12 Days of Anime #5: “Memento Mori” December 21, 2015Posted by navycherub in 12 days of anime, Anime, Death Parade, Essay.
Tags: 12 Days of Anime, Anime, Death Parade, Essay
Spoilers ahoy! This time I recommend not continuing until you’ve seen Death Parade for yourself.
We’re eleven episodes deep into Death Parade at this point, and it’s finally time to learn about the mysterious assistant we’ve only heard snippets about since meeting her in Death Billiards. Before that, though, she gives an ice skating performance.
Death Parade always played with juxtaposition, but not in a traditional sense. Whether it be between how the camera portrays something versus how things actually are, or even simply the tonal difference between the show’s concept and its execution, Death Parade has used the juxtaposition between our expectations and reality to weave a much more emotionally charged tale than anyone expected.
In a very cool juxtaposition-inside-juxtaposition, this episode plays with our understanding of the show’s structure. Not to trick us, but instead to let arguably the most important scene in the entire show carry all of the weight it deserves. This juxtaposition is between what is actually happening – Chiyuki’s lovingly animated skating, her childhood flashbacks, Decim’s wire-puppet piano playing – and what we’ve come to expect from the show, or in other words, the understanding that it will all come crashing down eventually. The music and happy memories don’t contrast with anything we actually see, but instead our own minds, creating an intimately personal investment in the events, summoning feelings that bubble up from inside of us despite never being portrayed, at least until the end.
It is so effective because our own internal knowledge that there can’t be a happy ending to this sequence only serves to make it more beautiful. The impermanence of this happiness makes us appreciate it all the more, making this scene a wordless, elegant articulation of some of Death Parade‘s most powerful themes. There is so much happening in this scene, yet so little actually happens.
Next, Chiyuki and Decim go over their feeling as Chiyuki finally remembers her life. Chiyuki, the forever-optimist we’ve known for the whole show, becomes dejected with her memories back, deciding that it is impossible for people to understand each other. Decim doesn’t exactly tell her she is wrong, but instead asks if it is so wrong for him to want to try. Here the contrast is between Chiyuki’s pain from experience and Decim’s childlike curiosity. In a story where the entire premise rides on the idea that the right thing to do is to make definite “judgments,” Decim’s refusal to allow there to be one final way to see things makes his childlike outlook out to actually be the most mature.
Finally, throughout the episode a side plot has been playing out between Mayu and Ginti. Their exchange reflects Decim and Chiyuki’s, though in a more directly confrontational way. Ginti believes he can finally break Mayu by creating a moral dilemma for her – choosing between a stranger and her beloved Harada – but his lack of emotional understanding is proven as Mayu asks if she can simply choose to sacrifice herself. There is, of course, no way for Ginti to ever understand her; unlike Decim and his human emotions, Ginti truly is just an arbiter, just a doll that does its job. However, the thematic through line of the less traditionally mature character being the one with the most conviction and sense of purpose continues as Mayu takes the opposite stance to Ginti’s belief that life needs to have purpose. Of course, from the outside we realize that his perspective is contradictory.
Death Parade plays with expectations, messes around with perspective, and juggles messy worldviews, but purposefully. All of the contradictory images and feelings in the show ironically point in a cohesive way to how impossible it is for us to truly understand anything, but how important it is that we try anyway.