I had just started watching a crappy vampire anime series where all the adults in the world were mysteriously killed off, and the kids were then being raised as livestock by the uncaring undead. I was told it was one of the better shows of the previous anime season, and that concerned me. Then, just a couple of episodes in, a reader told me to drop everything and watch Death Parade (if I hadn't already seen it); that it was a breath of fresh air and would rejuvenate my love of Japanese animation after the long string of boring, dull, and just plain bad shows that I've had the misfortune of watching lately. I sighed, rolled my eyes, then began Death Parade with a heavy sense of "I'm bracing myself to call bullshit on you" in the front of my mind.
The pre-credit opening grabbed my attention immediately (I had forgotten what it was like to have my interest clutched and shaken so quickly by a series like this), but then the opening song and animation kicked in..... And I was in love.
The joyous 70s boogie anthem that is the opening song for Death Parade is simply amazing. It doesn't really share the same tone and feel of the show proper, but in this case I'll forgive it. We see a pretty large cast of characters singing, dancing, swinging around on dangling bits from a giant chandelier, and you simply just sit there and marvel at it, and enjoy it. I was actually bummed when it was over and the actual program began. But let me just get on with things and tell you all about the story now.
Actually, let me NOT tell you about the story now. Personally, I think it would be in your best interest to stop reading my review and just watch this show with no knowledge of what it's about. Don't read the Wikipedia article on it, and definitely don't read any other reviews that might ruin the premise for you before you experience it for yourself. It's mostly a supernatural drama, if you need to know that much, but it's Death Parade's ability to nail brilliant character studies that makes it so loved by me and others like me (meaning smart people who don't like shitty things). So just stop reading and watch it.
You, readers who aren't quite convinced yet, I'll tell you a little more about this show now, but I'll still keep the big bits a secret.
So MINOR SPOILERS now.
Death Parade is all about the arbiters of life — those beings whose judge how good or evil a recently deceased person is by their memories, but also and most especially by who they really are deep inside. The main arbiter that we follow is a subservient albino man called Decim. Decim runs a judgment station that looks like a very posh bar that's called the Quindecim. It's here that people arrive (with no memories of who they were when they were alive, nor that they're actually dead) to be judged on their character, and if they were an uncaring or evil douche back when they walked the Earth. People only come to the Quindecim though when two people die at the same exact time and have some sort of connection to each other. It's Decim's job to not only act out the role of bartender (which he is excellent at), but also to get these two people to play a random game against each other (either darts, billiards, Twister, air hockey, etc...) in order to get them stressed out, in order to see their true character. Then he decides if the players will go on to Heaven or Hell based on the results; Decim isn't fucking around.
End MINOR SPOILERS.
That sounds interesting, right? So go out and watch it. You'll like it.
..........Yoooooou bastard. STILL not convinced?! Fuck you, you My Little Pony loving freak. You fucking suck. Fine! I'll spoil the shit out of this show for you if you want! I hope you read what I write next and then cry your baby eyes out because you only realized afterwards that you could have experienced it untarnished!
So Decim runs the Quindecim, but he also has an assistant who helps him out. This assistant is a human soul that figured out she was dead before playing a game with anybody, therefore not allowing our stately arbiter to fully judge her character. This woman is allowed to stay with Decim thanks to Decim's boss, Nona, a chibi-sized higher-up on the afterlife reassignment totem pole. Nona believes that the arbiters of souls require emotions themselves in order to fully understand and judge their temporary guests before deciding their eternity, and that having an actual human with real emotions watching over Decim will help him to understand the feelings that Nona planted in him.
Also the arbiters don't really send people to Heaven or Hell, but instead direct them to be reincarnated or thrown into the Void (which is just as horrible as it sounds). They just tell people "Heaven and Hell" because it's supposedly easier for them to comprehend that with their tiny human-sized brains than rebirth or nothingness.
Each episode is basically a new couple of souls coming to the Quindecim (or another arbiter's) bar. Every chapter is all about finding out what makes people human, and how Decim is learning to think outside of his preprogrammed box to see when his players are lying, truly repentant, or just deceitful assholes. We also get some episodes in-between judgment stories that deal with the bureaucracy of the afterlife, and how everybody is dealing with the influx of souls as thousands are dying every minute, and what to do with those who buck the system, like the black-haired woman who's currently helping out in the Quindecim.
We also slowly figure out the mysteries behind the black-haired woman's back-story, and through her come to a new appreciation of what it means to be alive (at least I had a new appreciation, but I'm not a total cynical asshole who spits on anything that may bring out any emotion in his heart other than disgust and anger).
END MAJOR SPOILERS
Overall Death Parade is just a fantastic and super deep show about living life, the perils of the afterworld, working through regrets, and earning second chances, but it's dressed up as clever, fun, light entertainment. Some episodes will crush you, some will make you tear up a little (if you're not a robot), but all of them will make you think, at least a little. That's okay, sugartits, not all anime has to be about a single fight lasting 25 episodes, or about a dopey girl in high school having ridiculously idiotic boy problems. Some are allowed to make you use your melon.
The characters, the art designs, the amazing animation quality, the music, the plot, and the opening and ending theme songs are all near perfect in this tale. It's pretty much a perfect series, except that I wanted more from it. Just a few more episodes would have been nice... But too little is preferable to too much, so I'll just let that "negative" go. Just do it. Just watch it. You'll thank me for it, then you'll probably want to call up your mother or your father and apologize for any of the hundreds of selfish and assholic things you've done to hurt them while growing up.
Oh, reincarnation... I love how you get people's hopes up that they'll never suffer eternal torture and pain in my domain. I don't remember the first dreaming simpleton who came up with this idea, but it is something I'm extremely thankful for.
Oh, I think I'll fuck with some poor schmucks when they arrive in the queue at the Gates of Hell in the future. I might pull a couple damned souls aside, direct them to my personal sanctum sanatorium (which happens to be a giant bar — Even Satan needs to get blasted after dealing with you evil sacks of shit constantly with no weekends or holidays [not even Christmas...]), and have one of my more handsome minions pretend to be a bartender and let the two saps think that by playing billiards with each other that they might have a chance for redemption or reincarnation instead of eternal burning flames.... But let them think that only one of them will get a shot at Heaven or a rebirth on Earth... Oh my gawd! I could make it a pay-per-view event and probably cover my alcohol expenses for an entire year! Especially when the hair-pulling and knife-wielding begins!... Oh yes, I'd provide the knives. It's not like they could kill each other any more than they were already dead... They'd just be able to scar the other person for all eternity is all.
Death Parade is a great view of the afterlife in at least one respect: the bureaucracy of it all. Keeping everyone's nightmare's straight, rotating out people from the razor-strap-on-fuckfest room, and the occasional mix up with Heaven (you wouldn't believe how pissed off Princess Diana was when she was switched). It's a never ending paper trail battle, I'll tell you what.
Oh my god... This show totally gave me flashbacks to that one time I went to the Sea Wench Pub with the Skipper and Carl, and we all got schwasty-faced and started playing darts, and then Carl lost, and then he disappeared, and the blasted Skipper and I came to the only logical conclusion that because he lost the first round of games that night, he must have been dragged to Hell in a fiery stagecoach of doom!
So then the Skipper and I kept playing games, like pool, that ring-catch thingy, and quarters, but neither of us could beat the other... But then I FINALLY defeated the Skipper in a game of Tequila shots (it is TO a game!), and before I knew it the Skipper had disappeared too! I began to run around the whole bar asking everybody I came across if they'd seen a 6'4" ogre of a man who liked to punch people in the gut if they said hello to him, or an old, crusty, kind of rank individual who looked like Popeye's pappy, but I think all I was able to get out to anybody was something like, "'Ab you 'een a guy oo 'an punch yo face and shi' in a basket.... I think I'm gonna... Oooooh puke, I'm gonna boy...."
I in fact did NOT throw up (I'm an alcoholic CHAMP, I tells you!), but I did almost piss my pants out of fear for my own soul, and the fact that I had about 3 gallons of beer and booze in my system at that time. So I raced to the restroom to relieve myself, and there, lo and behold, I found both Carl and the Skipper, passed out/dead on the floor. At least Carl had been able to prop his head up onto the toilet seat before puking, unlike the Skipper and the pile of bile that he apparently face-planted in before possibly dying (I didn't check to see if he was still alive... That would have meant stepping into the 10-foot diameter vomit lake he had created).