Death Parade
Episode 7

by Zac Bertschy,

It's time for another lore episode on Death Parade, although this time we're given a whole lot more answers rather than the pile of cryptic clues we got last time. The episode opens with Oculus reciting the three rules that govern the arbiters: one, that they can never stop judging, as that's their entire purpose for existing. Two, they can't die, because that would make them too close to the humans they judge. Three, and most importantly, they don't have any human emotions; the arbiters are dummies.

We learn a whole lot in this episode about the basic premise of the series, which changes radically once it's revealed that Decim is an experiment by Nona: he's an arbiter dummy secretly infused with human emotions, the first of his kind. Nona's testing the system - she thinks having only one way to judge humanity is unfair, and wants to try something else, so she goes behind Oculus' back and assembles Decim. All of this is unveiled during an encounter with Quin, the arbiter who ran Quindecim before she was shipped off to the tedium of the Information Department (these are the folks who condense human memories into bite-sized chunks, which are then fed to the arbiters in order to help make their judgments). Quin's a fun-loving drunk who never quite fit in as an arbiter, but doesn't really prefer it in the Information Department. It does look like a pretty crappy place to work. This sequence also introduces a new theme to Death Parade, a rejection of mechanical apathy that fits hand-in-hand with the overarching empathy theme we already knew about. It could really come together nicely at the end, depending on the execution; it helps that I'm right in line with the worldview Death Parade seems to be hinting at, which is shaping up to be an optimistic embrace of humanity's flaws and a refutation of the idea that impartiality and detached, emotionless judgment calls are superior to those informed by the heart and soul. At least, I hope that's where this is all going.

The highlight of the episode - which is already just a big open book full of important story moments - comes when Decim reveals to Onna why he collects marionettes. As it turns out, the humans who enter Quindecim are also dummies, infused with the souls of the judged for their brief visit, the mannequin body discarded in the elevator once judgment has been handed down. These are supposed to be disposed of, but Decim keeps them, and dresses them in human clothes, arranging them in poses around the bar to retain some memory of those who have passed through. Given Decim's monotone demeanor and general confusion about human emotions, Nona's humanity implant hasn't had much time to shine through, but it manifests itself in a very potent way: Decim outwardly shows sentimentalism, a desire to remember those he's judged, even if he can't remember their names, faces or circumstances once the system wipes his memory clean. All he has are these silent monuments to the souls that have passed through.

There are a few other juicy little story bits in here: Onna realizes she's dead and nearly reveals it to Decim; she finds the children's book Nona brought over from the world of the living, the one inexorably tied to her past. Oculus is most certainly on to Nona, although the way he delivers all of his lines with fake coyness suggests he knows full well what's going on and is giving Nona enough rope to hang herself with. In the post-credits stinger Nona visits Castra again, who it turns out is in charge of assigning souls to arbiters for judgment. Nona begs her to send a particular couple over to Decim for a real test; Castra resists, because these two need a special arbiter. Naturally, she gives in, and next week should be a doozy.

I'm especially curious about Nona's deliberate placement of Chavvot where Onna could find it. Given what we now know about Decim, I wonder if the children's book represents Nona's attempt at discovering a more compassionate way to draw out the true nature of a human's soul. Dropping them into an environment laced with artifacts that dredge up memories and trigger emotional reactions certainly would be a more  humane method than death games unfairly rigged to bring the worst out of people. They never really telegraphed that Nona was going to be the catalyst for bringing about change to the obviously unfair judgment system; it's nice to have a show surprise you every now and then, but Death Parade is just full of surprises, isn't it?

Rating: A

Now available: the Death Parade English dub!

Funimation's broadcast dub of Death Parade also started this week, and for the curious (and the subscribed; the dub isn't available for free streaming yet) the first episode is online now. The premiere is all about the two players in the death game, so our recurring characters have very few lines but we can still get an idea of how the dub actors are approaching these characters. Alex Organ's performance as Decim is pretty good; he's suitably matter-of-fact and monotone without sounding too menacing,  although there's a slight nasal timbre to it that I think makes Decim sound a little too 'normal', if that makes sense. Decim sounds like he could be administrating the death game or taking your paperwork at the DMV. There's something more otherworldly and lowdown about Tomoaki Maeno's voice, and I think I personally prefer it to the dub, but Organ acquits himself well and it's a good fit. It's tough to replicate the very specific vocal depth that Japanese voice actors like Maeno have in the first place, but they did a good enough job.

Even though she only has a few lines, Jamie Marchi is perfect as Onna. It's the exact vocal quality of the character - she totally nails it. I'm less enthusiastic about Jad Saxton as Nona - she sounds a little Disney Channel for my taste, but given the Japanese performance it's a reasonable fit. Otherwise the episode is all Machiko and Takashi; Trina Nishimura and Eric Vale do a great job with the big screamy parts, maybe a little less so in the quieter moments. It's a solid effort; I'll check back in with the broadcast dub in the next episode, which is all Quindecim staff, so the actors will have had a chance to feel these characters out a little more. Once we get to episode 5, we'll have a better idea how the cast fleshes out.

Death Parade is currently streaming on Funimation.

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