Review-Roundup: Death Parade 05, Rolling Girls 05
Only in Japanese series would a food-fight be something far more complicated than gradeschoolers throwing spaghetti at each other during lunchbreak.
This time I review:
Death Parade 05: The Black-Haired Woman has amnesia (yeah, big suprise, isn’t it?). Turns out she has a background-story, a peculiar one going by the worldbuilding this series has done so far and… since she has amnesia that’s a concern for later episodes. Right now, we are supposed to feel satisfied with getting vague hints and stuff like that.
Rolling Girls 05: Some people want to beat each other up, a few think it’s a bad idea. The main-characters share that opinion and try their best to defuse the situation! Also, some grandpa and his granddaughter are unable to be very honest about their feelings. Cue up cheesy drama-sequences until the series decides these characters can actually be honest about their feelings!
Death Parade 05 Review:
It’s telling how among all the exposition and introspection, this little vague comment still is the most interesting element of this episode. What if the whole flawed system of people like Decim judging dead people is just the best solution this series’ universe could come up with in the absence of God?
Episodic storytelling means that the story will develop in spurts and starts. On a micro-level this just means that an arc will introduce a story that can quickly be finished within one episode. What happens on the macro-level is a little bit more complicated, though. Other than the micro-level you don’t have the immediacy and space available to actually pay attention to the macro-level. The usual solution is to have two sorts of episodes, one being the stand-alone ones and the other being the mythology/main-story/etc.-ones. Series like X-Files, Fringe (although it deviated from that format in the last season) or GitS: SAC had this format. You make this conscious decision of having some episodic stories be more important as they offer an arc that will span the whole run of the series instead of just one or two episodes. The other solution is to make the series character-driven on a macro-level. Series like Elementary or Mushishi have very firm episodic routines that the series seldom deviates from in big ways. Instead what the series focuses on is the psychological continuity of the recurring characters and the plot is just there to illuminate those developments.
The first noteworthy thing is the existence of the episode itself. This and the second episode are certainly not trying to tell episodic stories. But these two aren’t exactly “mythology-episodes” either. Usually what you associate with such episodes is a sense of revelation and meaningfulness. What these two episodes have been doing instead is to be mysterious and introspective. Both episodes have largely focused on examining the status quo instead of pushing the main-story forward. And again the examination happens in the form of explanation. We’re shown scenes of the black-haired woman waking up on a bush that we’ve already seen and now they get explained. At least, the explanations don’t feel superfluous this time around. This episode doesn’t reveal so much as it rather illuminates past events.
The episode also indulges in some very vague musings that give the macro-story of this series a very mystery-like feeling. Increasingly it becomes obvious that the macro-story of this series is an examination of what the series is doing on a micro-level. The process of how Decim and his colleagues judge two dead people gets further explored in this episode as Decim fails a test linked to the judgment-process. First of all, that sequence once again went back to the well of showing how flawed this judgment-process is. Another curious thing, though, was how the human in that test ended up just being a doll with fake-memories. This could hint at a discussion of what being human means, I guess. Also, that the boy’s lack of memories hadn’t made Decim suspicious is probably more a reaction to the black-haired woman than anything else which would go back to the notion of having a character-driven macro-storyline.
I don’t like how the series is treating the black-haired woman here. Her exceptional status of coming to be judged while already knowing that she’s dead (which leads to her simply refusing to play the game) gets turned into this part of a mystery the story simply hides through the use of supernatural amnesia. The series takes the agency away from the black-haired woman and makes her just this object of mystery the series will turn into a plot-element whenever it thinks it’s time for the macro-story to reach a climax. Amnesia (the convenient, fictional version, I mean) is such a trope that really makes you aware of the writers pulling some strings in order to artificially construct some sort of story. And this would be less aggravating if the series would focus on Decim’s perspective but no… What this episode focuses on is the black-haired woman’s spotty perspective. Not only does she serve as an audience-stand-in for how she can always ask “What is happening?” in order to create a reason for why exposition is happening but the way she’s slowly recovering her memory is a way to artificially create a pacing for the macro-storyline.
Overall, this episode may explain a few things about what is going on but yeah, it’s just that: exposition. You get some VERY vague hints of something more going on but mostly it’s really just this underwhelming heap of exposition that doesn’t go anywhere. This series’ macro-episodes should be more straightforward and pushy and then the consequences of such episodes should influence the following standard-micro-episodes. This is a series that wants to break and subvert its own formula and habits but introspective episodes like this one create pauses for you to catch your breath when such a thing isn’t needed. Especially since this series is a 1-cours-series, I imagine, this series would be wiser to invest in escalation rather than introspection.
Rolling Girls 05 Review:
Of course the grandpa would slap her at some point! God forbids this story would actually have to deal with genuine drama that has substance instead of creating these hamfisted obstacles which keep both these characters from just saying what’s on their mind and also recognizing how reluctant the other is to be simply honest.
Rolling Girls starts its new arc and enters the area of entirely episodic storytelling. From the looks of it, this arc will focus on the micro-level of this series which means that this arc will be about selling a standalone-story with familiar characters at its core. It’s somewhat fitting to talk about this Rolling Girls episode and the Death Parade episode because both series deal with the two sides of episodic storytelling. In this case, it’s the micro-level, so let’s talk about how an episodic series should treat its standalone-stories.
The macro-stuff is supposed to keep you interested in what is going on in a series but it’s the micro-stuff that will pave the way for the macro-stuff to work. An episode on a micro-level needs to be immediate and accessible. When you have these monster-of-the-week-episodes, it’s all about selling the idea of this monster and making it as exciting as possible. You can take Doctor-Who-episodes (like Mummy On The Orient Express from the recent season) as an example of how a standalone-story establishes its setting, characters, antagonists and conflicts – which it then resolves in a somewhat neat fashion. The point isn’t to create this complicated tapestry of big, meaningful stuff that needs to have build-up, drama and meaningful revelations. You just need a thing to focus on and then let the story deal with the thing.
Of course, there are a few obstacles these standalone-stories have to deal with: One, lack of time. Two, unfamiliar characters whose arc needs to end just as neatly as the story’s one does. Three, you have to deal with the idea that the standalone-episode isn’t exactly meaningful within the series’ setting.
There are two ways to deal with these obstacles: First, there’s the procedural approach. Every time you watch some crime-show that deals with a new dead person each week, you get one of those. By establishing habits and familiar tropes, the series doesn’t need to create meaningfulness or characterizations on an individualistic level. The story isn’t the point of those procedurals. The procedure is, of course. That’s what comes first and everything follows after that. This may sound monotonous but that’s what the macro-level is for. Usually it’s on the macro-level where procedurals try to establish an identity. And then the procedural stuff on the micro-level serves as a shortcut for straightforward stories that allow enough room for macro-level stuff to happen in each episode.
The other option is to not sell a procedure but a thematically appropriate short-story. It’s the theme what counts here. After all, these short stories become something like fables and try to sell you some moralistic perspective on a certain topic. The new characters just become tools for this moralistic message and the main-characters are simply enablers for that story to happen. At the same time, you try to build a thematic connection between what this story is doing on a micro-level and what is happening on a macro-level.
So what is Rolling Girls actually doing in this episode? It’s obvious that it’s going for a standalone story that tries to sell itself via its message and themes rather than a procedure. And yeah, this episode introduces us to new characters, a new setting and a new conflict for the main-characters to solve. Things become a bit muddled, though, as this episode simply can’t decide what’s more important: Is it the actions of the main-characters or what this standalone-story wants to talk about? This is the point where a good director would be needed to add a more focused perspective to this episode.
You have three factions in this story: The restaurant-people, the racers and all the individual important characters (main-characters and new characters with names and a lot of screentime). It’s obvious that the story wants to talk about the individual characters and spin a story out of that. You still have the main-characters to deal with, though and after all, they should play a role in the proceedings, shouldn’t they? I called them “enablers” and seriously that’s the least such characters should do in a standalone-story like this one. At the same time, though, it’s the new characters who are the true protagonists of this story.
And that’s where the episode falls apart: It just can’t decide which perspective it should focus on. Stylistically the direction in this episode is almost random in how it switches between various perspectives. Overall, it doesn’t really impede the essence of the story but it impedes the flow and dynamic of the episode. The episode never manages to sell the urgency of the conflict and the drama seems perfunctory in how there’s never enough time to delve into it. Meanwhile, the main-characters just try to do what they set out to do – and end up doing nothing. There just isn’t enough energy in this episode! This series should either be about making the main-characters’ actions seem more adventurous or trying to give the individual stories’ drama more depth. What this series clearly can’t do is both at the same time.