Discussion: Death Parade, Episode Five

(Hey, I know this is way-late. If only my weekends weren’t busier than my weekdays this could have posted on time, but later beats never, right?)

After two weeks of falling into certain rhythm, I almost worried that Death Parade would snub opportunities for more information bombs. As much as I live to see the dead in psychological disarray, I’d hate to leave this show knowing little more than what I entered with. I’m not without criticism, and Rolling Ballade—a surprisingly sweet episode, though melancholic—doesn’t provide much to analyze in comparison to previously aired material (episodes and OVA alike). Arcade, too, gives less to celebrate than the episode it follows—at least in terms of Rolling Ballade’s preferable outcome—but it dishes up a larger serving. I’m content at a basic standard with what these last two weeks have fed me, but I’m a little deprived and a lot hungry. I appreciate that episode four establishes two players who, like in Death Billiards, bear no connection other than their time of death, but I’ve learned little else since episode two. Give me Onna’s backstory! Give me new side characters! Give me the Death Parade universe! Give me everything.

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I think my curiosity speaks for many when I say that Nona’s Chavvot at the end of Reverse is a peculiar detail. It must bear significance for the OP to depict it twice—and not only that, but Nona is seen reading it twice: once at the end of episode two, and a second time—here—in March’s after-credit scene. Unfortunately, it renders zero search results, so what exactly does Chavvot represent? And what are its connections to Onna and Nona? Because although Nona is first seen reading it, March depicts the story as Onna’s strange yet re-occurring dream in picture-book format. One of the more refreshing and plausible theories I’ve come across proposes that Nona, upon emptying Onna of her memories, created the book. “Chavvot,” then, must be Onna herself or—in the very least—Onna’s personal account of who she is. It’s not without flaws, however. (As many theories remain, at current.) It doesn’t account for Chavvot’s deafness, and more troubling yet: this doesn’t explain who Jimmy is, or why the narrative speaks from his perspective.

A different interpretation of Chavvot, however, can be viewed as a representation of Decim’s and Onna’s relationship. As a Decim/Onna shipper, I try to remain as objective as possible, but this episode set my shipper heart ablaze—and with that said, there is no denying the strong implications. In Chavvot, Jimmy—captivated by the girl’s smile—tries his best reach out to her through actions. Because she is deaf (and possibly mute), he doesn’t learn the girl’s name until the end of story, at which point he swears to convey his feelings. Between the story’s content and the relationship that Decim and Onna share, one can’t help but note the many similarities. I hesitate to draw light to this, yet I don’t want to overlook it either—and that’s to say I believe Decim flashing back to Onna’s smile from Rolling Ballade is, in the very least, something to note. This occurs after Decim comments that Onna’s “behavior and opinions are fresh,” followed by a flashback of Onna tossing Decim’s device from Arcade.

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The incident from episode four considerably affects Decim—perhaps more than anyone realizes, and I want to emphasize this most of all. The fact that he thinks back to this specific moment—not once, but twice—speaks volumes. It signifies growth and a change in thought, and it easily matches with Decim’s description of “fresh” behavior and opinions. But Onna’s sweet smile? The moment itself portrays a different set of emotions. I won’t jump the gun and go so far as to say that what Decim feels is love, but it must be somewhere in the scope of “warm” emotions. And yet presently, emotionally speaking, Decim has a long way to go. So, like Jimmy, Decim can’t communicate his feelings to his own “Chavvot.” It’s possible that Decim doesn’t understand whatever he feels for Onna well enough to recognize—and hence verbally communicate—the emotion. Even from the start, as seen in episodes one and two, Decim notoriously blunders because of his inability to grasp reasoning behind Machiko’s actions. Granted, time has passed since then, but Decim’s inexperience in love—either platonic or romantic—is explicitly made clear.

But the only way to communicate doesn’t rest solely with words. Just as Jimmy attempts to convey his feelings to Chavvot by running and laughing, Decim also falls back on action; albeit, they arise more through instinct rather than willful intention. Before Decim engages Ginti in a fight, his expression indicates shock and concern for the unconscious Onna. Interesting, too, is the way Decim goes about his initial strike toward Ginti. It’s a maneuver not necessarily to catch or injure Ginti, but to draw him away from Onna. All of this points toward Onna’s importance to Decim, and seeing any harm come near her draws out a protective reflex. Gah! My heart.

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As if these moments aren’t enough to make me burst, there’s more! Take it easy, Death Parade. Decim later carries Onna bridal-style into her bedroom—even tucking her in as his strings pull the covers up. (D’awww.) Yeah, you bet I fangirled. As a shipper, these moments are pleasantly rewarding. I get to spy tender moments and almost-die from excitement in a show that I did not expect to drop any romantic hints. But speaking from a non-shipper perspective, I applaud the span of Decim’s growth. Death Billiards depicts snippets of this, but it doesn’t have the context necessary to demand it at the extent seen here. Noteworthy, too, are Ginti’s and Nona’s unified observations regarding Decim’s behavioral change.

“You’ve changed,” Ginti shouts. “You really want to go at it, don’t you?!” He’s a hot-head, sure, but this comment alone indicates a previously unseen side to the reserved arbiter. People can interpret Decim’s behavior in shipper terms, but I prefer to look at it on a broader scale. Nona later states how unusual it is for Decim to engage Ginti’s antics, I have to ask why he chooses to fight here—and further yet: what underlying basis spurs this change? We need only look at Onna for an answer when her purpose as an assistant remains to guide Decim. His reaction toward Ginti, then, strikes me as an emotionally-fuelled one. There is—just perhaps—some form of anger brewing beneath that stony face, but I wonder if this a defensive response to Ginti’s inferior treatment of people. Among the introduced arbiters, Decim’s outstanding respect for humans finely separates him from the likes of Nona and Ginti.

Clavis comments in episode two how unusual it is for Nona to not “put them down.” Although “them” can mean one of a few things, I suspected at the time—and still do—that Clavis refers to humans. His remark gives the distinct impression that she remains exceptionally critical toward them (err, I mean… us?). I wouldn’t say Nona exhibits a superiority complex, but I do feel that some part of her harbors negative views—and I can imagine why. The scene between Nona and Oculus establishes that Nona’s run as a manager adds up to 82 years. Eighty-two years! Not as an arbiter; as a manager. Now imagine how long the duration of her work as an arbiter must have been. She spent decades—centuries, perhaps—pulling out the darkness of souls. If that’s not reason to jack up your standards for people, I don’t know what is. While Nona may not hold people in such high esteem as Decim, she doesn’t take anything lightly and handles her job with a no-nonsense approach. Ginti, on the other hand—possibly younger than Decim—seems to disregard people as if arbiters are in some way higher grade.

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I could very well be misreading him, but he nonetheless comes off as flabbergasted that a human would assist an arbiter. (Which is funny. Although Onna doesn’t make the final call, who better suited to help an arbiter understand human complexities than another human?) Ginti goes so far as to express disgust when Decim compliments Onna’s attributes, later commenting on the absurdity of a human and arbiter “being” together. It’s Clavis who tells Ginti to back off, as even Nona believes this is for Decim to handle. Even so, Ginti brings up a valid point: since Onna’s memories have yet to return, why delay her tribunal?

Decim confirms that he was, in fact, Onna’s arbiter—but something was off as Onna walked in: she remembered dying and could not be tempted to play games. As Nona points out in Reverse, “The shock of dying makes everyone forget that they are dead.” Ginti, too, says such a case is unheard of, so why—and how—does Onna remember? Is she in some way special that sets her apart from other humans? It’s all baseless guesswork for the moment, but I’ve even briefly entertained the idea that Decim lied and didn’t wish to judge her. I highly doubt that is the case, considering Decim’s nature, and one must consider Nona’s role as well.

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I always firmly believed that Nona was the one to take Onna’s memories, which Decim (more or less) verifies, but whose whim has set Onna to work at Quindecim? Clavis comments that it’s neither his nor Ginti’s place to interfere with the way Decim judges, but he almost seems to indicate that Onna’s current situation is not entirely Nona’s bidding. However, if we bear in mind the purpose of Onna’s job, to assume the idea of a human assistant is Nona’s doing drifts along rational thought. It makes all the more sense when considering Nona’s higher-up position, but then there’s the phone conversation to reflect on as well. In Reverse, Nona assures Decim that she understands—of what, we can only guess at—but that “the term” will only last “three months.” I can’t imagine how Decim felt in any way positive on the subject, but by now it’s obvious: Onna will assist Decim for the next few months, at which point her judgment extension will end. Well that’s heartbreaking great and all, but it leaves me to ponder why Decim feels—or felt—bothered by Onna’s assistance.

Even with answers, this show grows more curious with every episode. If—just if!—Decim lied, or didn’t want to judge Onna, I can see how Onna working at his side might feel upsetting. It’s a constant reminder of fault or failure, and with a weighted reminder of what lies ahead. This is shaky at best, however, and the only way for me to buy it is if a previous connection between Decim and Onna breaks in for a reveal. If, by some miraculous chance, the two do share a link, I can more easily swallow Chavvot representing their relationship, too. As it stands, toying with the idea seems silly. Their relationship, platonic or not, currently doesn’t possess enough groundwork to level with Chavvot’s significance.

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I won’t deny the possibility that Chavvot may express double meaning, but it points more toward a shared relation with Onna’s past. The story pesters Onna as a repeat-dream, but even if I were to ignore this, the fact that a figure skating outfit appears in her closet—and just after we see the (presumed) fictional Chavvot ice skating—is not coincidence. As information stacks, all evidence points toward Onna having been a figure skater (as this post explains). But rather than look upon Chavvot as representative of Onna’s memories, it’s just as viable to regard it as nothing more than a picture book. More specifically, Chavvot is a book that may carry strong importance from Onna’s past life. Even now in her ‘afterlife,’ the influence it holds proves extreme enough to subconsciously provoke memories—something I believe the skating outfit to signify. Or does it? Because it’s just as likely that Nona planted it in Onna’s wardrobe the night before. After all, she went so far as to have Decim switch out the original game board in place of one that pictures Chavvot.

Decim claims to know nothing about the new board, but if Chavvot is part of Onna’s past, shouldn’t he know when he was her arbiter?  For an arbiter, I find it likely that the possession of another’s memories is only temporary. If not, keeping track of your own—alongside the thousands of others—would be impossible. Then again, Ginti demands Decim to pass judgment right then and there, implying that Decim still has access to Onna’s ‘kaleidoscope of images.’ Ginti is a short-fuse bursting with whatever words pop into his head, but Decim has all the right traits to make him an apt liar. I’ve also considered that Chavvot may not share any connection Onna, but to Nona—and the latter is simply using it to draw out the former’s human memories. That said, I also find this concept doubtful when the book connects to Onna in ways unique to her.

And yet it’s strange. As Ginti asks, why not judge Onna in her current state? And if having memories in the first place is what caused Onna’s tribunal hiccup, why would Nona want those very same memories to return? What’s more confusing is how both Decim and Nona appear to discourage Onna from prying. Although I don’t want to focus too heavily on Death Billiards, I think back to it by reflex. As I’ve noted before, Onna expresses a desire to learn about herself and yet Decim quickly shoots it down. It’s probable that I’m looking in too deep, but part of me wonders why Decim would do this. Even Nona seems to discourage this in episode two, and yet it’s Nona shoving Chavvot in Onna’s face.

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Chavvot aside, Castra and Oculus make appearances—and they’re not without their own intrigues. In perhaps the best room design (is that blood dripping from the ceiling?!), Castra reports “the usual”: humans are dying off at a rate of 7,000 per hour. It sounds alarming at first, but when I consider the world’s billions of people, I don’t feel startled by it. After doing my own research, I learned that Castra’s numbers closely align with recent, real-world statistics. Unless Castra’s news speaks of a particular region, nothing feels too shocking—but I wonder, what does Castra mean by, “All righteousness is in competition with itself”? My thoughts gravitate toward war. Has WWIII broken out? Are we undergoing an apocalypse? Or does she simply refer to human beings? I don’t know! If something drastic is truly occurring in the human world, I find it strange that not one Quindecim guest has provided any hints to suggest one. As I said, 7,000 is a tame number in contrast to the world’s population—though Castra makes no mention of our birthrate, and this tidbit of news may correlate with the episode title: Death: March.

Suspicion further weighs the situation down when I think back to Oculus’s earlier words. He claims that he is the closest to being God, but when he ponders if he can ever win at space billiards, Nona says to “ask God.” He replies, more to himself, that “God is long since gone.” But gone where, and why? Does this mean God left voluntarily or was made to ‘disappear’ by Oculus? If either is the case, I get the eerie sense that no one but Oculus is aware of God’s absence, or does Nona say this specifically because she does know? (At the very least, she must have hunch as to what’s going on, because I wouldn’t underestimate those sharp senses.) If not, I question whether Oculus’s motives are pure in keeping this hidden. They very well could be, of course. To avoid panic and disruption, it’s easy to imagine why he is reluctant to share, but I wonder about the hierarchy. Which is to suggest that—as one of the few floating theories—Oculus may have booted God out in hopes of taking God’s seat.

It’s doesn’t appear that a level of greater importance exists between arbiters and those in the information bureau—so this could lead nowhere—but the former can’t function without the latter. Characters’ eyes, too, appear relative to their line of work. Are they destined to remain within range of their initial field, or is it possible to ‘change eyes’? She may not handle tribunals directly, but Nona’s ‘promotion’ has left her to deal with the same work as before. But above all, Oculus grabs my interest because his job is never explicitly stated. Based on Castra’s request for extra help, we gather that he’s in charge of overseeing—essentially—everyone and everything. But for someone who manages the system, he exudes a rather lax attitude. Even Nona comments in frustrated fashion that “he’s so laidback, he’s got flowers growing out of his ears.” Ha! Well, she’s not far off.

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Death Parade loves the lotus flower, incorporating its design in everything from decorations to Oculus’s hair. In Buddhism, the lotus carries significant meaning with symbolism dependent on a flower’s color. Its prime metaphor, however, lies with the lotus’s journey to rise through and blossom above the murky depth of water. It signifies purification of spirits born in darkness, as well as faithfulness to the creed. (Noted, too, that Hinduism shares similar concepts regarding the lotus.) It’s no secret that the show runs high in stock on Buddhist, Hindu, and Shinto references, because if the the OP isn’t enough to clue you in, plenty of references are scattered throughout episodes. In the OP especially, we have lotus bombs that explode on screen quicker than you can blink—and even what looks like a nod to the swastika and possibly the Hindu goddess Gayatri Devi (or, just more lotuses). There’s also the hard-to-miss statue that Onna spies in episode two, and here we learn that Decim’s strings share a Buddhist connection. I always attributed the strings to Decim’s mannequin hobby, but here he mentions Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s The Spider’s Thread. He says:

“Buddha dangles a spider’s thread down to Kandata, who is in hell. All because, just once, he spared a spider. Kandata, who dreams of paradise, begins climbing the thread. However, many other sinners start following after him, and Kandata—fearing that the thread will break—sees to it that the other sinners drop off. It would have been better if they had been kept from seeing it in the first place.”

“Like so,” is the story’s finishing line as Decim’s strings tear the man away to hang against a wall. The story itself hits a few morality notes, but in the context of March, Decim’s use of the story conveys a tense and almost spine-chilling scene. What Decim doesn’t say is that Kandata’s heartlessness condemns him back into the blood pool, or hell. Does Decim mean to say that it would have been better had the man not remembered? Or does he mean the man shouldn’t have been reincarnated, and that he is prepared to cut the man’s ‘spider thread’ by casting him off into the void? I find it ambiguous at best, but what baffles me above all are the endless ties to Buddhism and Hinduism when the system favors reincarnation. When it comes to religion and religious symbolism, I’m out of my depth, but Death Parade wouldn’t be Death Parade without confusion, would it?

It’s crazy to imagine all of Death Parade’s mysteries as solved by episode twelve—and I doubt they will be—but this anime never ceases to amaze me. The last two episodes left me wanting, sure, but like Reverse, March doubles as an information bomb whose intensity I did not expect. But rather than handing out complete answers, only part of the story is supplied. With that, March also introduces new facets, and—dragged in tow—new questions. I can only hope the show chooses to answers them, and with any luck, will answer some in the next episode.

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