Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody seems almost as perfunctory as anime gets, as if to be the self-appointed embodiment of “anime today, 2018”, but with some sense of restraint, much to the relief of some. By that same token, it manages to actually somewhat succeed at being incredibly basic (temporarily), because sadly, it's hard to find a show that can pull this off. Giving the finger to SAO, Re:Zero, and Isekai wa Smartphone, this is Death March’s brief time in the limelight.
I'm sure that at least some who are aware of my outlook on a variety of shows of Death March's ilk are recognizing me as daft for even glancing at this show's general direction. However, the intention goes far beyond having an excuse to malign another anime. Put it simply, I want to prove the existence of a hierarchy.
Every genre, and every category of entertainment has a relative and not entirely subjective hierarchy consisting of installments that are better than most, worse than the rest, or are somewhere within a grey area of sorts. Even the harem show has undisputedly better installments such as Ouran High School Host Club, and irrefutably awful ones as well, such as Isekai wa Smartphone. The school battle anime typically goes with the comparison of Chivalry of a Failed Knight to The Asterisk War for such a comparison. While some shows that are more commonly considered to be in the middle are treated like the worst of their kind, it wouldn't be fair to label them as such. Even genericism can be executed swimmingly or horrifyingly. As for where this show stands in the isekai totem pole...well, an important enemy from episode 1 somehow died offscreen in the beginning of episode 2; this anime isn't exactly the savior anyone here is asking for.
Slamming aside, this show isn’t have bad. In fact at times it can be decent, even good. For example, the first 12 minutes are actually pretty great. We were shown a horrifyingly real depiction of the Japanese work industries, with people often staying for hours upon hours at their job, falling asleep there out of sheer exhaustion, not coming home for days at a time, and the workload being asinine. The directing by Shin Onima helps sell how dreary it all is, with incredibly harsh lights shining when the protagonist sits on a train to get to work in his sleepy state, and how silent everything is in the workplace in regards to background music until we transition into the primary setting of this anime. Hell, even when the surprisingly likable MC is transported to said game world setting (don't ask me how, this never makes sense no matter which anime pulls it, and most don't even explain themselves in some way), it still feels oppressive. When he first enters the game, we get to see Sato immediately become at least somewhat disillusioned with the idea of this being an ideal “dream” when he is attacked and writing with pain while bleeding, in a scene somewhat reminiscent of some of the better moments of Re:Zero’s early portions.
From there, it becomes a bit more hit and miss. While some aspects of the game make no sense (why would need allow your character to learn language comprehension?), they did think about stuff like currency, tax, and the overall economics and societal rules in a simple and effective manner, unlike the convoluted and meaningless currency in say, Smartphone, that never gets brought up after the first instance. It somehow manages to be a pleasant watch at times, notably because of the main character, the constant music that blends in perfectly, and the occasionally pleasant misadventures Satou and his posse go through, and the surprisingly passable world-building. Sometimes, the show can feel dull and blasé, needlessly so. It doesn't help that the show does sink into some of the more loathsome temptations of its maligned brethren on occasion. It’s annoying to see such practices continue since we’ve come so used to the absolute bottom-tier dreck these kinds or anime shit out souleslly while removing anything they seemingly had in their LN counterpart (see Mahouka’s main character as a known example of this). It does this further as it goes along too, as if the reviled temptation is increasingly heinous for them to resist. Due to this, the bare minimum of what should be considered acceptable can almost be seen as nigh-revolutionary. This really is like the “triple-A game industry”.
A large part of why this series works is Satou, our main character. On the surface, he seems like the run-of-the-mill insert, especially based on his appearance. Admittedly his reactions would be rather typical. However, he certainly isn't an awkward buffoon who only has a spine when the chips are down like most of in contemporaries do, and a majority of the time, we actually see what he thinks about any given situation. It's actually rather amusing to hear him gush over every intricacy of his meals or react negatively to whatever bullshit someone gives him. Additionally, the main character often has to use his surroundings to adapt to new situations (with ease, but still, it's something) using strategies he comes up with in the fly with party members. The fact that we get to see actual strategies being employed when facing an enemy in say, a dungeon, is surprisingly not that common in MMORPG anime, if Sword Art Online has taught us anything. Him looking like Kirito in the early episodes of his show and being better at MMORPG culture and strategy than him makes him all the more glorious, especially when unlike nearly every other overpowered protagonist, he actually has a semblance of variety to his powers. To add on to how much of a cheeky fuck he is, when he wants to rename a female companion, he just translates their garbage name in Japanese, expecting no one to notice. The only real issue I have with him is that he doesn’t bother leveling up his skills until the need for a specific skill becomes relevant for the first time. One could say it’s so that he doesn’t become boring and absurdly overpowered, but if he can do this already, and if he is already at level 310 by the end of the first episode when by the time we are ⅔ into the series, the highest leveled opponent has been level 50, then this excuse can no longer fly. That, and how he can get dull over time, though not by too much.
The main character can't carry such an annoyingly dull cast, however, as most of his posse feel less like dynamic characters, and more like largely distinct accessories for him. Obviously he doesn't feel this way about them, but as established, he’s certainly less of an audience surrogate than many of his ilk. They're thankfully nowhere near as obnoxious as most female harem characters, as none of them quite fit into the tired archetypes of harem characters, and each character is distinct from one another, unlike Smartphone, where most of the women are lately the same character. Not to mention that while not every female Satou collects is in love with him, it increases every so often, threatening to turn this pseudo-harem into an actual harem with leftovers. Arisa can get grating sometimes with her bullshit, making her probably the worst of the lukewarm bunch (aside from that one demon in episodes 3 and 4, whose voice was a spell meant to poison the ears), side-characters included. A majority of the villains are borderline worthless husks meant to serve as a “standard evil prick”. Understandably this takes place in a video game but the antagonists really are just the Light Novel adaptation standard when they didn't entirely have to be. At least the villain in the second arc has some pretty decent and interestingly foreshadowed motivations.
Easily the worst part, however, would be the production values. Even outside of the nice directing moments present in episode 1, and how they purposely instead sunlight saturation in certain moments of episode 2 to accentuate the wonder Satou feels about this new world he is in, there isn't much flare to speak of. The character designs looks rather sharp, possibly too sharp, though improved over the original novel. Thankfully it isn't the LN standard but it's still not that pretty to look at. The action is not very well animated either and the magic spells aren't with any sense of flare like they would be in Konosuba or Knight’s & Magic. As mentioned earlier, there are some neat directing moments sprinkled throughout, but that’s all they are: moments. Not all episodes even have those brief moments, and coupled together with terrible, sometimes even laughable action sequences, it’s certainly little better than the rest of Death March’s borderline pitiful visual presentation.
I'm more than willing to believe that the 2D aspects were studio Silver Link and that the rest is Connect, given their repertoire and how Connect has never done a solo project. I say this because the CGI bears massive simulators to another joint project of theirs: Chaos Dragon. Thankfully there is no frame rate slow-down, aside from the CGI already having bad frame rates as is, but the CGI is both disturbingly prevalent and disconcertingly awful, with most soldiers being reduced to CGI armor models that look putrid, and many creatures being reduced to unintentional abominations due to the same hideous 3D model quality. Regardless, this show looks terrible and doesn’t move well. It’s a shame that somehow it’s the production values that hold a light novel anime back more than anything else, as if this anime wasn’t a bewildering rarity already.
The music is mixed as well, though it is conversely the best aspect of the show. The Opening, "Slide Ride (スライドライド)" by Run Girls, Run!, is a real good contender for “most generic-sounding anime OP”, and needless to say, it wasn’t very pleasing to listen to. The Ending theme, "Suki no Skill (スキノスキル)" by Wake Up, Girls! Isn’t much better, as it’s another ending theme that isn’t noteworthy. The rest of the music is pretty decent, feeling like it truly belongs in a fantasy video game. This only applies when the characters are in the villages and not elsewhere. One minor jingle in particular even opts to make you feel like you've discovered or done something grand, and if there’s one thing video game scores are fantastic at, it's giving off a sense of grandeur. The track pool even expands in the second half when things try to get more serious and full of dread and tension. There are some nice emotional tracks too, like the one in the penultimate scene of episode 9, and the episode 10 ending track, which sadly cannot be named at the time of writing. Such a shame that the opening and ending themes that sandwich these tracks are what hold the audio component back.
Ultimately, in a world where perfunctory is revolutionary, you can forgive the disproportionate applause at least once, as even mediocrity of this kind, in such a location, can inspire hope for the future of Isekai, garbage visuals aside. There are some genuinely nice moments, visually, and emotionally, so to see it settle is annoying at times. At the very least, if something like Isekai wa Smartphone was up the alley, this is worth viewing too, that way you find an infinitely superior product with a trick or two up its nonexistent sleeves. For now at least, I can say Death March thankfully didn't live up to its title in terms of viewing experience, awful finale notwithstanding, as it’s surprisingly high up on this totem pole. Not bad for a modern LN Isekai title. It may not be good, but, well, baby steps.
Also, the fact that people are treating this show like an endorsement of slavery is woefully disconcerting; please don't do what you tried going with Mahoutsukai no Yome.