In 2012 we were graced with a unique short film called Death Billiards, which aired as part of the Young Animator Training project. With its captivating otherworldly feel, grim atmosphere and cryptic plot, Death Billiards left me satisfied but also hungry for more. Now in 2015 comes Death Parade, an entire series based on that spectacular film.
Death Parade revolves around an eerie bar named Quin Decim. Visitors often arrive at the bar, always in pairs and always with a certain degree of memory loss. Some don’t remember who they are or what they were doing recently. All of them, without exception, have no idea how they ended up at the bar. They are then forced to participate in a randomly picked game, the result of which will have a resounding effect on their lives. Without spoiling too much, the participants gradually begin to piece together memories from their past while playing the game, eventually reaching a point in which their lives are turned upside down. By the end of the episode these people leave the bar and are then replaced with a new couple in the next episode.This means that every episode brings with it a set of new people, new stories, and new revelations. It also means each episode relies heavily on its characters. And while the film made great use of its characters, the TV series starts out rather slowly. The first episode showcases a couple with weak backstories and does so in an overly melodramatic fashion that does anything but entertain.
Death Parade does grow strong with every passing episode though. The second episode delves into the lives of those who work in Quin Decim, adding some much need meat on this series’ bones. We then move on to two well-executed episodes that do the film justice. In time I began to notice that unlike its predecessor Death Parade also has a playful side to it. The reoccurring characters are colorful and distinguished. There’s a funky chemistry between the bartender and his assistant and an energetic opening theme to shake the gloom away. While the film kept me on my toes with shocking surprises the TV series made me lean back and enjoy the small pleasures of life (or death, depending on how you look at it). Death Parade’s ability to keep its grim tones at bay and pepper them with clever doses of fun when needed keeps the overall story from degrading into the realm of the occult. It’s a promising start for this out of the ordinary seinen show.