Ok, round 3 of my first impressions post.
Nearly every season there seems to be one show based on a popular manga or light/visual novel that gets repeatedly hyped up by a small, but passionate number fandom of the fandom, progressively building up expectations until it eventually hit the airwaves, upon which it reveals itself to be average at best, miserable at worst. At this point most of praise vanishes under the weight analytical criticism, with a few people admitting that with hindsight it was hardly the masterpiece they had remembered, some blaming the adaption & a small, core group fervently defending it to the last. Two seasons ago it was Mahouka, last season it was Terraformers & now here we are with Assassination Classroom.
On paper, the show’s premise sounds pretty neat, dealing with a super powered squid who after destroying the moon, charitably decides to take a break before causing the earth to share the same fate & becomes a school teacher for some reason, giving his pupils the chance to kill him before the time runs out. This could provide boundless potential for creativity in both comedy & countermeasure schemes, but it’s wasted by dull, lazy writing. There’s no imagination in the humour, nor is there much intelligence or tension of the assassination attempts. Take Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure or even Code Geass; the higher the stakes, the more creative & exciting the situation becomes. Here the students just launch some by-the-numbers plan, & the teacher evades their attack with his over-powered skill-set, usually involving speed. I’d heard criticism beforehand that this was the show’s de-facto trump card, but even I was surprised by the amount of times the characters talked about the teacher being able to move at Mach 20 speed. It’s an idea that feels old halfway through the first episode, due to overuse and an inability to keep things fresh.
The final nail in the coffin is director Seiji Kishi’s involvement. The sad thing about Kishi is he’s proven himself in the past, with early work Tentai Tenshi Sunred being generally well received, while Humanity Has Declined had great deadpan humour & social commentary. He’s always had trouble with dramatic moments & scene transitions but the man knows his way around jokes. Unfortunately, he’s developed the habit of basically copy/pasting his adaptations straight from the source material, with his video game directorial work on Devil Survivor 2 & Danganronpa often feeling like a collection of cut-scenes haphazardly strung together. The shows still tend to sell well, so I guess you can’t blame the guy for giving the established fandom what they want & simply phoning it in, but it doesn’t prove an especially pleasurable experience for the rest of us.
Based on Death Billiards, the Anime Mirai/Young Animator Training Project ova Madhouse released a few years back, focusing on with two people forced to play a random high-stakes game with real pain & real consequences, Death Parade is essentially a repeat of that plot, just with different characters.
I’m not really sure what to say about this show. I’d initially planned to complain that, like the ova, the intentionally ambiguous storytelling in which you can’t get a clear grasp on who to root for, isn’t especially appealing for someone as lily-livered & in need of closure as I am. However, I then checked out the second episode, which repeats the events of the first in a different context, & gives a more definitive sense of understanding & weight to the issues the two contestants were struggling with. Depending on your feelings towards the first episode, your reaction to the second is likely going to the opposite. I enjoyed it, although I understand why others be a little frustrated.
As yet, neither episode has settled my main worry that Death Parade will essentially be repeating the same gimmick over & over, introducing people in order to dredge up their inner-demons, before arbitrarily passing judgement on them. It’s a neat idea, but not one that lends itself to numerous iterations. With any luck we’ll continue to see more of a focus on the staff running these games, as they offer a larger opportunity for the show to stretch its legs. Make the show more like the OP is what I’m trying to say. We need more dancing barmen.