Death Parade – 12 (Fin)

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Death Parade ends its long march with an emotional, twisty, judgement of Chiyuki. It is far from a wartless affair, as the Oculus vs Nona subplot remains weightless and basically unexplained, but it was a solid outing.

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To summarize: Oculus and Nona… don’t actually fight. Instead, Oculus info dumps us that Arbiters are built using the discarded dummies (and souls?) of the judged who are thrown into the void and that this means…

well its really not clear what this means but Nona is dead set on getting souls (or soul-like contents) into the Arbitors to shake things up.

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Meanwhile, Decim puts Chiyuki through a similar ruse to what Ginti did last week. Here, he pretends they have returned to the living world and shows Chiyuki her grieving mother, an empty house, and offers her a button to press that will return her to life…

at the cost of someone else’s life! While Chiyuki doesn’t realize this is a trap, she still ultimately makes the moral decision, based in no small part on her experiences with other souls and Decim is brought to tears. Then he reincarnates her, learns to smile, and leaves her dummy-body on a chair next to the bar.

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What worked: While I thought Decim’s trap was obvious, it was a nice mirror of Ginti’s all the same.

And trap aside, seeing Chiyuki’s mom and her anguish was emotionally resonant. This was a major feels episode and, for once, it didn’t feel contrived and cheap in the delivery.

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What didn’t work: any second spent without Chiyuki and Decim on screen. Oculus’ objection to Nona, the lack of coherent reasoning for Nona’s agenda, and the complete lack of a conflict between them just zap the subplot’s strength.

It never got meaningful development and, like the ‘people are dying too quickly’ the fuzziness of it all felt more annoying than apetite-wetting for more. Really, beyond Decim learning to smile and possibly becoming a better ‘person’ nothing feels consequential at all.

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So I have mixed feelings about this series. If not obvious from all of my reviews, I greatly respect Death Parade’s sense of style and that it is, to some degree, a show that took risks. When it tried, it was good at making me feel for its characters too.

That said, I found it highly predictable and muddled. The secondary conflict, which should explain what and why Decim is, never manifests and Chiyuki is not very interesting after you strip away her sex appeal.

Certainly not one for the heritage list by any event but a nice, mostly pleasant show. Probably worth a binge if you didn’t catch it and have time at some future point.

8_ogk

Death Parade – 11

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10_ogk

Death Parade scores its first perfect 10 with Chiyuki’s wondrous ice skating scene, which combines the series’ trademark beauty with enchanting music, top notch animation, and wordless story telling. What’s more, Nona and Oculus finally come to a clash and Ginti’s judgement of Mayu (and Harada?!) comes to a dramatic close.

I dare say, Mayu’s sub-plot nearly steals the spotlight. It’s brutal, emotional, and mind bending that DP’s creators did more with it as a side story, spread over so few episodes, than their master-plot in 11.

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Why was Mayu’s plot so effective? In a nutshell, Mayu is a simpler, yet more rounded character than Chiyuki and the smaller, but more clearly defined plot around her has more obvious stakes.

Mayu loves Harada, and owes much of her life’s inspiration to him. More importantly, after death (and their failed judgement) Harada increases Mayu’s devotion by revealing that her letters did reach him and that he was inspired by her.

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So we understand the characters’ connections and feel the burden when Ginti offers Mayu a choice: if Mayu chooses to send another soul to the void, Harada’s soul will return with her in reincarnation.

It’s obviously a trap, and even Mayu knows her decision will be wrong (morally) but what elevates the plot from trivial side-tragedy to masterpiece, is how the mean-spirited Ginti’s hell-vision of the void proves so wrong.

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Plummeting down the elevator, sensing that she’s been betrayed, Mayu embraces Harada. Then his eyes open, they embrace, and their skin/souls are wrapped apart in a final instant.

The implication is clear: they will never return to being, Mayu and Harada end eternally together. And the arbiters clearly know nothing at all about what is going on…

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Meanwhile, Chiyuki’s backstory is revealed in flashes while she skates Quindecim’s new ice rink. It’s simple but has to be so since it is delivered without dialog: her love of skating began when her mother read Chavvo, continued through school and eventually lead to a professional career… but abruptly ended with an injury and eventual suicide.

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The slightly silly reason Chiyuki eventually gives Decim for killing herself, which relates to the impossibility of people understanding one another, is thankfully besides the point.

Yes, I get that it ties her life directly into the greater Chavvo plot, but the real point is that her life makes Decim think, and that the length of time they are together and the amount of questioning she does, makes him think harder about what is going on.

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And Decim thinks that judgement, like life, needs to include the living (or at least the lived) lest it be hollow. Then he offers Chiyuki a final drink…

and slips her a mickey.

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I don’t know where this is going next week but I love it as an unexpected twist.

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If I had any gripes at all this week, it’s the Nona/Quin/Oculus plot. Rather, I don’t think the plot has enough build up to make for an engaging conflict over-which Decim and Chiyuki’s love must triumph next week.

But that’s next week and I can’t hold that against this week. This week was emotional resonant for four characters, illustrative of the differences between soul-less and soul-enabled Arbitors, advanced the master plot, tied up a side plot, and was lovely lovey lovely to hear and look at.

Show not tell for the win!

Death Parade – 10

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DP10 was a pleasant up-swing in my ongoing like/shrug relationship with the show. Like Ginti’s ep a few weeks ago, this week had a pleasant mood, which contrasted the obvious overtones of death nicely.

More importantly, episode 10 “got on with it,” developed it’s main characters and put the final conflicts in place.

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To sum up: we start with Decim’s birth, which is essentially identical to Shadow’s empty awakening in episode 2, which is a great scene-to-character parallel because we almost immediately transition to Shadow who is dying in the present. She’s literally falling apart, skin flaking away from the mannequin her soul possesses.

As Decim’s eye life twitch indicated last week, it’s time to judge her and even if Shadow weren’t about to go on her own, Nona won’t let him delay any longer. Also, elevator-kun is tactfully hidden in the background where only we, the viewers, can see him, thus setting up his eventual use as a spy for Oculus but hey… for all my criticism of DP’s obviousness use of false subtlety, at least it makes the attempt.

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Judgement buddies: Shadow and died-of-old-age super-nice grandma that never had kids but instead became a children’s book illustrator Uemura Sachiko sit down for a friendly game of Old Maid. In a smile-endusing twist, Old Maid requires three players and so Decim gets to join them.

The very concept of the scene is nicely pleasant. Decim doesn’t just get to judge — and get to judge without torture — he gets to be with Shadow at the end of her time. Its a nice shared moment and, because Sachiko had a fulfilled life and loves the little details of Decim’s life-moment-based Old Maid cards, no drama distracts us from sharing that bitter sweet moment with them.

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Also we get little glimpses of Decim and Shadow’s life moments on his cards. Decim’s are the empty icons we see him use everyday — a shaker, martini glasses and mannequins — and Shadow’s cards have the the picture book pictures… which Sachiko recognizes.

So the children’s book itself becomes a parallel to Shadow’s plight, and of judgement in general. Sachiko notes that Chavvo, the mute girl in the story, has to rely on something other than words to communicate her intent — her emotions. This is the case for judgements, which can’t rely on a person’s words, and probably a point that will come up next episode and/or be the basis for judgement reform … but that’s hopping ahead and speculation.

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It could also be a statement about Decim, who isn’t mute but ‘can’t hear’ what people mean, because he has no emotions.

Regardless, Shadow remembers her mother reading the book and that her name is Chiyuki, but I won’t call her that because I like typing Shadow more. Then Oculus drains elevator-kun of memory and learns that Nona put human emotions into Decim. Then Oculus is upset.

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My only criticism in all of this is somewhat trivial. Oculus may be a dull, 11th hour villain of sorts to have shoe-horned into a story that didn’t need a villain in the first place. However, I’m slightly more annoyed that Elevator-kun has been spying in the first place.

I mean, it’s not like he has any motivation to be doing that. He doesn’t have human emotions, like all the rest, and he’s pretty obvious about it… so why everyone ignores him so he can spy is weird too.

I just don’t see either plot, or character, as adding anything to the story. Nona herself has barely added to the story but at least she’s _done_ something in the story within the first 11 episodes…

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At this point, you can probably guess that I enjoyed the episode. It wasn’t flawless but the core aesthetic was appealing but also the tone and plot provided contrast to lighten everything. The result was delightfully not boring.

9_ogk

Death Parade – 09

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Verdict: despite Death Parade’s pretty looks, this week’s conclusion to the “Killers” two-parter was so melodramatically over the top that it lost all emotional resonance. What’s more, the binary nature of judgement continues to make the show feel predictable, even when it legitimately throws in a surprise.

To summarize: Shimada and Detective Tatsumi are both wrathful people and both successfully avenge their loved ones — through murder — before dying and they remain twisted after the fact. Shimada maybe less so but they are both doomed to the void.

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Because it’s presented slightly out of chronological order, their sequence of events are actually somewhat complicated to follow. Tatsumi kills his target first and becomes a vigilante killer for some period of time before Shimada hunts down and kill’s his sisters attacker. As I suspected last week, Shimada then kills Tatsumi, who he believes to be working with the original victim.

The twist is, Tatsumi is somewhat responsible for Shimada’s sister’s attack. Rather, he witnessed it and did nothing to help her because a vigilante can’t kill if there are no victims. So, in a way, Shimada gets the true karmic revenge, even though he doesn’t realize it while he’s living.

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Speaking of Shimada, his death completely missed me on my first viewing. I do bare some blame for this, but it isn’t very clear that his victim has landed a mortal wound. Shimada does go to the bathroom and cry/choke a bit that just read as emotional murder-guilt to me and, unlike Tatsumi, he doesn’t get a twitch-twtich moment of framing.

Combined with the knife in his duffle bag, which remains unexplained and unique to this episode (no other guest has brought a possession with them and we know guests aren’t even in their physical bodies) I was initially very irritated with the show for breaking its world rules. I’m still irritated but, to be fair, I can live with the unexplained knife more than I could with Shimada’s unexplained death.

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Air Hockey aside, there was a lot of emotional yelling, cool dude turing his back on a weak bro, and the dread ‘I’m emotionally unstable smile face.’ Throw in Shadow’s emotional freak-out over Shimada probably cursing himself to the void and it all felt too over the top.

What’s my criticism exactly? Death Parade is a gothy show but, when it works well, it goes beyond that particular cliche to bring us real people with real, nuanced emotions who just happen to be in a gothy setting. This week was just gothy characters in a gothy setting. No juxtaposition and maximum adolescent melodrama.

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If I had to speculate on the episode’s true intent, I would assume that it sets Shadow up for judgement next week. It’s obvious that Decim can’t keep her around (not if she’s going to get physically entangled over his methods) and it’s obvious that her rant about humans being simpler than he thinks connected to him.

His eyelid crinkled at least.

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The trouble is, I’m not sure I care? Shadow is equal parts mystery and bland ‘nice girl.’ When you strip away her hot-gothy-looks, and the mood of the show, she isn’t anything more than that.

Maybe, as a 34 year old who was a goth 16 years ago, I look back at this genre as silly and juvenile? Maybe I want this episode to be more than it is, more like the last 5 episodes that I thought were quality story telling regardless of mood or genre?

Death Parade – 08

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After 3 weeks, Death Parade finally returns to its “Decim & Shadow judge people via death game mini-mystery” formula. This week’s twist is that ‘someone’ is a killer, and that Shadow is also allowed to see the memory-stream that helps Arbiters make a judgement.

It was also a two parter… (warning: Spoilers ahead)

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This week’s judgement duo are: Detective Tatsumi and Shimada. Tatsumi is the obvious killer red herring, as he’s a grizzled cop and poor Shimada is such an empathetic looking guy.

And Death Parade honestly scores points by playing off our expectations of a red herring, because Shimada immediately shows us that he has a bloody knife in his duffle bag but it turns out they are both killers. It doesn’t score many points because we learn this via shadow seeing them as killers in the memory stream at the cliff hanger point, but it scores points all the same.

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So they play air hockey and it is very good looking setting, as usual. However, despite having organs drawn on each puck, Decim doesn’t force them to feel pain and anguish until late in the episode. Actually, despite the speed of air hocky, it’s a very slow episode in general.

Torture aside, we learn that Tatsumi’s wife was murdered, possibly by a con he put away, and that he dedicated the rest of his sad life to revenge. Similarly, Shimada, an orphan and hard working brother, has a sister who was brutalized by a stalker that the police didn’t stop and swore revenge against who ever that was.

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So, if I had to guess, they actually killed each other but that may not be the case. At least, it doesn’t entirely look that way in Shadow’s flash of the memory feed. I kinda don’t care though, since I know they are both dead and the only consequence is void or reincarnation, which has never really mattered much to me.

Which leaves Shadow’s growth from the experience, and the continued unraveling of her personal mystery.

dp806Now… why and how does Shimada have a knife in a bag if he isn’t even physically real? We know the souls are injected into dummies and dressed in the elevator…

Verdict: if not for it’s looks, I would probably give this episode a 7. The slow pace, intentional or not, didn’t feel earned by the late-episode reveals and is straight up eye rolling as a two parter. Yes, I get it. Shimada v Tatsms judgement isn’t really the story here. But if Shadow’s response to killers, and her first dive into death memory exposure, is the point, there were better, more active ways to go about it.

Death Parade, you are damn lucky you were born pretty!

8_ogk

Death Parade – 07

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Death Paradethrew me this week. Not because anything was wrong with it. We learned plenty of world-building details, met 1.5 new characters, and came to understand Decim just a sliver more.

More over, all of it was interesting in a way that ‘stuff just happened’ never is. However, I don’t know what to make of it, beyond the surface level of the show’s mystery.

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The bullet points: Oculus and Nona confirm that Arbiters are just dolls (albeit complicated ones) but that Decim is different. Decim has human emotions. Maybe.

Meanwhile, Shadow finds a physical copy of her creepy children and suffers snippets of memory. None of it makes sense to us yet, but that’s not really important because the episode is mostly about Decim!

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And Decim is all about Flash Back Time! Specifically, about his final test as an Arbiter, where he watched Dequim’s previous Arbiter (Quin) judge a couple over pool with Ginti but, unlike the vindictive Ginti, never pressed the ‘screw you’ button on his magic wand.

He was too interested in what the humans were thinking to bother, although he doesn’t actually know what they were thinking due to his lack of experience. In the end, he resolves to keep the ‘Dolls’ left behind by the people he finds interesting. Yes! the guests all inhabit dolls, which are typically disposed of after they are judged!

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Arita Mayu is still around and Ginti can’t judge her. He doesn’t really explain why, but we can assume all my notes about how inept his strategy was last week had something to do with it!

I wouldn’t say his scenes distract from anything. If anything, they show that Decim isn’t alone in his inability to judge everyone. Still… Ginti’s scenes don’t go anywhere and only the viewer gains anything from them. Little at that.

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There’s some rock’n bass-ey electronica going on during Decim’s flash back and, oddly, the lyrics are in english. This is not ballsy per say, anime does english all the time, but I note it for the fact that it isn’t awful and wins Death Parade plenty of points for its effort.

And, as always, it was pretty to look at. Some of the reflection angles were especially well composed. I’m a sucker for pool-with-planets too.

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Again, I didn’t see any deeper meaning here. No icons or symbolism. Mystery and well delivered world building but… no deeper message?

I’m not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. Death Parade isn’t the most complex mystery to begin with and, while I’ve come to like the characters more than I did in the beginning, the shallower it dives, the less it has going for it. The whole ‘why are humans dying so quickly’ plot, Decim being special, and wtf is Shadow, can’t float the show on their own.

So here’s hoping it has a little more going on under those mysteries next week. Otherwise it’ll slip back to being a beautiful but 6/7 worthy show all too quickly.

8_ogk

Death Parade – 06

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Sometimes, when a show breaks from it’s normal tone and format, it can feel like the creators are wasting your time or unfocused or being lazy — and this week’s DP is bizarrely different from previous episodes.

But man was it a pleasant break from DP’s bleak, high drama routine. Dare I say it, this was a break it desperately needed!

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The details: Arita Mayu an over the top fan girl and Harada, a male idol from idol trio CHA, face off against Ginti this week. Also Ginti’s cat.

They play an ever increasingly difficult (read: absurd) game or Twist, that eventually puts them in a literal push-the-other-to-their-death-or-die scenario but it totally backfires on Ginti.

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Even though Harada is probably a bad dude, he doesn’t get to show it because Arata sacrifices herself. However, even though Arata is probably a good person, she’s doing it because Ginti hasn’t let her pee for hours and she can’t cope with urinating all over her idol anymore than she can imagine shoving him in.

This all results in Harada admitting that he only survives through the love and support of his fans, especially fans as strong as Arata and, because the death games are always fake-outs, Harada doesn’t ‘die again’ and they get to have drinks and sing together for the various workers of the tower.

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I’m not even sure if they get judged by the end of it.

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This deserves a 9: because it made fun of how melodramatic Death Parade can be, without breaking the way Death Parade works. If anything, Ginti is more brutal and his game more torturous than Decim’s but his players, who are both physically over the top and manically expressive, have fun all the way. Even their death-realizations are pretty mild.

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Arata herself wins the ‘best ver the top anime character’ award and is, by far, the most hilariously expressive creature I’ve seen in a long time. From her wind-flapping gums, to her back flip soap slip death, I ate up every gesture and facial expression the animators crammed into her.

Seriously, if you miss everything else Death Parade does, scrobble through and enjoy her animation!

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In a nutshell, it was warm and charming. Viginti (Ginti’s bar) itself is warmly colored and brightly light and has none of the heavy-handed gothyness of Decim’s. Heck, even when he tries to be evil, it just comes off as goofy. He has a cat familiar for goodness sakes!

9_ogk

Death Parade – 05

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This week was all about backstories and, while it wasn’t flawless, it succeeded in laying out several of the show’s plot arcs, introducing the full cast and defining most of their relationships.

Unfortunately, episode 5 just comes out and tells the details and Nona’s introduction of Oculus and Carta felt… dialogy? Very “Hello person by this name who does this thing in the afterlife that I have this relationship with, how are you doing?”

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Castra notes human’s are dying too quickly… again…

For example, tells US Shadow’s backstory, including all his feelings about her, through dialog with another Arbiter. Even though Dequim doesn’t say it to Shadow, the fact that we know all the details so frankly, sucks the mystery and drama right out.

I mean, it isn’t surprising that Shadow is human, that she’s there because Dequim couldn’t figure out how to judge her and that episode 2 started up with her memory being intentionally removed by Nona in order to delay the mandatory verdict.

Learning that she arrived via elevator with her memories intact explains her circumstances but Dequim is so direct, so uninterested, that we don’t get allusions to a deeper meaning, reason, or mystery.

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I guess what I’m trying to say here is: Shadow’s plot isn’t especially interesting because, regardless of how it plays out from here (does she know Dequim from another life?) the end point is still simply Dequim choosing Void or Reincarnation or refusing to choose either, which would be equally conventional.

Without the mood and the gloss, this isn’t a very interesting narrative to follow.

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Nona and Oculus tell us Nona has been a manager for 82 years, amongst other details about the tower because two characters telling us about things is easier than figuring out how to introduce information naturally…

Speaking of gloss, DAMN! Death Parade’s fight sequence was spectacular this week. It was laughably short, but that double bartender super natural fight with water spheres and spider string was on-par with anything Fate/Stay threw out last season.

Likewise, the Manager’s pool with planets scene was delightfully rendered. Beautiful, really. More importantly, both sequences introduced a new character and a greater understanding of the after-death tower and the people who work there. Even if they do it in the most forced, talky way possible.

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SO it was a good week, albeit a little clunky. The first half being a red herring didn’t really add much and the lack of consequences for Dequim not following procedure made it feel arbitrary.

Certainly, its stated that the Arbiters get bored and… something happens…  and this could all be about making sure that Dequim isn’t slipping and Ginti, who he replaced 5 years ago, gets to blow off steam but… it felt like an excuse to give us a pretty fight scene.

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Should I complain? No. Not really.

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As to Shadow’s water-color dream sequence, which is narrated and clearly known to Nona (she instructs Dequim to hang an image from it at the Bar after all), I don’t have much to say?

The aesthetic break was warranted. From it’s on-white setting and muddled colors, it’s nearly a complete opposite from the on-black, clean gradient world of the bar. But is it drawing comparisons between Shadows life before and her relationships now? Probably but who knows.

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“Who Knows?” pretty much sums up how I feel about Death Parade in general. It seems less a mystery and more ‘it hasn’t told us 100% of the details yet’ as a story. Likewise, it’s awkward to have so many tight lipped, emotionally detached cast members around — it makes everyone feel like a puppet, spouting lines where the plot tells them to and not actual characters on their own.

I just hope the Tower’s staffing issues, ongoing dangerously high pace of human death, and godless side plots are given room to grow. That’s where the neat stuff is happening – and I say that completely fallen for Shadow’s tasty good looks!

9_ogk

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

Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket (Third Round)

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The current crop is pretty good and, despite rough patches, actually turning into something memorable. That may not sound like much but, as my fellow reviewers will testify, memorable is a high bar to reach in my book.

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Binan Koukou (8+7+8/10) vs Yatterman Nights (8+6+8/10)

By far the hardest pair to resolve, Yatterman’s stronger third episode and greater potential for an interesting story ultimately won out. I know! I know! This isn’t super surprising in the grand scheme of things. Binan is just a gender-swap twist on the Sailor Scouts genre but it delivers really really really good dialog each week.

Add Yatterman’s difficult-to-understand-without-significant-background second episode, drab color pallete, and slow pace and I truly considered siding with the simpler of the two shows.

If you enjoyed Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun and other tightly written school comedies, you owe it to yourself to give Binan at least three episodes. So far it’s shown no intention of becoming a BL show, nor has it stuck strictly to the safety of it’s formula.

Still, there’s a formula at its core and there’s not much at stake. Certainly, not much that I can see writing about each week?

Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket (Second Round)

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Winter’s second week was obviously less busy than the first. However, due to World Break – 02’s late arrival in my stream, the decision took longer to make than anticipated.

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Seiken World Break (6+6/10) vs Junketsu no Maria (7+8/10)

Junketsu no Maria is a deeply sincere show, with rich characters and setting, and a quality art style. So it’s hardly a surprise that World Break won a lot less of my interest with it’s typical super protagonist enters magic school and wins all the harems formula.

That said, you may still enjoy World Break because it takes its deeply flawed scenario to heart. The magic system, which sometimes involves lengthy poetry narration and in-air finger writing is so dumb and impractical you just have to laugh at it all.

If nothing else, it’s well meaning but dumb characters are likable and, even though it’s only used to justify “protagonist wins” and the ecchi love triangle, the concept that students have multiple lives with multiple family and romantic partners around and knowing each other even though they’ve never met has tons of potential.

Sadly, just not enough for me to write about each week.

Death Parade – 03

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Death Parade may face a unique challenge, by anime standards. I really can’t think of another show that is this well styled (excellent design, decent action but not much of it) creative, and technically well executed… that is also this ho-hum to watch?

I suspect that the double micro-mystery-per-episode, which first poses the question ‘who are these people’ and then ‘what will their fate be’ limits its potential. Honestly, since we know DP is asking us to solve these two questions each week (or every other week) we’re too tuned in. Too aware for it to surprise us with its legitimately well constructed twists.

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This week, Miura Shigeru wake up near the bar with the normal haze of partial memory. However, “the girl” at the bar has no memories at all. Not even her name and, even though Shigeru’s flash backs paint her as a childhood friend, something obviously went down that brought them here together and that something was probably tragic.

And this week that something will be revealed via bowling.

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So they bowel with each other’s hearts. This causes no pain, though they can sense each other’s heart rate, which eludes to mood and hidden feelings.

Shadow is also there, more actively helping Dequim. She doesn’t really know what’s going on and isn’t especially active in the episode but she and Dequim both are surprised when Shigeru turns out to be an awesome guy upon realizing he is dead — and still asking his partner out on one last date.

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See, (!!Spoilers!!) his partner really was a childhood friend. Just not the one he thought. Rather, this was ‘plain-jane’ Takada Mai, who he had fun playing with but never had feelings for, who’s always wanted his attention.

Understanding this all with clarity, they finally come together, have a good time, and are both reincarnated if the masks above their respective elevators are to be believed. (!!end Spoilers!!)

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It’s not fair to say ‘happy endings’ would always work better in Death Parade but this story just felt more enjoyable than the ‘drool and tears’ story we started with. These people were both good and still are after death and the game was just an interesting way of revealing secrets to them. Not just a torturous way to punish their last moment.

Obviously the juxtaposition between happy ending and grim death game-playing-bar is a solid idea but I fully understand doing this each week would be equally predictable.

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Verdict: I almost gave Death Parade an 8 again but shied away at the last minute for the same reasons as I did in episode 1. It’s generally a very good looking show, has a strong control over its mood and tone, but it’s just so one note.

Sorry guys — I really don’t hate this show. I’m just really not that enthusiastic either?

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Death Parade – 02

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This week’s Death Parade poses a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, focusing on the people who are behind the scenes in this wacky world, gave us a glimpse of the season-long mysteries we will… be seeing all season long. We don’t learn much about the characters in this outing, which was good for the mystery.

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On the other hand, the episode repeats the events of the first, now from the perspective of the behind-the-scenes-staff. Even though the reused footage was kept to a minimum, The “Black Haired Girl” being a new assistant seeing her first game was obvious last week.

Considering how predictable last week was, and how surprise-free storytelling saps all emotion and excitement out of mystery and drama, Death Parade has a steep climb to convince me to keep up with it.

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To sum up: The Black Haired girl we met at the end of last week’s episode wakes up on top of a flowery-table-thing and Nona, the white haired hex-eye girl who was with her last week is sitting next to her.

The girls introduce and exchange pleasantries, though the Black Hair girl has no memory of a name and Nona says she doesn’t even have one. I’m going to call her Shadow for simplicity sake.

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Nona and Shadow ride a train to an elevator, which is set in a rock-wall under a carved archway featuring a Vishnu or Buddha like multi-arm figure. The elevator is modern but old-fashioned in that it has an operator named Clavis, who is also pail skinned and wacky-hair-colored like Dequim and Nona.

Getting off at Dequim’s on the 15th floor, Nona introduces Shadow to Dequim and sets about telling Shadow things that Shadow repeats back in the form of a question. This, the stupidest trope of anime/jrpg dialog conventions, made my blood boil with hateful rage.

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Then, as Nona walks Shadow into the back and we get snippets of last week’s saps being emotionally destroyed by the death game. It wasn’t not-well-done, but it wasn’t especially interesting. Certainly not enough to warrant 1/3 of the episode’s run time.

Then we cross past where last week left off and Shadow questions Dequim’s rational for what actually happened. It’s pretty clear that Dequim has limited emotional understanding and a flawed sense of logic because Shadow’s perception that the wife was lying to save her husband’s soul by the end (that the baby really was his) was intensely obvious from her expressions, tone, and the situation.

At least it was to me. Not to Dequim though, and Nona, who seems to have known this would happen chastises him for it before we transition to bar-tending pron and other ham fisted ‘Shadow is special’ foreshadowing, and no one actually telling Shadow straight up what she’s doing there and why.

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Good: Death Parade is a pretty show and takes advantage of solid, unobtrusive CGI to make it more so. It probably reads as subtle to people who haven’t studied film, art, or storytelling, and in so far as that is a caveat, Death Parade’s use of facial expressions, quick looks, and hidden hand gestures is commendable.

Similarly, the ‘back stage’ access to last week’s episode was interesting. However, I don’t think it was necessary, as the fact that the ‘bodies’ were mannequins and all of the Nona/Shadow context was either easy enough to figure out last time.

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No good: Death Parade sells itself and the audience way too short. Everything, and I mean everything, is mercilessly spelled out for the viewer every step of the way. Shadow is obviously an emotional/human check on the Arbiter’s system, and the white-stripe in her hair either means she will eventually become a full Arbiter (and gain all white hair) or is their due to the Arbiter’s meddling.

Whatever the end game, I just. don’t. care.

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At the end of the day, Death Parade reminds me of all the gothy black clothes I liked to wear in high school. (and the gothy girls I preferred not to be wearing anything) Sure, it’s a so seductively pleasant to look at, fun for macabre’ sake, but it’s equally simplistic. Juvenile.

I can respect a lot of the work that went into this but honestly, I’m no longer the audience for it. Not anymore than I am for the Blade movies, vampire the mascaraed, or whatever contemporary equivalent exists to their dreary pretentious self indulgence.

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