What They Say:
When two people die at the same time, they’re sent to a place that’s neither heaven nor hell: a lavish bar between worlds where the stakes are high and the rules are simple: if you win you live again, if you die you’re gone for good. Decim is the bartender charged with serving the souls who enter Quindecim. He may make a mean cocktail, but his true profession is to play the role of arbiter: a judge who determines whether or not a soul is worthy of reincarnation.
To aid in his judgment, the bar’s patrons are forced to play simple games laced with sadistic twists designed to bring their true natures to light. To Decim, judgment has always been black and white — that is until he meets a mysterious young woman whose fate seems impossible to decide. His indecision shakes the very foundation of the games and raises the biggest question of all: who is fit to judge the dead?
The audio presentation for this series is pretty solid all around as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo and the English dub in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that is largely dialogue based when you get down to it but it uses some creative sound design elements with the games that are played and some of the flashback moments that lets it stretch a bit more. The music is where things have the better form as it’s warm and sometimes stinging in order to tense up the situation, making for some subtle moments that build when you least expect it. The design overall is straightforward enough when you get down to it with some decent placement at times and a solid score that when put together with this clean and problem free encoding leaves you nicely immersed in the show without any distractions.
Originally airing in 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Madhouse, the show has a strong sense of design about it with the details of the backgrounds to be sure but also with the characters, particularly important considering how lifeless some of them are intentionally. But it’s the color design that breathes life into it with the purple hues for the location of the bar and all the games. There’s a very good color design piece put out here and that comes together in a solid and warm way with no noise or bleeding to be had. The details hold up well and the overall result is one that’s definitely very appealing as the encoding captures it all perfectly.
The packaging for this limited edition release is certainly interesting as we get a heavy chipboard box that splits down the middle on both back and front, essentially giving us the look and feel of the elevator doors from the show opening to reveal the digipak inside. The two sides have images from both of the elevators across them so it allows you to have the one you want facing out, if you have it that way. I do worry a bit about it on the shelf since it’s not a vacuum seal or anything but it’s a neat approach that fits the show well and earns kudos. The digipak inside is one that when it unfolds in full the outside is one long continuous image of the main cast of characters that’s definitely fun even if it feels a bit light on the details. It’s colorful while still fitting within that purple theme from the show itself. The reverse side of it under the disc holders have four different panels where it shows off some great background pieces from some of the main locations within the show. While there are no inserts with this release we do get a set of eight oversized art cards that show off a number of appealing images of the various characters that definitely sets the right tone for it. It’s definitely a creative package overall and one that fans of the show will adore for the little aspects of it.
The extras for this release are pretty good overall, though I still discount the inclusion of the OVA as a bonus item. It’s included there and was the piece that came out as a proof of concept back in 2013 that’s essentially a standalone episode, though you can see changes in how the story for the series was reworked, making it an interesting exercise. Beyond that, we get a good selection of the clean opening and closing sequences that populates the show, the localized trailers as we always see, and a couple of pretty engaging and fun audio commentaries from the English production team. We also get a bit of a behind the scenes cast talk with the Playing with House money featurette.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original project that started as a short film/OVA that came out in 2013 and then saw a full TV series release in the winter 2015 season, Death Parade is that kind of small and very human show that will draw in certain audiences with its approach and style. Backed by the design work of Madhouse under the direction and composition by Yuzuru Tachikawa, Death Parade is essentially a passion project and creative vision brought to life. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its flaws but there’s a lot to like here in something that is both open-ended and has a solid arc that is told throughout it, leaving one feeling complete and fine with it if there is no more – but also quite open to more.
The premise for it is intriguing as we get a group of “people” that operate a bar known as Quindecim, a place where they deal with the processing of certain souls from those that have died. With the information side overworked elsewhere in this piece of the afterlife, some 1,700 that have to be dealt with on a daily basis because of the uncertainty of whether the souls end up reincarnated or cast into the void, this place is set to ferret out the more troubling decisions with those who work there known as Arbiters. These arbiters are essentially shells, dummies that have no emotion, no death themselves, and simply operate on the idea that they provide the final judgment on what should happen to the two souls before them. It’s utterly creepy and horrifying in its own way, especially if you grapple with your own mortality in the slightest way, and it serves up multiple character stories across the set as the various people brought in through the elevator doors to be dealt with.
I won’t dig into the individual stories because each of them are worth exploring on their own with what they represent but there is a lot to talk about in a more general sense. The show revolves around the main bartender Decim, an Arbiter who is skilled at what he does in his own emotionless way. He’s been tasked with an assistant learning the ropes named Chiyuki, whose name we don’t even learn for quite a while during it. What Decim does is when new people arrives, couples, acquaintances, or strangers that were involved in the moment of death together, he puts them through the rules that they can’t quite believe and then moves them into playing a game. It could be darts, bowling, air hockey, or even coin-op video games. It’s through these interactions in their creepy ways (darts that hurt your opponent when it hits the board, for example) that pieces and fragments of their past come to the surface and we learn about who they are and then their moment of death.
And these realizations are fascinating. Sometimes you have the new arrivals unsure of who they are and who the other person is and we have a slow discovery of their connection. Some, like the opening episode, involves a couple that know each other and have to decide whether to sacrifice themselves or the other in order to escape. Not that there is an escape as they don’t know that they’re already dead for the most part nor that they can’t go back to the world of the living. Their lives are over and this is the final judgment and that’s just heartrending in some cases. Watching them going through these final motions, to show the truth of who they are and how they must be judged based on a limited number of actions is just disturbing. Some are up to the task while others show some significant character flaws that makes it hard to rally behind them, or both of them in some cases. Each tale is certainly intriguing as the details are ferreted out, but knowing how it will end – as it does in each case – is filled with a significant amount of sadness.
Overall, I really enjoyed this show for what it did in presenting the story of these people and the judgments as they unfolded. Where it was a bit more problematic for me is when it focused on the people running the place. There are ways to do this but it wasn’t something that really needed to be explored and with its own overall arc in regards to one of the Arbiters not being who they seem. There are intriguing nods toward the bigger picture at times but it felt like that it didn’t truly add anything and instead muddied the waters of the story itself. We’ve seen this done a bit with Hell Girl where the one handling everything becomes more of the focus than the people being judged and that invariably detracts from the show for me. This one manages to keep it mostly toward the end but it just raises more questions than answers and didn’t do much to enhance the show and instead detract from it a bit.
Death Parade got a lot of accolades from its Death Billiards OVA when they came out and the TV series was very well regarded. Going into it mostly fresh here without knowing much about it, it’s a pretty powerful piece that undercuts itself a bit by making the ending arc about the place and people itself as opposed to the characters that wander into it. There’s a whole lot to like here for those that dig character stories that involve morality, choices we make, and the impact not just on others but ourselves. There’s a lot to be disturbed by here and it’s very well presented both in story and animation, making for a fascinating piece that Funimation has put together here, especially with the packaging they put together and the quality of the dub. Very recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Death Billiards OVA, Playing with House Money, Clean Openings, Clean Closings, Audio Commentaries
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: November 29th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.