Death Parade ~ A Rant About Why the Show Isn’t Going to Hell

Management: Unlike more formal entries, this post is just me kind of freewheeling some hate I’ve worked up on something or other. I intend they be civil, but they are rants. They are demonstrably more passionately accusatory towards something or someone, but the points I’ll make will at least be coherent. I won’t do these on a regular basis. They’ll just spontaneously spring to life one day in a conversation, and I’d rather at least the reasonableness, if not the rhetoric, of my sentiments aren’t forgotten.

Death Parade 1

Every Death Parade discussion that I’ve skimmed through had people dropping and arguing opinions. Not a whole lot of surprise there. It happens for most, if not all, shows. But there’s something about the type of opinion being expressed and debated in Death Parade that seems to be unique to it, special to it. This “specialness” is where the focal point of these opinions are concentrated: posts and polemics about good and evil and heaven and hell of all variations.

They frustrates me.

My public health professor posed a question about the infamous “Typhoid Mary.” People opined about who was right and wrong, while here I was, the only person in my class who thought this question about Typhoid Mary was dumb.

Here I am now, thinking that these Death Parade discussions about morality were dumb.

Why would I bring a tangent as random as Typhoid Mary into a discourse about Death Parade? Forget about the show for the time being and humor me. I promise to connect this to Death Parade later.

Death Parade 2

For anyone unfamiliar with Mary Mallon, she was an immigrant to the United States, one of many Irish who fled their homeland during the Great Potato Famine. The US never had a very stellar reputation when it came to the issue of ethnic and racial bigotry, and that proved just as true for Negroes and Orientals as it did for Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, and Irish.

Several factors contributed to their wretched status in the eyes of many Americans.

– They were Irish, and the majority Anglo-Americans didn’t really fancy much Irish in particular.

– They were Roman Catholics, and the majority Protestant Americans had no desire to be controlled by, let alone associate with, Papist outsiders.

– They were cheap laborers, and many labor unions didn’t much appreciate them depressing their wages. They arrived poor and filthy, and lived poor and filthy, and the established American majority couldn’t stand people that chose to exist that way, despite them having often little choice in the matter.

– Many Americans back then were also just generally xenophobic, and all these factors (plus those unmentioned) ended up naturally bleeding into and justifying the other in a sort of circle jerk.

Life in America was hard for the poor and uneducated Irish man. Life was doubly severe for the poor and uneducated Irish woman, who could at most do servant-class work, some of the most tiring and least-paying kinds of labor a woman could get. One of the few exceptions to this kind of livelihood was cooking. Mary Mallon ended up as a cooking-class servant for some of the more affluent families in New York City.

The story goes that some of these families came down with cases of typhoid, a deadly disease transmitted via the fecal-oral route. Even if you wash your hands, fecal matter tends to get on everywhere people touch, and a public health detective concluded after rounds of contact tracing that Mary ended up passing typhoid germs on food she personally had to prepare with her fingers. As a rare example of a healthy carrier of the germ, Mary herself never came down with typhoid, but she ended up passing it along to the people she served food to, through the food they consumed. Some of them fell ill, and some of them died.

She was quarantined from society by city public health authorities her against her will, kicking and screaming and swearing to God that she wasn’t ill with typhoid, that she was not a so-called healthy carrier, that she was being set up by bigots.

Years later, city public health authorities felt guilty about what they now felt was a rash move at her expense. They decided to reintegrate her back into society under the condition that she didn’t work for a living in what she was coincidentally best at: cooking. They even found her a job as a laundress, though that job happened to be a reversal of fortune in employment. Laundry work was one of the most strenuous and least financially rewarding servant occupation one could get.

City public health authorities eventually lost track of her activities. It would be some time until they discovered her again, this time under a different alias. Another outbreak of typhoid struck New York City, another number and illnesses and deaths tied back to the menace the sensationalist newspapers dubbed “Typhoid Mary”.

She was re-quarantined. She would remain in quarantine for the rest of her life. No matter how hard medical and public health authorities tried to convince her otherwise, she remained firm in the belief of her innocence up until the very end.

“Was Mary Mallon a villain or a victim? Why?”

I ended up responding the question my public health professor asked with the following:

“Villain?” The word “villain,” as least based on how I perceive it, suggests an individual who commits evil things for evil intentions. “Evil” itself is a term that’s up for debate, since the designation of “evil,” just like “villain,” is a value-based statement. Value-based statements are subjective rather than absolute. She never considered herself much a “villain” as a “victim.” Who are we, then, to claim she’s definitively one or the other? Because of our faith, morality, some kind of reason? Surely there’s other faiths, moralities, or reason-based systems floating around that could attest that she was “victim” over “villain.” She swore her innocence by her God, after all. Because experts or the public swear she’s a villain? Tyranny of the elite. Tyranny of the masses. Trying to pin the objectivity of “evil” and “villain” on Mary Mallon would be a disservice to her as a person anyway. People are more complex than that.

My classmates debated on and on, however, without anything resembling unified consensus on what, when, and where to pin the tail of “evil” and “villain” on. The only thing they could agree on was that she was definitely and objectively, at some or every point in the story, a “villain” or “victim” . She was always a “villain,” always a “victim,” was a “victim” here and a “villain” there, was a “villain” and “victim” at the same time, etc.

Ignorant as she was by the prevailing medical science of the day and informed as she was by her hard life of personal toil and societal prejudice, it’s completely understandable that she’d behave and act the way she would outside of malice.

A mixture of empathy and an understanding of social reality is key to my thoughts on the matter.

It might have been a fact that Mary Mallon and her behavior brought bodily harm to other people and endangered the public health in such a way that the government had to quarantine her for society’s physical safety, but that, in no way, has anything to do with Mary being a “villain” or a “victim.”

Outside of being a mental journal of record, it is a presumptuous, useless, and dumb question.

Death Parade 11

And now we’re back to Death Parade. What does this have to do with Death Parade? It has to do with the fact that people are so obsessed with this idea of moral dichotomy, of “villain” and “victim” and right and wrong, that they miss the entire point of the show.

But wait, how could you say that when Death Parade specifically addresses a heaven and hell people go to after they are “judged?”

Death Parade 3

Except the whole judgment process is flawed. Episode 1, “Death Seven Darts,” shows a game and the arbiter Decim clearly sending one of them above and one of them below. Episode 2, “Death Reverse,” injects doubt into the correctness of Decim’s arbitration through Onna’s insight and prompts him to ask his superior for a redo. Episode 4 “Death Arcade” has Decim pushing the game’s participants to such disgusting extremities that his assistant Kurokami no Onna (literally translated as “Black-haired Woman) breaks the device Decim is using to cause their desperation and berates him for the callousness of his behavior.

Death Parade 8

Where people go to after they are “judged” bears no objective marker of good and evil because the whole system is flawed.

Death Parade 4

The matches are divided between the past and present, flashbacks of actions they took when the participants were alive and moments of actions they take while participants are playing their game.

Death Parade 5

Past flashbacks of them being awful, present moments of them being remorseful, past flashbacks of them being remorseful, present moments of them being awful…

Death Parade 7

…just like Mary Mallon, all of these experiences and more blur to make the persons we see as the persons they actually are.

Death Parade 6

Death Parade 9

People are complex, and trying to impose reductionist assumptions of “evil” and “villain” is a disservice to them as people, as persons.

Death Parade 10

The show isn’t about the arbiters in its narrative or the arbiters in the audience playing God.

It isn’t about people going to heaven or hell.

It’s about showing people as human beings.

Management: For more on some of the religious motiffs in Death Parade, I suggest checking out illegenes article on the show via this link.


16 thoughts on “Death Parade ~ A Rant About Why the Show Isn’t Going to Hell

  1. Hello Management, r/anime sent me.
    Very interesting read. I enjoyed reading your tangent with Typhoid Mary, a topic that was brought up recently in my TOK class which I actually argued quite passionately in defence of Mary Mallon but in retrospect the whole debate seems to have been an effort in futility. However, in spite of the debate’s futility, it did manage to incite heated discussions which allowed many insightful opinions of my classmates to surface in defence of or in condemnation of Mary which took into account the moral grey area which you mentioned she laid.

    Which brings me to my question. Would you attribute the popularity of the act of categorizing controversial issues/anime/etc. into 2 definitive, opposite sides (good/evil, villain/victim, masterpiece/shit) as a result of it being able to set a simpler but wider foundation for discussion? Especially on the internet where discussions tend to turn volatile, a definitive statement or opinion garners more popular support rather than a wishy-washy 50/50 (at least from my experiences). Therefore it’d make sense that there is much more discussion incited from concretely divisive questions/topics.

    Don’t get me wrong however. I do believe many of the discussions regarding Death Parade are missing the point but I can see how those types of discussions are much easier to go viral rather than the mono-argument of “you’re missing the point” where there’s little room for popular discussion.

    • Hello, and thank you for your comment. Likewise, I don’t find the exercise itself totally useless (I find gauging demographic opinions to be plenty interesting and a reflective indicator of politics in action, hence my mention of all but a “journal of record”). I just find the implication people a lot of people take about whether they should or should take action Mary Mallon because of how we perceive her character and behavior to be besides the point.

      I believe the combination of the clarity and certainty comes with simplification and the pervasive prejudice of Western cultural norms, this obsession that certain actions are inherently iniquitous. Articulated opinions that combined confirmation bias and personal charisma hardened people’s existing conscious or subconscious beliefs . People additionally attached their identities to these opinions, believing consciously or subconsciously that an attack on those opinions are an attack on people themselves.

      • Wow, thank you for the reply. I feel smarter just by reading your reply (I even learned myself a fancy new word, iniquitous :D)

        A very insightful opinion on the simplification of societal opinion lead by charismatic and well-articulated people, one with which I definitely agree with. However the question becomes: is there a better alternative, one that would incite more insightful, differing and “quality” discussions in order to obtain the clarity and certainty you spoke of? I realize I’m going down a rather improbable hypothetical scenario but if you would kindly indulge me, I have a rather indulgently hypothetical question. In a world where the opinion of one individual is acknowledged by but does not change the opinion of another, do you believe discussions and opinions would hold more value when compared to, as you mentioned, what is essentially a regurgitation of well-articulated opinions from charismatic people that conform with one’s personal biases?

      • I think the acknowledgement of other people’s opinions are the best things to hope for. It’s the best thing strive for, really. I’m not all-knowing, and neither are other people, though other people, in their complexities, may have opinions and reasons behind them that may help improve my own. I wouldn’t reject those opinions by default. Pluralism is something to be encouraged. The problem is people who don’t acknowledge anything but the objective veracity of their own rationale and experience.

        I’m not sure if I’ve found the nice spot in your hypothetical situation yet, but I feel, if you want to challenge the objectivists, you would have to make them uncomfortable. You want to lead them down discussions where you’re making the terms of how the discussion is going to be structured, not them, and to refute their attempts to re-steer the debate to more familiar and empowering waters by “deconstructing” or “détourning” their points to their logical extremes so that their positions become untenable. While I may not be a personal fan of their politics, the Deconstructionists and Situationists have some interesting literature on these techniques.

        You strip them powerless and beat them while they’re naked and down.

      • > You strip them powerless and beat them while they’re naked and down.

        *The key to winning any argument* a book written by ZeroReq011.

        This line just made my day. I very much look forward to reading more of your stuff.

        Also, I’m curious as to where you learned to write so well. Was it something that was taught through higher education or was it simply through practice? I was looking to improve my current writing ability, specifically my abilities to write commentaries and analyses, and was wondering if you could give me some tips on improving persuasiveness and flow.

      • I suggest consuming more media, and well-written media specifically. Shows, movies, plays, and especially books will do. Ask yourself questions about what that media does to be effective at what it does, and then apply it to your writing. When it comes to reading and writing, I personally suggest you find a convenient place to read aloud both to judge how well words flow and sounds and ideas play off each other. Use that media to broaden your pool of knowledge and the amount of perspectives you can see through and connect two and two and etc. pieces of knowledge together to make analyses. Try to see if you can relate analyses to human experience.

  2. You know, you should freewheel more often! This was a great read. I really love your other posts (I should comment more often, but personal reasons get in the way), but it feels a bit more personal like this.

    Regarding your public health class, I probably would’ve answered the way you did. I have never been a fan of thinking in black and white, altough that view tends to get challenged in school a lot. “You gotta take a stance!” type of things. While that’s fun of all, I find it much more interesting in trying to learn multiple perspectives. Yet I’m forced to clearly value one side over the other. This is generally often the case, too, in discussions – whether online or not. It is understandable, however, as discussions are more about the back-and-forth, meaning that clear stances between different parties makes it easier to quickly understand and value other opinions. I’m not perfect myself, for that matter. Still, I try to listen to other opinions. That is the least I can do and I think it’d do a lot for our surroundings if more did so, even if just a little.

    Life is complex. Death Parade, sadly, is not. I still enjoy it and could see myself discussing it, even if it lacks the ambiguity of Death Billiards. 20 minutes is not nearly enough to convey a whole life! … which is also why I think it kinda works, as the arbiters are clearly shown to be flawed. I’m just rambling at this point, I’m afraid.

    As a side-note, this post reminds me of why I fled an ethics class in high school. Ended up switching to website design and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in school. The first class involved us receiving an image of a crowded bus, with conveniently exactly one person but yourself sitting in each of the seats. Each person followed a certain unique stereotype (archetype? not sure what to label it) such as “old person”, “man with tattoos” or “woman with dog”. All we had to go by was the image. We were supposed to decide which person to sit next to on the bus ride, which would be a long one to another country. I more or less imploded when I was asked.

    “Uhh, I don’t know, there’s not nearly enough to judge from this image. Are we supposed to go by stereotypes? Tattoos means bad, dog means annoying and such?”
    “Uhhhh, I’ll sit next to [insert person]”
    “Because… it’s the seat next to the back door, a seat I tend to like”
    “What’s wrong with tattoos?”
    “*nonsense ramblings*”

    That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever encountered.

    • I’d say Death Parade is doing a decent job demonstrating character complexity given the amount of time allotted (Episode 4 especially), complexity that ekes through despite arbiter efforts to make black and white judgments.

      I’m not perfect either when it comes to being open-minded, but I always try to be self-aware of my thoughts and actions in the event that I do make slips.

      Yeah, that thought experiment in your ethics course sounds rough.

  3. It sounds like an argument of scope. With a big enough scope, the lines become muddy for any individual in terms of any labeling you wish to apply. It sounds like the professor was talking specifically about her experiences with the disease. Mary may not have believed the doctors, but she was well aware of the causation of her work. She chose to ignore strong evidence and her own experiences and that caused harm to other people. It is similar to the anti-vaxxers of today. Whatever their beliefs or reasoning, their decisions harm other individuals. both parties have/had a choice to segregate themselves so that they could practice their beliefs without harming others BUT they choose not to. They want all the benefits of society without any of the responsibility.

    I think these arguments tend to get weird because people equate them to some form of that ethical ‘trolley problem’…but it isn’t the trolley problem..There is a multitude of options that don’t involve death.

    Thank you for the post and the comments. they are interesting 🙂

    • I apologize for not replying earlier.

      Was she aware of the causation of the work? How do you know that? I’m not saying that public health authorities should have acted in spite of her disconnect, but I don’t see any reason to suspect that we should doubt the sincerity of her beliefs. She was a poor Irish woman in a big, scary, and prejudicial America. Try to imagine what life was like in her shoes.

  4. Any and all opinions are completely irrelevant unless the show explains what happens to people who are sent to the Void. If the void is simply a garbage dump for the soul – people being deleted from existence, then the story is bullshit, plain and simple.

    I haven’t watched the show at all, and I have no intention of doing so; from what I have read I suspect it’s a case of pretentious artiness masquerading as mystery. There is no mystery: Unless the writer decides to throw us a bone and give hope to those sent to the void (which, incidentally would be everyone since no one is going to be reincarnated an infinite number of times – oh, and there is no explanation of who are what people get reincarnated as) then no, the void means obliteration. No reason, no point, just the Arbiters being total assholes and sentencing people to perma-death on a whim.

    • If it’s any comfort to you, the show does explain what happened happens when people are sent to the Void. The show is, in fact, critical of the Arbiters. In any event, the show is focused less on its mysterious world-building/cosmology and more concerned with the fallacious and dehumanizing logic of judging the holistic worth of people placed in stressful situations (which, again the Arbiters do and, again, the show is critical of).

      Understanding this, however, requires potential viewers to not be obstructed by preconceptions of what the show should be, nor bogged down by expectations of immediate forthcoming answers.

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