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Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
Episode 3

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 3 of
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody ?

This week's episode of Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody is a marked improvement over last week's, insofar that the show manages to keep Satou from being actively being off-putting (most of the time). It's still a hot mess visually speaking, and the world and characters exist as little more than boxes to be ticked off on a checklist of tropes, but the worst sin Death March commits this time around is that even its best moments remain boring and ineffectual. This certainly doesn't make for good entertainment, but it is a much more tolerable place to be than the weak foot the series started out on.

Three episodes in, it seems like Death March is going to be taking more of a slice-of-life route in its isekai storytelling. This isn't a concern on its own, but Death March has yet to prove that it can pull off that less-focused style of writing without feeling too aimless. The first half of this episode is a perfect example of Death March's shaky writing and world-building. For about ten minutes, the central action of the plot revolves around Zena's promised date from last week, which essentially amounts to Satou and Zena shopping around and eating food in the exact same way he did with Martha last week. It isn't offensive or anything, but almost none of Zena and Satou's interactions reveal any meaningful details about their characters or the story at large. Even the world-building is lackluster – Death March's world feels like a half-hearted Elder Scrolls clone with some anime clichés tossed in for good measure, and no amount of awkward exposition can make that more interesting. If every episode of Death March is filled with this dispiriting lack of personality, it will be a long winter season indeed.

Things do pick up when Zena and Satou stumble across a priest of the Zaicuon temple who's cajoling a crowd into stoning the trio of moe demi-humans we met in episode two. While the presence of any kind of conflict is more than welcome for Death March, the execution of this scene leaves a lot be desired. Poor direction and flat visuals continue to plague this series; the scene spends far too much time ogling Satou's HUD as he meticulously prepares his plan of attack against the villains, only to deliver an anti-climactic couple of kicks and chops. The arrival of a terrible-looking CG demon makes things even less interesting – the horribly choppy and over-stylized cuts of the demon busting out of its host are so shoddy that the scene ends up being unintentionally funny.

Satou and Zena getting captured and separated by the demon leads to the inevitable scene of the three demihuman slaves being placed in to Satou's ownership as he sets off on a typical RPG dungeon crawl. Admittedly, this scene could have been much worse; Satou's creepy, condescending attitude has mostly been discarded this week, and he does largely treat Liza, Pochi, and Tama with respect. Still, the “devoted slave companion” aspect of this particular power fantasy is not a trope I'm particularly enthusiastic about. I can only hope that Satou will free them when he gets the opportunity.

The dungeon-crawl story also raises some questions about Satou's place in this world, and the only answers we get remain frustratingly ambiguous. I still can't tell how much of this world is meant to function as a literal video game and how much of it works as an autonomous “real” world. The exceedingly irritating HUD popups and the presence of traditional quests and character levels indicate a world that's more artificial than not, but the characters that Satou meets are all presented as individuals with lives, personalities, and the ability to interact with the world in ways that wouldn't make any sense for digital characters running off script and code. I don't actually expect Death March to provide complete remedies for all of these issues, and it honestly wouldn't matter as much for a series that emphasizes laid-back adventure over deliberate plotting. Still, this does make Death March's world feel even more thinly-detailed and slight, which is a death knell for any isekai series.

It's too early in the season to make a prognosis one way or the other, of course. This episode was an improvement, and I doubt a series this bland and unambitious will be able to sink to any particularly heinous lows. At the same time, nothing about the way Death March has presented its story, characters, or world has convinced me that it can reach much higher than this episode's modest success of being not-terrible. It's still early in the season, and I hope what we got from Death March this week isn't as good as the show ever gets.

Rating: C-

Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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