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.