by Zac Bertschy,
Last week I found myself a little frustrated with the pacing in the first part of this two-parter, mostly because it felt like they were taking one episode's worth of conflict and stretching it out unnecessarily.
As it turns out, I was wrong to be concerned. The reason they stretched this story out over two episodes becomes almost immediately clear this week; not only are they entering new territory with Decim and Onna, they're exploding the series' already-overt themes about judgment, humanity, and the value of emotion into cosmically existential levels. They're also introducing some new themes - what revenge does to the human soul, and whether or not your memories paint a complete picture of who you are in life.
Hot damn, this was a fantastic episode!
Last week we were left to speculate just how cold-blooded detective Tatsumi and passionate caretaker Shimada's lives were intertwined - Onna discovered that both of them were killers, and the relationship is a lot more complicated (and brutal and depressing) than I could've guessed. We're given a series of revelations about the grisly scenario these two characters played a role in - and it's a whole lot of twisty exposition, so let's run it down with some quick bullet points, shall we?
- Tatsumi managed to kill his wife's murderer. This deadened his soul and turned him into a nihilistic monster, having come to the conclusion that the world is a cruel and violent place and that his role in it was, effectively, arbiter; he would personally hand down punishment to criminals.
- Shimada's sister tells him that there were two people involved in her attack. He tracks down the one he knows and skewers him with a kitchen knife, but then he's got one more to go (a realization made while vomiting after his first murder).
- Turns out the "other guy" was Tatsumi, who stood by and watched Shimada's sister be raped and beaten in order to ensure there's a "victim", which would mean he can murder the stalker and fulfill his newfound (monstrous) worldview.
- Tatsumi happened to show up at the rapist's apartment right after Shimada finished literally tearing him a new asshole, and was murdered before he could murder the rapist (hey, this show is pretty dark!). So basically, Tatsumi gets his revenge, Shimada gets half of his revenge, then Tatsumi shows up as a byproduct of his revenge, and then Shimada (inadvertently) completes his revenge. Got that? Okay? Alright.
If Death Parade were a bad show that wallowed around in nihilism like it's an edgy mindblowing badass way to look at the world, all of this would be eye-rolling adolescent garbage, but it's all in service of the show's larger themes, and more importantly, it's a trigger that finally makes Onna snap and confront Decim about what's really going on here.
Onna's speech about the value of human emotion is the beating heart of Death Parade and, in a sense, a moment that the show has been building to for 9 episodes now. She's had enough of this - dragging out the "darkest part" of the human soul in order to judge someone isn't fair, nor is it accurate. You can force people into primitive instincts and brutal behavior by manipulating them into extreme emotions, yes, but it doesn't tell you anything about who they are as a person. That you can purposefully drive someone to murder - and nobody knows what they're capable of until they're confronted with the kind of darkness life sometimes smashes in their unsuspecting faces - doesn't mean they 'always had it in them' to be a murderer and thus deserve to be hurled into the void for their crime. You can manipulate people into doing horrible things. If that's the litmus test for being sent into the void, then all of humanity belongs there - the system is completely broken and unfair.
Further, Tatsumi's thematic purpose is to illustrate a real world equivalent to Decim; his reprehensible actions - and the metaphorical parallel they represent - suddenly makes Decim's role and the way he goes about it at Quindecim absolutely unconscionable. Onna has thrown an enormous wrench into the system - and by the look on Decim's face at this new epiphany, his "heart", or at least the one Nona installed.
There's another little thematic wrinkle I really appreciated - the idea that a collection of memories is no way to judge or even understand a life. Our memories are notoriously unreliable; people react very differently watching themselves on camera, even when they lived through the events on screen. Our memories are fuzzy, self-serving (or self-hating), often shattered, colored by other people or emotional responses to certain stimulus. They're an account of a life as recorded by the person living it, and even if you had direct access to someone's mind, it still wouldn't be a complete picture. It all feeds into what is obviously one of the main questions here: that there is no "accurate" way to judge someone else's life. You can't know unless you're them, and even if you could speed-read their memories like a YA novel about sexy wizards, maybe you still won't know. So what's the point of passing judgment in the first place? Is it ever truly fair? I'll be really surprised if Death Parade attempts to actually answer that question; leaving it thematically ambiguous is probably for the best, but who knows, maybe they'll shoot for the stars.
It's all an absolutely fantastic setup for the endgame - we only have 3 left, after all - and at no other point in the story have we had a better understanding of what Death Parade is trying to do. Now all that's left to do is see how this all wraps up.
Death Parade is currently streaming on Funimation.
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