Death Parade: where lies the debate?

DeathParade_01
“Um…how do I exit Shinjuku Station?”
Sorry…I couldn’t resist…

Death Parade is the third of the four series that made Winter 2015 so very memorable for me. At first, I felt that the episodic format would eventually make me lose interest—probably once they ran out of interesting story and character juxtapositions. But then, towards the end of the show, it produced one of the most thrilling episodes of anime I’ve ever seen—one that literally kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. I’m fairly certain that the second place on my 12 Days of Christmas list for this year was booked right there and then.

DeathParade_02 DeathParade_09
We will now have you play a game.

However, just one season further along, I’ve realised that Death Parade simply hasn’t stayed with me. When I sat down to reflect on why that might be the case, I wondered if it might also help me understand why Parasyte: the Maxim, too, hadn’t captured my interest all that much. Just what is it about my favourite shows that draws me in? After a forum acquaintance posed a related question to me a couple of months back, this has been on my mind, and I still don’t have a clear answer…

DeathParade_03
You will only be able to leave when the game is over…

What I can say, however, is that the philosophical debate raised by Death Parade is probably a little too straightforward to really hold my attention now. I understand that one of key issues that catches people is that the void is akin to the death penalty, an irreversible punishment that we should not be allowed to administer to each other. Furthermore, can we really judge people based on the limited knowledge we have of their lives? And how much can they be blamed for their actions when the circumstances that have influenced their choices are typically beyond their control? But I’ve long felt this way about crime and punishment, and not only because humans make mistakes just as Decim did in at least one episode. I also believe that we should never give up on rehabilitating people — that’s what our jails and corrections institutions should be designed around. And finally, to be frank, with all the money spent on appeals etc, hanging on to the death penalty makes no economic sense. Hence, even though I felt that Decim’s decision was probably right in most cases, there was never any doubt that the way the arbiters go about making their judgments is wrong. Rather than being drawn into that debate, it was the thriller aspect—the uncertainty of not knowing how a particular situation would unfold and the judgment that it would lead to—that kept me watching.

DeathParade_07 DeathParade_06
And there are things I may do that you will not expect…

More recently, I’ve also realised that I’m more interested in the next level of the debate. I doubt that many outside of Indonesia and Australia paid any attention to the controversy over the Bali 9 drug traffickers; the two ring leaders were Australian citizens whose ten years on death row finally came to an end a month ago in Indonesia. But it was a huge thing here: there was a lot of media criticism, and the attention meant that Australia would spend a fair amount of political capital vis-a-vis Indonesia protesting the sentence as a violation of human rights. What’s really interesting, however, is how layered the debate is. How do you weigh up the human rights of the smugglers against the lives that would have been destroyed if they had managed to slip through the net in Australia? Is it hypocritical of Australia to show this level of outrage only where its own citizens are concerned, and also to avoid such controversy if the foreign government in question is the ally that we have chosen to depend on? There is also a question about the amount of political capital that we have spent on this issue, especially considering how important our relationship with Indonesia is on so many fronts.

DeathParade_04
But perhaps you will surprise me instead?

Ultimately, these are the kinds of debates I’m interested in, the ones where ideals meet with political realities that cannot so easily be changed just because ‘that is how the world should be’. Death Parade works extremely well as a thriller, and it also showcases some great character exploration and development at both mini-story and series levels. For this viewer, however, it largely dealt with a debate that feels less important in the grand scheme of things.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

5 Responses to Death Parade: where lies the debate?

  1. sikvod00 says:

    “What I can say, however, is that the philosophical debate raised by Death Parade is probably a little too straightforward to really hold my attention now.”

    Interesting. For me, the debate was really only important because I wanted to know what side the show would take. In the past anime has let me down when it comes to these sorts of obvious debates. Like you, I was afraid it would fall into the typical episode format of “revealing the darkness in a person’s heart” by putting them in lose-lose situations and the audience enjoying the suffering that occurred.

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    • karice says:

      Interesting… May I ask which anime have let you down (not necessarily on this particular debate — I’d like to know about others as well). As far as I can recall, most of the series I’ve seen have landed on the ‘right side of the debate’ in my own view. Which is one of the reasons I was really impressed with the first Psycho-Pass, because I got the impression that Urobuchi Gen had been trying to go on to ‘the next debate’, rather than the one that I felt most other viewers remained fixated on.

      Like you, I was afraid it would fall into the typical episode format of “revealing the darkness in a person’s heart” by putting them in lose-lose situations and the audience enjoying the suffering that occurred.

      Er…I never really got that impression. It was quite clear by the second episode that the creative team was going somewhere with the question of “how should people be judged.” And after it became clear that it wasn’t going to be just dark and depressing (episode 3), the main thing that concerned me was simply that I’d lose interest because the novelty would wear down. That’s what happened with the Jigoku Shoujo series, at least for me (I watched all three series…). Thankfully, Death Parade didn’t go on for another cour.

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  2. sikvod00 says:

    Oh boy. I probably (I did) misspoke regarding past anime letting me down. It had less to do with specific philosophical debates and more like “I’m not happy with the way anime in general deals with some topics (i.e, male homosexuality, mental health\abuse). The closest I can recall is KimiUso and how it handled physical and emotional abuse. I have seen your thoughts and discussions regarding this, so I already know how well-aware you are of the subject with some viewers. Sorry that no other specific examples come to mind, but I’ll post them if I remember.

    I regret having little faith in this show at the beginning and assuming it would just focus on the darkness. It took me a little longer to realize it was the opposite. I think if it lasted more than 1 cour, it would have focused on attempts to change that system. Maybe then it could have offered up those tougher questions you mentioned?

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    • karice says:

      Ah, I see. I’m not sure if you’ve gotten this from my post on it, but I’ve long thought that Kimi Uso simply isn’t about what some viewers expected or wanted it to be about. It simply didn’t have the necessary set up to be a show dealing with some of the debates on mental health. To me, anything that is trying to look at a debate on a broader level has to present several examples of it, which is why Death Parade is a series that can do that. Any story that focuses primarily on one person’s experience can also say something about the issue, but it’s only ever one representation of it. And I would contend that, much as we want to come up with theories about what works best, there is never going to be something that fits every single situation. So pardon me if I’m being a bit too pedantic/fastidious about this; I just think that Drew McWeeny wrote here is the right approach to anything we consume: we should be open and eager to engage it on its terms, not on our own.

      I’m not confident I’ve always been able to do that, which is why I recently made the decision to not review anything that I don’t really engage with anymore (Parasyte was the unfortunate first victim of that policy). Though I still appreciate it very much when others point out something I’ve missed, so if you do have something to say about e.g. Kimi Uso, I’d be quite happy to discuss it more on that post. ^^

      I think if it lasted more than 1 cour, it would have focused on attempts to change that system. Maybe then it could have offered up those tougher questions you mentioned?

      Hm…I’m not sure. Whether Death Parade can deal with some of the more complex debates probably depends on how the world of the arbiters is connected to the real world. I’m sure it can address the question of ‘so, how should we deal with people who’ve commended crimes?’, but I’m not convinced it’d be effective in addressing some other considerations. For example, the show touches on the question of whether it is ever right to sacrifice one life/soul for another; however, what if, by sacrificing one person/soul, you can save many others? Can the writers come up with a situation–within the constraints of the world they’ve created–that deals with this question?

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  3. Pingback: Moments of 2015: The Fall | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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