Note: Funimation provided us with a review copy of this Limited Edition box set.
Judging the dead is a lot more complicated than you’d think. There are various departments that deal with judging those who have passed on, depending on the circumstances under which they’ve died. Quindecim, the supernatural bar within which Death Parade takes place, is where people are sent when two people die at the same time. Once there, Decim, the bartender, invites them to play a game with their lives on the line. With their memories erased and no knowledge that they’re already dead, the game is soon underway, and Decim’s work as an arbiter begins. Looking to extract the “darkness of the soul” and pass judgment, Decim is stumped one day when a young woman stumbles into his bar already knowing that she’s dead. Intrigued, he has her stay on as an assistant until he can pass judgment properly. In the meantime, she enjoys a unique look at the afterlife from the perspective of a mortal, casting doubts on Decim’s means of judgment and shaking the pillars of the bureaucracy of the afterlife.
I like to stay up to date on anime when I can, but I’ve found that if the series is supernatural or horror based, I typically shy away from it. I shouldn’t, really, considering how much I enjoyed Hell Girl when it was airing over 10 years ago. In any case, when I was discussing our latest batch of series from Funimation I heard good things about Death Parade and was willing to give it a go. Madhouse has brought to life some truly quality series over the years, and I was exceedingly pleased with Death Parade. Not only did it offer fantastic visuals, the psychological depth and suspense throughout the various games kept me engaged as I sat down and ravenously consumed the entire series in one go.
There’s a lot going on in Death Parade, not the least of which is its running commentary on the weakness and “darkness” of humanity. It doesn’t take long before you’re doing your best to judge Quindecim’s patrons yourself as they walk out of the elevator: whether it’s a newlywed couple that had a tragic car crash on their honeymoon or a reality TV show mom and a shut-in otaku who both encountered their own ends at the same time.
Despite the fact that many elements of the show are repeated, much of the drama lies in the finer details and variances. Decim offers the same spiel to everyone who comes in, and it’s equally fascinating to watch how visitors ultimately come to the same conclusion. Many play tough at first, but when it’s implied that their life is on the line, they are more willing to cooperate and play along with his game.
The games are a character all their own as well. There’s an element of chance when it comes to the games themselves, and the first episode/game is fairly grotesque: a game of darts with body parts linked to the various areas on the board. When a dart hits, the respective body part suffers pain equal to the points scored.
Oh, and we’ll go ahead and make the newlyweds play this game against each other.
Watching their pure, fresh love break down over the course of the episode is as fascinating as it is harrowing, and as the opening salvo for the series, it does well to bring you in to future games and introduce you to other unlikely pairings. Perhaps even more impressive is how the following episode takes the time to rewind and explain the process in more detail, shining more light on the climactic scenes and giving the viewer all they need to begin making judgments of their own.
Decim’s assistant, and arguably the protagonist of the season, is unique in that she has no name for 10 of the 12 episodes. She only begins to recall her past in the final arc, instead acting as a nameless assistant and offering her take on what seems to be an insane way of judging people. A common tactic of arbiters is to force an “extreme condition” utilizing a special tool. This will often tip the scales of a game in someone’s favor, typically at a critical moment. Decim has gotten really good at creating these extreme conditions, and then stuff like this happens:
Of course, his human assistant thinks it’s complete madness. Questioning his methods, she forces him to consider if the darkness he’s seeing is latent, or if he’s creating it and thereby tainting his judgments.
The nameless assistant has her moment to shine in the final episodes of Death Parade, including one of the most beautiful and tragic montages I’ve seen yet.
An interesting element of Death Parade is its approach to suicide. A number of patrons who make it to Quindecim get there via suicide, which continues to be a hot-button topic in Japan. With a suicide rate roughly 60% higher than the global average, popular culture is not afraid to engage this conversation. Death Parade first aired two years ago, running from January-March of 2015. This would be shortly following the widely reported statistic that 25,000 people killed themselves in 2014. What’s more, this phenomenon is impacting kids: suicide was the leading cause of death for kids aged 10-19 in 2014. Considering the audience, Death Parade seemed to come at just the right time; utilizing its unique premise to feature not one, but two characters who struggle terribly with the decision they’ve made to kill themselves.
Overall, Death Parade is a well-constructed series that features fantastic animation and a haunting soundtrack. A psychological and mental exercise, you are soon drawn into Decim’s judgments and are intrigued by the world he occupies. Expertly combining a general over-arching plot with episodic judgments, the series is over before you know it. Unfortunately, season 2 has yet to be confirmed, but we can hope that Death Parade is sent for reincarnation, rather than the void.
As the “limited edition” set, the version of Death Parade that Funimation so kindly sent over to us is definitely in more premium packaging. The front and back of the box represent the two different elevators: the more angelic face representing reincarnation while the demonic face represents the void. This is the kind of packaging I was used to when I used to spend a lot more on DVDs, and the extra effort certainly helps to elevate (no pun intended) this box set.
The box slides open cleanly to reveal a double bi-fold case with the four discs (2 DVD and 2 Blu Ray), as well as a collection of postcard-sized prints.
For a limited edition set, the packaging is certainly on point, and the postcard art is nice…but the bonus materials are still lacking. In a digital age, it strikes me that they haven’t began to utilize codes to provide extra content such as soundtracks, bonus episodes, or other goodies.
For example, let’s take a look at the Japanese box set for Death Parade
Including the soundtrack, storyboard material, and additional conversations with guests and staff, the Japanese limited edition provides more of the bonuses you might expect from a limited edition…but at a cost. The Japanese LE version costs ¥30,000, or $260. The U.S LE version costs $70 on Amazon. Would American consumers pay an additional ~$200 for the goodies? Probably not. However, I think it’s worth experimenting to see what bonuses are worth it to anime fans who purchase these limited edition sets. Again, the packaging is on point, but the bonuses are still too lackluster for something that claims to be “Limited Edition”
A fantastic addition for any anime fan, I would definitely suggest picking up Death Parade for your personal collection. You can find it here!