Review-Roundup: Death Parade 07, Aldnoah.Zero 19
I really like where Death Parade is going with its premise. There aren’t a lot of series that introduce a premise in order to immediately question and subvert it.
This time I review:
Death Parade 07: Another downtime-episode where the characters are just hanging around. The characters fill the time with flashbacks, introspective questions and goodnatured foolery.
Aldnoah.Zero 19: Slaine does some shit. Inaho does some shit. This week Slaine does more shit. Surprisingly the real princess does some shit. The fake-princess does some shit, too (in the hope that she will do some shit to Slaine in bed, it seems). But shit hasn’t hit the fan… yet.
Death Parade 07 Review:
This is probably the most subtle moment of the episode: Decim creates these dolls in order to not forget the people he has to judge – but as per regulations he DOES forget them. You get a nice contrast between the human empathy the characters in the series aspire to and the emotionally detached way that characterizes the status-quo.
Death Parade isn’t an episodic series in the traditional sense – despite its premise. At this point we’ve seen the premised undermined so often that the actual premise is nothing more than a starting point for the actual main-story of this series. I’ve already talked about how each episodic judgment after the first episode had been a subversion of the premise in some way and the absence of any sort of “standard-episode” where everything goes according to plan shows that this series is less interested in its premise but more in what happens beneath its surface.
And it’s this episode which finally puts the whole thing into context. This series’ macro-level-story is actually far more important than the micro-level-one. Usually it’s the other way around: You have a premise which is turned into a procedural and there are only little hints of a macro-story. Maybe you will get an episode from time to time that is all about the macro-story but most procedurals still will try to stick to its premise in some way. But Death Parade doesn’t do that. All its micro-level-episodes are about how they contradict the premise in some way and then you get these macro-level-episodes that have barely anything to do with the premise. And it’s not like these kinds of episodes have actually progressed the story. Instead these macro-level-episodes are used as introspective breaks between the tense micro-level-episodes.
It’s more than just pure introspection that makes an episode such as this one an entertaining one. There are two things that these macro-level-episodes excel at: One, illuminating the premise in an interesting way and two, providing a good portion of world-building. This is a series that actually wants to deconstruct its own premise and the story is about characters dealing with the consequences of being self-aware. All the inherent flaws in the premise are used as fuel to create dramatic motivations for the characters to strive for change.
Of course this wouldn’t work if the series isn’t actually aware of what it alludes to with its premise but this episode smartly shows that it indeed knows what is going on. Quin is clearly questioning the way things are but the writing is smart enough to not make her sound like some petulant child who wants to get more lollipops from life. This episode raises sensible questions about the way the arbiters judge dead people – while also acknowledging the reasons for why that’s the state of things right now. The perspective this episode provides isn’t all about wanting a happier existence but instead it goes for a more realistic perspective à la “The situation’s bad – it could be a little bit better, though.”. And the series didn’t state that perspective just in this episode. So far, it has constantly shown us that the judgment-system actually doesn’t work. But more than undermining it as a theme the series’ story acknowledges here that it actually has something to say about that. The series engages with its theme here and discusses it. Such a sense of purpose helps the series elevate even weak moments by associating those with that purpose. It means that even if you get a standalone-episode, you can still tie it to this macro-level-story thematically and make it a worthy addition to the series (instead of turning standalone-stories into filler).
And the worldbuilding is important, too, of course. Worldbuilding is all about establishing boundaries. Good worldbuilding makes you never question whether a character should do this or that. You just know what the characters’ places are within the world and when the world-building is really good you even know how the world will respond to one character not doing what he or she shouldn’t do. And this episode clarifies what the purpose of the arbiters is and what their nature is. The latter part is important because worldbuilding is also about existentialism in some way. Worldbuilding also needs to establish what it means to be the person you should be for a specific character.
That’s where we come to the whole puppet-thing. I can just urge everyone to read my Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Review where I talk about the relationship between dolls and life. Although, I do that in the context of the movie, puppets are one of those typical tropes a Japanese series often use. To be honest, I didn’t even mention the complex intricacies of Japanese puppet-culture that are even present in GitS 2: Innocence but I will mention those in my reviews for this series if it’s relevant. What this series has done so far, though, is fairly broad. It doesn’t allude to anything specific puppet-wise and just goes with the thematic symbolism of the whole thing.
The puppet-theme of this episode is a tad complex. One level of it talks about a Pinocchio-story: The arbiters are dolls and supposedly emotionless – but what if they can become normal humans? On that level the puppet-theme is very introspective and the series is questioning those three rules (which may be a reference to Asimov’s three laws for robots) and Quin is actively trying to disprove them. On another level, though, the puppet-theme is linked to the notion of flawed judgments. What this episode is talking about on that level is that a lack of empathy hampers the arbiters’ ability to judge humans. Also the lack of experience with life adds to the current arbiters’ lack of empathy towards humans.
Now as for the less pleasant element of this episode: I certainly don’t like that the girl from last episode is sticking around because Ginki (was that his name?) isn’t able to judge her. But that’s the thing, anyway. How the hell are these arbiters supposed to judge people who got killed by a random freak-accident? You could say that they should just judge that person’s life, or whatever part of it the person managed to survive, I guess. But if the death of a person is SO random and comes at such an early age, you can always say that this person could’ve become a good person, even if said person was evil at the time of death. That’s where empathy and a deeper understanding of humanity come into play but these arbiters are supposed to have neither at their disposal when judging humans.
Personally I would love every episode of this series to be this introspective and add good, philosophical commentary to the proceedings. But then again, this is just a personal preference. Clearly this series is using comic relief for its pacing and by having solid characters it’s done a good job of using that for its advantage so far. It’s clear that this series doesn’t want to bombard the audience with somewhat deep questions each week. At the same time, though, this series’ standalone-stories are interesting in other ways because of their moral ambiguity. Overall, this is one of the best series to watch right now.
Aldnoah.Zero 19 Review:
Remember, this is the same character who went to her comatose sister and nearly killed her as well as promise her with a hateful voice that she would take everything away from her. And now she’s just some weak girl who desperately wants to be loved and also realizes that she didn’t really hate her sister after all. Also, she’s in a wheelchair.
Nothing this series does these days is effective. Just take this episode for example: Sure, I can list all the events of the episode but after it had ended all I could do was shrug and say to myself “Guess, I’ll watch the next episode next week then.”. When this series does something dramatic, it’s a cliffhanger reserved for the end of the episode – but anything else that’s happening in the episode is anything but dramatic.
This series needs to get off its lazy ass and actually confront its own bullshit once in a while. But what we get is this monotone drivel of “Yeah, and now this happens and then this happens which is when this happens and so on and so forth…”. For God’s sake, where the fuck are the hard choices, where are the consequences and where’s the goddamn action?! I feel like I’m watching a really predictable story with a bland plot.
And it’s not different in this episode. You’ve got a bunch of plot-points to get through but the conclusions of these little sub-arcs get telegraphed from the very beginning because any media-savvy viewer will know where the wind is blowing and so you know that Slaine will get his command of the Martian fleet and you know that Inaho will win any fight he finds himself in. The series’ second half simply has failed to evoke a sense of tension so far. There isn’t ONE scene in this entire second half so far that actually feels tense. This second half’s plot is just filled with cheap shenanigans that are obviously irrelevant as the story only cares about creating another confrontation between Inaho and Slaine. And of course, a woman is to blame for this sad state of affairs. And naturally said woman those two fight over is in a coma or these days at least too confused to do anything noteworthy.
The way they portray the female characters in this series still makes me shake my head. This series really doesn’t give a shit about women, does it? At first glance you might think that this series actually has a lot of female characters who are powerful and have a chance to exercise that power – but the reality is that they’re SUPPORTING-characters foremost. The fake-princess was a character with a lot of great ideas and now she’s nothing more than just another sentimental woman who tries to cling to the man she loves. And Rahyet’s hatred for Martians was still a thing – until Inaho explained to her how wrong she is. Naturally she thanked him for that lesson. Inko or Yuki have motivations regarding Inaho but for fuck’s sake, he won’t be tied down by these goddamn women! It doesn’t matter if it’s genuine love or sisterly love: Inaho just doesn’t give a shit – but those women will still try to win his love of course.
Not that the series actually treats any of its side-characters respectfully. It’s just that there are more female side-characters than male ones running around (while the series is entirely focusing on the rivalry between two dudes) and the series doesn’t manage to make any of them seem important. The series constantly drops these little tidbits of character-development/character-updates but it never integrates them into a dramatic framework that is linked to the overarching plot/story. It’s all just incidental and trivial stuff. The series has pushed me to a point where I just don’t care about the characters! This is another series like Yurikuma Arashi that indulges in some plot-shenanigans for the sake of an artificially controlled pacing that ends up constantly ignoring every chance for genuine drama until it’s time for the finale.
The plot of Aldnoah.Zero’s second half is flawed on a fundamental level. After all, why do we have to wait for the finale until we see a confrontation between Inaho and Slaine again? I’ve mentioned before how putting them both in leader-positions would’ve solved a lot of problems if the series can’t shut up about showing us how awesome the two of them are, but the series isn’t doing that. With Slaine you get this tedious rise to power among a group of rivals that the audience wasn’t even aware of until now and with Inaho you just follow this smartass punk who talks a lot but doesn’t exactly do a lot to get his princess back. The point of the series is to have a confrontation between these two characters and what the series is doing is nothing but providing filler. It shouldn’t be filler what Slaine and Inaho are doing when they aren’t fighting against each other but this series does such a pisspoor job of actually creating excitement that all of it feels like the series is simply biding its time until it has to deal with the finale.
You could say that the princess waking up is a big deal but come on…! This is the 19th episode. There are, like what, five episodes left? Obviously we’re already nearing finale-territory and that (predictable) plottwist came far too late in the game. If Slaine had to deal with both the real princess and the fake-princess from an earlier point, then you might have given that side of the story a little bit more tension. But at this point we are SO close to judgment-day for the characters that it barely matters. This whole second half has felt very uncoordinated and ineffective so far. Despite going somewhere, no episode feels like it’s going somewhere interesting. It’s boring, this second half is simply boring.