Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody ?
One of the central problems that Death March to the Parallel Rhapsody has struggled with over the course of its run is the inherent conflict between its subject matter and its chosen medium. This is a story that revolves around a guy's mostly menial daily life in a fantasy MMORPG. Transposing such a specifically first-person mode of entertainment into third-person literature (essentially watching somebody casually play an MMO) is a difficult task, made even more so by adding another layer of distance from the protagonist in the transition from prose to television. Shows like Sword Art Online and .hack//SIGN grasped the appeal of the MMO-based isekai genre in the same way that Death March does, but they also relied on a propulsive plot to carry the experience. In a traditional open RPG, players are completely in charge of setting the pace and intensity of the story; a television show, on the other hand, even a slice-of-life anime, will often need a stronger narrative foundation to keep the audience invested.
Episodes like this week's show that Death March is sorely lacking in that foundation. We spend half of this episode watching Satou work out his alchemy, haggling, and sneaking skills, and eventually these activities led him into the Forest of Illusion, where he met the Witch responsible for brewing the potions that keep her people at peace with the neighboring city nearby. Satou then almost immediately encounters the schemes of a local Assistant Viceroy named Birkinz, who's plotting to go back on his deal with the Witch and take the Forest of Illusions for himself. There are a couple of predictably shoddy action beats tossed in near the end of the episode, but a vast majority of this week's adventure is dedicated to Satou wandering about the fantasy world while his inner monologue narrates everything we see. That aimlessness can work in a slice-of-life story with a compelling cast or an interesting world, but Death March has neither of those things, and thus the audience is left to watch Satou's party bumble around, literally stumbling into stories without any sense of cohesion or focus.
In a sense, this is appropriate, because “wandering around spooky forests and eavesdropping on random conversations” is exactly how a story might be encountered in a real RPG. But in this kind of linear medium, such ramshackle plotting simply doesn't hold up. In a game, there's enjoyment to be had in gathering the materials to craft the potions, leveling up the necessary skills, and so on. In Death March, we simply sit back and watch, leaving behind only the generic fantasy writing that strings the quest objectives together. The Forest of Illusions is perhaps the least interesting magical forest I have ever seen in any work of fantasy, and Birkinz's land development conspiracy is painfully trite. The whole plot is so featherweight that the episode can't even be bothered to muster up one of its usual cliffhangers, instead cutting to credits at what feels like the middle of a scene, in a sloppy bit of editing that's completely devoid of suspense.
When you combine the lame world building with Satou's unending obsession with the minutiae of his tasks in the fantasy world, Death March basically feels like watching a Let's Play stream of an exceptionally mediocre RPG, recorded by the world's least interesting internet personality. It understands the core elements that make fantasy worlds and MMORPGs popular, but it can't do much more than replicate them in their most basic forms. Episodes like this one demonstrate how much the premise of the show suffers when it lacks the interactivity granted by being a video game, and it's also devoid of the charm, excitement, and narrative depth that can be found in the best isekai or iyashikei anime. There's only so much time a series can waste on inane menu tinkering and cheap genre clichés, and Death March to the Parallel Rhapsody has just about reached its limit. The show's finale is so close on the horizon now, and the end can't come soon enough.
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