Anime Mirai 2013: Death Billiards

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You think you’re just there having a drink at the bar, acquiescing to the bartender’s request you play a game. But what if it’s a game to decide your fate in the afterlife, except you have no recollection of being dead, what the implications of winning or losing at the game is or what the whole point of playing the game is for in the first place? How will you play the game out? 

Anime mirai is what happens when anime production teams have no worries over budget, audience rating, reviews etc. commercial stuffs. It’s when all that matters is a good story told through a top-notch production, all expenses paid by the Japanese government. It’s any animators’ dream come true especially for newbies. I won’t go too much into the wonders of anime mirai or the production team behind Death Billiards because the story itself was so damn interesting I just want to skip right to it!

Death Billiards is one of my preferred shows in Anime mirai 2013 and this review is timely because Japan seemed to have agreed, having greenlit Winter 2015’s Death Parade series. The story unfolds for the audience just as it unfolds for the 2 players. We don’t know what they don’t know and it’s very frustrating that the bartender says he either cannot divulge the secrets or that he himself has no knowledge of the fate of the 2 players. That’s the key word in this short movie – fate. As an audience you feel the same frustration the 2 players go through. And there is no resolution at the end because… it’s fate. But that really doesn’t matter since it’s the game/life itself that does right?

Essentially, 2 humans are brought to this bar before a bartender (a very very stoic Maeno Tomoaki) and his assistant (Seto Asami). The bartender is actually the adjudicator who adjudicates (note that he doesn’t decide, he just oversees the process) if someone goes to heaven or hell. The humans are both male, one’s 30 years old (Nakamura Yuuichi splendidly putting in a beautifully emotional performance) and the other an elderly man (Hazumi Jun) who had lived through WWII. Bartender says they have to play a game otherwise they cannot leave the bar. He doesn’t give any specifics even when asked – what happens if you play the game and what if you don’t? How is the game decided? By roulette! What happens if you win or lose at the game? What’s the whole point of the game? It’s a bit Death Note meets Battle Royale – change your fate!

As it turns out, Death Billiards is a fascinating psychological thriller of sorts that delves into human psychology through turning the players on each other even when no one knows what the stakes are, as well as inner reflection of life existential themes when players look back on their lives to see for themselves what kind of a human being they had been and if they truly deserve heaven/hell. The speech by the young man towards the end as he was literally dragged away, was pure brilliant scriptwriting I wish existed in more shows and Nakamura’s raw emotions spilling over as dramatically as it did during that speech was simply icing on the delicious cake that is Death Billiards. The graphics are gorgeous and the animation so so fluid – just look at those jellyfish in the tank! I have a terrible soft spot for white-haired anime characters so I’m biased for the bartender. Maeno’s been on my radar more and more lately with his recent outings in Log Horizon and Akatsuki no Yona and so I’m happy to see him act as the adjudicator who decides the eternal fates of humans in their afterlives, without himself having ever lived as a human before. So far this episode he’s done a praiseworthy job in spite of the cold, distant character he voices. Without a doubt though, Nakamura stole the show – he did have the most lines too so that surely helped but in all fairness, he went from cool and suave to desperation and wildness within the span of 22 mins. With Death Parade, it’ll be guest seiyuus galore with each episode bringing on 2 players so if like me you want a good story that keeps you thinking and reflecting on what it means to be human, AND appreciate many seiyuus for their work then I’m glad to report that Death Parade’s most likely going to be the show for you in Winter 2015 ^_^

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