Anime Review: Death Parade

The year of 2015 has been remembered fondly for the anime hits that premiered that year. While some like myself believe 2016 was a truly magical year for anime, it did have some pretty big shoes to fill with the likes of One-Punch Man, Blood Blockade Battlefront, etc. So in comes an original anime product produced by one of the more famous production companies in Mad House. Death Parade came into the fold with someone like me not sure what to expect. I had no idea about the director Yuzuru Tachikawa, animators, or planning that went into making this series. All I had to go on was the synopsis which piques my interest. Never before have I felt more satisfied in checking out a series with literally no background information. Death Parade did its due diligence to create a fascinating story that tugs at heart. There’s a reason 2015 has been viewed as a top-notch year for anime, and Death Parade is at the forefront of that argument.

For those that weren’t able to catch Death Parade when it originally aired, it’s a series about death (shocker I know). It’s a take on what happens to people’s souls when they die, and more particularly what happens when two people die at the same time. In this interpretation souls are taken to a large facility were arbiters judge these souls based on a game. These arbiters are to draw out the darkness within these souls in less than ideal situations during the match, to truly make a decision on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.

In this story, we follow the arbiter Decim who casts his judgment among many souls. He’s relatively new at his job, makes great drinks, and has a dark secret that only his boss Nona (and a selective few) know. As it’s implied from the start, Decim is much different from other arbiters as Nona seems particularly interested in how he performs. He is then joined by a woman, (who doesn’t have a name) and is human. She apparently remembers that she died which never happens when someone enters this facility. It left Decim in a bind and unsure how to judge her soul. So the two work together to not only judge other souls that wander in but for Decim to ultimately decide where his new partner’s soul should go.

Surprisingly as simple as that plot sounds, it was enough to get me hooked when it premiered. I wanted to know the answers as to how the woman knew she died, what’s her real name, what’s Decim’s secret, and where this lady would ultimately end up. And while this series did enough to keep me due to these lingering questions, I ended up finding this world built to be just as intriguing. This facility where all arbiters have their bar to judge souls was cool. All the different departments in this facility such as information as well as sorting, made me wonder how this whole place was built and how it operates.

However, the central theme of this series might be a little too much for some viewers. Like I said, it’s about death. Some of the episodes invoke such powerful emotions that it even left me teary eyed at points. Particularly episode four left its mark seeing how both backstories of the deceased were tragic. While some backstories didn’t hit me emotionally hard, there was just as many that did. That makes me believe that there’s at least one story/arc in Death Parade that will make viewers cry or need some time to stop and soak in everything they just watched.

What also became a surprise was how this series felt formulaic, yet still kept me intrigued. Two people showed up, play a game, and are judged at the end. Death Parade sprinkled in little wrinkles that engaged viewers instead of leaving them bored. Tired of seeing Decim and the woman judge people? Let’s watch how Decim’s rival Ginti rules the souls that wander into his bar? Need more suspense as to how people are judged, give Decim souls that had murdered people when they were alive. Something new was added to the formula that made it more enjoyable of a watch.

It’d be silly not to mention how the characters in this series were a pleasure to watch. Watching Ginti (with the little screen time he had) was interesting considering he has no respect for humans, nor did he understand why Decim would have a human help him judge, earlier in the series. Then in episode six, we see Ginti having a hard time judging someone (just like Decim) and ends up doing the same thing he couldn’t understand. Viewers will also see how Ginti has a hard time to grasp why he’s having trouble judging her as well as how he probably has an issue with himself about the whole process. Oh and Mayu Arita is just a fantastic character that easily became my favorite. Her actions and intentions are as pure as you can imagine making it a shame that she died (plus how her soul ends up being judged left its mark). But with the characters of Death Parade, it’s a pretty significant group to where many fans can find at least one interesting.

Not to be outdone the animation looked phenomenal all the way through. From start to finish I never had a complaint and was more in awe as to the level of detail provided. Character designs were crisp, the artwork looked gorgeous, and the animation was as fluid as I’d want. Whether fans would view a scene with spirits playing darts to the surprise action sequences that were sprinkled in, there was hardly any drop in quality. Even in the intro (which has been praised as one of the best of 2015) looked flawless as I couldn’t skip it every time I saw it (as well as the nice twist fans are given on the very last episode).

This series throughout its entirety did make me ponder about the topic of death, which may sound morbid but give me a chance to explain. I found this take on death fascinating where a game could decide the fate of souls (going to heaven or hell). And it is sad; these people died in some terrible ways with a ton of regret. Some people even pleaded to Decim to bring them back to life to fix one more thing. As Decim said he truly treasures individuals who live fulfilling lives, and he believes that everyone we see in this series did that. Even the NEET who ends up killing himself, every person that enters his bar lived a life that he found rewarding, which feels poetic to a point. Everything that you do isn’t meaningless even if you feel that way. It means something to someone. If it’s rewarding, then that means it’s a life worth living.

The voice cast for this dub also hit the mark with Alex Organ giving a truly beautiful rendition of Decim. As well as Jamie Marchi who was able to convey mainly painful emotions that were needed to portray in the woman. Robert McCollum’s performance as Ginti left me wanting more of him. However, the I found Leah Clark as Mayu Arita to be the pick me up the series needed with the subject matter it had. Other notable performances would go to Jad Saxon (Nona), Anastasia Munoz (Quin), and Jeremy Schwartz (Oculus). Overall, there wasn’t a weak link in the casting.

This release came in a standard FUNimation release with a cardboard slipcover but also was given a limited edition release. It was certainly one of FUNimation’s more unique boxes with it opening up down the middle like an elevator. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but at least it’s something different. I do have an issue with how the OVA Death Billiards wasn’t dubbed. I can understand how materials might not have made it in time for this release, but I still found it disappointing for that to happen. With Death Parade receiving a broadcast dub, you’d think that there wouldn’t have been any issues dubbing the OVA. Also, the short video with Jamie Marchi, Rober McCollum, and Jad Saxon was hilariously cute and is worth the watch.

Thank you for the kind review C.J!

In the end, Death Parade hits on nearly every cylinder. The quality of the animation and art left a favorable impression on me. The topic itself was beautiful to see play out and indeed sends a positive message to those who watch it. The action scenes that were involved looked gorgeous, and the humor genuinely made me laugh. I highly recommend people to check out this masterpiece of a series.

Rating 9.5/10

Pros: Handles the topic of death well; beautifully animated; excellent opening; the story can sink its claws into you; fantastic dub cast.

Cons: OVA wasn’t dubbed in English.

C.J Maffris is an editorial writer for Toonamifaithful.com and GeekEInc.com. He enjoyed every second of Death Parade and definitely thinks you should give it a watch. You can follow C.J on Twitter @SeaJayMaffris