Series Recap: Death Parade

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This was a mixed bag. On the one hand, Death Parade has some of the best atmosphere and mood of the past decade. It has style and attitude in spades. It’s easy to forgive a few flaws because the series is so damn cool doing its thing.

On the other, when we do sit down and examine the substance, it’s like finding out Fonzie has recently been reading Mein Kampf.  It’s just one of those double takes where you kind of still want to think of them as cool, but there’s that one really harsh detail that you just can’t work past. “I’m sorry, what? Did you just say Mein Kampf? Uhh…I’m gonna sit at this booth over here…for a bit…”

This is ultimately the problem I have with Death Parade. Looking at its moral judgments through hindsight leaves an uncomfortable taste in my mouth.  And we’ll get to that, but let’s start off with some simple stuff first, hm? Continue reading

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Double Feature: Death Parade 10+11

Oh god it’s winking at me!

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Time for conflicts to come to a head. Time for the veil surrounding Kurokami to come undone. Will you care about her plight, or will this peter out and waste your time? Let’s find out!

I made no secret last time that Death Parade has been trying my patience. Not to the point of where the series is broken, but just a series of questionable choices from the story side of things. Production remains quite strong, and while the acting leans to the hammy, it isn’t really to the detriment of a work where mood is so important to the presentation.

We open with Decim asking to be suspended from judgments, parroting Kurokami’s words from last time. There needs to be more purpose behind them. But Nona quickly sniffs out it’s Kurokami’s influence saying these things, not really Decim himself coming to the conclusion.

Kurokami’s body is breaking down. It seems Human recreations have a finite existence in this afterlife place.  Nona orders Decim to judge her finally, and adds in she will send a special guest.

But Decim is aghast. He doesn’t think that darkness is Kurokami’s true nature.

Again, back to this utterly confusing thing about darkness being their metric.  That is not what we’ve seen, and why is it the goal?

This is the problem with the dilemma.  Arbiters have this dogmatic way they judge, perhaps it is so old a metric that no one lives who was around when it was conceived, as we are led to believe all the arbiters were born at some point. Centuries past, perhaps, but still born. Even creepy grandpa god isn’t REALLY a deity, just a powerful Arbiter type.

“Why do we judge Humans on the lurking darkness within?”  “Because.”  “But shouldn’t we have a goal?”  “Nope, it’s jsut the way it is.”   “Okay, so, how about I judge people based on something else, if the reasons behind it don’t matter?”  “WHAT? YOU FUCKING HERETIC! DO IT THE RIGHT WAY!”

There needs to be SOMETHING behind this. The argument of tradition is very powerful in Human minds (very much so in Japan), but often those supplement the basic idea of tradition with something.  Gay marriage isn’t tradition, therefore it’s wrong.  But the argument is also clothed in the idea that it is “immoral”, that there are no children to be conceived therefore the state should not have an interest.  Now I’m not trying to debate the merits of those arguments, but merely illustrating that there ARE rationalizations, no matter how flimsy, behind the fact that it is tradition.

If you put “It is tradition” in a vacuum, it ceases to be a moral dilemma, and becomes a black and white argument with only one clear answer for us to conclude. Having a bad guy whose motivation is clear is important, and we lack that here. It’s doubly confusing because they are so dogmatic, while simultaneously saying they couldn’t care less. Continue reading

Double Feature: Death Parade 8+9

If I ran the toll booth at the River Styx…

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I am dreading how long this review will get.  Because we still have a lot of unfinished business with this series that the show seems to want to move away from.

Central to this story, beyond the characters that are introduced, is the function and facilitation of judgments.

In the past weeks, we’ve tried to discern what the “rules” are supposed to be.  For example, why does Machiko get sent to the eternal dark for sleeping with someone who wasn’t her BOYFRIEND (remember, they weren’t married yet, they had no “sacred vows” or anything), yet her husband, Takashi, is given a pass to reincarnate because he wants to throttle his WIFE.

Why does Miura and Mai’s game not feature any Arbiter dickery?

Why does Yousuke get reincarnated yet Misaki get eternal dark, when both were as sorrowful and regretful over their lives? Because Misaki hit Yousuke during the game? How is that different from Takashi literally BEGGING Decim to release him so he can “hit the bitch”? Maybe it’s because Misaki did it during the game, and the game is the only part that counts?  No, wait, we see from this week that isn’t true either.

In short the judgments so far have been very confounding. Perhaps that is the point, but this set of episodes is going to behave like there are ACTUAL rules here.  Rules that we REALLY should have an understanding of before the characters begin picking them apart.

Now we’ve understood the part about “drawing out the darkness” for some time.

But I always figured that it was a sort of “you don’t truly know someone until you fight them” motif.  Lots of people hate that phrase, but I subscribe to it. Perhaps more eloquently, “you don’t understand the content of a person’s character until they are your enemy”. The difference between the “good ex” who parts amicably and you still talk to, vs. “the bad ex” who texts you death threats for weeks and weeks following your break up. That sort of thing.

I always felt that was what was at play here.  Break someone down without social constraints restraining them, and see the true content of their soul when they have nothing to hide behind, no excuses to make.  See what a person must do when they are entirely self-contained emotionally and see their sides emerge.

But this story seems intent that, no, the darkness itself IS the scale we’re using. Which is an entirely different animal. Not only is that the opposite of a method that exposes someone’s base nature, it obfuscates everything about their personality.

Even Mr. Rogers on his worst day might not pass this test. WHATEVER THE HELL IT’S MEASURING.

There’s a lot more to say, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Let’s examine the episode properly. Continue reading

Death Parade: Episode 7

Yeah I had a boss like that, too, Nona.

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We open on Master Roshi-sama practicing his billiards game.  He lays out the three rules of arbitration.

-First, Arbiters cannot cease giving judgments, that is their very purpose. Their dharma, if you will.

-Second, Arbiters must not experience death, because the experience would make them too Human. Arguably too sympathetic? Lose their impartiality? Or would such an experience give them bias of a different kind?

-Third, Arbiters cannot experience emotion, because they are dolls.

Kurokami stumbles into the book among the many books about alcohol that populate Decim’s shelf. Yes, that book. That one she has dreamt of and her mother read to her as a child, so the flashbacks would imply.

But Decim has no idea where the book came from. He guesses it to be the property of Quindecim’s previous arbiter. Sparking flashbacks!

We meet Quin, who is leaving the job. Decim will be taking over for her.  Ginti and Decim are having a sort of orientation, similar to Kurokami’s in Episode 2, only they will be participating, having the buzzers which can cause mayhem with the game. We don’t see much about this particular arbitration, but they are playing billiards, a nice shout out to the original form of this series.

Decim makes up the drinks, and this convinces Quin that’s he’s perfect for the job! Oh Quin, I love you. Of course it’s very clear she’s overeager to be done with this job.

But Nona has a question. Why did Decim fail to use his device?  Decim apologizes, he was too distracted watching the pair’s behavior and what they were thinking.  Ginti laughs this off as Humans are idiots and even if you could discern their thoughts, it wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t change anything.  But Decim thinks otherwise, and says he feels respect for anyone who has lived a full life.

Nona admires this, but as Decim was unable to discern their thoughts, she advises him to use their artificial means to create conflict in the future. It’s obvious she wants him to develop this skill, but she is the boss still, and needs a job to get done properly.

Quin offers one last piece of advice. Find something you treasure, no matter how small. Continue reading

Yuri Kuma Arashi: Episode 8

Warning: Doll yells at lesbians.

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This week begins with the cut off from last week. Kureha’s put together that Ginko is her childhood friend, and is about five seconds away from molesting her on the porch. Until, that is, she sees that Ginko is carrying the pendant her departed mother left.  This railroads into straining our patience.

See, Kureha already makes the observation “Only the bear who killed my mom should have that”.  And Kureha has been ADAMANT to tell others who she thinks will believe her that bears have taken Human form and have infiltrated the school.

But she doesn’t make this connection, not on her own.  Being generous, we can say she secretly thought this, but was trying to rationalize this away. Because…because a friend so unimportant to her life she COMPLETELY forgot about her by the time she was five has suddenly reappeared and that’s just SO SPECIAL she can’t bear to feel betrayed? I’ll get into this business later, but keep this info filed away.

The rigging on the good ship Yuri Kuma is starting to buckle. It’s being forced to carry far more weight than it is designed for, and these little issues which hurt a little have become too obvious to our gaze as we head towards wrapping up Act 3.

It’s time for Sensei’s backstory, much as Episode 4 was Lulu’s. Though this will be more of an interwoven narrative than a cut-away.

She was an orphaned bear, and taken in by the former headmaster of the school.  The headmaster explains that “only the unsullied have value here”, which is probably something we should be keeping in mind as the revelations pile on in the coming weeks. Translations have referred to the headmaster as male, but I don’t think that’s the intent. If anything, the headmaster is a nod to the manga-version Court, where the judges (collectively here though I realize only Life Sexy is judge) are totally androgynous, rather than their “femboy” stance with male voices as presented in the anime.

Or at least that’s assuming it’s based on a female using “bokuwa” (which happens all the time). If this is just because she’s wearing a shirt and tie I’m pulling this internet over and giving everyone a stern talking to.

I have no idea if this trivia will influence how we see the headmaster at the end of the series, or if she’s even meant to correlate to the Court of Severance,  Maybe one of you is more clever and sees a connection there though, so there you have it. Continue reading

Double Feature: Death Parade 5+6

Yeah yeah, we get it, Shinji-kami, enough already.

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These two episodes are rather light, so let’s get to em.

Kurokami is having a dream in picture book style. It’s a little story about a boy who sees a constantly smiling girl outside, goes out to play, falls through the snow, but is rescued by the girl he came to play with.

Kurokami awakes with a start. Seems this is a dream she’s been having for some time.  She spies a dress in her wardrobe that seems unfamiliar, but doesn’t really pay it much mind.

She goes to greet Decim, and they have guests coming. But something goes wrong with the memory transfer.  Unlike previous guests, one of the guys here just wants a drink. To which Decim shrugs and obliges. Neither of the contestants has any memory of their lives.

Nona is playing pool with…god, I guess? He calls himself the closest thing to. Presumably high judge of the damned, or something, as he’s likely Nona’s boss, overseeing all the departments of the afterlife. He actually makes a rather serious aside that God is long gone. He makes several comments over the course of their game, such as how Nona is like Decim, how he’s surprised she lasted as an arbiter because she lacks self control.

Back in the bar, the big guy panics. He has flashes of memory to the bar, rather than his life. Decim restrains him fairly easily, and Kurokami tends to the boy. But she collapses, drawing Decim’s attention.  The boy is a bit abrasive, but Decim eventually manages to subdue him.  He identifies him as Ginti, a fellow arbiter, and his disguise melts away.

Seems Ginti is confused by Kurokami’s presence, the fact a Human is long term helping with judgments baffles him. They fight and fight, when Nona arrives, clotheslining Ginti in the most adorable way.  She comments Decim usually never rises to Ginti’s bait. Implicit is that Kurokami is becoming something of a blind spot for Decim. Continue reading

Yuri Kuma Arashi: Episode 7

Black helicopters!

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This week begins with Kureha’s mother telling her the final bit of that story, about how the girls live happily ever after, and we get confirmation that it was supposed to be Kureha and Ginko.

Back from credits, and Kaoru is sleeping with the teacher…I MEAN, THAT MYSTERIOUS BEAR THAT WILL TOTALLY KUMA SHOCK US ONCE SHE’S REVEALED! Speaking of, she eats Kaoru.

Kureha is keeping vigil over Ginko.  Like a human keeping vigil over a shrine guardian or something.  The pair are now officially accepted as a part of Kureha’s home, she trusts their good intentions.

In a reversal of previous episodes, it is now Kureha that has random fantasies about sex with Ginko.

But this seems involuntary.  Could these be visions produced by Kumalia?  We could write off Ginko’s that, maybe, she was too into Kureha, too prone to daydreaming.  But this is much more “against type”, and Kureha, while accepting Ginko and Lulu’s good intentions, still doesn’t harbor ROMANTIC feelings for either.  So the fact she has this elaborate dream sequence which tries to tell her enlightenment can be found in Ginko’s vag is a curious conspiracy theory.

Adding to this conspiracy theory of Kumalia’s influence, we see Kureha CONVENIENTLY start to piece together her past, that she once had a “special friend” before Sumika and that she might have been the girl in the story. Continue reading

Yuri Kuma Arashi: Act 2

Sure, Hunnylingus is a word.

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Let’s embark on a tour of plot entering this series.

Episode 4 begins as a backstory episode.  It’s rather cute, with the Judges narrating Lulu’s life.  She was nobility, apparently royalty if the tale is to be believed as 100% accurate, but again, you can’t trust everything you see as is. She was doted on by her parents. But as soon as her little brother is born (see: the new heir is born) she begins to miss her old life of privilege as everyone’s attention turns to the young prince.

And credit where it’s due, this little story takes on the form of a western fairy tale, even incorporating the “trial of three”, something modern retellings generally abandon.

Speaking of our trial of three, it comes in the form of Lulu putting her little brother in a box and kicking him down a cliff to his death. From which he returns almost completely unharmed.  He does this to earn Lulu’s “promise kiss”, because he wants to marry his big sister (he is like, three).  This is the first mention, but it will recur many times from now on, and it seems to be something within Bear lore similar to “true love’s first kiss”.  And yet, the choice the judges present her is the following.

“Will you give up on love? Or will you give up on kisses?”

So is the kiss PERSONAL love, while love in general is just the concept? Or what? Who knows, still up for debate.

Lulu’s little brother dies trying to bring her a pot of pure honey.  Ginko, however, is the one who returns it to her.  She is a “criminal bear”, and is off to the other side of the Wall of Severance. Lulu, feeling a combination that she owes Ginko a debt and that she must repay the favor of a promise kiss by helping Ginko claim hers, will join her. Continue reading

Death Parade: Episode 4

Being a dick, because it’s god’s work.

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Cutting out the middle man, we’re already at the part where the couple are trying to break open the doors.  It fails, obviously, but we’re quickly shown our characters.

On the whole I must compliment Death Parade’s establishment of character. They are rather predictable, but at least they’re done strongly.

So our pair, Yousuke and Misaki, seem to be unrelated completely. Misaki is a reality TV star. with all the arrogance and presumption that comes with it, and Yousuke seems to be a nervous office type, or possibly some kind of computer programmer.

Misaki is convinced they’re on a reality, hidden camera show. Candid camera, she basically means.

…Which, to her credit, isn’t entirely off base.  They ARE being watched for specific reactions to unusual circumstances. So good call on that one.

..I like the bar’s transformation sequences.

It’s video game time! In an amusing bit, each character is on the “character select” screen, and it’s entirely themselves.  The afterlife is nothing if not amusing itself at humans’ expense. Continue reading

Death Parade: Episode 3

You ride upon perfection; You ride upon the tears of newbs.

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This week begins with a scene of two little kids waving goodbye to each other. I’m sure this won’t end tragically for them.

After credits, wake up with your male lead this episode, Miura. They get the same explanation as Takashi and Machiko did last time, with the added bonus of the intern counting down the rules. She’s been here for some time by now, it seems.

Our lady protagonist, though, can’t remember anything. She doesn’t know her name, nor what she was doing before she died.

A good time to use this card, by the way.  Last time, Decim had said this game only exists for souls who died in the same related incident.  While we have no reason to presume he was lying, we still don’t TECHNICALLY know if we can believe that point yet, so it’s a little thing to stir the suspense.

Decim tells her she will probably remember more of her life’s details if she plays the game.  She concedes, and Miura, having the hots for her, goes along with it.

Bowling! And each bowling ball is the opponent’s heart. Complete with body temperature and pulse rate. Generally, things go amicably, and we see that, at least for Miura’s end, he was the boy we saw in the opening scene, but that girl he played with disappeared long ago.  This girl reminds him of her, but that’s probably impossible.

Miura makes a wager. If he wins, will she go out with him? How cute. This certainly won’t spiral into a bout of homicidal rage.  At this, the girl begins remembering things. She remembers Miura, vaguely, but as an adult. So that’s curious.

But her next flashback is that childhood scene. It IS the same girl! Well don’t that beat all.  They’re both overjoyed for this. I’m sure this won’t end in obsessive stalker behavior for either one of them. Continue reading