well.