Gonna say this now. If you're wondering what the message of the show is, just scroll down to the Enjoyment section. You'll find it there. I know I should have mentioned it earlier but I found it necessary to discuss it then because of how much I, well, enjoyed it.
Synopsis: After death, there is no heaven or hell, only a bar that stands between reincarnation and oblivion. There the attendant will, one after another, challenge pairs of the recently deceased to a random game in which their fate of either ascending into reincarnation or falling into the void will be wagered. Whether it's bowling, darts, air hockey, or anything in between, each person's true nature will be revealed in a ghastly parade of death and memories, dancing to the whims of the bar's master. Welcome to Quindecim, where Decim, arbiter of the afterlife, awaits! Death Parade expands upon the original one-shot intended to train young animators. It follows yet more people receiving judgment—until a strange, black-haired guest causes Decim to begin questioning his own rulings.
Premise (1.5 out of 2) Madhouse's whimsical, yet tragic and cathartic interpretation of the afterlife through Death Parade is unique when considering the afterlife's usual depiction (heaven = paradise, hell = demon-infested land with evil shit) in mediums such as art and literature due to the inclusion of metaphor and allusion. Whether it was purgatory's representation through Quindecim, or the inclusion of religious phrases such as "momento mori" (Latin for "remember death), the overwhelming amount of references and techniques found (not meant in a negative light) make the premise of Death Parade that much more complex, interesting, and didactic. In addition, the more down-to-earth stories of Quindecim's guests and employees add that personal touch that the most cathartic anime need to succeed (which is only enhanced by the fact that Death Parade's plot is centered around its characters). The various climactic events, while predictable, can also leave a sense of surprise for more casual viewers. The show also does a great job of keeping the viewer guessing with its relatively frequent reveals and twists. Overall, the anime is incredibly subliminal in its messages and is effective in its ability to capture the viewer's attention. It is also effective in eliciting introspection within the viewer, as the anime's plot involves challenging the status quo regarding the meaning of life and how we judge those lives. In the end, it really is an intriguing story that keeps the viewer engaged and entertained. It is slightly hard to believe based on the setting, but I think it gets the message across nonetheless.
Pace (1 out of 2): Death Parade's pace is incredibly inconsistent. The show begins at a relatively slower pace, which helps to explain how things at Quindecim work while drawing out the drama and suspense that the show constantly features. In addition, the interactions between the employees are fully-fleshed out during the slower parts of the show. However, viewers might lose interest due to the sheer influx of information being thrown their way. The pace begins to quicken as more and more guests arrive, but the arrival of new employees returns the pace to its original, more lethargic speed. The speedups themselves are effective in increasing the tension and really set the mood for each game, but the return to such a slower, drawn-out pace exhausts the viewer and may cause an incredible amount of confusion for those who cannot keep up.
Complexity (2 out of 2): Death Parade is so incredibly complex almost to a fault. As mentioned previously, the show's heavy usage of allusion and metaphor set the precedent for what becomes an already complex and intriguing story. For example, the door that precedes the elevator to Quindecim has a carving of what looks to be a "Last Judgement" near the tympanum, which tells the viewer that whatever happens in this place involves the weighing of one's sins. In simpler terms, it features something bigger than the show. Along with these rhetorical techniques, the show really cements its complexity through the building of themes that explore morality, the meaning of life, emotion, and more. Decim's appreciation for a fulfilled life in conjunction with his opinions about death can be interpreted as the show's stance towards life; as the show stated, remember death in order to live the fullest life possible. Conversely, Nona's discussion with Chiyuki about how primal fear is as an emotion references how we feel about death; as humans, we try our best to avoid death because of how much we fear that terrifying eventuality. This dichotomy, among other things (e.g., Nona's emphasis on emotion for living a full life), only begins to reveal how incredibly complex the show is; it makes the viewer think about how they feel about the things we fear and, more importantly, how we view our lives and livelihoods. This sort of introspection isn't present in most anime, and its something that is especially necessary in a time where mediocrity and shallow art runs rampant. I digress. The show's detailed as fuck.
Plausibility (.75 out of 2): Death Parade's story, while incredibly sensible on an interpersonal level, suffers from its idealized image of death in the form of a walk-in bar that you play games in. While the interactions in the bar are incredibly wholesome and wrought with emotion, I would argue that the unnatural setting slightly detracts from the catharsis seen in each episode. However, I will concede that the setting of the show is effective in other aspects (e.g., moral of the show) which will be discussed later. Overall, it's psychologically accurate, but that's about it.
Ending (1.75 out of 2): Death Parade's ending is effective in providing closure for its characters after a 12 episode struggle with regret, doubt, depression, and one's identity among other things. The show, like most "feelsy" shows, provides an appropriate amount of tension that increases with each episode up until the dramatic finale. In addition, the way that the subplots sort of lurk until said finale keep the viewer hooked up until these subplots are about to end. In layman's terms, the subtle hints that are given regarding the backstories of each character are effective in maintaining intrigue regarding the story and the show in general. In terms of emotion, the story establishes a precedent right out of the gate and slightly increases the level of catharsis with each story up until the end of the show. The last subplot (Chiyuki's subplot) features the pinnacle of emotional expression as we delve into a more developed story in contrast with the more immediate subplots (immediate here means with no real context or hints). In general, the linearity of the story was something I can really appreciate because of its ability to avoid making the plot mediocre and boring. What I did not appreciate as much was how "set up" the ending felt; it felt incredibly underdeveloped to a point where I had to check for a second season (not really sure if one will come, maybe the show had no funding left?). Only time will tell.
Overall rating: 7/10
Presence (.5 out of 2): The majority of the cast, regardless of stature, are mysteriously absent throughout the show. For some reason, it feels like characters who could be more fleshed-out and developed disappear after an episode or two. One could definitely argue that the show's brevity contributes to these absences, but Decim and Chiyuki seem to counter that argument well because of how three-dimensional they are. Personally, I would argue that the show's emphasis on its didactic message is to blame for the variety of each character's presence in the show (this message will be discussed later). Each character does play a certain role in developing and ultimately sending this message (e.g., each pair of dead people, each arbiter, etc.), so the absences are not necessarily illegitimate; however, it isn't really something that you can excuse or ignore. In the end, what could have been a dynamic cast with an innumerable (obviously an exaggeration) amount of interesting personalities ended up consisting of just Chiyuki and Decim due to how absent the rest of the cast were.
Personality (1.25 out of 2): Regardless of how present each character was, each of their personalities were a step above your typical, lowest-common denominator character that you would probably see in your run-of-the-mill show that comes out each season. For example, Decim (who does become a much more complete character) is as close to a sociopath as you can get, as he cannot empathize with anyone until he unlocks his more human side at the conclusion of the show. His inability to relate with the people he judges makes him ignorant to their struggles and makes his character all the more boring. Oculus carries with him a literal god-complex along with a condescending attitude because of his restricted beliefs regarding the purpose of arbiters as robot-like judges who are devoid of any emotion along with the fact that he actually created. This sense of superiority without an adequate amount of context or background information makes his character and personality incomplete. Nona is perhaps the most interesting side character because of how her childish tendencies clash with her wisdom; however, she, like other side characters, don't show up as much as they should for reasons discussed earlier. Ginti could have also become a more developed character, but his lack of presence makes viewers remember him for his incredibly aggressive and aloof nature instead of some unique trait. Of course, each character's personality is fleshed-out as the show reaches its conclusion, but reaching that point could not have been possible due to the lack of presence from most of the cast. As a result, this discrepancy leads to a plethora of unoriginal and mediocre personalities that have the potential to be forgettable.
Backdrop (2 out of 2): While the characters suffer from a lack of exposure and have relatively archetypal personalities, their respective interactions with the environment, usually Quindecim, are necessary for a few reasons. With each game, we learn more about the arbiters (including Chiyuki) as well as each group of guests. This knowledge is paramount for understanding the ultimate message of the show (once again, this will be discussed later) and gives insight into each character's backstory. As a result, this allows each character and subplot to develop with no significant problems. Of course, problems such as the absence of some characters does infringe upon how well each area develops, but the negative impact that this has pales in comparison to how well the setting emphasizes the overall message of the show.
Aside: I talk about this message frequently because I love how didactic the show is. I'll talk about it soon.
Development (.75 out of 2): As to avoid any redundancy, I'll keep this short. The only two characters who significantly develop are Decim and Chiyuki. The rest of the cast vary in terms of their flatness; some characters such as Nona aren't as flat as Oculus for example. Overall, the amount of one-dimensionality found in this show is incredibly disappointing considering how grounded both Decim and Chiyuki were at the end of the show.
Catharsis (2 out of 2): With all the negatives out of the way, Death Parade's ability to invoke sympathy and sadness ranks high on the list of shows that know how to open the floodgates. While my lack of a heart prevents me from shedding tears, I still sympathized with each of the guests as their stories and lives were both incredibly poignant and powerful. My favorite story would have to be the love story (second pair of guests) because nothing warms my heart more than wholesome love. In terms of the cathartic effects on the characters, the impact remains the same. However, Decim and the other arbiters are slight exceptions for most of the show for a myriad of reasons (Decim is basically a sociopath, Ginti is apathetic and doesn't appear for half of the show, Oculus appears like three times, etc). Once again, the other characters (mostly Chiyuki and the guests) are instrumental in the injection of emotions such as sadness, fear, and anger, so they carry the load for most of the show.
Overall rating: 6.5/10
Aesthetics (art style):
General (1.5 out of 2): Death Parade carries with it an incredibly distinct art style that separates it from the status quo that most anime maintain. For the most part, this cast of characters have unique designs and the backgrounds are rife with a myriad of colors as to make the surroundings that much more beautiful. In general, the show's dynamic backgrounds are both marvelous to look at and add a sort of ironic beauty to an otherwise morbid and cathartic show. The animation is incredibly detailed as well; the first trial (the couple who died in the car crash) really encapsulates how meticulous the animation is through the realistic convulsions and contortions that the couple experiences as they destroy their bodies. The show's metaphorical beauty is also nothing to scoff at, as the show masters both symbolism through art as well as realism regarding tropes like revenge and, for the most part, agency (act in accordance to one's self, basically working for one's own benefit) among other things (refer to the last trial before Chiyuki remembers everything). A nice show artistically.
Characters (1.25 out of 2): The cast of Death Parade consists of a somewhat memorable and recognizable bunch when considering their semi-realistic designs and somewhat unique features (such as Oculus' distinct hair style). For the most part, the main characters are glaringly similar and simple in terms of their design, but I think this simplicity exemplifies the serious tone that the show seems to want to set. In particular, the uniforms of each of the arbiters are pretty monotonous in their color scheme (white w/ a black apron) as to truly sell the importance of their job. Their personalities are pretty stagnant throughout, so there's no real evolution of character until the end of the show. The side cast is relatively generic, but still exhibit characteristics that the viewer can relate with such as empathy and love (compared to the arbiters). In terms of memorability, it really depends on what subplot you empathize with the most. Otherwise, I'd call most of the characters somewhat memorable. The length of the show as well as its episodic progression don't really do the stories justice, so it becomes much harder to remember all the characters.
Backgrounds (1.5 out of 2): My memory fails me here. I do remember how beautiful the backgrounds were (which once again emphasize the ironic beauty that really defines the show) but I cannot really remember anything in particular aside from the main bar area. My only gripe was how repetitive everything looked. I understand that the show takes place in only one area, but the lack of variation can really bore viewers, especially considering how cool the color palette is (lots of darker, chill colors with some brighter shades thrown in). Yes, moments exist when the backgrounds shift dynamically (e.g., Nona's place of residence, a sort of Garden of Eden) but these moments do not last long enough to merit a higher rating, which was unfortunate considering how magnificent they were.
Aside: I'm going to try my best to stay cognizant of background quality in the future. Granted, I wouldn't say I analyze shows as efficiently as others might considering how they might do such a thing as a profession, but I think I'm severely lacking in this department. Will try harder.
Animation (2 out of 2): One of the stronger points of the show. I can only marvel at how great the attention to detail was while watching. In particular, it seemed as if the quality of animation increased throughout each episode, especially during the trials. In addition, the animators did an excellent job of animating with the mood of the episode; I appreciated how aggressive and visceral everything looked during moments of extreme tension. In general, the "extreme situations" as the arbiters so artificially call them are a perfect example of how to realistically animate pain. The same can be said about the more tranquil moments of the show, which feature more fluid, soothing movements (e.g., Chiyuki's ice skating sequence) in order to
invoke feelings of sympathy or sadness. Wonderfully animated overall.
Visual effects (1.75 out of 2): Like the animation, the visual effects are awe-inspiring and so over-the-top as to enunciate how strange the show sounds based on its premise. The melodramatic explosions are silly for a show this didactic, but I think they are necessary for the show to get its point across. Other visual effects like the holy gloss on Decim's judgement floss indicate some sort of "holier than thou" superiority over the more subservient humans who enter his realm. Even something as simple as the shine filter applied to almost everything adds a sort of "I'm seeing the light" effect as to hint at the passing of the participants. I do want to mention however that the shine can be hard to look at for so long, so its not perfectly executed.
Overall rating: 8/10
Voice acting (2.5 out of 3): This ensemble of voice actors, while not as prominent as other actors in the anime scene, do a great job of fitting in with their character. More specifically, each actor seems to accurately portray the personality of their character effectively. It's a shame that most of the actors didn't get to truly flesh their characters because of how absent some of them were.
Once again, my memory fails me for any particular grievances. I'll do better next time. Apologies.
Music (2.75 out of 4): Death Parade's musical arrangement is hit and miss. Whereas the show has one of the best openings ever, the music found in the show itself is nothing but forgettable (save for the piece that was played during Chiyuki's ice skating theme, which does an excellent job of creating a cathartic scene with its lyrical composition and slow tempo in conjunction with Chiyuki's full, fluid, and eye-opening movements). Yes, while the music is regrettably forgettable, it it does an okay job of matching with the overall mood of the scene (tense, fast-paced music with more tense scenes, vice versa), which all music should strive to do in a show as emotionally driven as Death Parade. The ending offers a more realistic portrayal of the show's nature and message with its drawn-out notes, morbid imagery, and depressing tone and does a fantastic job of contrasting with the more cheery, whimsical song that is featured in the opening which ultimately creates another dichotomy in a series with a myriad of dichotomous relationships.
Sound effects (2 out of 3): I'm gonna keep this short. You can say many of the same things I said about the visual effects (replacing visual with sound ofc). However, I wouldn't go so far as to say the sound effects have as much of an impact on the show compared to the visual effects. They do increase the level of drama and emotion during some scenes, but at this point that's expected. There wasn't anything revolutionary, though I will concede that my memory indeed fails me again, so I'll be a bit more lenient.
Overall rating: 7.25/10
Art (1.75 out of 2): Reference the "Aesthetics (Art style)" section. Rounded up because I really enjoyed how beautiful the show was overall.
Music (1.25 out of 2): Reference the "Aesthetics (Sound)" section.
Enjoyment (5 out of 6): When I think of Death Parade, I think of a complex and multi-dimensional show that is fueled by its pathos and features an incredibly complex and didactic story. While it might fail to develop some characters effectively or even feature them in the show, the rampant symbolism, the grounded realism, and the overall message of the show were all enough to both make it stand out among other more mediocre shows and remain good throughout. I particularly enjoyed the overall message, as the show constantly advocates for a "cognizance of death" perspective towards life. In layman's terms, the show tries to persuade (or at least inform) the viewer that life should be lived to its extent with death in mind. Humans too often fear death, so they hesitate to try things that might seem risky in their eyes. Through Death Parade's symbolism and message, the viewer understands that the idea of regret regarding your entire life is arguably worse than death itself. The show emphasizes fulfillment (and cathartic expression) as a sort of requirement for a good life through the show's events and ultimately argues that death isn't bad or isn't something that should be feared or forgotten; instead, it should be remembered so that we can live fulfilled lives as humans. I really appreciate this perspective and I think that it is something both critical and casual watchers can appreciate as well. Not to mention that even without understanding the didactic nature of the show, the grounded nature of the show alongside an irony that is pretty easy to point out (Death Parade subverts the viewer's expectations of the show, making it out to be some sort of whimsical portrayal of death when it is in fact a somewhat realistic portrayal of death and the afterlife through the perspective of humans and "gods" alike). All in all, its a show I really enjoyed casually and critically albeit its flaws.
Overall rating: 8/10
Death Parade is a great show casually and a decent show critically. I wouldn't call it revolutionary, but its ability to tug at the heartstrings while advocating some existential message does merit some praise considering you do not usually see that in anime to begin with. I digress. Good show with some flaws.
Total rating: 7.25/10
Would I recommend?: Casually, yes. Critically, I'd lean towards yes but warn you that it has some problems.