It’s definitely a point in Death Parade’s favor that it continues to move in directions that surprise me, not just consistently but almost exclusively. I had a broad suspicion of what sort of series it was going to be based on Death Billiards, and that was proved mostly wrong right out of the gate. And it’s continued to stump me ever since, revealing layers and depths to the mythology that I wasn’t expecting to see.
The downside of a show that’s doing a lot of shapeshifting, of course, is that there may be times when certain incarnations don’t click quite as much as others – and I’d have to say this episode wasn’t one of the stronger ones for me. I thought the humor was hit-and-miss and a bit mean-spirited, and the fanservice was pretty crass. But even when Death Parade has gone in directions that didn’t work for me, it’s always turned out to be in the service of something bigger with the plot – that was the case with the second episode, and I believe it is here as well.
As expected we got an episode focused around Ginti’s bar this time, and it’s clear just from appearances that things are going to be very different. Rather than Quindecim’s ultra-chic modernity we have classic Japanese stylings here – tatami, bamboo, Buddhist scrolls, Kokeshi (wooden dolls from Tohoku). And it’s clear from the way Ginti greets his visitors, annoying teen Mayu (Tanezaki Atsumi, who was so wonderful in Tonari no Kaibursu-kun) and fatuous idol Harada (Miyano Mamoru) that the tone of the arbitration is going to be very different, too.
Earlier I opined that if Quindecim’s was how the fate of eternal souls were judged, “the Universe is kind of an asshole”, but I have to take that back – compared to Ginti, that experience is positively nurturing and compassionate. Ginti could give asshole lessons at a proctology clinic. All through this episode I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did – as far as anyone would be able to tell, Ginti is truly a cruel and sadistic SOB in a position to cast judgment on the eternal souls of the newly deceased. And the situations confronting Harada and Mayu just kept getting more and more horrific.
The counterweight, though, is that the entire process was played as black comedy – very black – and because of that, it kind of worked. Twister is a fitting venue for these twisted events to play out, and a particularly good fit for Ginti’s sadistic muse. With a spinner voiced by Chafurin and a cat named Memine (Izumi Chiba) doing the spinning, this is the most surreal of the games we’ve seen so far. As for the players, Mayu is a stereotypical high-school idol freak, obsessed with the group called “CHA” – whose center is none other than Harada, a notorious womanizer. It seems almost too on the nose to cast Miyano-san in this role, but at the same time it’s almost impossible to imagine it being played by anyone else. And he and Tanezaki do have a kind of wacky comic chemistry. Mayu is too busy being thrilled at the chance to get up close and personal with Harada to worry much about the situation (at least at first), and Harada’s internal publicist never stops working all throughout the game.
Ginti tells his victims next to nothing about what’s going on, and his game uses extreme heat, cold, wind and a pit of spikes to terrorize them. It’s only when the two are facing the end that he reveals the truth of their situation, and in yet another surprise both of them kind of pass the test with flying colors. Mayu sacrifices herself (though she says it’s because she’d rather die than pee herself in front of Harada), and – though he does waver – Harada ends up trying to save Mayu from falling. In the end both remember the truth of their rather pointless demises – she slipped on a bar of soap in the shower while singing a CHA tune (over 300 Americans a year die falling from falling in the shower or tub, you know). And he got blowed up real good by the sister of one of his fans – a girl he’d slept with and dumped who later killed herself.
Certainly in terms of Karmic debt Harada seems to be in the lead (or behind, if you like), though I don’t think he’s truly responsible for what happened to his former fan – as far as we know Mayu’s only real sin is to be shallow and annoying. But seemingly their actions in their final moments, weighed against their lives, ought to be enough for a ticket on the reincarnation train. Thing is, though, that I have no idea if Ginti’s rules are the same as Quindecim’s. We didn’t see Noh elevators specifically, and his language never directly suggested the same outcome. And not only that, the ending completely excludes any mention of either Harada or Mayu’s fate – in fact, they show up for a musical number in the epilogue, as the entire regular cast looks on.
There’s one other weird twist here. If you, like me, thought you recognized Mayu, you were right – that is her in the OP (several times, in fact). What that means I have no idea, especially given that Harada is nowhere to be seen – maybe he’s sent out (I would hope upstairs) but she, like Onna, stays on? It wouldn’t be out of character for Nona to assign Mayu to be Ginti’s assistant just because it would so exquisitely piss him off. It’s still another mystery as Death Parade reaches its halfway point accompanied by far more questions than answers, but as interesting as those questions are, that’s a good thing.