by Zac Bertschy,
A man and a woman wake up in Quindecim - the man, Shigeru, remembers heading home from college on a bus and nothing else. The woman can't even remember her own name, but Decim explains that the judgment game they're about to play - bowling - might help her remember. This is Quindecim, so the bowling balls these two are supposed to use for the game are tied to their organs - this time each ball is linked to their respective hearts, and they have to play using the other's heart-ball. In contrast to the darts, there's no pain, only the warm, visceral feeling of entering the innermost sanctum of a strangely familiar person's emotion, and slowly, each frame reveals the past these two share. After a few frames, Shigeru makes a wager: if he wins the game, she has to go on a date with him. Naturally, neither of them realize they're dead yet. Dating is generally reserved for the living.
As the game rolls on, it's slowly revealed that the woman isn't who she thinks she is - it's a tragedy, drastic measures taken in pursuit of true love, a desperate act that went ignored until it was confronted seconds before death. Shigeru realizes all too soon what's really going on, and realizes his grave error; the two steal a moment in the end, enjoying their final seconds on this mortal coil together before it's off to the elevators. Decim and the nameless woman (let's refer to her as 'Onna' until they give her a name) expected this to turn out much worse, but those two crazy kids are resigned to their fate, and we're off to the next game... but not before a quick round of bowling.
So after last week's journey into the wilderness of unnecessary recaps, we're back to the death game, and it's pretty good. The episode's production values still aren't quite what they were in the first installment, but it's a step up from last week, and I appreciated the tonal shift; this is a sweet, sad story about desperation, unrequited love and the mistakes we make by overlooking the potential right in front of us. They do a great job building up to the climax, holding the reveal until the very end - Decim and Onna share a scandalous whisper before anything is revealed to us, and the characterization of Shigeru and the mystery woman is kinda touching. Admittedly the twist is some Lifetime Original Movie melodrama (let's say it stars Rob Lowe and is called "WHY WON'T YOU LOVE MY FACE" or something like that), but it's a far cry from the crazy frothing theatrics of the first episode, so it's nice to know it isn't going to be hair-tearing dark despair every time. The highlight of the episode is when Decim makes a funny. I hope they keep humanizing him like that - it's charming, and building the characters in sideline moments during the death games is a great way to give us these snippets of development without having to show us the entire thing again from Onna's perspective.
The preview for next week's episode - "Death Arcade", which sounds promising - shows us yet another couple locked in mortal combat, and after this episode I'm really hoping the show decides to do something other than give us a man and a woman and the trouble they face (so to speak) by betraying one another. Both death games so far have involved duplicitous women (with nuanced reasons for being so, for sure) and I'm kinda hoping we get some cases like the pilot episode, which didn't involve two people who knew eachother in life. Their lives had thematic links rather than literal ones, and I liked that approach. Death Parade is still a great show, and this episode worked, but if the theme of this show turns out to be "men and women just can't get along!" that's going to be kind of a bummer. We'll see.
Death Parade is currently streaming on Funimation.
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