Death Parade – 07

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The name is Tachikawa Yuzuru, aged 33.  If you’re an anime fan, I think it’d be a good idea to remember it.

Death Parade follows up possibly its weakest (but still very good, and quite well-received by most) episode with just maybe its best.  I’m not breaking any big news here, but this show is good – really, really good.  It pretty much justified the existence of Anime Mirai all by itself, because this is exactly what the goal of that project was – to give an opportunity to talented young industry professionals to make a big impression.  And boy, did Tachikawa-sensei ever do that – and he still is.

What’s impressing me most, I think, is that a show that I expected to love as an episodic series of one-offs with minimal continuity continues to reveal new depths and complexities week after week, with no end in sight.  To put things in perspective, Tachikawa is both director and writer of Death Parade – but he’s also written every individual episode and storyboarded several.  The headline of this series may be the arrival of a new creative giant in anime, but the question I find myself asking is this – was Death Parade always this big a story?  Did it always have this many layers, and was all of this in Tachikawa’s mind even when Madhouse let him make Death Billiards?  Or did he simply dream up that brilliant one-off, and only after the idea of a series was floated did he flesh out the broader universe and story?

So much that seems important was said by so many characters this week that it’s hard to know where to start.  We can begin where the episode does, with Oculus telling us the three rules of being an arbiter: No quitting making judgments, no experiencing death (because that would make them too close to being human), and no emotions – because they’re dummies.  That’s a bit of a bombshell right there, though it’s not abjectly surprising.  The big takeaway for me isn’t that the arbiters are dummies, but that the three rules seem essentially to add up to one thing – no empathy.  And one gets the sense that Oculus is on to the possibility that Nona is testing these boundaries – and that for all his seeming joviality, he’s liable to bare a terrible set of teeth at some point.

Nona’s exact reasons for messing with the system aren’t clear, but she definitely is, and it’s manifesting itself in many ways.  There’s Onna’s existence, and Nona’s toying with her dreams and memories via the “Chavvot” book (which Oculus discovers near the end of the episode).  Oculus’ reference to it as a “living world book” seems to confirm that Onna is – or was – a human.  And it seems clear that she’s part of Nona’s “experiment” to create an arbiter with emotions.  “I just think there should be more than one way to judge souls.” she confides to Quin (Shiraishi Ryoko).  Which seems to fly directly in the face of Oculus’ stated rules.

A couple of things seem clear enough.  If Onna is indeed part of the plan to draw out Decim’s emotions, she’s not the entire plan – Decim has obviouslyly had emotions (implanted or not) right from the beginning.  We can see that in his “final exam” where he declines to use the cheat button to create a tense situation and bring out the darkness in the players.  Also, it’s obvious that Decim isn’t alone in having emotions and thus, not alone in being part of Nona’s experiment – Ginti clearly has them too, even if they tend to manifest in much more obvious and negative ways.  The fact that he’s seemingly declined to pass judgment on Mayu just as Decim did on Onna confirms this – though I don’t find the reasons why Mayu should have been the one to drive Ginti to this quite as obvious.

As for Quin, she’s the “Quin” in “Quindecim” – Decim’s predecessor, and now working in the information gathering section (which she hates, because it’s too much work).  She also seems to be something of a confidante and friend to Nona, and is likewise unsettled by the rate at which folks are dying and the half-assed job of sorting memories this forces her department to do (and quite possibly the half-assed judging it forces her old section to do).  The tone of their conversation – while sipping Grand Cru Bordeaux on deck chairs in front of Nona’s house in one of the most gorgeous and imaginative backgrounds of the season – clearly suggests that a crisis is brewing, and Nona has little enough faith in Oculus’ ability to handle it that she’s willing to take some major risks (I’m assuming bribing Castra to send two “marked” souls to Quindecim is part of this risky plan).

This is all great stuff, frankly – I just love how much Death Parade demands that you really think about what you’re watching.  But for me the highlight of the episode is not about thinking so much as feeling, and it comes when Decim shows off his collection of dummies to Onna.  This was in response to reminiscing about Quin, whose parting advice to Decim and Ginti was “find one thing you truly treasure” – but the funny thing is, Decim doesn’t seem to exactly grasp what she meant by this.  He’s clearly the least “human” of all the dummies in this afterlife corporate structure as far as temperament is concerned, but that he’s loaded with the forbidden empathy is beyond doubt.  The dummies, it turns out, are the housing for the souls that come to be judged – once the souls have boarded the elevators and moved on, the dummies are to be discarded.

Though we see no overt emotion from Decim in describing why he does what he does, I found it to be the most touching moment in the series thus far.  He makes a dummy representative of each of the souls who’s visited Quindecim whose lives he respects, because he can’t bear the thought of them being cast aside and utterly forgotten.  This is his way of honoring their memory – and it’s all the more poignant because it’s Quixotic in nature.  Decim himself will forget those people, because the memories of arbiters about the souls they’ve judged are periodically wiped.  He’ll look at his dummy of Machiko or any of the others and have no idea who they are, yet he still treasures them (even if he doesn’t understand what that means) because somehow, they still represent that soul’s existence.  It’s kind of like saying the tree that falls does make a sound, even if there’s no one around to hear it.

There’s a childlike purity of feeling to this, and it really cements Decim as someone who’s fit to be the emotional core of the series even if he betrays no emotion himself (by contrast I would describe Ginti as childish – but no less “human”).  I feel as if my earlier comment that “the universe is kind of an asshole” is true, but what’s emerging here is that even in so-called “dummies”, there’s a core of humanity that’s always fighting to assert itself – to treat souls with the dignity they deserve no matter how flawed they were, and to give them a “jury of their peers” because it’s simply the right thing to do.  Just what this says about the mythology of Death Parade I don’t really know – we’re getting into some pretty metaphysical territory here – but what I do know is that all of this is utterly fascinating to ponder and strikes a chord that’s emotionally true.  And those are certainly among the most positive things one could ever say about a series.

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  1. e

    The dummy sequence was pretty moving, and I must say seeing the Machiko dummy as the bgm music played made me a bit emotional :,). In a way Decim is building an alternative graveyard to the 'graveyard of souls' of the Void… every dummy a tombstone even if each and every people will be soon just a simulacrum without a name or memories left of that unique person. It put me in a mood very close to when I used to accompany my grandma to the town cemetery bringing flowers on relatives close and far, and most often than not I ended up wandering among the tombstones and wondering at the lives behind photographs of perfect strangers – and for oldest stones, just their fading names -.
    But I do wonder if by the end of the series there will come a moment where the arbiters themselves will be put through a further test or even judged … especially those showing 'human' emotions.
    Nona's turf Interestingly seems to feature a bit of old ruins from different times (and civilizations?). In any case it conveys quite effectively this afterlife ruling must have been in effect for an immense span of time.
    Talking of the lady, Nona is experimenting on a double level as I suspected last week.
    And she got accomplices too. Well, this should get interesting and I'm rather rooting for the lotus grandpa to be dealt with (or even better to be won over – way too optimistic a wish I know 🙂 – ) as they try to improve the system from within.
    In the meantime I'm left wondering if the thing to treasure in Gintis case is (just) the cat or if the human factor and presence of Mayu is going to grow on him and some of her cheery – and affectionate – mindset to rub off on him as well. She seems to be rather succesful at throwing him out of balance. Some of his contempt-over-humans goggles getting a substantial nudge would feel like a very possile consequence.
    P.S.: if Onna is dead this means she's a dummy too. This could play out in different ways couldn't it? The one scene and series outcome implications I would not like to witness is of Decim making a dummy of her and forgetting her in the periodic memory wiping maintenance. Not a bleak ending please.

  2. O

    Now that you mention the possibility of Onna being a dummy, the OP makes sense. He's got her on strings and is bringing her down to his arms. Oh no.

  3. e

    If it's any consolation the OP has both Onna and Decim's raised arm being made of strings right near the end, then the song end as the camera goes straight to the Chavvot&Jimmy dolls in her lap…

  4. H

    I was pleased to see the Machiko memento. Hard done by, that girl.

  5. g

    I feel like Nona referring to the building as a "tower", the fact that she stays at the 90th floor, that Ginti and Decim are in "lower" floors and that Oculus was said to be the closest to god when put together seem to hint at something important.

    I also find it curious that she used "depth" instead of "height" when she was talking about the building (or whatever it is).

  6. K

    Tower of Babel?

  7. There are certain very good shows where the lack of discussion doesn't surprise me much – they speak for themselves. But 5 comments here does surprise me, because this was one of the best episodes of the year so far, and there seems to be so much to debate.

  8. J

    hmm, I'm just enjoying it.

    I also like reading your commentaries because it means I don't have to dig super deep, I can just let the show brew in my mind without a lot of direct trying to come to grips with it. I think the show still has a number of things to play out.

    But I also noticed on some of the other episodes that some people seemed to dislike the quieter, less conflict-driven episodes.

  9. A

    I guess it's easier for people to just debate over whether people deserve to go to hell or heaven rather than theorycrafting about the show.

    I don't know why you'd think so highly of this episode, but I can't really give an honest opinion without criticizing the series as a whole. I guess I could say that I liked episode 5 better, where there were also twists and reveals about the world in that episode, but they were dealt in a more flashy and dramatic fashion.

    Episode 6 will remain my favorite for its raw entertainment value. It made me laugh, and I like laughing.

  10. H

    It does seem like there is more to debate during the gaming episodes since the audience stands jury. These 'lowdown' episodes (5 &7) mostly fill gaps in world-building and characters express/philosophize about the ideas themselves. Nona admits dissatisfaction with Oculus' system, addressing the irony of the the 'non-dead' judging the dead. Through her will Decim (unlike Ginti) is successfully adopting a more humanistic approach to judge humans as meaningful existences. Perhaps Nona aims to add credibility to the presently mechanical purgatory system and ultimately find order within the ensuing chaos? I dunno her true drive yet, but I'd say it's definitely a combination of preservation and idealism.

    It's interesting stuff & deep too, but I admit I still have mixed feelings. The ideas/rules of this world which result in the issues raised often feel too self-imposed to have much weight outside of the fantasy setting. The journey feels artificial even if the destination is genuine…that's how I feel so far. Better than not feeling at all!

  11. m

    I kind of like the arbitering epidodes better, even though both are good and I do love the scene where Decim showed the dummies. Like what you said, I think all the dummies show emotion at some point, but the human emotion of it is the empathy and regard for another human (even if death).

    I think even by doing this, Nona is scratching the layer. Even if there is more than one way to judge a person, there is no still no right way (or even close). And it is worrying when Quin mentioned that there are too many people dying which is resulting in jobs getting done half-assed, no wonder we have seen some dubious decisions being made in arbitering – the condensed memory may have been a big factor in it

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