EDITOR’S NOTE: What Are You Watching? is a feature series that dives deep into why we love the anime we love. You told us what you were watching, and now we’ll dig into why.
By Deanna Nguyen
It’s 2015. I’m living in an apartment just down the street from my university, and it’s finals week. I have an essay due the next day, but decide to take a break (see also: procrastinate) and browse anime to watch instead.
Death Parade comes up, and the afterlife synopsis captures me immediately, along with the fact that it’s from Madhouse. My anticipation grows, and without further delay, I begin watching the first episode.
Once it ends, I stare at my reflection through my laptop screen. My emotions are at war with each other; an existential crisis looming on the horizon. In that moment of ignoring my unfinished essay and reflecting on the emotional roller-coaster ride that is the first episode, that’s when it dawns on me—Death Parade is going to be one of my all-time favorite anime.
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Five years later, it still is. I’ve rewatched the show numerous times ever since, and each time I was left with an ache in my chest and a pile of used tissues from all the tears. The show hurts and heals me at the same time, so why do I keep going back to it? It wasn’t until my third rewatch that I found my answer, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Welcome to Quindecim
Basically, each episode of Death Parade welcomes a new pair of guests to Quindecim, a bar in a mysterious tower where an arbiter, Decim, judges souls through Death Games and determines which one is reincarnated—the other is sent to oblivion.
Preserving one’s humanity through suffering is a theme that’s heavily laced throughout the show, and that humanity is called into question when the stakes of the games get higher.
The concept of life and death, paired with the morally gray areas between good and evil, have always intrigued me. Even when I’m deep in my shower thoughts, I start to veer off into the unknown and let my imagination fill in the blanks. Death Parade plays a part in that with its thought-provoking yet heart-wrenching portrayal of humanity’s vulnerabilities. The Death Games trap souls and reveal their worst sides, but it comes down to how much suffering they are willing to endure before giving up entirely.
Each and every backstory holds so much depth and emotional resonance that it’s hard for me to choose a favorite episode. If I had to, though, the episode focusing on the Black-Haired Woman who assists Decim (whose name we later find out is *SPOILERS* Chiyuki *SPOILERS*) reveals a backstory that hits close to home. She’s a main plot point that leads to a climactic end—an overflow of grief, sorrow, revelation and peace.
Again and again
During my third rewatch of Death Parade, I was at my lowest. I’d graduated from college, but couldn’t find a job no matter how hard I tried because that’s basically the life of a writer and a journalist all summed up in one sentence.
I began to feel regret and uselessness, wondering how I believed my writing could get me anywhere in life. I was very self-critical, fearing that I’d let down my parents, the ones who supported my dreams. I was unhappy with myself.
Nothing hit me as hard as Chiyuki’s backstory when I watched it unfold. I’d seen it before, but this time around, with how numb I’d become, as memories of Chiyuki’s past life flashed in between her ice-skating sequences, I understood her gradually becoming vulnerable and essentially “breaking” a lot better.
My throat tightened and my eyes stung, and when she broke down and apologized to her mom for thinking she wasn’t good enough, that was my breaking point.
Chiyuki was lost because she couldn’t ice-skate anymore and felt that her fall on the rink was a literal representation of her skills and talents. She worried about her parents’ perception of her, that she’d failed them as a daughter. At that time, I related to her so much that it hurt to even realize it. But the moment was also very healing. I needed to face my fears, my grief and my crippling self-doubt, and understand where that pain was coming from before I could move forward.
To this day, those negative emotions still linger, but they don’t overpower my resolve to keep living and fighting to reach my lifetime goals. It’s funny to think that a 2D character gave me a reality check, but Death Parade as a whole reminds us of the suffering that humanity goes through in order to feel empathy. The intricacies of human emotion, thought and relationships are their own mysteries.
It’s as real as anything
Death Parade perfectly captures human emotions through realistic facial expressions. The characters’ entire faces wrinkle up whenever they cry with the corners of their mouths severely turned down, which I think is a spot-on depiction of ugly crying. The jazzy bar setting and sexy OST by Yuki Hayashi (composer of My Hero Academia) fool the guests and the viewers into thinking that it’s all fun and games until reality settles in.
Even the groovy, dance-inducing opening song contradicts the actual tone of the show.
Anime has plenty of categories. There are the classics, certainly, but there are also the hidden gems, and Death Parade is definitely one of them. I’d argue that it’s one of Madhouse’s more impactful and memorable works, even though the studio has a lot of them.
As I’m writing this with “Moonlit Night” playing in the background, Chiyuki’s ice-skating scene is still vivid in my mind. It’s hard to let go of the show—especially when there isn’t a second season—when it evokes so many emotions and memories.
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All I want to say is, while the experience will be different for everyone, Death Parade does not shy away from human suffering, but that makes it as real as anything.
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