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

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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

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?

7_ogk

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.

6_ogk

Death Parade – 01 (First Impressions)

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If you can’t guess exactly what is going on in Death Parade in under two minutes, I won’t spoil it for you. However, it’s pretty straight forward and, if you’ve ever watched an episode of The Outer Limits or Twilight Zone, not at all surprising.

In fact, my immediate concern for Death Parade is how quickly it’s formula will run out of gas. It is, after all, a narrative show and even if the core cast’s plot spices things up from week to week, it lacks the new twist potential of one-off shows likeThe Outer Limits.

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As spoiler free as I can make it: the story opens with a couple getting off individual elevators at a lounge called Quindecim. Neither partner has a clear memory of how they got there, or really much else. Notably, neither notices the devil and… not devil mask hanging over each elevator…

An unnamed guy with white hair and blue cross-pupil eyes runs the bar and informs them that they must play a game where their lives are on the line. They agree, partially because he shows them tortured shriveled corpses hanging in the shadows and partially because they have no idea what is going on.

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The game is darts, the player with the lowest score wins, and each time a player ‘hits’ a target, his or her partner feels pain relative to the value of the score. Things go off the rails quickly, as fear and memories take over and then, with a winner finally chosen, the game ends.

The couple is put back on the elevators – one person per elevator — and the credits roll. Then some more characters, obviously staff at Quindecim, exposition a little for god knows who because the plot and outcome are brutally obvious but hey, better safe than confusing to 1% of the population. At least it’s after the credits.

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You’ll like Death Parade if the plot around the central concept improves over the next few episodes. You could also like it if you just want nicely drawn, gothy characters executing so tragic it hurts stories for your entertainment.

Even if it doesn’t improve, or the season-spanning plots turn out to be laughably silly (which is possible based on the style of the opening credits) Death Parade stands out visually from everything else I’ve seen this season. Honestly, I wish Tokyo Ghoul looked more like this or this was written more like that…

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You may not find Death Parade all that interesting if grim is not the constant mood you want to set. You may also find it predictable, if this week’s plot is any indication of a formula.

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Its like Danganronpa and Gad Guard had a baby, in structure, tone and aesthetic. If you haven’t seen those shows, it’s dark but richly colored, with slightly odd human figure and facial proportions. “Stylish” is a safe description. Also bleak.

Unfortunately, my first impression is mixed. It has potential and it was very well crafted. Truly, there was nothing wrong with it but, like Absolute Duo, nothing was original, interesting, or surprising either. That’s a hard sell but this season is full of hard sells so maybe Death Games at the Bar has a chance.

7_ogk

Note: I almost gave it an 8 due to the crisp visuals, solid voice work, and error free script but it’s just so gosh-darn unimaginative a setting and concept for a show!