2013 is the only year that Madhouse ever was one of the studios to give a final project in Anime Mirai, a government-funded program to pay to train new animators. Death Billiards was the product, and is perhaps one of my favorite up-in-the-air interpretative stories I have ever seen, so of course when the full anime was announced I was extremely hyped.
(warning: spoilers for the first two episodes of Death Parade)
One of the most keenly debated political issues for many in America is the death sentence. One of the common arguments is "who are we to decide who lives or dies?". In the case of Death Parade, the decision on the fates of the newly deceased falls upon the arbiters' shoulders. At first, Decim seemed infallible. Never wrong. Unemotional. But this, as we now know, is far from the truth. Indeed, he ruled incorrectly. His arbiter eyes (something discussed previously in Ani-TAY) are the key to his power because when new guests arrive the eyes give him access to their memories. However, there is one gigantic flaw in the system.
The eyes just give him the events as they happened, not the emotions behind them. He doesn't always see everything. When Machiko tells Takashi that she never loved him, that she was just there for his money, she fooled more than just her husband. Decim's access to her memories revealed to him that she had had an affair, but not that she regretted it, or that the baby was still Takashi's child and she was just trying to make him feel better about killing them. In fact, Takashi should have been the one to go to the void, as he was far too distrustful of everyone. Decim was wrong, and this brings a whole new level of intricacy to the plot: the outcomes are not just NOT predetermined, they are also not necessarily correct, even though Decim may think he is making the right decision. The system is flawed, and this frightening idea certainly makes for both entertaining viewing and thought-provoking discussion.
Moving beyond just the concept itself, we are able to see the characters in greater detail. I think the most important part of the entire second episode was when Onna deduced that Decim was incorrect in his ruling. Upon realizing that she is right, he clenches his fists, clearly upset. Although on the outside Decim seems calm and composed, he is not just a robot (not that I would have even minded if he was- his job certainly would warrant it!). I am also curious as to the role of Nonaginta, who clearly is more than just another arbiter.
Overall, Death Parade has gotten off to an incredibly strong start. My previous concerns that the arbitration system's intricacy would just end up being falsely complex, I can safely put those fears to rest. The primary concern I have is where we go from here. The show has great potential if it capitalizes on all of the ideas it has thus far presented, and I am confident it will do so.
Death Parade is available for free and legal streaming on FUNimation, with a new episode every Friday.
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