Roughly two weeks ago, Shawn selected Death Parade as our joint “Vault of Series Past” venture. I was apparently living under a rock at the time it was released, because despite its top 50 MAL popularity, I didn’t know a damn thing aside from vaguely recalling that I’d heard of it. If I could pull a Steins;Gate, I’d go back in time and slap myself for not noticing this one sooner.
Death Parade is a Winter 2015 expansion of the 2013 Young Animator Training Project Death Billiards, both of which were produced by Madhouse. The series is constructed upon the notion that there is no Heaven or Hell. When a human dies, they arrive at a bar of sorts in which the bartender—or arbiter—challenges them to play a game against another person. Following that game, the person’s soul is either reincarnated, or sent to “the void” —pending judgement from the arbiter.
I was initially concerned that the novelty of the “bar game decides the fate of your soul” premise would wear off sooner rather than later, but to my pleasant surprise, that wasn’t the case at all. In essence, what we get from Death Parade is one large story arc playing out in the backdrop of several other short stories. Given the nature of this narrative format, many characters have “one-and-done” episodic appearances. Still, I found myself caring for many of them almost as much as I did the main cast. This level of engagement is a product of solid writing and directing, courtesy of creator/director/writer Yuzuru Tachikawa, who also created the original Death Billiards film. He’s no one-and-done scrub, either, as he went on to direct Mob Psycho 100 in 2016.
Madhouse also brought Death Billiards character designer and chief animation director Shinichi Kurita into the Death Parade crew. Additionally, Shinchiro Watanabe (Samurai Champloo, Space Dandy) assisted with directing; Satoshi Motoyama (Dagashi Kashi, Hinamatsuri) controlled sound design, and Yuki Hayashi (My Hero Academia, Welcome to the Ballroom) produced the music. As we can pretty much assume with Madhouse, the overall production value is excellent. The audience is treated to pristine animation, complementary voice acting and sound design, and the most LIT opening I think I’ve ever seen.
At its core, Death Parade is a drama that attempts to explore morality, and what it means to be human—two pretty tough concepts to tackle in just 12 episodes. Due to this lofty goal and the carousel of supporting characters, we don’t quite get the same kind of investment in our main cast as we do in a series like A Place Further Than the Universe. Our reoccurring characters are all very interesting, but most aren’t really explored or developed to the extent they could be. That same criticism applies to world-building; there’s a very persistent sense of mystery surrounding the arbiters themselves. This wasn’t a huge deal for me, but some viewers may feel the series ends a bit incomplete.
When all is said and done, though, Madhouse and company deliver yet another well-rounded, well-animated product. Death Parade’s overall dark, gloomy tone is balanced with some well-placed humor, and charming character interactions. If you’re looking for a character-driven drama of some kind, Death Parade offers a genuinely unique experience with elements of mystery, morality, and psychology….Also the best damn game of Twister I’ve ever seen.
The Weeabros don’t own the image used in this review, bro.