Caitlin, Cy, and Toni celebrate the 10th anniversary of a cult classic by Mob Psycho 100 director Tachikawa Yuzuru!
Editor’s Note: This set of episodes was recorded before Cypress changed their name; the transcript will reflect both in their updated form.
Date Recorded: October 30th 2022
Hosts: Caitlin, Toni, Cy
0:02:51 Content warnings
0:09:40 Mob Psycho 100
0:12:58 Tachikawa’s themes
0:15:40 Personal experiences with Death Parade
0:22:42 That OP
0:42:31 They don’t make ‘em like they used to
0:44:18 Ginti (again)
0:48:55 Mayu and Ginti
0:51:26 The administrators
0:58:45 Similarities to theatre
CAITLIN: Hi and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. My name is Caitlin Moore, and I’m one of the managing editors for Anime Feminist and a reviewer at Anime News Network. You can find me on Twitter @alltsun_nodere. And with me today are my fellow staff member Cy and repeat contributor Toni Sun to talk about Death Parade! Go ahead and introduce yourselves, guys!
TONI: Hi, I’m Toni Sun. I have written for Anime Feminist, including articles on Sarazanmai and Madoka. And I am a teacher, and sometimes I do a little organizing on the side, but I am… Yeah, I try to keep doing anime writing, usually from an abolitionist perspective. Hello!
CY: And I am your arbiter Cy…
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Oh, God!
CY: … and here at the Anime Feminist Bar, we stan feminism, naturally. You can find me on Twitter @pixelatedlenses, where I am continuing to be awesome and just doing a lot of things like light novel editing, visual novel editing, and just being me.
TONI: I forgot to mention you can find me on Twitter at @poetpedagogue.
CY: Ooh, did I even say I also work at Anime Feminist? Oops. [Chuckles]
CY: I got so into the bit that I forgot. I’m a staff editor! You know what? People already know that if they’ve heard me on this podcast. Whatever. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] I mean, every episode could be someone’s first episode.
CY: Oh, that is true.
CAITLIN: So, just as a quick explanation for listeners… So, we’re gonna be doing something a little bit different this time from usual. As I was getting ready to do this Retrospective, I saw Toni and Cy’s amazing contributions to the show notes, and I said, “Oh my God, there’s no way that we’re going to be able to talk about this whole thing in one hour.” But there’s so much important stuff to talk about. And a watchalong format doesn’t really work because to talk about the show’s themes in a really in-depth way, you really have to talk about it as a whole.
So, we are going to just do a two-hour recording, we’re going to find a split somewhere in the middle about an hour in, and hopefully it’ll be a neat stopping point. And we’ll just kinda see where that falls. We’re playing it by ear here.
CY: It’ll all work out. It’ll all work out.
TONI: It’ll be great.
CAITLIN: Let me tell you about Death Parade. By the way, there will be spoilers all throughout this episode. There is just no talking about Death Parade without spoiling the big ending—well, not big ending twist, but multiple twists throughout the show.
CY: I also think maybe we should lay down some content warnings up front.
CAITLIN: You know what? That is a good idea.
CY: Yeah, so I would say content warning for death by suicide, suicidal ideation, self-harm, sexual assault and conversations about sexual assault.
CAITLIN: Physical abuse.
CY: Mm-hm, mm-hm. Sexism… This show really, really hits on a lot of things that I think, seven years after its creation, are still quite poignant.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, it’s a show about death and how people died and deliberately bringing out the ugliness in people.
CY: I suppose in its own way death is always topical.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it really digs pretty fearlessly into some really hairy stuff, so if you are sensitive to pretty much any possible topic surrounding death, be cautious with this one.
So… You know what? I’m just gonna start with the first episode summary and go from there.
A man and a woman arrive in a bar with no memory of how they got there. And the bartender tells them that they are going to play a game with their lives at stake.
TONI: [deadpan] Gasp.
CAITLIN: And they are playing darts. But the darts are connected to their nerves, and so hitting the targets will cause each other great pain.
CAITLIN: Dun-dun-dun! As the series unfolds, we discover that this is a way of judging them, judging them for the afterlife specifically, whether they will be reincarnated or consigned to the Void. This is disrupted by the arrival of a young woman who has no memories of her life whatsoever. And she becomes an assistant to Decim, the bartender, in his bar Quindecim.
CY: I think that’s a solid overview. Right. Like, yeah?
CAITLIN: Thank you. Thank you for the encouragement! [Chuckles]
CY: It’s earnest.
TONI: Yeah. Yeah.
CAITLIN: So, Death Parade is the first major work of the director Yuzuru Tachikawa. It was spun off of the short Death Billiards, which was produced as part of the Young Animator Training Project in 2013, which is kind of a springboard for new animators at major studios to create something, show their chops. And so, Yuzuru Tachikawa made basically an episode of this where they are playing billiards, then went on a couple years later to create a full TV series.
He wrote it and he directed it and he created the concept. It is 100% his baby. And I think that’s really interesting because Yuzuru Tachikawa’s probably best-known work at this point is Mob Psycho 100. He didn’t write or create it, but he did direct it, and I would say that Mob Psycho 100 has some very intense direction! [Chuckles]
CY: Oh, did Deca-Dence not make that much of a splash?
CAITLIN: No, I was gonna say that!
CY: Oh, I’m so sorry!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I was gonna say…
CY: I’m so sorry.
CAITLIN: I was also gonna say that he also directed Deca-Dence, which I don’t think actually did make that much of a splash. I don’t know about the general anime-sphere, but I know that a lot of people at AniFem kind of felt like it pulled back a little bit at the end.
TONI: Well, I think what’s really interesting about Deca-Dence is that Deca-Dence, to me, is returning to many similar themes to Death Parade in a way that Mob Psycho doesn’t. And I think it’s his attempt to take what is reformist about Death Parade and make it abolitionist. Right?
Death Parade shows you a system and it shows you how messed up that system is, but then it just kind of leaves you like, “Okay, well, the system goes on,” whereas Deca-Dence really feels like he’s trying to be like, “Okay, what would it take to actually destroy a system like this?” But then he doesn’t quite know how to make that happen.
And it’s really interesting to think about that in the DNA of Death Parade because Death Parade, I think, also struggles to figure out where it stands in the system that it creates, whether it’s more reformist or abolitionist. Like, are we just trying to reform judgment so that judgment is fair or are we trying to get rid of the entire concept of judgment entirely? And I don’t think it can always decide what it wants. And that’s what makes it really interesting, and that’s actually what makes me like it.
CAITLIN: Yeah! You know what? That does make sense. You know, I feel a lot of the disappointment kind of came from, especially… A lot of people, just from a more simple gendered perspective… which, I’m not saying that gendered perspectives are always necessarily simple, you know? There’s a lot of complexity to talking about gender. But there was a lot of disappointment in the shift in perspective from Natsume to Kaburagi. Can we have a story that is about revolution, about abolitionism, that also focuses on female characters? Why does it have to be one or the other?
But anyway, we’re not talking about Deca-Dence today, except in the context of talking about Tachikawa’s recurring themes. And I do think Deca-Dence is kind of a closer sister series to Death Parade just because it is Tachikawa’s creation as well as Death Parade, but I also feel like Mob Psycho 100 does kind of… its themes are very complementary to Death Parade. It’s not Tachikawa’s own creation.
However, Bones is not the kind of studio where they’re going to be like, “Okay, this is the series we’re making, and you’re gonna direct it and you don’t really have much say in it.” Bones as a studio puts a lot of emphasis on its directors’ creative freedom and their artistic voice. And also, there’s a lot of care put into that adaptation, so I don’t think it would have come out the way it does if Tachikawa didn’t really have a lot of feelings about it and about the themes, because Mob Psycho 100 kind of focuses on belonging and how belonging helps you be the best you can be and the importance of being a kind and good human over being powerful.
CY: Yeah, because it’s much more working with deconstructing what it means to fit in and also how fitting in doesn’t have to be a cruel thing. Like, you can find… I almost used that very 1990s term of “Find your tribe,” which is horrible, but, like, find your grouping, you can find people that you fit with. But I think the emotionality of Mob… certainly you can see that as a companion piece to Death Parade, where emotion also is a huge cornerstone of that series. Definitely does not function without emotionality.
TONI: Yeah, and I think a lot of Mob Psycho’s themes are similar to Death Parade in the sense of learning how to understand that other people have just as complex lives as you do, even if you’re more powerful per se than them. And then how do you move through the world knowing that their lives matter just as much as yours does?
CY: Yeah, mm-hm.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah. And I think Mob is about… Like I said, it’s about belonging, it is about finding where you belong and how that helps you as a person. And in Death Parade, it’s pretty clear that a lot of the time, when you’re bringing out the ugliness in people, that ugliness stems from a lack that they had in their lives. So, it’s very complementary. It’s kind of the opposite.
CY: Two sides of the same coin, almost.
CAITLIN: Two sides of the same coin. Exactly. There’s a good cliché for what I’m trying to say! [Chuckles]
TONI: I could definitely see that. Like these intimate character portraits that happen every single time, almost every episode of Mob Psycho, very similar to Death Parade in that sense, yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I think a lot about the… Gosh, I can’t remember the characters’ names. It’s in the second season. Oh no. It’s the one where Mob becomes trapped in a girl’s mind.
TONI: I love that episode! Oh my God!
CAITLIN: They’re amazing.
TONI: [crosstalk] The best-directed episode of anime of all time. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, Tachikawa isn’t a super prolific director, but what he does, there’s a really strong sense of themes, of particular narratives that he keeps returning to.
CY: I wonder if part of why he is not as prolific is the kind of churn we’re seeing in anime nowadays, which is a shame because I did think, while watching this, Death Parade could not exist in 2022 as a brand-new show. One: it’s one cour; it’s 12 episodes. And it’s a little too… How shall I say it? It has too much depth?
CY: [through laughter] It’s got too much depth for a 2022 series!
CY: Which, you know what? I’m not dissing you, Super Cub. You came out last year and you revolutionized my entire life! But mostly anime series nowadays, I don’t think they have the time or the budget, which is also what kind of makes it stand out.
CAITLIN: I mean, I like the word “challenging” for it.
CY: Yeah, I should say “challenging” because there’s a lot of deep anime.
CAITLIN: And also, depth is not… you know, it’s not the end-all-be-all. Appare Ranman, I chose for my favorite anime the year it came out and that’s not deep, but it’s fun and it made me happy.
But yeah, Death Parade is challenging. It has a lot of darker themes. Creators have commented on the current landscape of anime production. There’s a lot of pressure to kind of keep things light.
CY: And I suppose that’s kind of what I mean by depth. It’s not depth of content, because as someone who likes slice-of-life, I think there could be a very harsh critique of that not being depth, but I found a lot of comfort in slice-of-life and I find the narratives really make me think.
And I think that’s what I mean, is that because of the constant churn, there’s not space for anime that are… If an anime is evocative… like, I think of Eizouken. No one talks about that anymore. It passed. And you have this really evocative anime that challenges you and kind of pushes the limits of what you can do, but you can’t do that now with how much stuff comes out. You just can’t.
CAITLIN: Anime production has definitely moved towards comfort food and power fantasies.
TONI: [Sighs] The number of isekai…
CY: Which is troubling because the number of isekai with “slave” in the title makes me wonder, “Whose fantasy is this?”
[Pensive grumbling and groaning]
CAITLIN: Well, that’s a whole discussion for itself. So, now, my question for you guys is: what is your history with Death Parade? How did you end up watching it? I just watched it when it came out. And then I bought the Blu-ray and I rewatched it. I was like, “This would make a really good episode!” [Chuckles] I don’t have a deep history with Death Parade. Cy, you mentioned to me, when we were talking about doing this, that this is like one of your favorite series and you’ve watched it five times.
CY: Yes. So, I first saw this about two years after it came out, while I was living in Japan. So, it kind of came at this really interesting time for me because… I moved to Japan in 2016. So it’s been… I move about five seasons after the show premiered, because this was a winter 2015 anime.
And I remember a friend of mine was like, “Hey, there’s this anime I’ve been wanting to watch. It’s called Death Parade. Do you want to watch it?” And we started it, and we did not stop it until that evening. We had turned into, like, an impromptu sleepover.
And it kind of hit for me on a very personal level, because I was having maybe one of my most prolonged states while living abroad. It had just been a hard year. 2017 for me was a year before I got back into therapy. And so, I watched the show and it was just incredibly cathartic.
And it’s kind of a show that I have revisited almost once a year. I think I didn’t watch it in… I didn’t watch it last year, just because life, schedule, busy. But it’s kind of one of those shows that I loop around to because there’s just something about it that every time I watch I get a very, very new kind of perspective and it provides this comfort. Especially for me, I’ll say, during the pandemic, part of why I’ve watched it… I’ve watched it… I think maybe it might be six because I’ve watched it twice this year; this is the second time.
It’s offered this really interesting catharsis in the middle of the pandemic, an event where, if arbiters were to exist, they’re very busy. And on one hand, that’s a little bit of black humor, but on the other hand, it’s very, very frightening, living in a world where life is very, very ephemeral right now. And so, yeah, this show is something that really… This is like if someone asked me in a decade what my top five anime are, this is probably still going to be on there. Just really impactful.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Do you feel like you discover new things every time you watch it?
CY: Oh, I discovered new things this time! Yeah!
CY: Yeah. And part of that is affected by getting older. You know, I have very different thoughts at 30 than I did at however old I was in 2017! [Chuckles] 25 maybe? I don’t know. Time is fake. But definitely, this time, a lot of what I discovered was very influenced by what’s happening in America and by living in America again. So, yeah. Yeah, I’m always finding new things with Death Parade.
CAITLIN: Toni, you just recently watched it for the first time, and I remember you having a very strongly negative reaction to the first episode.
TONI: Oh, yeah! It’s funny. So, I mean, I was going through a lot at the time. And you know, I was having a hard time, had just moved to a new school. Things were challenging. And so, I put this on because I know that people at AniFem like it, and I watched the first episode and I’m seeing these two people torture each other and say horrible things about each other, and I’m like, “What is this edgelord thing? Why am I watching this? Why do you all like it?” I literally just kind of post that on Twitter, like “What is going on here? Does it get better?” And everyone—
CAITLIN: There were a lot of disgusted Discord messages.
CY: [crosstalk] Oh no!
TONI: I got, definitely, people in my mentions, including Caitlin, being like, “Keep watching! It’s not what it looks like!”
And sure enough, episode 2 pulls a Deca-Dence reveal where it’s just like, “Womp! Actually, it’s a big, gigantic oppressive system, and we know it’s oppressive. It’s framed as oppressive.” And I was like, okay, okay, here we go. And then I was like, okay!
And after that, I really enjoyed watching it because it was engaging with a lot of things that I had been thinking about over the last couple years in terms of judgment.
And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about organized abandonment, which is a concept I’ll get into later, but just the idea that certain people in society are systematically abandoned by society and then judged for what they do when they are abandoned. And it’s really poignant in how it critiques that and how it explicitly calls that out, and especially as I was thinking about my interactions with my students and how some of my coworkers would talk about my students or how I would think about my students.
And a lot of the way I look at anime is very much informed by my teaching. And I was just thinking about, like, how do we make sure that when we look at children who are experiencing these kinds of organized abandonment, how do we not look at them with that kind of judgmental mindset where a kid is either deserving of our education—or whatever we’re going to give them—or just cast them into the void, suspend them, throw that kid out, you know?
And I’m also writing an article on Penguindrum, and this was also making me think a lot about Penguindrum and what it has to say about similar themes. So it was just really exciting to be watching it at the same time as I was rewatching Penguindrum and thinking through these issues.
And yeah, it doesn’t always have the most satisfying answers, but I don’t think it’s intending to. I think it’s intending to ask a whole bunch of questions and then have you just kind of sit with those questions, to be like, “Huh.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. I fully agree. And I feel like the ending with Nona makes that very clear, that it’s saying, “It’s not easy to just change a system, and we don’t have answers about how exactly to do that,” as it went.
CY: That makes sense, though you know what I bet drew you in? That theme song, though.
CAITLIN: [Laughs] Amazing!
TONI: Oh, it’s so good!
CY: That theme song, though?
CAITLIN: Oh, my gosh! An all-timer, all-timer theme song.
CY: It slaps so hard! [Chuckles] Like, ugh! The choreography, too.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Complete tonal dissonance with the show.
CY: But see, I actually will argue that I think it fits the concept of the memento mori.
CAITLIN: They’re celebrating existence.
CY: I mean, you gotta live it up until you can’t anymore. I feel like it matches. It really… Yeah! [Chuckles]
TONI: I also feel like it brings out the kind of irony of playing childhood… It’s almost Squid Game–esque in playing these childhood games to decide the ultimate fate of your life, right? And so, having a playful OP kind of matches that, I think, matches that sense of irony that the show is trying to create.
CY: Well, and especially when you think of some of the games, like air hockey is a game that I associate with ‘90s places of play like Chuck E. Cheese and that roller rink in your town that had the really good greasy pizza and hot dogs. You don’t think of air hockey as a do-or-die.
How messed up would it be if you were at Charles Entertainment Cheese’s joint and he was like, “Ho-ho! You gotta hit the puck; otherwise you die!” [Chuckles] You don’t think of… There’s a disconnect there. And it’s that kind of thing of… I do think, yeah, the opening kind of undercuts… yeah, these games that we think of as just fun are really being elevated.
CAITLIN: That makes sense, especially… Have you guys seen the original music video?
CY: I have.
TONI: [curious] No.
CAITLIN: I sent it to you, Toni!
TONI: You did? Oh my God.
CAITLIN: I did!
TONI: I’m embarrassed. I’m sorry.
CAITLIN: It’s okay. It’s okay. I forgive you. [Chuckles] You do need to watch it, though. It has a gambling motif, which also kind of fits in with the games in the show, and also the lyrics are very much about living and growing and is also a celebration of being a life— [corrects self] being a life—being alive.
CY: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Yeah, so I think the OP works really, really quite well. And it also works really well against the ending because the ending is much more what I think you would expect for the show. It’s much more pensive; it’s much more reflective.
CAITLIN: I don’t like the ending.
TONI: [astonished] What?
CY: I mean, I’m a—
CAITLIN: It’s like Creed or Nickelback!
CY: Oh, don’t Nickelback this anime, Caitlin!
TONI: I’m crying!
CAITLIN: You know what? No. I stand by it. It sounds like something that you would hear on the fucking radio in like… I don’t even know what decade.
CY: Oh my God. Catch Decim singing with his phonograph.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] In the mid-00s.
CY: [Chuckles] No… Yeah, okay, okay. It is what it is.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s butt rock!
CY: Nothing wrong with butt rock, but it is what it is. [Chuckles]
TONI: Listen, I think it works when the needle drop hits, right when they smash in the dude’s hockey pucks, just like “Bam!” I think it works for that moment. Does it ruin that moment for you?
CY: I’m kind of with Toni on this, Caitlin. I’m sorry. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: No, well… I mean, it worked in that moment, but I just don’t like the song.
CY: That’s fair. That’s fair. That’s fair. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah. But you know, in the opening, every time I watch Decim and Chiyuki dancing, I’m just like [Sighs appreciatively].
CY: It’s so good.
CAITLIN: So good.
CY: It’s so good.
CAITLIN: I mean, it’s great dancing animation. Also… I ship it.
CY: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
CAITLIN: I think they’re a really good pairing.
So, yeah, let’s talk about the characters a bit, especially since in the notes, I have them kind of in pairs because they’re kind of set up as foils to each other. So, Decim and Chiyuki touch my heart, deeply.
CY: Love ‘em.
TONI: They’re good.
CAITLIN: I don’t remember too much about my first watching, but I do remember my just absolute distress that I felt for the next-episode preview for episode 12, when Decim is crying. I’m just like, [Gasps] “Why is Decim crying?! What’s happening?!”
CY: And that scene is… oof. That scene is so good. Decim is really fascinating, as the concept of a character who is acting on pure logic. Of course, it is revealed that that is not quite the case. Love him. Love him.
TONI: That… Mm. I don’t know if we should talk about that ending now, but I definitely had to think about that. Like, how does that color my feelings about Decim, that ultimately after that Old Maid game, after learning the whole story of her life, of Chiyuki’s life, he still puts her through that hell!
I really don’t know how that makes me feel about him, whether that’s the last vestiges of his belief in the arbiter system that he has to purge or whether he just made a really messed-up choice, you know?
CY: I’m gonna say that we are gonna have to circle back around to that because we’re gonna have to talk about abolitionist versus revisionist, and that’s where that’s gonna kick in real hard. [Chuckles]
TONI: Oh, yes.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I do want to— Well, just at a face value… We can do a face-value discussion first and then come back to things later. I do think that… just in terms of plot, I think that he did need that experience because it messed him up, seeing himself put someone that he cares about through that.
CY: Well, he finally perceived humanity.
CAITLIN: Yeah. He felt so much guilt and shame from doing that with Chiyuki.
CY: Yeah, it really drives home the consistent narrative, that I think all three of us can probably agree, which is to choose what you’re going to do with a life is a weighty decision, and it necessitates that it is, but it also necessitates that it has emotion. Because it’s not a game of air hockey. It’s not a game of pool or darts. A human life, there is a cost and that cost is tangible. Somebody’s gonna have a bad day.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. I really love Decim, to bring things back to the… just purely…
CY: Love him so much.
CAITLIN: I love that, because it would be so easy to create a very boring, quote-unquote “emotionless” character.
CAITLIN: But he’s just… he’s weird! He’s a weirdo!
CY: [crosstalk] He’s weird. He can’t smile right. [Laughs]
TONI: Oh my gosh. His attempts to smile—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] He collects mannequins.
CY: [Chuckles] I love him. I love him.
TONI: He’s great, yeah.
CY: And Chiyuki’s great too. They’re really great as a pairing, just in a neutral sense. They play off of each other visually very well. They play off of each other [with] jokes and throughlines and commentary really well. Love them both.
CAITLIN: They have really strong chemistry. And yeah, once again, not just speaking purely in a shipping sense but in terms of how they play off of each other. Their personalities mesh very well.
Also, I really enjoy, even outside of the very big, emotional scenes where she is getting upset at him for judging in his (once again) quote-unquote “emotionless” way without considering the context—without empathy—just the little moments that they have together, I think, are really fun. When they’re making the roast beef sandwiches together in Quindecim… which was fascinating to me, that arbiters need to eat.
CY: I wonder… See, and I couldn’t figure out if it was a need to eat or they just do it for the enjoyment of it.
CAITLIN: Like, they have a little cafeteria! The little glimpses… It’s a whole world! It’s a whole society there!
CY: Yeah, because they say it’s just Nona’s tower, that she’s in charge of this tower, but it’s never said how many towers there are.
TONI: It’s also interesting that very rarely do we ever get a glimpse of outside, other than… The outside is a top floor, right? But we never see really outside the tower except in the subway, presumably. Which, I don’t know if that goes from tower to tower or what, but—
CAITLIN: Yeah, like—
CAITLIN: We get a brief glimpse of them eating in the cafeteria, but yeah, we don’t really go outside of Nona’s domain.
CY: Yeah, because, what, Nona’s on the 90th floor, Quindecim is on the 15th, Ginti is on 20, and then we have the basement level where information is. And yeah, it’s this really contained kind of world, which is fascinating.
CAITLIN: It’s really just visually cool-looking sort of… Because it’s not the afterlife, really. It’s a transitional point. It’s a liminal point, except that there’s this whole society for whom it’s not a liminal point. It’s only liminal for humans.
CY: Right. Speaking of other people it’s not a liminal point for: Ginti.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Oh, Ginti.
TONI: [crosstalk] Oh my God. Trash boy.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, Ginti. What an asshole. What a piece of shit.
CY: I like how mean he is. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: He’s terrible! [Laughs]
TONI: [Obscured by laughter] figure out whether he was actually going to send Light to hell, because part of me wants to believe [obscured by crosstalk].
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] But Light—
TONI: But I have no idea. Like, Light from Death Note just makes an appearance in this show.
CY: Okay, so, I just noticed that on this watch and I was like, “Is that Light Yagami?”
CY: Okay, I was shook!
CAITLIN: Now, in fairness, Light… I don’t say this about a lot of people. Light deserves to go to hell.
CY: Yeah, I mean, it’s in the Death Note. Yeah, he does do a lot of murder.
CY: An unscrupulous amount of murder. So, maybe Light is being judged by them in maybe a correct way. I don’t know.
CAITLIN: Yeah. But Mayu doesn’t know that. I love Mayu.
CY: I love how feminine she is and how unabashedly girly she is. I love that she has…
CAITLIN: She’s a gal.
CY: She has a teddy bear in her hair and it’s great!
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah! I don’t know if that’s still a thing, but I remember when I lived in Japan Disneyland would sell hair accessories that were like that, like little stuffed animals, like on headbands.
CY: It’s great.
TONI: She’s also really feminine and also a gremlin. She’s just so horny and so…
TONI: … and so, honestly, painfully relatable at times but also in a way where I’m like, oh, no, I’m looking in a mirror at something that I probably don’t want to see. Yeah, I really like her. Honestly, justice for Mayu. Justice for Mayu. She did not deserve what she got.
CY: When she sniffs the pop idol and she’s like, [Sniffs] “I can smell his sweat!”
CY: It’s like, oh no!
CAITLIN: Or she’s, like, excited at the idea of him seeing her panties. Well, she’s feminine but she’s feminine in the quote-unquote “wrong” way, right? She’s like a gal.
CY: And she dares to feel sexual desire.
CAITLIN: Yeah, she’s not like the sort of ideal Japanese femininity of being quiet and gentle. She’s loud. She’s…
CY: [crosstalk] She’s crass.
CAITLIN: She’s horny. Her fashion sense is kind of gaudy.
CY: And that’s why we stan a queen.
CAITLIN: And that’s why we love her. Watching her death scene, though, was kind of wild because Jared (for new listeners, my husband, the frequently mentioned Jared) almost died one time from falling in the shower.
CY: Oh no!
TONI: [rueful] Oh!
CAITLIN: In a different… Not with me. It was years before I met him, and it was in a different way because it wasn’t head trauma. He fell on the soap dish and it shattered and it sliced his back open and he almost bled out.
CY: Oh no, Jared, you got an anti-slip mat, bro? [Chuckles] Oh no! I’m glad he’s okay!
CAITLIN: Yeah. I’m glad too!
You know, actually, I want to go back to Chiyuki a little bit because I feel like we did not talk about her enough, because she’s such an awesome character.
She kind of ended up in this situation coincidentally. She remembered that she was dead even though she wasn’t supposed to, so she couldn’t be arbitrated. And then she just ended up being—because this is fiction and things just end up working out sometimes—just kind of the perfect foil to Decim, to someone who has a lot of thoughts and feelings about fairness and justice and how you can’t just judge people on a certain thing.
And maybe that was part of Nona’s design, that she’s sticking this girl with Decim because she and Decim are going to be able to work it out in particular.
TONI: Oh, wow.
CY: You know, that makes a lot of sense because when you think about the way that Decim and Ginti and all of the arbiters talk about humanity, it’s in these very, almost simplistic views of “Humans are going to human, and humans are these specific set of traits. And even if they don’t look like it, we have these devices and these ways to bring out those traits in them.”
Because when they elicit the emotional reaction, it’s just kind of bringing out the nastiness that I would say is kind of instinctive as a reaction when you’re really afraid. You know, it’s this desperation. It’s not really who these people are. And in some cases it is.
But yeah, I think having Chiyuki adds this humanity because you can’t just surface-level read a person and say, “Well, oh, they react this way.” You have to consider a lot more.
TONI: I also feel like Chiyuki’s interesting because she has so many different ideas about… I think she goes back and forth, depending on how hopeful or despairing she’s feeling or what she’s arguing about, [on] whether or not humans are so complex that they cannot be understood, or simple.
And I think it’s really interesting because that her going back and forth about that, I think, also represents a lot of the show’s going back and forth about “How do we understand people? Are they enormously complex creatures that have all these different sides that can never be understood, in which case, does that mean that they are ultimately solely responsible for their actions because only they can understand themselves? Or are they simple enough that you can manipulate?”
And you can see her going back and forth about this idea and kind of wrestling with those ideas as she’s contemplating her own death, as she’s contemplating the system, as she’s fighting Decim over and over again, and it’s really quite interesting to watch her use these different ideas about justice in her arguments with Decim, of which she has many.
CAITLIN: Yeah! Yeah. And I think that’s very true, because I feel like for most people how you feel about humanity will waver a lot from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Also, both sides are correct.
CY: Mm. And I think because of all those traits, too… I know this is supposed to be at face value, but it’s hard to not get into the weeds with Chiyuki because she is so complex and really does represent this kind of ever-evolving feeling of humanity.
Being human is (and I choose to think for better) is not a very singular experience, right? It’s not a very singular trait. It’s very hard to pin down a very specific, like, “if you could use one word to describe humanity.” The only word that comes to mind is “alive” for me, because you can’t do these singular readings.
And I think that it’s good that we can’t, especially when we’re talking about a show that’s talking about a system that we can overlay onto very real-life systems where if you do a singular reading, a lot of harm gets done.
TONI: She’s a complex character in a show about how people are both more complicated than you think and also… Anyways.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] There’s just so much there! And it’s all packed very well into just 12 episodes.
CY: Yeah, this show really is a marvel of what you can do in a single cour. And I’m sure this is not the first time I’m gonna say this while we’re talking about it, but I really lament that we don’t get to have that anymore, of shows that they kind of just say… like, they’re an original idea. A lot of things are adaptations, and we still do get original ideas, like one of my favorite anime this fall season is an anime-only original idea, but…
CAITLIN: Which one?
CY: Oh, it’s Akiba Maid War. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Oh, well, yeah, okay. Akiba Maid War—
CY: It’s so good! Oh my God.
TONI: [crosstalk] Loved that show! Best show this season. So funny!
CY: It’s so good. It made me buy a light stick. [Chuckles] But…
TONI: It’s the only show to make me laugh with a shot of a blender. I don’t think any other show is gonna make me laugh that hard with a shot of a blender.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Anyway.
CY: I kind of lament that a lot of shows aren’t given that license. It’s become less and less common as… I mean, and it’s kind of not possible to have a show like this. You can kind of choose to either… You can either have time and a good show, or you can have a budget and a good show, but you’re gonna have to sacrifice something, and this show is kind of the trifecta and I really wish a lot more original ideas like this could come about, that are really, really provocative. Because watching this made me think of Akudama Drive, another show that was a trifecta and also says ACAB! [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Planet With. The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. These are shows that, within the space of 12 episodes, tell a complete story that tackles very complex themes.
Now, I feel like we’re ready to talk a bit about Ginti, who is just the worst.
CY: [crosstalk] Yeah, I mean, just a great boy. Just a great boy.
CAITLIN: He’s terrible.
TONI: “A great boy”? [Laughs]
CY: [crosstalk] He’s so mean and I love him. He’s so mean. And I love that he’s like, “I’m five floors above Decim! I’m higher up in the tower,” and then Clavis is like, “It doesn’t really matter.”
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Aw, Clavis!
CY: “Doesn’t really matter, my guy.”
CAITLIN: Love Clavis.
CY: Ginti is great. I will say on this watch I found him a little bit more troubling because I don’t think I’ve ever read— So, here’s the hard thing with reading race and ethnicity into a series where none of the characters are set on our world except for Chiyuki: is that a character like Ginti that is ambiguously brown, him being so gruff and kind of rough-and-tumble compared to his fairer-skinned companions, um, doth not slap to some degree. [Chuckles]
It’s a little… And I don’t really have anything prolific to say about that other than it’s just that kind of “Oh, I never had thought about that before.”
CAITLIN: Oh, wow.
CY: Because none of these characters have an ethnicity, right? They’re all divorced from…
CAITLIN: Right, they’re not born into a culture.
CY: Right, they’re created. And so, I don’t want to necessarily read Japanese heritage onto the fairer-skinned characters because we have Chiyuki, who is Japanese. But also, it’s hard not to because they’re mostly dealing with people who visually look similar.
CAITLIN: Yeah, well, and Ginti… Well, Ginti’s bar is also more traditionally Japanese. I think it is a deliberate kind of mashup.
CY: Yeah. And it’s one of those things that, like I said, I don’t have big thoughts on, but I just noticed it and I was like, “Huh. That…” [Chuckles]
TONI: It’s also interesting because Ginti is like… I don’t know. All the other characters… it’s not just that they’re light-skinned; they’re literally Tim Burton pallor-of-death light.
CY: Yeah, like Helena Bonham Carter, eat your heart out. They’re very starkly different.
TONI: Yeah. So, Ginti just having skin that is even remotely similar to… I mean, when I see his skin tone, it reminds me of my own skin tone, as somebody from… my heritage is from the Hong Kong area. And that’s just like, “Wow! Interesting that he’s the one character who kind of looks a little bit like I might look if I worked out like ten times as much and had red hair.”
CAITLIN: By the way, I just glanced at the wiki. Ginti is six foot four.
CY: Jesus Christ!
TONI: Oh my God.
CAITLIN: Decim is 6’2”.
CY: Why are all these boys so tall? [Chuckles] Wait. Okay, Decim is not 6’2”, because Chiyuki’s like 5’7”.
CAITLIN: She’s 5’6”, yeah.
CY: And she wears heels and she’s still not that tall.
CAITLIN: I don’t know.
CY: I don’t know. I can’t judge heights. Who knows?
CAITLIN: I’m not great at… I mean, you also thought I was tall, so, you know…
TONI: [crosstalk] Honestly, Chiyuki is taller than me.
TONI: We should just all out our heights now on the podcast.
CY: [crosstalk] Yeah, how tall are you, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: I’m 5’4”. We talked about this before.
CY: Oh, right, I forget because you have big 5’11” energy.
TONI: I am [obscured by crosstalk], so…
CY: I’m the tallest! Ha-ha, I’m 5’8”!
CAITLIN: Anyway! Anyway, I think Ginti and Decim also make a really interesting pairing because the arbiters aren’t supposed to have emotions but they also very clearly have very different attitudes and feelings towards humanity. Like, Ginti is very cynical. He hates humans. Honestly, I’m surprised he even bothers with the arbitration process and he doesn’t just look at them and go, “You, to the Void. You, to the Void. You, to the Void,” because he hates everyone so much.
CY: Yeah, Ginti does not like us. Like, humans…
TONI: It is interesting why it is that Mayu is the one who makes him second-guess that.
CAITLIN: Right. Because Mayu is the kind of person who—well, we love her—a lot of people would find deeply annoying. And honestly, I might find her deeply annoying if I knew her in real life.
CY: And I think part of why they work is that Mayu reveals the selflessness of humans. She admits that she is a very selfish girl and that a lot of the things she does, she does and understands that people won’t like it.
But there’s also a really deep vulnerability in that, in saying, “This is who I am, and this is who I’ve chosen to be.” And I just really respect her for that and for her teaching Ginti that. Maybe he’ll be nicer.
TONI: I think, also, part of it is Ginti is somebody who’s always had his life, what it means to be a person—well, “person”… term used loosely—dictated by somebody else, right?
And here’s somebody who is choosing who she wants to be, who she wants to dedicate herself to, so single-mindedly that it causes her to make decisions that make no logical sense except through her own logic, versus him, who’s always had all of his decisions chosen for him, effectively, other than, “Am I going to send this person to the Void or not?” Right? But he has no choice about what he’s going to do. It is dictated for him.
And I wonder whether he sees her and is like, “Well, wow! Somebody who’s choosing who they want to be, even though it makes…” Yeah, it is interesting, even in contrast with Harada, who I’m not sure Harada really loved being an idol, for example, right?
CY: [crosstalk] Oh, I think he hates it.
CY: Dude hates it. [Chuckles]
TONI: So, yeah, I don’t know. I think I do wonder whether there’s a bit of that existentialist streak of “Well, she’s chosen who she wants to be and that’s interesting to me.”
CY: And it kind of swings back to that humanity aspect of… I like to think that Ginti experiences that and becomes a kinder person; maybe not a softer person, but a more understanding person who doles out arbitration with a little bit more thought.
CAITLIN: I mean, he’s interested in humanity. Even if he’s still kind of standing back from it, he finds it interesting.
All right. Which, I want to talk about the administrators and the managers of death, as well. I think it’s really interesting how most of them wear service people uniforms, like they’re just like waiters, whereas Oculus wears Bermuda shorts and he’s dressed like a frat boy!
CY: I was gonna say, he’s dressed like a dad! [Chuckles] He’s dressed like a dad. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, he’s definitely got a very bro-ish fashion sense. You know what? If it were a polo, it would be a frat boy. Button-down is more dad-ish. You’re right.
CY: Yeah. Yeah, he’s giving “We need to leave by three; otherwise, there will be bad traffic on the highway.”
CAITLIN: Oh, my God. You just… Oh my God. [Groans]
CY: Yeah! [Chuckles]
TONI: When I was first encountering him, I could not get a read on him. I was just like, “Who is this old dude? What’s going on here? Is he just kind of sad and wants some [obscured by crosstalk]?”
CY: And he’s actually the most frightening character in the show.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. The creeping menace, the lotus imagery around him…
CY: Mm-hm. That scene with Clavis where he reads his mind, literally?
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, he is Oculus. He sees all, you know?
TONI: [crosstalk] You mean, eats his face?
CAITLIN: A lot of just creeping menace. Honestly, the design work on the administrators is great. I can’t remember her name. It’s the girl with the dinosaur skull.
CY: Yeah! My other brown character. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Oh my God. I love her design so much.
CY: It’s such a cute one.
CAITLIN: She’s barely a character. But I saw her, I’m like, “I love her.”
TONI: That’s right! We barely see her! And every time I saw her, I was like, “Is this gonna be the antagonist of the show?” She looks so cool!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] “She looks cool! She must be a villain!”
CAITLIN: No, the least cool-looking character is the villain.
CY: No, she’s definitely one of my favorites, and I cannot remember her name either, but shout—
CAITLIN: It starts with a C.
CY: Shoutout to her. [Chuckles] Queen. And then you have Nona as a foil to Oculus, who… Nona kind of looks perpetually 19, 20.
CAITLIN: Oh, I would put her younger than that.
CAITLIN: I put her more around like 13.
CY: Oh, okay. That’s really interesting.
CAITLIN: I don’t know. Toni spends more time with teenagers than I do.
CY: Yeah, how old…
TONI: I would say she gives like 15. She reminds me a lot of my students at my… And I teach 15-year-olds, so I could see that.
CY: Yeah, she’s really interesting to me because you have this older man, but Nona’s has been active for 82 years. She’s been around. She’s been in her position for a really long time.
CAITLIN: Oh! Castra.
CY: Castra. Shoutout to Castra. [Chuckles] Queen! Yeah, I do wish we had gotten more of her. Great character.
CAITLIN: By the way, I’m looking at the wiki and the comments for Nona’s article… There are ship wars happening.
CY: Oh my God.
CAITLIN: That were being posted while the show was airing.
CY: That’s so funny. Who do people want to ship Nona with?
CAITLIN: I mean, Decim.
CY: Yeah, fair. Bad reading, though. But… [Chuckles]
TONI: Yeah, she’s kind of manipulating him.
CY: [crosstalk] She’s using him for this… Nona’s youthfulness undercuts the fact that she is kind of masterminding this really big… I think it’s fair to call it an experiment, to see if she can upend a system.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Yeah. No, she has picked out Decim as a test case for breaking down the system and exposing injustices.
CY: And it’s a very neutral decision, but neutrality can still be cruel. And I think that’s the one thing that is interesting, because Oculus is cruel but so is Nona. They’re just cruel from two very different angles.
CAITLIN: So, Nona is also one of the Roman Fates. She was the one that spun the life of thread and—creates the thread of life and creates life for mortal bodies. Which, I don’t have anything to analyze with that, necessarily, because I just learned that. But I think that—
CY: I mean, she creates Decim.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, she is intimately involved with death and life, and she has a greater interest in life than a lot of her peers, because she is the one who is saying, “Hey, maybe this system isn’t super fair.”
The planet billiards are super freaking cool, by the way.
CY: Yeah, when can I buy that?
CY: So cool.
CAITLIN: And kind of an interesting visual symbol for how these people are outside of the universe. They are outside of life, and it’s all a game to them.
CY: I was gonna say it’s a bit like the gods looking down from Olympus, right? They’re kind of just like… humanity is just an entertaining, kind of curious thing, but they’re also deciding our fate.
TONI: Yes, I can see that.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of very interesting visual symbolism going on in this show, kind of like the kaleidoscopic chandelier in Quindecim, the beauty of the mosaics of their memories, kind of stained-glass–looking. Decim’s spider; his threads are kind of spidery-looking. The mannequins… There’s just so much happening visually, and we’ve been kind of talking about it in terms of storytelling, because visual language analysis is not my strongest point. I think we all three are more like literary people in terms of how we think of things.
TONI: I could see that.
CAITLIN: Although, Toni, you do theater, which has also the visual element to it. But yeah, I actually was wondering, in terms of someone who has a lot of theater training, do you have any thoughts about the staging and the set pieces and things like that?
TONI: Oh, absolutely. I have a couple of them. I always noticed—took note of whenever the characters were being framed through the aquarium. We look at the character, and one character’s in the aquarium and one character’s out of the aquarium. It would always be that framing. It would almost always be Decim who is on one side and the humans that he’s judging on the other, right?
And that, to me, felt very symbolic, almost like you’re looking through glass that creates a sense of distance and separation and dehumanization of the human characters, right? Because it would almost always be the humans that were inside the aquarium when you’re looking at that framing. I noticed that, definitely.
I’m thinking of other things. There were definitely moments where Decim and Chiyuki were muttering things to each other and were like ten feet away, and I was thinking to myself like, “That’s amazing when these people don’t hear them. Because they’re over here spoiling the entire thing and these humans are just so preoccupied with their own things that they’re not even noticing.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, that is not terribly unrealistic. These people are completely wrapped up in their own situations, justifiably so.
Okay, thank you for listening to Chatty AF. I hope you have enjoyed our discussion so far. Next time, we will dig deep, deep into the themes that we kind of started to touch on this time but then veered away from, because we’re gonna do a two-parter! If you’re listening to this podcast and have not found our website, it’s at animefeminist.com.
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CY: It’s so good. It’s so good.
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So, thanks for listening, AniFam! Next time we will be talking in greater depth about the themes and their applications in real life. And remember… [Chuckles] This says: “Remember to use protection.”
CAITLIN: And it’s from the Kare Kano episode!
CY: Ah! Oh no!