Death Parade – 02

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To say that Death Parade is unique on this season’s schedule is the pinnacle of understatement.

For me, there’s no doubt that Death Parade is by far the most interesting new series this season.  That’s not because it’s perfect, but largely because it’s a show that demands attention and analysis.  You may take issue with the premise or the execution, but it’s hard for me to imagine anyone watching either of the first two episodes (or Death Billiards) and not having real curiosity – and strong opinions – about what they’d just seen.

I can say this much – as different as the second episode was from the premiere and the OVA, I’m still not sure just what the rest of this show is going to look like.  While is was clear that Death Parade was going to have continuity and a recurring cast beyond Dekim, I didn’t expect the entire second episode to act as a kind of decoder ring for the first.  The most obvious question is this: are we going to see this pattern repeating itself, with a “game” episode paired with a follow-up that analyzes it?  Or is this structure in-place now simply because these are the first two episodes, and Tachikawa-sensei wanted to let the audience in on what was going on behind the curtain?

The two women we met briefly last week are our tour guides this – most especially Nona, who appears to be Dekim’s superior in the arbiter hierarchy.  As she guides Nona (I’m assuming all of these “employees” are themselves dead) through her first day on the job, she’s effectively bringing us up to speed on what’s really going on here.  The mannequins?  Merely Dekim’s hobby.  The void?  It really is the dissolution of the soul.  The cocktails?  Delicious.  It remains to be seen how strong these two will be as characters – I’m not a huge fan of Okubo Rumi, and I found Nona to be getting on my nerves a bit fairly quickly.

Most important here are the revelations about last week’s Takashi and Machiko storyline, and what they imply about the larger premise itself – and as seemingly always with Death Parade, the air is thick with ambiguity.  Everyone seems to agree that Machiko did in fact cheat on Takashi, and Dekim appears to have taken a pretty literal view of the events during and after the darts game – more or less under the premise that since everyone is dead already, they don’t really have a reason to concoct a false version of events.  Onna (new to the job and with the good sense to be horrified by what she’s witnessed) takes a contrary view – that Machiko’s affair was likely a one-night stand, that the baby really was Takashi’s, and that she staged her diatribe at the end in order to try and spare him from the pain of knowing he’d killed his own child.

The implications of all this are fascinating for a myriad of reasons.  Dekim, it seems, is both highly fallible and emotionally functional enough to be horrified by that.  Having access to the memories of the deceased is no guarantee of understanding their motives and indeed, their moral and ethical standing.  Indeed, this appears to be a highly imperfect process – with the judges in the afterlife making decisions about eternal souls on a best-guess basis, and relying on hunches to do so.

I would imagine this is a topic that’s going to be addressed a great deal over the rest of the series.  If indeed Dekim made a mistake because of his emotional tone-deafness – and that certainly seems to be what the episode is hinting – we’ve just seen a soul condemned to the void based on bad information.  This is a complicated issue, because even if what Onna believes is correct Machiko is hardly blameless in all this.  But irrespective of what you think should have happened with Machiko and Takashi’s souls specifically, the fact is that the decision was made by an arbiter who seemingly misread the dynamics of the situation rather badly.  That doesn’t seem like an “Oops – geh-heh!” kind of thing to me – if ever a mistake were irreversible, this would be that sort of mistake. Is this really the best way to make decisions about the next step for eternal souls?

This is really a fascinating setup, full of nuance and doubt.  Indeed, it may be that the belief that this system is screwed-up is the very conclusion that Death Parade wants us to settle on.  I love the sense of uncertainty attached to this series – there’s a Rashomon-like quality to the perspectives of the recently deceased (it’s worth noting that even if Dekim and Nona can see their memories, those memories are by definition the events as seen from the perspective of the deceased in question) and there appear to be no easy answers forthcoming either as to what we actually see playing out on-screen, or what should happen to the participants in Dekim’s games.  We’re left to ponder what we’ve seen and rely on our own perspective both for interpretation of events and the justice of the outcomes – and I for one really enjoy being invited to be such an active participant in a series.

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  1. B

    It's very easy to sum this show up in one word: ambiguous. Did the narrative want the young woman in black to speak the objective truth? Or were they playing with the idea that she was merely playing with the notion that she was as fallible- and her opinions as questionable- as everyone else? Convention dictates the former, but I wouldn't put it past Death Parade to take the latter path and make the already tangled web more confusing. t's all about perspective and judgement- you should see the arguments on forums as to whether Takashi or Machiko committed the lesser of two evils.

  2. G

    ''you should see the arguments on forums as to whether Takashi or Machiko committed the lesser of two evils.''

    How exactly is that a good thing? Of course, you might say, it fosters discussion! But, really, let's think about what's going on here and the series culpability towards exactly that:

    People, who don't feel like real people, judging other people, who don't even feel like real people, based on the completely false premise that some people deserve to go to hell/void. Add to that regressive gender politics (madonna-whore complex served up back to back) and dangerous implications, like the fact that the narrative presents the decision of sending her to the void before the lying part is revealed as somehow just punishment and the whole think smells like a putrid carcass. The only way she can be forgiven by the narrative is if she sacrifices herself for her husband basically. There is no real nuance or ambiguity here.

    Enzo's hypothesis that: ''it may be that the belief that this system is screwed-up is the very conclusion that Death Parade wants us to settle on.'' may seem valid. The series definitely presents the whole system as "fucked up!" but at the same it it wants us to think it's fun. The judging of flawed people who play gross games that is. Ergo the discussions on who ''deserved it more'' . The series nods towards the brokenness of the system feel empty and tacked on as a result.

  3. A

    This is a first in anime for me (after watching for years). A show that not only is ambiguous, but actively admits it and takes us all along for the ride: we are all arbiters in a way…

    I think a question even more interesting might be whether the premise itself makes sense: two people dying at the same time are to be judged together: and is it necessarily one void and the other reincarnation? Does it have to be? It seems to be that binary is what we're going with…

    Given that, what if two really good people die together? Vs. two really evil ones? I'd be pretty scary being matched up against mother teresa, even though I think I'd do just fine against Hitler

  4. M

    The biggest problem for me is that Decim sent Takashi to reincarnate in the first place. Even from his standpoint, where Matchiko cheated and was only with Takashi for the money, it should be clear that Takashi should also be sent to the void. Decim witnessed how Takashi outright tried to kill Matchiko and even had to stop from doing it. How can someone who attempted murder, regardless of what Matchiko did, be sent to reincarnate?

  5. e

    I wonder if between the compiling and prescreening of matching gamers you might end up with two white masks or two oni or the system can only accept the binary. Hmmm.
    – Every puppet/mannequin seem to have been marked. And since Death Billiards we're being shown the maker's mark. I wonder if decipherig the mark itselves might turn out to be a clue later on. Eh this show.
    – Gijng by the girl's behaviour they're retconning (?) this first two episodes at least as a prequel to Death Billiards. She was alreay settling in her assistant role there, although with some reservations.
    They're really playing with us viewers aren't they? It's a bit like we are the ones being tested here :p. Btw I'm still TeamWife. She was no saint but if the kyomu bit is indeed to be considered a punishment it feels like she undeservedly got the shorter end of the stick -. While we are at cracking the system… both action in life and behaviour dyring the game factor's in the arbiters' decision. Nona concludes all that is when 'we *first* pass judgement' —-> there are more steps? If the judgement 's result aka elevator's Fate is a temporary one and if there are more arbiters hence further trials ahead it would make sense. And there are a whole lotta buttons in Clavis' magic elevator…
    Plus the '3 months term' and the earlier 'them (the assistans)'. Do the 3 months bit refer to the assistants – their trial period? – … or to the game elevator destinations? What was Decim's discussing with Nona about on the phone? (speculah: seeing how bothered he still was about his reading of the couple he might have called Nona to further discuss it)?
    And as unpleasant as Nona can get ( Nona aka #9 if Decim is #10, QuinDecim means #15 and Clavis is the Doorman , that is 'Key' . And Quin seems to allude to #5 if they're being consisten with the Latin naming pattern for the Afterlife staff here) in this episode her hunch about the husband seems on point as a complement to Dead Girl (or Girl In A Coma?)/Nameless Onna's one. Well, may the husband get a better person in his next life as a human.
    About the wife… what does it mean the soul is lost exactly? And the darkness? Is it temporary state (see reincarnation route… the cycle can go on forever but still as elevator destination go is just a waiting time between your just past life and the next…) or a permanent one? And what about the baby's soul if any?
    That said… a couple of funny bits I looked into that may sorta tie into the above.
    – The book Nona is reading at the end;it could be glimpsed for a moment in the bar last week. 1) The two kids on the cover are look the same as the two dolls Nameless Onna is holding in her lap at the end of the OP
    2) The book title: Chawot. Or rather 'Chavvot'? The latter seem to hint at Judaism. From what I've gathered it can mean 'town/village' (and Nona's place sems to be a submerged town ) but also… as a book it deals with abortion and/or killing of children still the womb, and especially with the fate and nature of a foetus carried by mothers in peculiar circumstances (including adultery, murder and court sentences). In this sense it can tie both's to Machiko's situation, but also to the whole soul nature (or 'emptiness' thereof) and rebirth bit.
    – the stone relief we see at the beginning with the holy figure sitting on the lotus flower and praying. Looks a tad too generic attribute-wise to pinpoint him/her yet (Buddha? Kannon – and related assistants in the field of souls/afterlife? Or by virtue of overlapping and synchretism when it come to souls… Jizo?) yet. If they showed a bit more of the rest of that bas-relief there… :D.

  6. e

    P.S.: Nona, Decim(a) and Morta (oh who and where art thou?) are the names of the Parcae —>thread of Life, Fate goddesses… and if anything these fit with the tendrils/strings and puppet imagery.
    Ah, and Chavvot on top of meaning 'town/village' and the abortion/death in the womb bit is also related to contexts of mourning and… crossing the Jordan river.
    We'll see if this refs mix manages to gel in the end or not. But surely on top of the debate fuel is quite fun to search the different elements so far. I can almost forgive the writers the possibly literal black-and-white (and if this turns up to be the case that'be disappointing ) elevator mask bit :p.

  7. I was curious about "Chawot" too, but I didn't think to try and search for it under "Chavvot". That reading certainly fits.

  8. e

    It struck me as I was typing the word in the search engine, coupled with the book cover title space shape/design lending itself to font tricks. If you partially overlap two 'V' you get the 'W' on the cover, conversely if you unlink/split the 'w' character you do get two 'v's after all. Gotta love typography ;).

    Now if the two dolls on the cover and their matching 3D specimens in Onna's lap end up (also) representing some specific link to her and Decim (hair colour dualism is sorta similar: male doll's hair is light grey vs female's brunette + OP montage :,D ) I'm going to be very amused.

  9. j

    The void is not really "hell" or even that bad if you think about it. The void is simply your soul being "lost forever" but it doesn't mean your consciousness will be wandering around in a dark pit for the rest of eternity. It's not much different from an atheist view of death, you die and you don't come back. Shit, I can live with that, pun not intended.

    In fact, what makes reincarnation so much better anyways? What makes living another life as someone else (and being none the wiser about the fact that you just got reincarnated) something to be desired? Are certain aspects of one's soul retained during reincarnation? If that were the case, maybe I would believe that reincarnation is better than being sent to the void. If not, then you would think that after a few "generations" of being reincarnated, every single soul would eventually be sent to the void.

  10. e

    That's one of the unclear and the one possibly pissing-off bit for me as of now personally.
    The beliefs referenced so far are quite the hodgepodge hence it's still hard to see how they're adhering or giving a different spin on what. Are they going for a good/bad end dichotomy as the colour symbolism and hell/heaven shortcut definition seems to imply or we're in a 'two evils, one is lesser then the other' camp, or else ?
    From a Buddhist's POV reincarnation is a a punishment of sort but on the other hand it's just when you get reincarnated as a human that you get your best shot at reaching enlightenment and Nirvana. And here we are told by Nona the white mask is just that: you get to be reborn as a human.
    Does this also implies that if you attain enlightenment= Nirvana = no more reincarnation = Void in the positive sense? BUT then we also have the elevator Void as 'being plunged into darkness', 'soul is lost' : define 'soul here'. is it soul as 'conscience, Self'? BUT also… a soul reaching Nirvana in Buddha's teaching is also defined as the flame of a candle being blown out (aka the flame of wordly attachments and desires). But what happens when the candle is blown out? Darkness. And darkness strictly speaking is also one's pre-born state… when we're in the womb. Which reading of Nirvana are the writers going for here?
    Yet this week we're still unsure being sent to the Void here means a good thing.
    Crazy speculation: might there be two Voids even, one good and one bad? Is the hannya mask the 'Bad Void'? And if that's the case where's the 'good Void' (maybe when souls after being reborn a number of times finally reach enlightenment they skip the bar game at all… )?

  11. G

    I just hope this was a one time deal and we don't get a new episode followed by a recap the next week. That's gonna get old fast.

  12. w

    I'm not sure I like this episode. The reveals of how they work in this anime are ok, but I somehow wished I had learned about them slowly.

    It does however give us the potential conflict among characters, most likely between Nona and the new girl, and maybe Decim too. But that will depend on what kind of show this will be besides a tribunal all the time. Will the new girl influence Decim's views to a greater degree and change how he works? What will Nona think?

    I think there are a lot of references in this ep. The train one is probably from Night on the Galactic Road. The Buddha(?)-on-lotus lintel of the door to the elevator seems to reference "enlightenment" posture or what? The others, other commenters had already pointed out.

    As to the reincarnation and void thing, I do think they made their own definitions for them. They could have meshed together ideas from existing religions of course.

    Anyway, I do think this show wants to evoke ambivalence to everything that happens. From the use of what heaven and hell means in this show, or the correct judgment for each of the pair, it's meant to make the audience split sides.

    It will be fun, perhaps, to be involved in such cases once a week, but it can stop being "fun" when we've become habituated to the situations.

  13. m

    I'm glad the show is taking the route of placing importance on the background of the game, and those who run it. And as annoying as I find Nona to be particularly annoying (enough of that stupid Pshhhaaaahhh when ppl drink alcohol. Never once has anyone ever done that while drinking. Not one person. It's stupid.) but I don't mind the fact that the arbiters are fallible. It def makes the game as ridiculous and arbitrary as I said it was last week, but if in the context of the show that's how it's supposed to be then that isn't a problem for me. I only have an issue with it if the game continues to make no sense, but those involved thought it did, and the point of the show was that the game made sense. I'd love to learn more about these characters and why they feel like that system is acceptable, who created it, and who the arbiters really are. Nona clearly knew Machiko was lying, but took no steps to intervene on her behalf. She scolded what's his face, but what value does that have when weighed against the loss of a soul? And the way she said "you'll get used to it" as if it wasn't completely fucked up. That leaves a lot of intriguing storylines on the table, and hopefully the focus on the right ones to keep it interesting. Nano is boarderline I hate her bc she ruins the show with her annoyingness, or I hate her but in the way you are supposed to hate characters when you connect emotionally. So hopefully she peels away from the habits that make me want to mute her.

  14. C

    So humans won't be judged fairly in this life or the next? That's fine but if the arbiters have complete access to the dead's memories Decim should have obviously KNOWN whether machiko was lying….

    That's not the only issue I have with the series overall and it just seems to be lacking something to really draw me in. While the ambiguity presents some interesting ideas, I'm starting to get the feeling that it's more a problem of the premise/writing being wishy washy about those ideas rather than having those ideas being intentionally in vague.

  15. Z

    This episode sort of felt like one of those Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.

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