Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody ?
In this week's episode of Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody, Satou gets trapped within the confines of an oppressive black void, confronted with giant words informing him that a map for this portion of the world is unavailable to access. Glowing bright with what seem like streams of code, Satou cries out in frustration, “What is this, a video game!?” This brings up a question I've been asking about Death March's world from the very first episode: Is this a video game?
Despite reveling in the tropes of a genre that is literally dedicated to developing fantasy worlds, Death March's worldbuilding has been sloppy enough up to this point that no one, in-universe or in the audience, can tell whether or not Satou has been transported into a virtual video game, a real fantasy world that works like an RPG, or some weird hybrid of both those concepts. This eighth episode was surprisingly enjoyable due to how it toyed with familiar video game clichés, but its refusal to clarify the exact nature of its own setting remains one of the series' key frustrations.
For instance, the entire plot of the episode isn't just steeped in RPG allusions; it actively references them in a self-aware manner. The elf princess Mia is abducted by the Undead King, whose bowdlerized backstory we caught a glimpse of in the play from a couple of episodes ago. Satou is swiftly whisked away to Zen's Cradle, an insanely tall labyrinth that Satou must conquer to save Mia. All of Death March's stories have dealt with trope-reliant fantasy setups, but rescuing the princess from a mean monster in a tower is the Ur-Video Game Plot; you just don't get more basic than that.
But for what feels like the first time, Death March goes out of its way to actually do something with all of the video game clichés it's got lying around. The show has played lip service to the video game elements of its world before; characters have openly referenced mana and levels, and Satou's first quest (where he rescued Pochi, Tama, and Liza) was explicitly framed as a stereotypical RPG quest for beginners. Death March never really used those elements to critical or humorous effect; the references were just there for the sake of justifying Satou's video game UI. The video game elements have been so under-utilized that it is still difficult to tell how much of this world is supposed to be a literal video game and how much of it is supposed to be an alternate universe that just happens to function exactly like an Elder Scrolls knockoff. Sometimes characters feel like they're supposed to be thinly written and two dimensional on purpose, because they're video game NPCs, and other times people will behave with such autonomy that it is impossible to imagine that they aren't meant to be real people. It isn't just confusing, it saps the world of plausibility and personality, robbing this isekai show of the “other world” that's supposed to be the main draw.
Fortunately, this episode leans hard into Satou breaking the constructs of the fantasy world around him. The best gag of the entire show occurs when Satou first arrives in the Cradle, where Zen is flabbergasted that Satou just skipped over the prerequisite 200 floors of his cradle and warps him back to the start so he can do the quest properly. The direction and scripting are too wonky to make the bit as funny as it should be, but at least it's a clever idea.
The remainder of the episode works well with these parameters too. The scene with the dryad is pretty stupid, relying on the series's worst tendency of Satou attracting any loli-esque character within a hundred miles. Still, it leads to the episode's other best scene, where he encounters the homunculi that are meant to be the Cradle's sub-bosses. Satou teleports through the floor and skips over a good chunk of the preceding dungeon, so he ends up catching the girls in the middle of a Jenga game. Even when they finally get dressed and prepare for battle, they deliver their lame lines with such wooden formality that even Satou remarks that he feels like he's at an elementary school play. It's one of the few funny and endearing moments Death March has been able to deliver so far, and it was almost enough to push the episode out of the mediocrity it's been mired in for most of its run.
Sadly, even this episode's best scenes are undercut by garish animation and weak direction; cuts last long enough to suck the humor out of gags, and the action is as blasé as ever. A show this shallow needs to make up for its light ambitions with an ample amount of entertainment, and Death March is just so poorly produced that even its best episode isn't very entertaining. Still, a modicum of improvement is more than welcome, so I must give credit where credit is due. If the upward trajectory of the past couple episodes is any indication, Death March might just make it out of this season with at least one decent week under its belt.
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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