You know, there’s a reason why most fairy tales and nursery rhymes are really scary, when you actually think about the words (Jinirui wa Suitai Shimashita – oh, how I miss it – brilliantly riffed on this with Assistant’s wicked take on “And Then There Were None”). They’re generally based on stuff like the plague, or being eaten by wild animals – the terrors that plagued the daily lives of humanity for most of its history. So even without context I wouldn’t blame you for finding “Chavvot” as creepy as I did – but once you do place it on context, it’s even harder to imagine that fairy tale is headed for “And they lived happily ever after”…
There was so much to take in with this episode that it’s hard to know where to start – a veritable flood of intriguing but opaque new information that suggests at the much deeper world that underlies Quindecim. This is, of course, the second time we’ve had a non-“game” episode – an answer key episode, as I’ve come to think of them – but this was quite a bit more interesting than the first one to me. Death Parade continues to put the rest of the Winter series to shame when it comes to stuff like art direction and world-building (not to mention straight-up writing) and shows no signs of stretching its premise past its expiration date (which was really my only reservation about the series).
I guess a logical starting point is”Chavvot”, which we saw Nona reading back in Episode 2. As Elianthos pointed out in the wake of that episode, “Chavvot” is a Hebrew word that could hint at abortion, or possibly mourning, or crossing the River Jordan. We see it (though we don’t immediately know this) as part of Onna’s dream: a boy named Jimmy has just moved to a new house in a snowy landscape, where he’s happy and smiling. He sees a smiling girl (with her dog) outside skating on a pond, and is immediately smitten with her. She waves at him and he goes running towards her, but falls into a pitfall trap in the snow. As he cries in pain, she reaches down to him and pulls him to the surface, the smile never leaving her face. But because she can’t hear him, Jimmy is unable to communicate with her.
What does all this mean? Well, apart from it obviously being connected to Onna’s story it’s hard to say yet. Yes, it was very creepy, thanks in no small part to the almost Peanuts-meets Raymond Briggs art style – I was expecting the girl to fall through the ice and die, or do something awful to Jimmy at any moment. Nona’s interest in it is telling, because we later learn that Onna was a human that arrived at Quindecim with her memories intact, which prompted Decim to decline to judge her soul (seemingly a huge no-no). Instead, he had her memories wiped and took her on as an assistant, which seems to have caused a huge kerfuffle in the afterlife (or wherever this place is). It appears that Decim in breaching protocol because he has personal feelings for Onna – be they simply fascination, or something more. Decim having any such feelings for a human is obviously forbidden, and Nona seems to have a special interest in Decim as opposed to the other arbiters working for her. Therefore, her interest in the story which Onna dreams about every night can hardly be read as benign.
There’s so much more here this week. We join Nona as she’s having a game of cosmic billiards with Oculus (Genda Tessyo – talk about a resume), by all appearances her boss. Their conversation is full of teases – Nona has been a manager for 82 years. The two of them have played billiards almost 15,000 times (he rarely wins, because she almost never goes easy – ever). He calls himself “the nearest man to being God” but then later says that “God has been gone from here a long time”. Nona is one of many managers Oculus has hired – he doesn’t say how many – and Decim is clearly one of many arbiters working under her. Oculus’ particular interest in Nona, and her’s in Decim, are clearly major plot points – both in their own terms, and in the reasons behind them.
Another revealing sequence here is the game – which turns out to be a test staged by Nona. She sends a dummy posing as an aggressive A-hole (Yasumoto Hiroki) who remembers Decim (which should never happen) in the company of a meek boy (Matsumoto Megumi) who remembers nothing. Decim fails this test spectacularly – he lets himself be distracted by the obnoxious decoy while overlooking the fact that the boy’s lack of hidden memories is a red flag. The boy is in fact Ginti (Hosoya Yoshimasa) in disguise – another arbiter in Nona’s employ, it appears, and one who has a particular animus towards Decim (as a teacher’s pet, maybe?). Decim not only doesn’t catch on right away, but allows Ginti to goad him into a kind of afterworld bar brawl that makes quite a mess of Quindecim.
Finally, we have Castra (Yuzuki Ryouka), who seems to be one of Nona’s fellow managers. We catch her in the act of what looks like some pretty grim reaping (and sucking on an Earth pop) and she starts dropping the bombs immediately, referring to Decim as “Nona’s Boy”. Nona tells us Decim has been with her for five years (seems a blink of an eye to an immortal) and calls Ginti “that idiot”. The hits keep on coming from Castra – “They’re dying too fast – 7000 per hour.” And the puzzling “All righteousness is in competition with itself. I’m surprised it doesn’t lose interest.”
Whew. So, taken as a whole, what does all this mean? This version of the afterlife seems abuzz with office politics and petty resentment, for starters. And Castra’s comments seem to indicate a crisis of some sort brewing, on Earth and by extension, the afterlife (a crisis Nona seems to feel Oculus is insufficiently preparing for – on Oculus rift?). I can’t help but notice that one of the players in next week’s game (possibly taking place at Ginti’s bar) seems to be a cat – and we were conspicuously shown a cat (and a dog) as one of the characters in “Chavvot”. Mostly, all this is still a mystery – but that’s OK with me, as I love the way Death Parade is setting it up. My only concern going into this show was whether the initial hook as seen in Death Billiards was fleshed out enough to support a series, and it’s now clear that the answer is a resolute “yes”.