by Zac Bertschy,
The final episode of Death Parade – titled ‘Suicide Tour’ – doesn't answer most of your questions.
It doesn't tell us what happened to God (or if there ever was one), or how this whole judgment system was created, or why it's really in place to begin with, or even the final outcome of Nona's experiment. We don't really find out what ultimately happens to Nona after Oculus discovers her plan, or what's going to happen to the arbiters after Decim's existence threatens the entire structure of the afterlife. None of that is explained or even explored – it's hinted at in the nooks and crannies of this episode, but if you wanted closure or answers on any of the questions Death Parade has raised about the world it inhabits over the course of the last 12 episodes, the finale will give you no shelter.
What it does do, brilliantly, is drive home the show's themes about empathy and understanding.
This episode is laser-focused on the relationship between Decim and Chiyuki, the core of the show, and what it says about the deep, vital importance of embracing human emotion. Decim takes Chiyuki down the lowest level, where she wakes up in her home, where she lived with her mother. Decim plays the Ghost of Christmas Present for a while, allowing Chiyuki to see how her mother lives now, sitting in front of a shrine, wondering why. Overcome with emotion, Chiyuki starts pleading – she wants, desperately, to speak to her mother one more time, to tell her why, to live again and share herself. Decim hands her the magic button and tells her to make a choice: press this button, and one human life will be sacrificed so you may live again. There are 7 billion people in the world, with 7000 dying every hour – one life won't be noticed by the already-overburdened bureaucracy of the afterlife, so this is Chiyuki's one chance to go back, to have a do-over, something never afforded any other human being in the history of our species (that we know of).
Of course, the audience knows immediately that this is all an illusion, and Decim has chosen this as a means of testing Chiyuki's true innermost spirit. He hands her the symbolic token of unfairness that was previously used to rig the death games to manipulate human souls into lashing out with horrific darkness, and asks her, in effect, to make the game unfair in her favor. Whether or not she pushes the button will determine where Chiyuki winds up – and she very nearly does it, until a flashback to the faces of all the souls she's encountered in Quindecim reminds her that it's wrong to rob someone of their life in order to regain hers – everyone has someone they love that they want to return to. Everyone has hopes and dreams and feelings and rawness inside that they want to live on forever. Chiyuki's revelation is simple, but it's so easily forgotten when we're challenged in life - that the love felt by the other souls around us is just as vital and breathtaking as our own. When you're threatened with losing it (or when you've already lost it) the temptation to violently lash out and rob someone else of the gifts life has given them is strong, but the very root of empathy is understanding why you can't ever do that. Chiyuki's emotional breakthrough triggers something in Decim, who clutches his heart, having been imbued with the empathetic understanding he's been seeking since he was originally given the gift of emotion to begin with. It all comes full circle.
This magic-hour sequence is an animation powerhouse and features our two heroes sobbing and embracing and coming to all manner of emotional revelations, and frankly, for me, it was like a drill to the heart, a balled-up fist of explosive expression that made me realize how much I've come to truly care about Decim and Chiyuki. That the episode doesn't really answer any other questions became almost immediately irrelevant – their tearful goodbye, Decim's pallid complexion gradually turning a more human shade of pink, all of it worked beautifully in concert to bring Death Parade to an emotional crescendo that it truly earned. While there are plenty of ragged edges on the storytelling in this show – as it sits it has more questions than answers – the beating heart of the show was always the gradually developing relationship between Decim and Chiyuki, and ultimately, what we were waiting to find out was exactly what these two were going to wind up teaching eachother about the human condition. As it turns out, empathy is the center of life – it's what makes us alive, what makes us complete. We can't die without living, and Death Parade is arguing, full-throated, bellowing: live. Allow yourself to live.
As for the rest of it, well, if you were waiting for the answers to any of those questions, you're out of luck – things effectively reset to the status quo at the end, with Chiyuki's dummy now in Decim's gallery of traveling souls. Nona lets us know that we're all going to wait and see what becomes of the arbiters now that Decim has had his emotional awakening. Oculus has a new rule for arbiters – they can't judge people hand in hand with people, because it “ruins them”. Nona disagrees, but we're given no period on that sentence. It's certainly open for more – there's nothing left to say about Decim and Chiyuki, but this setting and these characters are ripe for further stories. I'd be happy to see more Death Parade, but if this is it, the show did a remarkable job building a solid, satisfying emotional journey for two exceptionally well-written characters, and that's all we can really ask for.
But now that it's over, if you ask me what I'm going to miss most about Death Parade, well, the answer is pretty obvious…
Rating: A Death Parade is currently streaming on Funimation.
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