If you thought Death Note when you first read this, you’d be wrong. If you thought Death Parade, you’d be wrong. If you thought George Gershwin or Freddy Mercury, you’d be wrong, but I like you. If you thought this was just another isekai anime, you’d be right and you’d be wrong. While clad with stereotypical isekai tropes and some […]
If you thought Death Note when you first read this, you’d be wrong. If you thought Death Parade, you’d be wrong. If you thought George Gershwin or Freddy Mercury, you’d be wrong, but I like you. If you thought this was just another isekai anime, you’d be right and you’d be wrong.
While clad with stereotypical isekai tropes and some uncomfortable moments, this show contains some fun elements that distinguish it from ordinary isekai anime. I don’t quite know what to think of it right now actually. It had its moments, and then times when I thought “Are you kidding?” I presume there’s more to come in subsequent seasons.
Let’s get this straight: Ichirou Suzuki is named after the famous baseball player, and looks like Kirito, but is in fact neither. If any of you were confused about that, now that we got that straightened out, we can continue.
The best part of this series is the characters. Flagrant copies of famous isekai MCs aside, the rest of the characters all are lots of fun to watch. And listen to. Oh, they’re all girls too.
Spanning in ages from 10 to 130, Suzuki picks up new girls with every new encounter. They belong to the various typical isekai species such as elves, demihumans, and native and other isekai’d humans. And they’d all be very typical themselves, except for one fun choice the authors of this anime decided to implement. Most of them have very individual speech attributes.
The two little demihuman girls Pochi and Tama are hilarious. They speak like little girls, but some of the things they say and the way they say them will have you rolling in laughter. At least one of them is obsessed with “niku,” meat of any kind. When the older members of the party are teaching her to read at various moments throughout the series, they show them essentially flashcards with pictures and ask them to read the word for that picture. If it’s any kind of living thing, the little girls always say “Niku!” with way more enthusiasm than should be allowed. It’s hilarious. They say lots of crazy, funny things like this. Experiencing it would serve you better than any description I could give!
The loli voice parade doesn’t end there. Mia, the elf princess, speaks in a muffled tone most of the time. Then there’s that sprite of a thing, calls herself a “dryad,” in one of Suzuki’s brief quests. Ridiculous behavior and manner of speech! But the fun vocal traits don’t only belong to the youngest and littlest of the characters! Martha is neither youngest nor littlest in any way, and her tongue will ring merrily in your ear (calm yourself). Then of course you have Nana, the seventh of seven homunculus clones. Suzuki summoned all his creative ability to come up with a name for her, not wishing to refer to her by her original title, Number Seven. She speaks with zero emotion, no matter the circumstance. The android-ish thing about not always understanding human behavior is a little old at this point, but they pull it off well here. She’s really funny to listen to.
My personal favorite voice in this show belongs to Liza. Mostly this is because her VA, Minami Tsuda, plays one of my favorite female characters of all time, Aihara Mei from Citrus. That calm, tremorous, powerful tone emerges once again here. But you might not notice this character that much if she didn’t speak with a very slight lisp. I don’t know who made the decision to have her speak like that, but it makes her adorable. I know, often this kind of speech impediment is a terrible thing to have to deal with, but in Liza’s case it makes her memorable and endearing. On top of that it keys you in to the audio a little more, and you listen to the other characters a little more carefully as a result. Tsuda-san hasn’t done a ton of roles in her time, but I think she deserves a little more recognition. If these two characters are indicative of her work, she needs to get more opportunities.
Of course you’ve got another Aoi Yuuki (The Saga of Tanya the Evil, My Hero Academia, Sword Art Online, to name a few) character that you can’t overlook (overhear?), Arisa. She’s another of Suzuki’s devoted followers. Her voice is as lively and varied and memorable as always! Arisa’s thing is that she can’t ever successfully seduce Suzuki. Yes, this story takes that path. Speaking of prolific VAs, the famous Rie Takahashi (Emilia, Re:Zero; Megumin, KonoSuba; Mash Kyrielight, Fate/ series) plays the worrisome warrioress Zena Marientell. If Suzuki actually has a crush on anyone, it’s her. There’s not a ton of opportunity for Takahashi-san to do much with this character, but you can still recognize the voice.
I can hardly remember any other characters than these girls and Suzuki. The biggest reason is the unusual focus on their voice attributes. The other is because there aren’t any other characters than these girls. There’s a handful of antagonists that appear and disappear in quick succession. Most of those are males. But everyone directly around the MC is female. Ahem, harem, excuse me, clearing my throat there. And that brings me to one of the biggest negative in this show.
I lied about the girls’ ages spanning from 10 to 130. I mean, it’s not that I lied. Mia is 130 years old. But she’s not much taller than Pochi and Tama. And you know those people who used to believe the world was flat? Well, she…stop, we’re not going there, damn it. So in, er, reality, the girls’ ages do indeed span from 10 to 130. Adjusting for appearance and behavior, they span from 10 to 18. Adjust once more by subtracting (you knew math would come into this sooner or later) Liza and Zena, not one of these females is older than 14.
So the cringe is obvious, to say the least. Suzuki is isekai’d into a highschool body, but he’s nearly 30 in real life. Now, to his credit, and I guess to the writers’ credit, Suzuki gentlemanly rebuffs all loli sexual advances. But that doesn’t make it go away for us. It makes its presence known regularly. So while Suzuki kind of puts it in its place, the heavy concentration of loliness in this harem mixture–what are we back in school today?–leaves a slightly unpleasant taste in one’s…mouth.
The other cringe aspect of these characters is the vast majority of them are slaves. Suzuki more or less frees them from that, but their status also remains more or less unchanged in that regard. Sure this aspect helps demonize the antagonists further, but also leaves us slightly uncomfortable as the viewer.
Those two things have a big negative impact on the characters. If you get past that however, the characters are a ton of fun to watch and experience. So separating the storytellers from the performers, the storytellers can take the blame and the performers can get all the credit. Though I can’t knock even the storytellers too much. They did come up with these characteristics for each character, and they did shell out the yen for Takahashi and Yuuki. The characters are overall positive, so I can’t really pick anyone out of the class to hold too responsible. Stop with the school thing already.
Did I mention there’s a character with a bird sitting on her head as a hat?
The girls are pretty. Nana is really pretty. Liza would be even prettier but she has the lizard scales thing going on which makes you double-take on her occasionally. Arisa, Lulu, and Martha are really pretty, if you can get over the fact that they’re at the minor end among minors. All the main characters have really glassy, pretty eyes. The artists tried to get creative with the eye shapes, and while it ends up looking a little weird, you have to say they’re kind of unique. Mostly, everything draws effectively on the familiar isekai-adventure style.
But that’s were the positives end. There’s two prominent things about the artwork that give me concern, which I’ll briefly note in turn. One is not such a big deal, the other is so bad I wonder how anybody let it happen.
The first, the not such a big deal problem, is the darkness of the artwork. I guess you could call it lack of saturation too. If it weren’t for the styling, the vast amounts of sunny outdoor scenes, and the generally happy aspects on the characters’ faces, you might mistake this for a mystery or even horror anime. It’s not as desaturated as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, where the artists intended for the lack of color to grind against our expectations of the mahou shoujo genre. But it’s more desaturated than Sword Art Online, which is supposed to be a slightly darker adventure isekai. Yet this show is hardly dark at all. Everything goes the MC’s way. I was expecting something terrible to happen through the first seven or eight episodes, such was the effect of the dim coloring. So there was a mismatch here between artwork and the tenor of the show. I’m at a loss to explain this decision by the artists. The title speaks of a “death march,” whether you know what that means in context or not, so you sort of expect maybe a darker tenor. But then you see the context of that phrase in this show, and I say to myself, says I, “Maybe they’re going to make a play on this somewhere along the way, and something bad really will happen?” As of season one’s finale, no such thing has occurred, nor is there any indication any such thing will occur. So I question this decision.
The second thing might be a little less obvious, but is almost unconscionable. There are times when a character is supposed to be looking at another character, listening to her talk or talking to her, but the character’s eyes don’t seem focused on the other conversant. It’s as if they’re focused just to the side of the face, over their shoulder. Usually of course there’s a slight angle between the two characters relative to us when this happens. It happens often enough that it really got my attention and made me really frustrated with the artists. This seems like an elementary thing. Silver Link is not just any production company either that they should have let this slide. Somebody should’ve seen this and done something about it before it got out of hand. It’s not in action sequences either, which you might think could happen. Although, how often are two people talking directly at each other while moving during action sequences? This always occurs when the two conversing characters are stationary. It’s even more unforgivable at that rate. I tried to get some good examples, but I didn’t want to go back hunting for them during every episode. These images directly below aren’t the worst examples by far, but they show a little of this.
It’s faint but often more perceptible than these shots even. I’ve never seen this happen in any anime before. This is something I’d expect to see in an amateur short or something, not in a feature anime from a prominent production company. I don’t know how they let this happen, but it’s a major mistake and it lowers the quality of this anime drastically in my estimation.
I can hardly get over those two aspects about the artwork to even find anything positive to say about it otherwise. The action sequences are even overshadowed by it in my mind. On top of that, there’s one really unusual thing about the action sequences, and it distracted me to the point that I couldn’t evaluate these sequences easily. And it doesn’t even have to do with the artwork! It’s the sound effects. Or, the lack of them, I guess I should say. We’re pretty accustomed to the yelling and the sound of swords cutting air and fists slamming into faces, etc. Perhaps too accustomed. Because when occasionally those things are absent in some of the action sequences in this anime, you can’t help but notice that something’s missing. Do I disagree with this choice? No. I think it was intentional. Often those sounds are overdone, just for the effect, and we’ve gotten accustomed to hearing it like that. Somebody here wanted to do something a little different than what we expect. I like that actually. But nevertheless, this distracted me from the artwork itself, hence my decision to mention it in this section.
The artwork overall was a rather unique experience. Unique sometimes meaning “unique,” sometimes meaning “unacceptable.” It overshadows this show heavily. For all the unique parts of this show in every area, those two big artwork negatives I mentioned drag this show down. A standard of quality is a standard for a reason. Certain things should be expected of all anime artwork. For something so elementary to be so obviously wrong at times in an anime can only be derided. These are little things, but imagine if they weren’t held to a standard. What if clothes shifted position unnaturally through ordinary action sequences. We’ve all seen fingers slightly out of place at times, and you know how we all jump on that when we see it. I get grumpy pretty quickly if I think the VAs aren’t synced carefully enough with the mouths. It’s not because I want to quibble about every little thing. It’s that somewhere out there someone thought it was important enough artistically to have all these little, elementary things all in proper order. Somebody insisted on that level of quality. Therefore when someone else doesn’t, that person produces something inferior. It sounds harsh, but I must recognize the superior, even at the expense of everything else. The error with the eyes in this show effects everything so negatively, it’s the number one thing I will always remember about this series.
So what is a “death march?” It is unhappily what it sounds like, in one context. In the context we see it in this show, in a business environment, it simply implies a project that takes an excessive amount of time to complete, running up against impossible goals and deadlines, necessitating a lot of overtime work. In our friend Suzuki’s case, he more or less lives at his office for long periods of time during these “death marches.”
In their obvious desire to make this show have some uniqueness about it, the authors premised it on a rather unusual method of entry into the isekai world. Having concluded one major part of his “death march,” Suzuki simply falls asleep at his office and wakes up in another world. There’s some things I find curious about this, both positively and negatively.
First, it’s unique. Most people die and reincarnate in the other world. Even Arisa knows about this stereotype, mentioning it as a way into this world during a conversation with Suzuki. We all know the freaking truck! The other end of the spectrum consists of the full-dive experience. Think SAO. I know some of you dispute that this constitutes isekai, but for the sake of argument let’s put it at one end of the isekai spectrum for now. Here in Death March to a Parallel World Rhapsody, Suzuki falls asleep and wakes up in, presumably, one (or a combination of multiple) of the video game worlds that he helps create at work as a programmer. While this is unremarkable in and of itself, it has a curious effect. Remember, at one end of our isekai spectrum, you die and of course will not return to your original world. At the other, you enter and exit through technological portals, with the story usually premised on some unforeseen inability to return to the real world for the time being. Here, we’re not completely sure what state Suzuki is in. He wonders for a while if he’s dreaming. In that same conversation with Arisa I mentioned above, he and she never conclude what method he entered this world through. So we’re left to wonder if suddenly he’s just going to wake up out of all this! It adds a little bit of uncertainty to the show, and I really think this was quite clever of the writers.
So why the hyper-focus on “death march?” It’s in the title of each individual episode even. I could speculate that somehow this whole adventure is some kind of extension of his death march experience at work, but to what end? What role does this play in anything? I can’t easily think of one. So this aspect of the show once more produces a mismatch between expectation and result.
Apart from this, the story feels a little ordinary and the pacing feels wrong. Perhaps I should say “unique” again, instead of “wrong.” Because if you attach unusual pacing to an typical genre storyline, it might feel “wrong.” So the setup is typical. Suzuki arrives, learns of stats and abilities, etc., learns to use those abilities, and finds himself “leveled up” very quickly. He goes into a town, meets new people and makes friends (girls), and has adventures with that handful of antagonists in various different environments. Sounds pretty ordinary right? This is where the pacing starts to turn the ordinary into the unique or weird, depending on how you react to it.
I can sum up the pacing oddity with this: often an adventure or antagonist won’t last more than one episode. This isn’t always the case, but it’s so noticeable when it does happen that’s what you remember. I recall the episode with the undead king and Mia. He appears at the very end of one episode as a lead-in to the next. He abducts Mia and Suzuki follows him to rescue her. This undead king then challenges Suzuki to make it through this dungeon of a thing. A dungeon adventure is a familiar item in isekai, sometimes just appearing for an arc, or here and there, or sometimes undergirding an entire series. Despite going through a predictably varied set of dungeon floors however, Suzuki completes this adventure and overcomes the undead king in a single episode! I’m left wondering what happened to the rest. It’s either really clever or really dumb by the authors. This is the best example, but a lot of his adventures feel like this.
I like the attempt at uniqueness. Arcs can go on for way too long. I know Fairy Tail falls is that “endless” category of adventure anime, but I inextricably associate insanely long adventure arcs with that show. These are the shortest adventures I’ve ever seen in any anime here in Death March. And while I admire the attempt to do something unique, I react somewhat negatively to how cut-short these adventures seem. Others might really think this is a positive, and I completely understand that. It certainly is different!
Therefore, while I think the story has its negatives, I can’t fault it for trying to be unique. Nothing screams “stereotypical” quite like isekai-adventure. This show attempts to buck that label, and even if the result leaves me scratching my head at times, at least it tried for sake of attempting to be unique. I can’t help but admire that.
That’s another thing: what the hell does rhapsody mean here? This show causes me so much confusion already, I don’t even want to think about it. I already don’t know what meaning “death march” adds to this show. I don’t even want to dive into why this word is attached to the title. Or maybe I do know why.
This show pulls you all over the place. I’ll find something about it I really like. Then I’ll find something I really dislike. I’ll find something stereotypical. Then I’ll find something really unique. I’ll find something that’s good quality. Then I’ll find something dumb. I think I’m enjoying it and I’ll look forward to a new season. Then I think I don’t care if I ever see another season, much less another episode. I looked forward to watching the next episode of this anime about as much as I didn’t care anything about it. It was really strange and really random. Much like a rhapsody in music. Music? Why are we talking about music now? I’m so confused.