Death Parade – 04

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Death Parade broke my expectations this week. Sort of. In that my guess based on episode 3’s post credits preview didn’t pan out 100% the way I expected. However, the resulting ‘surprise’ was deeply unsettling in a way that I don’t think Death Parade intended…

So, I’m left with a conundrum. Death Parade is in no way a competitor for Yuri Kuma, which it is paired with. It is, however, a reasonable competitor for Yatterman and/or JnM. Heck, since I more or less admitted I will keep Binan Koukou even though it ‘fell to Yatterman,’ should I break my word and keep this show too?

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Honestly? Even though I have my reservations about ‘how it made me think,’ Death Parade probably deserves an on-going review slot on my docket.

Why? Let me sum this week up: We break the mold in ep4 by pitting two people who DO NOT KNOW EACH OTHER against one another. This may sound trivial but changing the formula to allow anyone — anyone at all — who dies around the same time to ‘face off’ against another ghost opens up a lot of potential.

In this outing Yousuke and Misaki have no filial or accidental relationship. In fact, even their tragedy only has an oblique relationship, and then, only as inverse ‘traumas.’ Rather, Yousuke has issues with his step mother, who is an incredibly good person, and ultimately with his own inability to accept her for that. Where as Misaki has issues with being a woman who was constantly abused by men, who shackled her with children, but deeply cared about her children until the end…

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So it’s complicated and not a is one person right or wrong/ good or evil, as has been posed by previous episodes. Good!

However, as with previous episodes, the woman is cast into ‘hell’ for reasons that are either alien to my cultural upbringing or alien to Japanese cultural expectations but not ‘critiqued’ hard enough by the characters for me to appreciate. So the result is “I thought a lot about the episode” but I’m not sure I’m thinking about the episode in the terms intended by the creator…

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Truly, I don’t get why Misaki is tossed to the void at the end. Sure, she is brutal and her abuse doesn’t make up for her treatment of Youske. Likewise, she smacks her manager the same way she was smacked by the brutal men in her life before. But wtf??

I totally buy her frustration of being pulled away from her children again, even though she finally has money and means to support them, and that she honestly is supporting them the only way she knows how.

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Even though Dequim shows the first sign of actual emotion, it’s really weird that he sides against the woman yet again — and yet again it seems like the woman is in the clear (blatantly) from my biased American viewpoint. So what to make of it all?

The good: as always, it was a beautiful episode, fantastically controlling mood and professionally well timed. More to the point, there was no ‘arm flailing ahhh moment’ to make the characters feel stupid, or fourth wall breaking, For this it gets an 8 without question.

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However, and this is partially because I read (and lost the link to) a very good article that debates the 4th episode’s treatment of women, Death Parade has consistently tacked… counter to my cultural up bringing in regards to women and their rights.

To explain, one reviewer noted that DP takes a ‘surface beauty’ approach to women in episode 4 by showing the girl as she would be post plastic surgery and by soft-pitching her love interest a ‘why not, she’s pretty now’ scenario. Seriously? Would any of us care if she was his ‘ugly childhood friend when she was that hot not AND they were already dead? It cheapens the idea that a person, especially a woman, can be good and attractive for what she is, especially if she’s only the plastic parts she reconfigured herself to be after death…

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I’m not going to feminazi you hard core here, nor do I agree with it 100% but… yeah. I don’t really get Misaki’s voiding at the end of this. To me, it just felt weird.

Am I biased? Yes. My mother died in agony before me days before my 18th birthday. Even with that caveat, its very hard to respond to ‘3 in a row’ without noticing a pattern. Even if that pattern broke my expectation of a ‘double void’ this week.’

hrm… am I really not going to drop this show even though I promised myself I’d do 3 and only 3 for the season? Maybe. Intentionally or not, it certainly has me thinking…

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Final verdict: the only issue I had with this is actually Youske himself. His backstory is dull, undefined, and he comes off as stupid — even to himself in retrospect. Without a meaningful counterpoint to Mizaki’s seriously gripping, emotionally backstory, this ep is held back.

But only by a smidge! DP 4 comes dangerously close to a 10 and you better go download or stream it now! Stream the whole series while you’re at it! The first three aren’t winners but they’re no slouches either!

9_ogk

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8 thoughts on “Death Parade – 04”

  1. It has been construed at times that the void might not necessarily be a bad thing, as it’s regarded as a place of eternal rest and peace in a couple of religions. That said, I’m somewhat bemused by your giving this a 9 very nearly a 10. Certainly, I agree with the score. But I don’t understand your reasoning.

    You sort of talked for a bit after analyzing about how it made you think in some interesting directions, and you mentioned an essay about episode 3 and how this show handles women, and how you disagree. Therefore, I’m sort of confused why you rated this highly. Was it because it made you think?

    1. I remain unconvinced that the void is meant to be permanent. I still think the “term” mentioned at the end of the second episode refers to the woman, not the man.

      Japanese concepts of death are difficult to pin down, even more so when you’re dealing with a fictional version that involves bar games. Unless I’m hearing it wrong, they’re using the word for void that refers to the element. Western Culture (including those of my faith, Catholicism) holds nothingness as a very bad thing. But in Easter Culture, “void” can literally be synonymous with heaven. If you’re Catholic, it’s almost synonymous with “grace.” It’s an element of purification and transcendence.

      The void might be a place where the soul is completely wiped of all individuality before being resurrected. If Decim’s job is to identify any hidden fatal flaws and send people off to get purified, then the first and fourth episodes make much more sense.

      … Or it becomes the soup that lives are drawn from.

      … Or I’m just completely wrong and it’s hell, red devil and all.

      1. Its hard to separate from the context of a game, which has winners and losers AND from the 2 masks above the elevators that roughly tie into Dequim’s “Heaven or Hell” foil. It certainly is more complicated, and the show hasn’t filled us in, but the characters DO react like going one way or another has significant consequences…

    2. It was a windy review but my key points for the actual score were:

      +it deserves a minimum score of 8 just on render quality, atmosphere and consistency of tone.

      +expanding the formula to include anyone who died at the same time instead of just people with direct relationships (or who died in the same place) not only made for a much more interesting episode but gives the entire show more potential.

      +it was thought provoking on the individual episode’s narrative level, on the ‘where is this going for Shadow/Dequim’ long term narrative level, and on a ‘what does the artist want this to mean’ level.

      My only real criticism of the show was how little Youske actually mattered to it. His story is sad but not very interesting, given less screen time and how he comes to his conclusion felt abrupt. That and a lingering misogynistic vibe are what keeps it from a 10.

    3. as to the essay, which I can’t find at the moment, the gist:

      +it was weird that the girl appeared in the afterlife as she did after plastic surgery — and not what she would have looked like without plastic surgery.

      +does it mean her soul had surgery? that her identity has always been beautiful but only plastic surgery could let the world see it?

      +the guy was nice but it’s not all that nobel to give attention to the girl who’s ‘finally gotten cute’ (via surgery)

      While I do not take as sharp a stance on these topics (I don’t get the feeling Death Parade’s writers have thought that much about them) the arguments are valid and establishes a pattern of male-centric valuation of women as a core of the show.

      What is a little confusing is that ‘Shadow’ addresses this in the first ‘game’ but not in the second or third.

      I’m not holding that against the show… though I could if takes a particularly despicable stance in a future episode. My bigger criticisms of previous episodes were more that the story was too simple and/or predictable.

      1. Honestly, I would be skeptical of any essay that attempts to divine the gender implications of a project that’s only a third over. That feels like holding up an issue to see if it sticks. Anime is produced all at once and it’s easy to jump to the wrong conclusions based on the first few episodes. We just don’t have enough context.

        As for the specific issues raised:

        People appear as they died. Why would the surgery be removed but not hair, makeup, clothing, or anything else? This point more than anything seems to be an “issue first, reasoning second” detail.

        I think the idea was that she had some kind of stigma attached to her surgery and the point was that the boy overcame that to ask her out. I know Korea outright encourages plastic surgery, but I’ve heard conflicting things about it in Japan. In the episode itself, the boys seem to whisper it as if her getting surgery was a negative. I also think it’s arguable that we were supposed to have seen the boy as failing due to not recognizing the girl in the first place.

        I would also point to that last shot of the girl, where she was smiling and pretty on one side, while plain and sad on the other. Having achieved peace, her two faces synch up and are brought together by a smile. More than anything, this show wants us to feel sympathy for all of its characters.

  2. Great review, as always. I know a number of people from East Asia, Japan included. I’ll try and do my best to guess as to the meaning.

    In Japanese culture, both of these characters would carry a heavy stigma.

    Misaki is a reality show “star,” placing her pretty low in the eyes of mainstream Japanese society. A Japanese audience would also probably see her constant outreach to men as a fatal flaw akin to Youske’s depression. They’re victims, but due to their own internal compulsions. As for Youske, as a suicide victim AND an otaku, he’s even lower in terms of the mainstream. They actually reflect one another from a Japanese point of view. Youske has “failed” as a son, while Misaki has “failed” as a mother.

    Again, I’m trying to talk in Japanese terms, here.

    Why does Misaki go into the void then? I can only think of three options. The first is that she never really admitted to doing anything wrong. She doesn’t seem very invested in her kids after she’s got the show.

    The other (maybe more likely) option is that, when pushed, she will turn violent. That might be all Decim is looking for. It might matter that Youske is a child, meaning that she violated her maternal instincts and only returned to them after he was dead.

    And the (maybe most likely) option is that we’re supposed to see Decim’s judgments as flawed, especially when regarding women. He was explicitly wrong in the first episode. Decim is not human, he is an adult male. And he just so happens to have a female assistant.

    I noticed next week has a child. I’m going to throw out a wild guess and say that Decim winds up completely incapable of doing his job and the old guy has to get brought in.

    Ack, sorry for the long post.

    1. All possibilities. All interesting in their own right. This degree of interpretation is why I gave it a 9 :)

      Man, my whole semi-finals cut list is such a mess now. It took 4 episodes and I don’t even know if i “like” DP still, but at least it’s interesting and gives us something complex to talk about. AND it’s pretty enough for us to care about the complexity too!

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