Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody ?
When covering Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody for the preview guide, I had a very negative reaction to the show's premiere. It seemed like little more than a poorly written, cliché-filled bore that added nothing novel to the isekai genre, which was already being stretched to its breaking point through years of overexposure. The animation and general art direction was downright awful to boot, and even the “normal person stuck in a video-game setting” premise felt mishandled. Death March makes the mistake of obsessing over the minutiae of menu management in the illusion that it adds some depth to the scenario instead of making the proceedings tedious to watch unfold.
The second episode of Death March picks up right where the first episode left off, with our hero Ichiro (aka Satoo) coming to grips with his powers and figuring out how to navigate this new MMO world by using the video-game UI to his benefit. This week, Ichiro spends some time in the city of Salue, where he learns more about what makes this new world tick. He runs into a spirited teen adventurer named Zena, gets escorted into Salue by the knight Iona, and spends some time eating food and exploring the city with a young girl named Martha, who helps run the inn that Ichiro stays at. While Ichiro still isn't sure this whole experience isn't some kind of stress-induced dream, he's at least determined to have some fun with it. I'd hoped that Death March might improve in this second episode, if only by virtue of getting past the setup and into the parts of an isekai story that are actually interesting. Unfortunately, my hopes were horribly dashed. The second episode isn't better than the first at all. If anything, it's much worse.
The problems begin with the show digging in its heels to reinforce everything that made the premiere such a slog. The art is still lousy, the video-game UI is more distracting than anything else, and the plot sputters and stalls without going anywhere. Worse yet, every aspect of this new world from Ichiro's leveling to the details of the characters and setting only caters to the lamest tropes and lowest-hanging power-fantasy fruit. There's no conflict or any sufficient motivation for Ichiro to have a character arc. Every new scene is either Ichiro impressing another girl or inundating the audience with exposition. If this show's angle were more comedic and these events were cut down to a quarter of their length, I could see Death March's premise working as a series of shorts. As a weekly set of half-hour episodes, it's absolutely interminable.
This leads us to the episode's single greatest flaw, which is Ichiro himself. Admittedly, many isekai stories suffer from having overly bland protagonists, heroes who are mostly blank slates to be projected on. While Ichiro seems this way at first, this second episode reveals him to be thoroughly unlikable in a more specific way. The problem is that Ichiro still thinks he's dreaming, or at the very least he believes he's merely playing a video game. He assumes that the world around him, all of the food he eats, and all of the women he encounters are literally designed to enhance his experience. This is why the game put him back in his teenage body, and that's why he uses RPG-esque skills of persuasion and deception to get whatever he needs, whenever he needs it.
This new world is Ichiro's oyster, and he's entitled to take advantage of it. He enjoys the opportunity to brush up against 13-year-old Martha's breasts, and he's quick to point out that he'd bang the girl's mom too if only she was 20 kilograms lighter. Ichiro spends the entire episode eating, shopping, and admiring the young girl fawning all over him; he even muses at one point that he could easily shower Martha with compliments to “win her over”. To make matters worse, the nebulous way that Ichiro's RPG abilities manifest within this world make his methods feel even more unsavory. The omnipresent UI and its constant popups make it clear that Ichiro's EXP and skill increases are actively affecting his power over this world, which gives his interactions with everyone a sleazy tinge of supernatural coercion to them.
The justification for all of this would be that Ichiro is just interacting with the world in the same way he would a video-game; he's min-maxing his stats and playing his cards to enhance his personal enjoyment. However, the very nature of the isekai genre itself forces the audience to treat this MMO universe as a place that's far more real than software, with characters whose feelings and autonomy should matter in some way. Having Ichiro give into his id and revel in his newfound position of power would be all well and good in a regular video game, but in the context of a fantasy-adventure anime, it makes him much harder to root for.
Even if Ichiro's characterization wasn't so profoundly off-putting, this kind of poorly-executed pandering makes for terribly boring storytelling. Even if you can look past the faults of Ichiro as a lead character, the story and world around him are only reaching the bare minimum of quality. There's a slim chance that Ichiro's foibles might be addressed, and that this story might have more up its sleeve than just indulging in the cheapest and ugliest kind of adolescent power-fantasy, but I'm not getting my hopes up yet.
Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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