There are times when surprises happen to you when you are not prepared for them. The reality is that they do not happen frequently, at least when it comes to anime shows that have no hype behind them but somehow have a huge following when word of mouth spreads around. Often than not, these surprises turn out to be positive outcomes when finished from beginning to end. Death Parade is one particular surprise from 2015 that will surely reign among the greats in this particular year.
Death Parade starts off as an episodic anime that shows the life of a purgatory that hosts a game that will determine two people’s fates that are intertwined from their former lives. Each episode hallmarks a unique story that develops the characters very nicely even with only one episode. What also works is how they layer these stories with a mystery to them that adds some suspense to the actions that these characters do. It does seem like an attempt by the writers to make it exciting to watch rather than a slow burn for most people, but it is still a warm welcome to make the narrative more engaging. They add great emotional depth to the characters that builds a melancholic, humorous, and heartwarming flavor to each of them. It is always great to see a show like Death Parade to tackle these three elements at the same time to have a unique identity to its story and do it successfully.
For the characters themselves, I’ll start with the ones that are put into purgatory to delve into the games that our main protagonist, named Decim, puts them into. Like I’ve mentioned before, the characters that Decim looks after are developed accordingly with respect to the amount of screen-time they are able to muster. That means they aren’t treated as just throwaway characters that we know aren’t going to be seen again, but are written with deep intentions from how they are seen as either good people or rotten from the inside. There is one instance where one duo, named Haruda and Mayu, do have more than one episode to help develop them and they’re the strongest arc because of it. Their arc has the humorous and melancholic moments that are paced together at the right time where they don’t feel awkward in one episode; even at the most instantaneously hilarious ones involving one of them falling down on a pit of big spikes.
The characters that aren’t the ones participating are a mixed bag. On the one hand you have characters that are so beautifully developed and emotionally tragic in how they are portrayed. On the other, it seemed as though they were put there as just plot devices and don’t feel like actual characters you can really feel any emotion towards. An example of the latter is Ginki, where it seemed as though the writers wanted to put in an arrogant-type character into the mix to balance out the cast a little more. Same can be said about Nona who has a bigger impact on the story than Ginki does, yet does not even come close to the greatness of the minor characters I mentioned. It’s not terrible by any means, but they just never felt fully realized for me to have any sort of connection to them.
The characters that are all around great are our two main leads: Decim and Chiyuki. Their slow development adds not only to their individual character arcs that we get to see later on in Death Parade, but also to the relationship that they’ve managed to make from their first meeting. It helps how different Decim and Chiyuki personalities are, whereas Decim is the stoic one and Chiyuki is more emotional, and yet they still play off each others chemistry exceptionally well. Individually, there is more to Decim then when we see him for the first time as this unemotional character. Obviously without giving anything away, let us just say that he has the most compelling character growth that I’ve experienced in recent times all the way to the end of the show. Chiyuki definitely has the same amount of growth when we get to know her past a bit more that is both tragic but uplifting at the end of it. They’re both phenomenal characters that make Death Parade a worthy sit just for those two alone.
Another big positive to note about is Death Parade’s direction from the artistic and general side of things. Its art direction is quite a sight to see, though nothing too spectacular as it doesn’t really break too many boundaries. Despite that, it still has really detailed character designs that give all of them a unique visual trait that makes them distinguishable. Now for the general direction, it is incredible how much care was put into producing some of the most intense moments that will have you at the edge of your screen to see what is going to happen next. This goes right down to how perfect the music plays off the scenes of whatever mood is set to encompass a stylistic tone, whether it be in a life or death situation or just lounging around at the bar. The way scenes are shot with the constant close-ups, although effecting, can become tedious at times, but thankfully they don’t go overboard with it over the course of the show
One thing to mention that makes Death Parade an engrossing show to watch is how it does not treat the mystery aspect to the show lightly as an afterthought. There are some things that are left uncertain to the viewer that were done purposefully by the writers to make the audience think more about what they saw. A lot of other shows of the mystery genre involve too much explanation on various aspects of the story. For Death Parade, especially the one involving the first episode, it leaves many things unnoticed for the viewer to contemplate about after watching it. Then the next episode puts a different perspective on the last episode and puts a whole new light to the scenario that the audience may or may not have noticed. That is but one of the many smart moves that the writers implemented into the show.
Death Parade was a definite surprise for me to see from how I didn’t have much expectation going into it. Normally episodic anime try to be too formulaic in its structure, but Death Parade flips it on its ears and makes an interesting way to compose a narrative. With a show like this to come out in the Winter season of all things, you know that this year will be an interesting one. At least one could hope it will be.