The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
Dead Mount Death Play
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dead Mount Death Play ?
Community score: 3.9
What is this?
It's a showdown for the ages as the legendary hero takes on the corpse god necromancer, but when the dust settles, something isn't quite right. In the final moments of their epic confrontation, the corpse god's final gambit shot was wholly unexpected -- reincarnation magic. Across space and time, a boy named Polka Shinoyama awakens feeling not quite himself.
Dead Mount Death Play is based on Ryohgo Narita and Shinta Fujimoto's manga and streams on Crunchyroll on Mondays.
How was the first episode?
While isekai stories are dime a dozen, with Death Mount Dead Play we get the much rarer reverse isekai story. Rather than a person from our world being reincarnated in a fantasy world, a person from a fantasy world is reincarnated in ours. More than a few of the common tropes remain true, but each has limits that keep our protagonist from feeling too overpowered.
“Polka” (as we'll call him to avoid confusion), is able to access some of the memories of his new body, like its name and how to speak Japanese. However, more concrete memories—like how he knows Misaki—don't come through clearly, if at all. And while he has access to magic, his current body is quite weak physically and the world of modern Japan has little in the way of spirits to power it—you know, unless he's in a place where numerous people have died violent deaths.
All this brings us to the “twist” of the episode—though I hesitate to call it that. With Polka's internal monologue right after awakening in our world, it was rather obvious we were following the evil necromancer rather than the hero. In fact, I didn't realize that we were even supposed to think that we were following the hero until we got that brief scene back in the fantasy world. I can't help but wonder if the majority of viewers were the same as me, which means there was a problem with how the episode was directed, or if they were fooled as the episode seems to have wanted them to be (in which case any confusion is a “me” problem).
Regardless, I found the episode thoroughly entertaining. As the original manga comes from the mind of Ryōgo Narita—i.e., the man behind Durarara!! and Fate/strange Fake—I have high hopes for this one. If I get a cast of crazy characters and a mix of comedic and serious stories going forward, I'll be happy for sure.
I'll admit it: This one got me. I knew about the whole “reverse isekai” part of the premise from the get-go—it's one of the things that made me actually willing to stick out the very long and generic fantasy battle scene that takes up nearly half the episode—and I wasn't even particularly surprised when our reverse-isekai'd hero Polka discovers that the manic anime girl who rescues him from the cops is hellbent on killing him again after the body switcheroo spell prevented the first neck stab from doing the job.
For whatever reason, though, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised when Polka summoned the evil Corpse God's Magic Skellington Hands to take care of the murdery interloper. It's not a mind-blowing twist, seeing as this is basically a straight-laced version of what The Devil is a Part Timer! has been doing for years, but having the reincarnated hero from another world be the evil necromancer instead of the tortured hero guy was a bit of schlocky fun that I didn't see coming.
“Schlocky fun” is, perhaps, the perfect way to describe the appeal of Dead Mount Death Play, which revels in its edgy ultraviolence and over-the-top characters so hard that you'd swear you accidentally flipped on a Future Diary rerun from 10 years ago. What makes the approach to this story somewhat novel, at least in comparison to the cookie-cutter isekai adaptations that this show is partially riffing on, is that it essentially has the ridiculously overpowered anime protagonist of one overplayed genre get reincarnated into another altogether different but equally ridiculous anime genre. Essentially, this gives the usual Protagonist with Godlike Powers in Another World plotline something that most of those shows are missing: a plotline with actual stakes that could potentially be engaging, provided that the mysteries surrounding the death game that Polka has found himself participating in are worth a damn.
In addition to all of the gory spectacle, Dead Mount Death Play could even end up being decently funny, if the premiere's post-credits scene is anything to go by. My main concerns right now are that, given that this episode is more-or-less 100% dedicated to establishing the show's subversive premise, there aren't any characters or plot threads worth caring about yet. Is the Corpse God going to be a nuanced character with a recognizable arc that keeps you invested in all of the chaos happening around him? It's possible, given that his stated motivation to “live a peaceful life,” but too many of these battle royale-type anime have devolved into gratuitous self-parody, so my optimism is tempered with a hefty dose of caution. This could be a much-needed injection of campy action-horror in a season otherwise lacking in the kills department, or it could become a complete mess. Only time will tell.
When it comes to Ryohgo Narita, there are a few things you can always expect. It'll be morbid, filled to bursting with weirdo characters, and likely have a high concept that takes a while to play out fully. That all pertains to this show, especially the high-concept part. It takes Dead Mount Death Play its entire first episode to flesh out the basic premise: an apocalyptic necromancer from a fantasy world being reverse-isekai'd into a dead man's body in our world and having to contend with the mysteries of this strange world and his new body's former identity. It's a solid, if convoluted, setup, but it takes so much time getting there that it's hard to make a call on what the show will be like going forward.
It's certainly ambitious, I'll give it that. The first half of the episode is just one big, climactic battle between the necromancer and the paladin hero destined to defeat him. It goes on long enough that, if you went in blind, you'd fully believe this was just a dark fantasy series until the eye-catch hit. Even when the soul-hopping happens, it spends a good amount of time pretending that the hero was the one who gets sent to our world before pulling out the twist at the very end. It's a commitment to the bit that gives the impression that there's more to this story than its big narrative hook and left me curious to see more. Yet that curiosity mainly stems from wanting to know what this show will be about rather than this lengthy preamble.
At the same time, the story's ambition may exceed the animation staff's grasp. While the opening battle isn't bad looking, some visible seams and clunky CG work make it just a little too hard to parse in places. Similarly, the character art and animation can feel limp outside critical moments, and I'm not wild about the overall design or direction. It's not terrible, but I've yet to see a production out of GEEKTOYS that didn't start to fall apart sooner or later, leaving some worries about the show's longevity. I've sat through enough dime-store death game shows to know that poorly animated gore is way less fun than it thinks.
The one certain thing is that this is going to be unapologetic in its trashiness. You don't start your death game(?) story with a crowbar wielding school girl who talks about getting turned on by bloodshed unless you're fully locked into grindhouse mode, and that's something I know Narita can pull off with flare and good humor. The guy has a natural touch for creating endlessly charming violence, and if we can't get another season of Baccano! then I'll take this for now.
We've got isekai, double isekai, and now reverse isekai. Dead Mount Death Play, based on the manga of the same name, takes the at least slightly novel approach of lifting someone from a fantasy world and dumping them in our own – and into the body of a recently murdered sixteen-year-old with the unfortunate name of Polka. We don't know why manic pixie dream assassin Misaki killed him, and I suspect she simply doesn't care. The good news for Polka is that his “Evil Eye” power from his previous existence has carried over into his new one, which has some major benefits for him, if not for Misaki. (That's fine by me; she very nearly ruined the episode for me.)
There is, of course, one major twist lurking in this episode, and it's a pretty good one that's nicely hinted at so that when it gets revealed, you can look back and see how you might have missed it. Polka's reactions aren't necessarily giveaways, which feels true to how someone who assumed they didn't come out of a fight to the death on the winning side might behave. Polka's got no clue where he is, why he can't speak, or why his throat has been slit; possibly, he's also confused as to why no one is saying anything about a kid with a cut throat or attempting to help him. (In his defense, I don't think he's aware of the injury; it's the least pressing of his problems.) The slow reveal of the truth he's living is the strongest part of the premiere.
It also helps that this looks good. If you're not a fan of gore, that could be a problem because while it's not excessive, it's there, and Polka's slit throat is a constant for three-quarters of the show. There's a nice use of darkness versus light, with the former being prominent in all fight scenes and the latter taking over when the battle's done – in both worlds, which is a nice touch if not a bit on the nose. It's also interesting that the Evil Eye is thought to be something bad because, in many other stories, that power is called “second sight” or “spirit sight;” it's just the ability to see the souls of the dead and other spirits. We get some information about why it's maligned, but it's still an interesting and deliberate choice to make and says a lot about how Polka is likely to view his powers as inherently wrong. This isn't necessarily for me, but it is a promising debut, and from what I remember of the manga, it sticks close enough to the source. Definitely worth checking out.
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