By Jonathan G Rosa
Nowadays people love games where we show our best to defeat our opponents in splendid styles. Of course, we feel pressured when our mind is engulfed by a mix of emotions raging from excitement to fear. It tests us how we balance the game and determines our next movements. In the horror genre, plenty of game style movies showed us terrifying realities such as Saw, Ready Or Not, The Purge, Battle Royale, Truth Or Dare, etc. However, from all of these harrowing scenarios there is one that no one has considered and yet it terrified me by how accurate it can happen. The only place where EVERYONE must play regardless their choices is in the Afterlife; the gateway that no human has control upon.
Death Parade (2015) is a 12-episode psychological anime created by Yuzuru Tachikawa and published by Madhouse TV in which recently deceased humans enter the afterlife and must play a game to determine their next residency: Heaven (Reincarnation) or Hell (Void). The afterlife games are coordinated by arbiters who are puppets with no human emotions and whose job is to exact judgement upon humans as they play a set of games. These games can lethal or non-lethal like Darts, Air Hockey, Arcade, Cards, etc. The arbiters’ rule that they cannot reveal information regarding their client’s death as well as the nature of their surroundings unless they play a game where the truth shall be revealed through it. With no choice, humans are forced to play and as they go through it, their past memories emerge as well as the moment of their death. Regardless the winner, their destiny lies in the hands of the arbiters and are sent to reincarnation where they get a second chance in life or the void where their soul is lost but their mind is constantly falling with fear and regret. To add, the arbiters manipulate the rules and trigger judgement tricks as they test action and motivation on the players even though they know what they did in their lifetime. As complicated and terrifying it is, Death Parade examines the arbiters lives and their judgement cases through the eyes of an arbiter with human emotions and his human assistant through three months.
The story centers on Decim, an arbiter with human emotions that serves as the bartender of Quindecim and his human assistant, Chiyuki. Chiyuki entered the afterlife with no memories but was transferred as Decim’s assistant by arbiter manager, Nona. The duo begins making judgements as both provide insights on how to judge humans which puts them into fights through the several judgements. Neither will know that their work will truly affect them as well as the nature of the afterlife. Through the episodes they get to see the lives of their clients who experienced mental illness, suicide, abuse, love, hopelessness, sadness, joy, and so on. As such, the following episodes I’ll highlight without spoiling gets you an idea of how the structure is played:
- Death Seven Darts/Death Reverse: This two-part episode centers on a married couple who plays a dart game and what reveals is a relationship full of deceits. As Decim judges the couple, Chiyuki is being trained by Nona whom she encounters more judgement discrepancies.
- Death Ballade: Two teens arrived at Quindecim where they play bowling, revealing a heartbreaking story that might not have the happy ending we wish for.
- Death Arcade: A reality show star and a gamer compete in an arcade game that shows moments of abuse, neglect, regret, and mental illness.
- Death Rally/Death Counter: In the powerful and harrowing two-part episode, a detective and a civilian play air hockey as each confess their revenge tales with disastrous consequences that questions Decim’s and Chiyuki’s judgement methods.
- Storyteller: In this sweet tale, an old cartoonist plays an old maid card game with Decim and Chiyuki showing the importance of fulfill your life with love and accept death.
- Suicide Tour: In the final episode, Decim takes Chiyuki to a tour centering on her life after her death which sparks the choices we make regarding our life fulfillments and our perception of life and death.
Before talking about my reaction, there details that are extremely important. Even though these episodes focus on humans playing games, we also get to see in depth the lives of the arbiters. We watch how arbiters and other afterlife employees extensively work and get exhausted by the amount loss of human lives per hour that unfortunately triggers mistakes during their arrivals to the afterlife. Thus, these beings question their functions leading to an existential crisis where they can’t comprehend human behavior. Even though they can experience live or death since they aren’t human beings, they get frustrated by the workload and try to entertain themselves by derailing boredom. In addition, it is prohibited for arbiters to experience human emotions since they can be perceived as humans and affect their judgment methods, a crime that Nona commits with Decim.
Rewatching the anime for the third time, it still amazes and concerns me about the nature of life and death as I question my existence in two different worlds. It is important to live a good live and its great that you are given a choice to be reincarnated; however, accepting death and what comes after is terrifying since we don’t know what it is. Depending on everyone’s beliefs, in the end we don’t know how we are going to be judged and what is the gateway between the moment of death and the afterlife. There are countless of questions which some are better left in mystery since the point is to experience joy and sorrow and manage to make the right choices. Obviously, reality is harsh as stated by the arbiters who explicitly state that human lives are temporal; some live longer while others die early. External and internal issues still affect someone’s life; either we control it or not. Thus, there isn’t fairness in life but in the afterlife, fair is essential to exact the proper judgement.
Decim and Nona are interesting arbiters who question their existence but receive no answers; unfortunately, only God (depending what kind of God is) must answer it no matter how hard it is. The mythology of the afterlife in Death Parade is fascinating since at first looks like a
Japanese version based on their cultures but later on, its worldwide that the judgements take place. I theorize that the anime sees this through a Japanese afterlife center while other centers do the same but in different countries. The afterlife system is the same but, in this anime, the viewpoint centers on Japan only. Finally, human emotions are the variable that determines which door should we go as we mix desires and actions to accomplish our goals whether we like it or not. In the end, someone would judge us and if we don’t like it then we must reflect how we judge people in our lifetime because life and afterlife aren’t the same and we must face the inevitable. To conclude, I selected this anime for Halloween since it is an underrated gem that tackles important conversations regarding life and death as well as how we judge vs being judge. Halloween is a special holiday where life, death, joy and fear collide and Death Parade beautifully displays it in its most existentialist way possible.