What happens after we die and what awaits us in the afterlife? Is there an angel waiting in front of the pearly white gates in the sky to check off which souls have been good enough to gain entrance into Heaven or which of the bad souls get a one-way ticket straight to Hell? Or do the newly departed have to play games in a purgatorial type place for a judge to decide where their souls belong? The anime Death Parade has a unique take on what really happens when we die.
Death Parade centers around Decim, an arbiter who runs a purgatorial place that looks like a bar, QuinDecim, where all souls get sent for judgement. Two souls who happen to die at the same time enter the bar with no recollection of having just died and it’s mandatory they play a game or they can’t leave. A mysterious black haired woman acts as Decim’s assistant and together they watch as the games gradually bring out a soul’s memories of the life they left behind, how they died, and whether each soul deserves to be sent in an elevator for reincarnation or the void based on the life they’ve led and how they felt about the choices they’ve made in their lifetime.
I had the pleasure of watching Death Parade last month when I was browsing Hulu for new anime to watch. The anime is a short series, capping out at twelve episodes, but each episode has a way of standing out more than the last one as the show progresses. The overall tone of the anime is dark, but with enough emotional notes of happy, sad, funny, or bittersweet to create a compilation of really thoughtful and unforgettable episodes. Each episode offers an opportunity to learn more about the key characters in Death Parade, like the mysterious black haired woman whose name you don’t find out until the last three episodes, and the different souls who walk through QuinDecim to be judged.
The show is an exploration of the value of life, the complexities of the human experience, and the undeniable truth that all humans will die––it’s what we do with the life we have on earth that will make all the difference in whether you believe you have lived a fulfilled life or wish you had a chance to redo mistakes you have made when you were living.
I make it a point not to spoil much of a show in my anime reviews unless discussing my overall impressions of the show make it impossible not to. I do feel Death Parade is another one of those shows worth taking the time to watch, especially if you enjoy thought provoking topics about life and its infinite mysteries. I’m a critical thinker by nature and watching intelligent, evocative stories with characters you can relate to always keeps my mind busy with how I’d interpret what I have just seen and what it all means to me. The anime has some surprising revelations that are gradually uncovered overtime either about the characters or the nature of how being an arbiter truly works.
Despite how short of a series Death Parade is it’s incredibly deep and keeps the story moving in ways where you won’t feel any aspect of the plot has been shortchanged or the conclusion dissatisfying when you reach the final episode. There are also a lot of interesting dynamics at play when you watch how certain characters interact with one another. For instance, Decim and another arbiter by the name of Ginti have very different perspectives and attitudes about the souls who come wandering into their respective bars. Decim is both curious and fascinated by how humans live out their lives. He always tells people in conversation how he has a lot of “respect for those who live fulfilled lives.” Decim isn’t human, but that curiosity does fuel his desire to understand what it is to be human, to live life, and then ultimately die. Ginti, on the other hand, lacks the same curiosity about humans that Decim possesses. Ginti views humans as foolish beings who make foolish choices during their lifetimes and when they play the games that will judge the fate of their souls, he believes these humans learn absolutely nothing even in the limbo afterlife. They just default back to the same base and selfish needs they wasted their entire existence on. To say Ginti is completely indifferent and unsympathetic to human existence is putting things mildly. Ginti sees his role as an arbiter as a job, something he has to do, and nothing more. He isn’t driven by an innate need to understand where these people have been and where they come from.
Presenting these wildly contrasting viewpoints in the anime allows the viewer to perceive their ideas and beliefs from different angles. I’d say Ginti represents more of a jaded and pessimistic view about humans, while Decim represents a more hopeful and positive view of what humans can be and are capable of. It’s only further enhanced with the presence of the mysterious black haired woman.
Decim learns a lot from his assistant about humans and life, and she challenges the way he goes about doing his job as an arbiter. At the start of the series, Decim seems to believe being an arbiter, a judge of human souls, is a very black and white business. He thinks it’s as simple as this person has done good and the other person has done bad. Case closed. Instead, there are a few episodes where the black haired woman offers her own personal opinions about the players based on her observations during the gameplaying and judging process and insists humans and their behaviors aren’t as clear cut as Decim thinks they are. Humans are far more complex than the arbiters believe and oftentimes, they have more grey areas than strict black and white. This is exactly why I enjoyed the interactions between Decim and the black haired woman the best. They learn and help each other in ways that they are both able to grow and evolve from how the viewer first meets them. Their unlikely relationship is based on a deep and emotional bond forged at a time when they didn’t realize they needed each other to move forward on their respective paths.
Death Parade has left a pretty significant impression on me and I am happy to place this anime high on my list of favorite shows to watch. It’s an unforgettable viewing experience animated beautifully, and it will resonate with me for a long while until the next anime series is able to prompt such an emotional response from me.
Reviewer Rating: 10/10