Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Death Parade was a TV show written and directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa which came out in 2015 and concluded after one season. The TV show is about people dying and being judged by "arbiters" who are non-human entities. These arbiters don’t have any emotions (or at least they aren’t supposed too). In addition, an arbiter cannot judge a person solely on their life's history or memories. Instead, the arbiters must create extreme conditions in order to test the individuals to determine if they should either be reincarnated or sent to the void. A trailer for the show can be found below.
With that said, our goal in this blog is not to provide a complete overview of the episodes, but rather to document how they relate to the meaning of life.
In episodes 10-12, the meaning of life is discussed.
Episode 10 - Story Teller
The episode starts off with one of the main arbiters named Nona listing the rules of being an arbiter.
Rules of being an arbiter:
#1: Arbiters cannot stop making judgments, for this task is more than their job. It is the entire reason for their existence.
#2: Arbiters cannot experience death, for that would taint their judgements. It would make them too close to being humans.
#3: Arbiters cannot feel emotions, for doing so is not in their natures. It is impossible for a dummy to have feelings.
Decim, another arbiter goes to Nona to question how they judge humans. He has come to believe that their judgments may be flawed and that human emotions are needed in order to make correct judgments. He goes on to state that he has deep respect for humans who have lived fulfilling lives. This reflects the existential crisis that originated with Nona earlier in the series.
Over a card game of Old Maid with a human awaiting to be judged named Chiyuki and an old lady awaiting to be judged, Decim has a flash back to talking with another arbiter named Ginti. The conversation goes as follows:
Decim: Well. What is the purpose of what we do? Why is it that we pass judgments?
Ginti: What the hell are you talking about? Are you a freaking idiot man. There isn't a point. We're here to judge, so we judge. That's all! Finis! The End! You get it now?
Decim: But is that a good enough reason though?
Ginti: It's not good, and it's not bad. All there is, is the outcome of the judgments... What's with you? You're acting like a human. Humans think dying is something that happens to someone else. So, at the moment of death, they start desperately looking for meaning. But there is no meaning to living. The fact of the matter is, they live in order to die. So stop thinking about the meaning of life, or of your judgments.
Back to reality, the three are still playing the card game and the old lady talks about how she lived a full life, even though she couldn't have children. Chiyuki's memories are just starting to come back to her.
At the end of the episode Decim has the following conversation with Chiyuki:
Decim: You know, I don't believe people live just so that they can die someday. I think it's because they are alive that they must die at some point. I believe that there is a purpose to being alive. And there's a purpose to judgment, as well...
Episode 11 - Memento Mori
The existential crisis of the arbiters continues. In this episode Ginti appears to give a cold and uncaring judgment to a girl named Mayu Arita who is obsessed with a superstar. He asks her, "What's your life's meaning?" She responds, "I've got no clue, okay? Why does there have to be any meaning?" She then flips the tables on Ginti and asks him if he has some reason for being an arbiter. Ginti exclaims that he has no reason and doesn't need one because being an arbiter is simply his purpose; a tautology. Finally, Mayu vehemently states that she devoted her life to the superstar because she "wanted to", and felt there was some meaning in that. Mayu and the superstar are then sent to the void... the darkness... together.
Episode 12 - Suicide Tour
Decim still has been unable to judge Chiyuki’s soul. So, he takes her back to a construct of her memories, right before she committed suicide. He tells her if she decides right now, she can go back to the living world, but another person will take her place in the afterlife. She sees her mom weeping over her suicide and passionately decides she wants to go back... but she doesn't. Right before making the decision she realizes it is wrong to take another life for hers… and she made the right choice, as it was all a test setup by Decim to decide the fate of her soul. Chiyuki will be sent for reincarnation instead of the void.
Decim who developed emotions likely made the right judgment on Chiyuki's soul in contrast to Ginti's decision on Mayu's soul which was an emotionless determination.
Earlier in the episode Decim had noted the following, setting up the above scene:
"Did you know 7,000 people die every hour? That's approximately two per second. While it lasts, life is riddle with unfairness. There are those who live fulfilling lives. And there are those who pass away sooner than they should."
At the end of the episode and series, Nona is talking with Oculus (an elder arbiter). She explains that judgment should be accompanied with suffering (gaining emotions) for the arbiters. Previously the arbiters did not have emotions and could not feel the pain of those in which they judged. Oculus asks the purpose of suffering and has the following conversation with Nona:
Oculus: So your goal is to make arbiters suffer? Care to explain the reasoning behind that?
Nona: A judgment ought to be accompanied by suffering or what's its purpose?
Oculus: It's purpose?
Nona: To suffer, yet stand firm. That's what it is to live. It's what gives life meaning.
Oculus: The meaning of life? That's what this is about? It's a concept. It's only relevant to those who able to die. And the funny thing about dying--you can't do it unless you're alive. Even if the arbiters become more human, it doesn't change the fact that they're just dummies.
Nona: You're wrong. It is relevant. We live in the present.
Overall, the TV show goes quite in depth in discussing the meaning of life. Much more than what could be possibly revealed here in this blog. For example, as Oculus notes in the ending of the series, the meaning of life is only relevant to those who are able to die. As humans progress further towards immortality with the advancement of healthcare, artificial systems and bodies, etc. it will be interesting to see how this changes our perspective on meaning and on life. However, let's suppose there is an afterlife. If in that afterlife there is immortality, would we run into the same problem of there being no meaning to life as noted by Oculus?
One thing that the show doesn't explain is the concept meaning in light of reincarnation. Let's suppose reincarnation is true, then what would be the point of continuing to live/die/repeat? Would there be an end to it all? Enlightenment perhaps?
A final fourth rule for arbiters is given at the end:
#4: Arbiters may not work hand in hand with life, for that will ruin them.
If you saw the series, what did you think? What did we miss?