Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody ?
There are many things to dislike about this fifth episode of Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, but I would like to be fair and start this review off by pointing out something this episode does right. At long last, it manages to use the series' MMO UI gimmick to successfully tell a joke. Granted, the joke isn't that funny, seeing as it arrives smack-dab in the middle of a completely unnecessary scene where Satou's two new slave-girls, Arisa and Lulu, show up naked in his room so that they can “service” their master. Satou thankfully turns down their advances, but not before staring stone-faced and flustered at them while a little pop-up on the screen reads “Skill Used: Poker Face”.
So yeah, it's an awkward and tasteless bit that doesn't exactly muster up laughs, but it does fulfill the basics as a joke that works. It has a setup (the established skill pop-ups going off whenever Satou accomplishes any trivial task), and it has a punchline (Satou reacting to two naked, underaged slave-girls in his room offering up their sexual services). The setup may be rooted in an obnoxious visual gimmick, and the punchline is symptomatic of the detestable way that Death March treats its female cast, but at least it's a functional joke.
That's just about the only good thing I can say about this episode, unfortunately. Putting aside that partially successful gag, this is a mess bogged down by turgid writing and off-putting fanservice, all capped off by the most horrifyingly tone-deaf note possible. While the meandering slice-of-life elements and toothless characterization of Satou are no more of an issue than they've been since the series' inception, these problems are magnified tenfold when put under the pressure of the episode's main plot, which is Satou adding two new young girls to his growing party of slaves. Yes, the episode goes out of its way to show Satou being extra-super-nice to Pochi, Tama, Liza, Arisa, and Lulu; he feeds them, clothes them, finds them a place to sleep, and he even has the decency to not use his position of authority to exploit child slaves for sexual gratification. (This is perhaps only laudable given that Arisa needs no encouragement, but we'll get to that). Poor Lulu has obviously been traumatized by past experiences at the hands of abusive slave owners, but Satou wipes away her tears and promises that she'll never have to “service” a man again.
But this creates its own set of problems. In going out of its way to have Satou act as a benevolent and even paternal figure to these castoff girls, Death March only reinforces some of the most noxious tropes possible. These girls fulfill a very particular kind of fantasy, wherein they've been so starved of human kindness and decency that the story can frame them as being literally incapable of functioning without their Special Caring Guy. It's objectification by way of infantilization, letting the male lead assert his dominance and authority over the lives of his harem while maintaining a thin façade of goodwill.
The final lines of the episode lay these intentions bare. As Satou watches his new companions frolic about enjoying their new lives, he thinks to himself, “They don't deserve to be treated like slaves, but they seem more at ease that way”. This moment of slimy self-gratification makes it clear that these characters are not meant to be seen as individuals with their own arcs. They exist to be cute for Satou and the audience, so he can get applauded for being such a swell guy by taking care of people who deserve to be free instead. I've seen folks familiar with the Death March novels mention that Satou's feelings on slavery get more context in the books. This is all well and good, but it does little to change the fact that Death March's anime adaptation still feels tainted by a constant sense of oblivious entitlement and crude wish fulfillment.
The only girl in the group who exhibits any kind of agency is Arisa, who gets the closest thing this episode has to an interesting moment when it's revealed that she is another reincarnate from Japan, reborn into this world as a princess while still retaining her memories. Her life has been marked by tragedy, as she was stripped of her royal title and cast into slavery after her father was betrayed and executed by his own people. The sad music and dramatic framing of Arisa's confession could have made for an excellent twist on Satou's own experiences, a sobering reminder that he is a stranger in a dangerous land who's lost everything he might have held dear in his old life. At the very least, it could have finally paved the way for a character other than Satou to have a personality.
Of course, all of this is embedded around Arisa's attempt to use her psychic magic to sexually assault Satou while he sleeps, so any promise the scene may have had is immediately squandered by the grossness surrounding it. In the end, the entire episode feels like a clumsy fanservice-laden attempt to set up the other almost-joke of the episode, where Zena walks in on Satou sharing a bed with his naked child-slave. The shenanigans are meant to be hilarious, but they're too predictable and lazy in execution to be anything more than insufferable.
There is almost nothing to like about this episode, even by Death March's low standards. Even its somewhat promising moments are ruined by the series' insistence on treating every character who isn't Satou like an object to be fetishized and coddled. This episode is by turns boring, licentious, and downright infuriating, but the show seems intent to continue plodding along this course with gleeful abandon. I can only pray that this is Death March's lowest point.
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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