Welcome to APR episode 31! The review train keeps on chugging here at The Culture Cove!
We have a very busy APR this time round, with two differing but very funny comedies coming up later. First of all though, we’re taking a look at a distinctly dark tragedy…
Death Parade (2015, S1, 12x23mins)
Drama, Tragedy, Mystery
“People aren’t as complex as you think they are. They’re simple, and they get sad or angry over simple things.”
Death Parade takes place in a location somewhere beyond life. Upon death, the deceased are welcomed in pairs to a bar named Quindecim, where they are forced to stake their lives on a simple game, the difference between reincarnation or the void. The story follows Decim (left), owner of the bar and arbiter of souls, a dummy who is unable to feel, only to judge. He goes about his work as they all have for eternity, until a mysterious woman (right) begins to work alongside him, and begins to question everything they do.
Basically Plot: Set in a world between life and death, the story follows an arbiter of souls who forces people to stake their lives on simple games, and the woman who begins questioning his actions.
I really enjoyed this series. Death Parade, despite a joyous title and incredibly exciting intro, is actually one of the darkest series I’ve ever seen. It is not an in-your-face type of darkness, drowning in shouts and screams as in shows like Another and even shows like Psycho Pass to an extent. Instead it is gothic, quiet and methodical, forcing you – as Decim forces the participants – to feel discomfort from inside yourself. The story is one that we’ve all heard before in one way or another, a story about emotion and what it means to be human and what it means to be ‘good or bad’, however it is one that is commonly told with kids and/or robots, and while you could argue that Decim is a robot in essence, the fact that these are questions asked by people at the other end of their lives added an interesting twist to it.
The main problem with this series, funnily enough, is the length. The story itself is decent, and reaches a good conclusion in the 12 episodes. However, outside of Quindecim there is an entire world of interesting characters, locations and jobs that are left undeveloped, and in some cases completely untouched. The leader of the arbiters (Mona) is one of a handful of characters who I couldn’t wait to find out about, yet there is no time to look anywhere past Decim for more than ten seconds. A half-hearted effort is made with fellow arbiter Ginti, but that only ends up feeling like a lesser version of the main story anyway. It feels as if they wanted to develop these people, but couldn’t quite work out how.
Looking past that, though, Death Parade certainly offers something new to the tragedy genre. With a distinct gothic style and a good mix of strong drama and thoughtful dilemmas, this series is certainly something for fans of darker anime to enjoy. With a bit more time and development – or even a second season – this could have been a real classic show!
ANIME RANKING: #33 – A solid ranking for a simple yet effective series, placing it alongside similarly plotted series Terror in Resonance, and ahead of series such as No Game No Life and Black Lagoon!
If you liked this you’ll love: Danganronpa – a story in which differing people are trapped in a life-or-death game of Cluedo, Danganronpa is a show with a similar premise, minus the fantasy gothic element and the fact that it is reversed, the lead character being on the other side of the table compared to Decim in Death Parade. Despite a strongly differing colour palette and character demographic, both these series share a somewhat nonchalant view on life, while Danganronpa accentuates the mystery and tragedy elements of Death Parade. While slightly light on character development, fans of life-endangering mysteries will be very satisfied with Danganronpa.
The Devil is a Part-timer! (2013, S1, 13x24mins)
Action, Comedy, Fantasy
“Just promise me, sire. When you see a movie, go on the first of the month; it’s half off.”
The story follows the demon lord Satan Jacob (aka The Devil), who is on the verge of conquering the four continents of the fantasy world Ente Isla. However, at the last moment his army is pushed back emphatically by the hero Emilia Justina (bottom right). The tables are turned, and Satan and his closest ally Alciel (top right) are on the verge of dying to her sword when they make a desperate escape, fleeing the world through a wormhole-style gate. The gate opens and drops the two of them in modern-day Tokyo, stripping them of their magic and turning them into almost ordinary people. Forced to survive until they can figure out a way to reclaim their magic, Satan – going by the human name Sadao Mao (top) – finds a part-time job at the local MgRonalds, and the two of them start living the money-scraping life in a cheap one-room apartment. Just as they begin to settle, Sadao is confronted by a woman called Emi Yusa. Turns out the hero Emilia tailed them into the new world in her quest for revenge, and she’s not the only person who lands in Tokyo, either.
Basically Plot: The Devil, along with other mythical persons, leave the worlds of magic behind and end up in Modern day Tokyo, struggling with daily city life while juggling a mythical war.
This was a really good series! It’s a classically anime story: an action-comedy with an elevator-pitch type of plot – ‘what if the Devil was forced to work part-time at a McDonalds?!’ – which works as the starting point for a series of comedy hijinks. The story, with many shows of this ilk, doesn’t really develop much, but it does deliver a good mix of really funny comedy and strong action.
The comedy in this show is awesome. It may sound like this is a simple comedy show about the social ineptness of otherworldly beings, but the comedy actually comes from a much more intelligent source – most of the jokes are about the struggles of young, penniless people in one of the most expensive cities in the world – and much of that is down to fantastic characters. Every character in this series, most of them mythical beings portrayed in various human ways – famous mythical villain Lucifer (top left in picture above) is a teenage shut-in NEET, for example – are given such a strong character, and end up feeling much more natural and real than characters in most other comedy series. Nobody is here simply for jokes, and nobody acts out of character for a punchline. Every character stands up for themselves, and it’s good to see!
Another thing going for this series is that classic comedy-turning-serious moment near the end that is often the killer for many small comedy series. You’ll see a lot of funny shows struggle through their conclusions, because they don’t know when to fit in the laughs and how to survive in moments without laughter. However, The Devil is a Part-Timer does a really good job of weaving funny moments in, even in moments of seriousness. It does this from the very beginning and throughout, and while the end of the series isn’t necessarily rewarding in terms of a conclusion or exciting plot/action, it is certainly enjoyable to watch, and keeps up with the pace of the rest of the series.
The Devil is a Part-Timer is still regarded as one of, if not the best comedy action series in recent years, and I must agree. With excellent pacing, strong animation, excellent characters and an effective mix of comedy and action, this is an almost faultless comedy series that is a must watch!
ANIME RANKING: #23 – A really good score for this series, making it one of the highest-ranking comedy series at The Culture Cove, ahead of series such as Wagnaria and Konosuba!
If you liked this you’ll love: Noragami – There are plenty of similarly funny slice-of-life comedies out there, such as Wagnaria, but if you’re looking for that mix of simple comedy and strong fantasy action, you can’t find many better than Noragami. Slightly more action and story orientated, Noragami shares a collection of fantastic fantasy characters placed in real-world situations, and marries it with a classically vivid colour palette that makes this series a joy to watch. If you enjoyed the last few episodes of The Devil is a Part-Timer, particularly, you will adore Noragami!
To Be Hero (2016, S1, 12x11mins)
Uncle is a good-looking, boastful single father, a bigwig in the toilet seat design industry who is able to tell a woman’s hip size at a glance. One day, the toilets that have been so faithful to him suck him inside, where he meets the Space Peace Republic Alliance Hero Committee. The SPRAHC turn him into the hero of Earth, giving him incredible superpowers. The downside is that he is turned into an unrecognisably fat, pervy old man (front and centre). Kicked out in his new form by his beloved daughter Min-chan (left), Uncle is forced to find a way to return to normal, fighting off a steady stream of space invaders along the way.
Basically Plot: A loving but neglectful single father is turned into the obscene hero of Earth, and is forced to fight his way back into his daughter’s heart.
This is one of many series over the last few years that have come from anime company Haoliners. For those that don’t know, the anime market is steadily being invaded by Chinese investment, a situation that is also happening somewhat in western Hollywood. Haoliners are leading this movement, producing an incredible amount of Chinese/Japanese mini-series to forcefully push their name out into the, unsurprisingly, Japanese-dominated landscape.
Personally, I’ve always disliked the idea of these 10min series. I’ve watched other Haoliners series before, but they always feel like a cheap alternative to more traditional shows. The only genre where I can ever imagine this kind of series sticking is in comedy, and as far as comedy goes, this is a really strong series. To Be Hero, believe it or not, is most certainly the rudest, almost obscenely crude show I’ve seen. Jokes about unrelentingly creepy men and enemies who are able to manipulate the world’s supply of s**t are the norm in this series and, for the most part, it is really funny, predominantly because it’s a much more mature offering even when compared to relatively mature comedies such as Konosuba. It’s also worth noting that while this is a comedy show, there is a nice story running through it about a single father trying to care for and protect his sometimes cold, always proud teen daughter, although this story only really delivers near the end.
To Be Hero felt like a really mature, really brave offering that is a country mile away from any other comedy anime I’ve seen so far. There’s still a debate to be had about how good a show whose runtime is only ten minutes long can be – something I’m sure RWBY would argue for – but looking purely at the content, To Be Hero, while it might put off some more sensitive anime viewers, is a strong comedy series that deserves to be taken ‘seriously’.
ANIME RANKING: #47 – This may sound like a low ranking, but given the limited size and scope of the series it’s a great achievement, putting it just behind series such as Kiznaiver and Akiba’s Trip, and ahead of New Game and Fuuka!
If you liked this you’ll love: Konosuba – To Be Hero is certainly the most mature anime I’ve seen, but not far behind it would be Konosuba, an equally crude series about underqualified people trying to take on monsters. Set in a fantasy world and with a much more stereotypical character group, this might not strike you as an appropriate follow-up, but give it a chance and you’ll soon see that the crude humour from To Be Hero is equally at home in this bright and colourful world!
Three very different series here, all with their own distinct styles. Anime can sometimes appear very stereotypical, and while you could argue the animation style behind The Devil is a Part-Timer isn’t necessarily unique, each of these shows offers a different colour palette and drawing style. This is why I’ve watched so many shows – not knowing much about any of the names involved in these anime shows allows me to enter a completely new world in every series!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 32 of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring the sequel to one of our favourite fantasy action series, Noragami Aragoto!