Death Parade (Hulu) is one of the more promising shows of the new anime season. It has a classy noir-ish look with nice designs and animation by Madhouse. It is smartly written though the tone varies. The first story, which occupied the first two episodes, was pretty grim. The next was poignant and rather heartwarming.
This is one of those anthology shows in which each story follows a standard pattern. Two people walk into a bar…or at least they find themselves in a bar and can’t quite remember how they got there. Their memories seem hazy about a lot of things.
The bartender welcomes them. The bar is called Quindecim. (Or “Queen Decim” in some translations.)
The bar has a large dimly-lit atmospheric lounge area featuring a big tank of jellyfish. Few think to look up, but if you do you can see several rows of balconies filled with silent unmoving spectators.
The bartender is called Decim. He is usually assisted by a woman known only as the “Black-Haired Woman” or simply Onna.
Decim tells the guests that they will not be allowed to leave until they play a game, on which they must stake their lives. The guests naturally try to run, but when they find that none of the doors will open they generally agree to play.
The game is chosen seemingly at random and can be any of a number of games that you might play in a well-equipped establishment: billiards, darts, bowling or card games. It generally turns out to be something that the guests are pretty good at.
In a macabre twist the game pieces (bowling balls or whatever) are mysteriously linked to parts of the opposing players body.
As they play, memories come back and eventually the players realize that they are dead. At this point Decim tells them that the outcome of the game will determine whether they go to Heaven or Hell.
(He is lying again, this time because he thinks the truth is too complicated to explain. The actual choices are that they may be reincarnated or that their souls will be dissolved into the void.)
After three episodes, several things seem clear:
- It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. It’s how you comport yourself.
- There’s no rule that one player must go to “Heaven” and one to “Hell.” Both can have the same fate.
- Particularly disturbing: Decim as the judge of the dead is not infallible. In the first story he clearly seems to make a mistake.
The series is based on a 2013 OVA called Death Billiards which was financed by the Young Animator Training Project, a.k.a Anime Mirai. I am not sure whether the OVA should be considered canon. I get the impression that the writers had not fully worked out the premise at that point.
With a series like this the big question is whether the writers can keep it fresh and interesting. It could easily fall into a tedious formula. So far however it has been surprising and intriguing.