Chatty AF 186: Death Parade Retrospective – Part 2 (WITH TRANSCRIPT)

By: Anime Feminist June 11, 20230 Comments

Caitlin, Cy, and Toni celebrate the 10th anniversary of a cult classic and dig into its portrayals of women, motherhood, and the question of transformative justice.

Editor’s Note: This set of episodes was recorded before Cypress changed their name; the transcript will reflect both in their updated form.

Episode Information

Date Recorded: October 30th 2022
Hosts: Caitlin, Toni, Cy

Episode Breakdown

0:00:00 Intros
0:00:13 Harsher punishments for women
0:18:47 Portrayal of motherhood
0:27:11 Carceral Feminism
0:35:42 Reform (or lack thereof)
0:44:23 Buddhism: Transformative justice and cycles of abuse
0:57:17 Final thoughts
0:59:13 Outro

CAITLIN: Hello and welcome to part two of the Chatty AF Death Parade podcast for Anime Feminist. My name is Caitlin Moore, 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, once again, are my fellow staff member Cy and repeat contributor Toni Sun!

TONI: Hi! I’m Toni Sun. I’m a repeat contributor at Anime Feminist, where I’ve written articles about Madoka and Sarazanmai. Currently working on another article for them. I am a teacher and sometimes organizer, and I like to write about abolition politics and anime and culture and teaching. And you can find me on Twitter at @poetpedagogue, where I post about pretty much everything.

CY: Love it. My name is, as you all know, Cy, and I am a staff editor here at Anime Feminist as well as a Japanese-to-English light novel and visual novel editor. You can find me on Twitter @pixelatedlenses, where I also talk a lot about being Black, intersectionality through anime, and lots of cool things.

CAITLIN: So, you may be asking yourself, “Why a two-part retrospective instead of just doing a watchalong?” And the answer to that is Death Parade has a lot to talk about, is a very thematically dense work, and it only really works when you talk about it in its whole instead of splitting it up into chunks. So, I was going to do a one-episode one, and I looked at the show notes and I said there’s just way too much to talk about to fit into one hour, I will die, and we will not be able to talk about anything in any kind of depth. [Chuckles] If we try, I will die and I will be sent to be judged and I will be carrying all these unfinished-business feelings about not being able to finish talking about Death Parade, and I might get sent to the Void. So…

CY: [Chuckles] Oh, no. [Laughs]

CAITLIN: [Chuckles] That’s how that works, right?

CY: That’s how it works, exactly. Exactly.

CAITLIN: So, if you are listening to this episode without listening to the first part, I do recommend going back because we do talk about the beginnings of some of the topics that we’re going to cover with this one. And yeah, let’s just jump in and get into it. Let’s talk about themes!

So, something that comes up a lot with Death Parade, specifically in our community, people who talk about anime through a feminist lens, is that women seem to get punished more harshly in this show. Just in the first episode alone, (what’s his name?) Takashi is really, really terrible to her. He tries to attack her! And yet, she cheated, he gets sent to be reincarnated, and she gets sent to the Void. And so, I took note of that, as well, my first time watching it. And in my second time watching it, seeing it knowing what the show talks about ultimately is… Is that intentional? Is it deliberate that women come from harsher circumstances, they are more likely to have that kind of desperation, or that they are socialized to kind of cover up and assuage men’s feelings and therefore what they say and their choices lead them to be more harshly judged as worse people, basically?

CY: Yeah, I think it’s this really interesting playing straight of the notion of women being very self-sacrificial. The actual outcome of that is that when women sacrifice… And I should say, I’m using “women” very specifically talking about cis women because this is something that I think if you’re a marginalized gender you experience as well. I can certainly say I am not a woman, but I experienced this by proximity to Black womanhood and being raised as a Black woman despite not at all identifying. But I think in the case of cis women specifically, when you encourage an entire gender category to sacrifice, this is the only outcome that can come, is that the person sacrificing is going to be in a lot more pain because of how much they’re having to give up and how much autonomy. 

And so when you think about that first episode… Because I rewatched it this time and what became immediately clear to me was… I was like, oh! Yeah, she’s just throwing herself wholeheartedly into the situation because she knows the truth and she understands what drove her to this one-time incident where she did cheat. But she also understands that there’s nothing she can do to convince… what is his name, Takashi?


CY: Yeah, there’s nothing she can do to convince him of her innocence. So, what’s left to lose if you’re already dead? And it’s really grim! It’s really grim and it’s very unsatisfying, but I also think that it’s kind of the brutality of when you look at encouraging marginalized people to sacrifice. It’s really nightmarish. It’s a very nightmarish end.

TONI: If I could add a transfeminist perspective, it’s not just cis women but also trans women. If you’re a transfem or trans girl and you engage in that, if you refuse that, then it’s referred to as part of your quote-unquote “male” socialization to invalidate your gender, right? And so, it’s really interesting how these ideas get weaponized to push all women into forcing themselves to self-sacrifice or have their gender policed either through, with trans women, misgendering, or through just brutal violence with cis women.

I think it’s also interesting to me that Chiyuki explicitly pretty much calls out Decim for having a misogynist reading of what was going on. She’s like, “That was terrible. Clearly, that woman…” Well, I mean, she seems a little unsure of herself when she says this, but she seems like she’s developing her ability to talk back, to talk back to the system. But she says, very explicitly, yeah, this woman clearly was trying to protect her husband’s feelings about killing his own baby, right? So, over and over again, she’s protecting this man from the consequences of his own actions, whether it’s the consequence of him killing both of them or killing the baby or trying to steal her dart and hurt her. And it really hurts that, then, for that, she ultimately…

CY: Eternal suffering!

CAITLIN: Yeah! And there’s so much going on with that because (A) she is judged more harshly for cheating on him the one time than he is for literally driving them to their death with his jealousy.

CY: It evoked the same feelings that I have around the conversation of sexual assault and rape, especially in the States, of “What was she wearing?” “Did she create a situation that could have invited it?” And she cheats once, clearly regrets it, did it because her husband would not stop suspecting that she was cheating. And she sacrifices, and as we know from the show, the Void is just endless awareness that you are suffering, forever and ever, which is horrible. And he gets a second chance.

And Toni, I really appreciate you adding a transfeminist readingrating because I will fully admit, while I am trans, I do think that being raised AFAB sometimes obscures my ability to word what I feel and include trans women, and I do think it’s important because I think trans women and transfems have to prove themselves twice over as being willing to sacrifice in order to fit a very specific mold. And there’s an inherent cruelty in asking someone to prove themselves that I can’t speak to but I think should be spoken to, especially in context of this.

CAITLIN: I do think there’s also a very cruel irony that women are expected to self-sacrifice, that we are judged if we are not self-sacrificing, as being improperly womanhood. But then that socialization… because she is sacrificing herself to try to save Takashi’s feelings, she gets sent to the Void. She is trying to do what has been kind of drilled into her, is the woman’s role in the relationship, and that role gets her consigned to the Void! It’s horrible!

TONI: Right, because partly to do that, engage that role, she has to perform a stereotype of the conniving, crazy woman. She purposefully plays the stereotype so that she ultimately performs the thing that he suspects that she is, and she placates his bizarre male gaze, right? And then she’s punished for it. 

And it reminds me of when I’m working with children and there’s teachers who are constantly going on and on to them like, “Oh my God, you’re just the worst kid, blah blah blah blah blah,” or yelling at the class and being like, “Oh, my God, y’all are the worst! You need to stop talking!” All these different things. And then the class feels terrible, so they’re like, “I guess I’ll just play that, if that’s gonna help you feel…” And I don’t think that it’s necessarily an act of kindness on that class’s part, but there is this element of… people often… the oppressive circumstances often force people to become what they’re being stereotyped as and then punish them for being that stereotype.

CY: It’s a very cruel inversion of rising to someone’s expectations, right? If you’re told you are this negative or pejorative thing over and over again, eventually it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of “If no one’s going to expect better of you, what point is there?” And in the context especially when you get into BIPOC people, it’s really horrible! And it’s really quite cruel. And I get the feeling the show is certainly going to circle to this, because what stood out to me from Machiko’s punishment is she’s punished and then Decim realizes in episode 2, like “Oops! I made a mistake,” and he’s just scolded! He’s just scolded, and it’s too late!

CAITLIN: Yeah, no, like, this woman is in the Void!

CY: Yeah, you don’t take a dip in the Void and get to come back. She’s gone! She’s just… And she’s gonna have to suffer the rest of eternity knowing that she didn’t do these things that she claimed for the sake of performing her gender. And meanwhile, I guess her husband just gets to go on and be reincarnated and have a good second life. And that moment when Decim realizes like, “Oh, I was wrong?” it’s just like, yeah, dude! You were! But it’s too late. It’s too late. You’ve already cast aspersions, and this person doesn’t get a second chance. The decision was made.

TONI: And it’s also interesting because Nona is then like, “Both of y’all are wrong because clearly this guy is irredeemable!”

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] He’s horrible!

TONI: “They could never have had a happy life because this guy would constantly have suspected her of cheating.” And what’s interesting about that is the question of… and I guess this is gonna get into what we’re going to talk about later, which is about people as constantly changing or fixed. But there is this question when we’re working with abuse… And I think abuse is one of the constant throughlines of the show, and it’s really interesting how the show thinks about abuse, because there’s this question of: is abuse something that eventually you become so accustomed to doing that you cannot stop doing it? Or is it something that we can engage in transformative justice and change a person with enough work to rehabilitate them? And that is a very open question in transformative justice work. There’s many transformative justice organizers who simply are not interested at all in rehabilitating the abuser; all they’re interested in is [disciplining] the abuse.

CY: I think we’ve gotta dip into carceral feminism because, Toni, that’s just setting us up for it! We’ve got to talk about it! Gotta talk about it.

CAITLIN: Oh, but I also wanted to kind of dip into talking about Misaki.

CY: Okay, okay, let’s do that. Let’s do that. I can save my big feels.

CAITLIN: Because that is also another discussion of abuse. Misaki is a woman who has… She got pregnant young, married the man. She has married and been abused by men over and over. She has seven children; all of their fathers hit her. And now she has found a place in life where she has been successful, but she’s also desperate for that success and she also doesn’t know anything but violence. She hits her assistant for scheduling something during what was going to be family time, because—

CY: She’s a product of her environment.

CAITLIN: Yeah. Because her children are precious to her. And it wasn’t right to hit that assistant. But then also, when she is playing that game, she is told her life is at stake, and she has been beaten and abused over and over and she knows that she’s not good at video games unlike this young man that she’s playing against. And so she turns to desperate measures. What do you do with that? She gets sent to the Void. Is that fair? It honestly…

CY: It hurts.

CAITLIN: It hurts! Because what she did was wrong, right? It was so wrong. But also, how else was she supposed to handle it with the life that she’s had?

CY: And that’s the thing. I feel like in that episode… and I don’t know if it’s just a case of “There’s not room,” but what stuck out to me this time is that at 30, having the understanding of someone can do wrong and that wrong can come from a place of, like, they did not grow up with better… And also, this expectation that we have people who have been victimized by abuse, that they need to be better, they need to be like paragons of goodness to prove that they have risen above, instead of the fact that abuse alters every part of you. Every part of you. It alters how you react to fear. It alters how you can be kind. It alters… And also, why do we expect abused people to just be kind and gracious as if they have not suffered?

And so, it’s really horrible seeing that this woman who… And it’s never touched upon, but I definitely was like, are these children products of rape? She has five kids that she loves, but is part of what’s going on here… she loves them, but also, these children are reminders of her abuse. And so, you have that, and she goes to the Void because she has one bad day. She has one bad moment and does brutalize a guy. Which, that’s bad. Yes, we can definitely agree that beating up a guy and slamming his face into an arcade machine is bad. But she has one bad day, and that cost her everything.

CAITLIN: And I love that Death Parade doesn’t give you an answer. Right? It doesn’t say, “She goes to the Void, but also the whole system is being called into question.” So, I do feel like women are more harshly treated in this show, but also, I have the sense that it is a deliberate thing. And it’s not spelled out, which can sometimes make that harder to… Viewers don’t always suss it out because anime usually spells things out, right? But on discussion, on contemplation, I really do feel like that had to have been a choice.

CY: It feels like a critique.

TONI: I also think there’s an interesting question of motherhood. And I think motherhood is a theme that comes up over and over again, like different mothers who have different kinds of experiences. In that same episode, Yusuke’s [sic] stepmother is trying to prove herself to be a good mother to him, right? And it’s ultimately Yusuke’s [sic] stepmother, the food, and him accepting her as his mother that allows him to beat this mother. 

And there was this kind of question at the heart of that that’s like: is this show contrasting Misaki with the real good mother? But I don’t think that’s what it’s trying to do. But it is interesting that there’s these moments where there’s two different mothers who are shown to be caring and loving and still their children end up committing suicide. And what’s interesting is the show never blames those mothers for their children’s death. Which, of course, good. Obviously. [Chuckles] And also, I think that… We’re gonna get more into the suicidality later in the show, because there’s a lot going on there.

CY: But I will say, this episode in particular felt to me like a critique that you could look at from… Whether you’re talking about Japan specifically or you’re talking on a more global scale, people who are marginalized are often put into abusive situations. That is just a fact, that, to a degree, the more marginalized you are, the more society is willing to kick you around. It’s a really horrific fact. And I have nothing kind to say about that because as a Black, queer trans person, yeah, it’s an injustice. But when it comes to motherhood as a concept, this episode is really interesting because what it says is like, if you are perceived as a mother, you are never allowed to have a bad day. Because if you do, if you do, what’s going to happen is you’re gonna lose it all. And unfortunately, in Japan and in the world at large, that’s not untrue.

CAITLIN: No, mothers have to be paragons.

CY: I think of, on TikTok in 2020 and 2021, the spate of Karen videos of mothers that when you sometimes— I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there, there aren’t, especially in this case specifically, white cis women that are playing into that kind of Karen archetype that has now become a just popular vernacular term. But I think of people getting captured on their worst day, in their worst moment, who maybe just don’t actually behave like that but something has just pushed them. 

And this is kind of this interesting lens of… Misaki had one bad moment that happened to be viewed. And that’s not to say she hadn’t been rude before. Obviously, she had, because her assistant strangles her, which is also bad. But she had one bad time as a mother and just wanted to try and rise to the standard of mother. And she couldn’t, so her punishment is literally death. And it’s just this very pointed commentary, especially when you think of Japanese motherhood and how you need to do this and this and that so that your child’s a good citizen, so that your child behaves, and all of those things, and how heavy that is to have on your shoulders.

CAITLIN: Yeah. It does kind of come back to the central core of “How fair is it to try to actively bring out the worst in people and judge them on that?”

CY: Yeah. Because if all three of us were judged by our worst moments, maybe we would all three be found worthy of the Void. I know certainly I’ve had some bad public moments.

CAITLIN: Oh, gosh, I can be mean. That’s what I tell my kindergarteners. Like, they were talking about how so-and-so… We have a child who has some developmental delays, specifically in social and emotional regulation. Without going a whole… sometimes they’ll be like, “Oh, well, she’s bad. She’s mean.” I’m like, “No one is just bad or just mean. Everyone can be mean sometimes. I’m mean sometimes.” And the first time I said that, they stared at me with their mouths open, like “What?” I’m like, “Yeah. I can be really mean!”

CY: And I’m someone who… I live with a mood disorder. And if I were judged for the times before I got treatment that helped me, certainly someone could cast aspersions. But am I worth that? Is anyone worth that? I think there’s a difference between people who are deliberately doing what we would consider an evil act versus someone who’s just having a real shit time.

TONI: I think about that sometimes. I teach high schoolers and middle schoolers, and I’m always under… Like, last year I was having a really horrible day, and a kid just came in and started videoing me when I was having a bad day, and I freaked out. I was like, “Y’all, please do not do that! What on earth!” And I was like, “Wait.” And then I thought back to all the times that I’d seen videos of teachers being bad to their students. And obviously, teachers need to work on it, but I do think teaching has a lot of parallels to motherhood in terms of how it’s treated in society and the expectations that are placed on teachers to be always this perfect… And you think about that: that’s being on for five hours out of your day, right?

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, if not more! If you’re working in early childcare, you’re probably with kids for eight hours.

CY: And I think it’s easy to elide the humanity of people that we think should be above it all and forget that they are human like the rest of us. It is very easy to think, “Oh, well, you’re a teacher, so you should be able to handle the classroom.” Look, I’m gonna be real. If I had to handle 30 children, maybe I would not be a nice person in one moment either. Maybe I would have a very human moment.

CAITLIN: Yeah, no, I have gotten really upset. Can be like, “I don’t want to be the mean teacher! But I don’t know how else to react when you’re acting like this!”

CY: Well, because you’re still a human. And I think that’s what makes Misaki so interesting. Like, yeah, sure, someone could say she rationally shouldn’t have done what she’s done. She should have risen above it and shouldn’t have let her trauma become such a part of her. But I think that often when people say that, (A) they have not experienced extreme trauma, (B) that’s two middle fingers to ya, and (C) you’re still a human. And to be human is to err, and it’s to feel. And I just don’t think she should have gone to the Void. [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: Yeah, no! She shouldn’t have. I mean, it makes me think of… Have you guys seen The Good Place?

CY: Yeah.


TONI: Yes, I’ve seen The Good Place.

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Death Parade kind of is like the other side of a similar coin to The Good Place, I think, because The Good Place is another show that is about death and judgment and, you know, how do you judge people? How is it fair to judge people when they’re the products of their environments and of their lives?

CY: Like I said, everyone is one bad day away from being judged as horrible.

CAITLIN: Yeah. So, yeah. Y’all, if you’ve watched Death Parade and you haven’t watched The Good Place, watch The Good Place. It’s honestly a really incredible show that has a lot of the same kind of ideas.

TONI: I know we were going to get into a conversation about carceral feminism, but I’m wondering whether that’s a conversation we can get into when we talk about judgment and impermanence and all that sort of thing or whether that’s something we should get into now.

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, let’s talk about that.

CY: I was gonna say, I’m always itching to talk about carceral feminism and my very big feelings on it. [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: Yeah. Toni, I think you were the one who added that to the show notes. And so, tell us about it.

CY: Yeah, I’m just gonna say, Toni, can you give…? Because I think carceral feminism is a term… Even though it’s been around since, I believe, about ’07, ‘08, I think it’s a term a lot of people don’t know, so could you give us a quick, few-sentence rundown of what it is?

TONI: Well, at its simplest, the idea behind what we term carceral feminist… and I doubt any carceral feminists would call themselves a carceral feminist. They would just call themselves a feminist. But the idea behind it is that the best way to protect women from sexual violence is to punish men who commit it more harshly through enhancing sentencing, so, increased length of period that they’re in prison, more heavy prosecution of men who commit sexual violence, and just general… And the critique of it, of course, is that it’s really just shoring up a prison-industrial complex that actually doesn’t really do much to support survivors of sexual violence., Iin fact, often harms them. 

So, I used to organize with a group called Survived and Punished. We would work with survivors of sexual violence who are put in prison before fighting back against their abusers. And one of the big things that we were always emphasizing is that the system actually functions more often to punish survivors of sexual violence than to punish the people who perpetrate it, and in the end, putting more people in prison very rarely actually leads to fewer instances of sexual violence. Because what do those people who commit rape do in prison? They rape people. 

Trans women, for example— I think I read a statistic somewhere that said that just a humongous number… I forget whether it was 34% or 54% of trans women experience rape in prison. So, at a certain point… And I think that this relates to Death Parade especially because of the two-episode piece where we’re talking about men’s reactions to their sister, their wife, somebody in their lives, some woman in their lives being raped, and their desire to protect those women through vengeance.

CAITLIN: Oh, man, there is a lot in those episodes.

TONI: [crosstalk] And hoo boy! The moment where that… What’s his name? What’s the name of the young boy?

CY: His name is… um… Oh, gosh, it is… Shimoda [sic], I believe?

TONI: Yeah, Shimada. The moment where he decides that he is going to do the horrible thing, do the thing, is when the other person goads him on and says, “You need to protect women.” And there’s a very interesting quote where the detective… And this is a detective. This is literally the embodiment of the prison-industrial complex. He’s a cop he is talking to, right? This cop character literally says to him, quote-unquote, “If you can’t protect someone you love, all you can do is kill the other guy.” They’re really giving away the game here, that the prison-industrial complex does so little to actually protect women from sexual violence but so much to shore up this false sense of safety—

CAITLIN: It’s all reactive.

TONI: —that if something horrible happens to us, if we get raped, if we have something like this happen, we’ll be able to get justice. We’ll be able to get vengeance even if we are not actually safe. Right? And I think this show is very clear about that, and especially through that detective character and what he ultimately was!

CY: You have the gut punch of the detective being like, “But I needed to see her get assaulted!”


CY: “I needed to see the crime play out so I could have a reason to take this dude out.” And I was like, “What?” because I did not—

CAITLIN: That was shocking when that happened.

CY: That did not hit until this time, for a lot of very personal reasons. And I had to roll back because I was watching the dub and like… So, the English hit, and I was like, “Excuse me?” And he says, yeah, he has to watch the crime occur so that he can have a reason to go and take this dude out, which is a whole other issue. But, you know, the result being that this detective really does uphold the system, and the system says that if you do a crime, the best thing the state could do is decide if your life is worthwhile. 

And oftentimes, depending on where you are in society, your life isn’t worthwhile. And the thing that stuck out for me in episode 9 when they’re talking is that the detective says some people need to be put down. And he says it’s society’s trash. But what counts as society’s trash, right? Because if we go back to Misaki, she would be society’s trash. She’s a single mother with a bunch of children and the most—

CAITLIN: Got knocked up as a teenager.

CY: Yeah. And she’s using her femininity to work. She’s on a reality TV show. She is primed for society to hate. She’s exactly what we love to hate in femininity. And so, she would be society’s trash. A lot of these characters could count as that. And those two episodes really epitomize the show’s kind of thesis on the system, which is that maybe the system isn’t good. Maybe it’s bad. Maybe it’s really bad. And that’s what Nona’s trying to change. Like, if there’s humanity in the system, how do we treat people who have been so bereft of humanity?

Which, I think, safe to say, I’m very against extending jail sentences. I mean, as a Black person, I feel some kind of way about the prison-industrial complex to begin with, seeing as policing came about due to a confluence of believing that runaway slaves had a mental disease as well as that they needed to be kept as property. So I’m not really for the police. But when I think of the show and the system, saying that you should extend someone’s suffering is the most inhuman thing that we can decide as a society. It’s cruel. It’s just cruel. And to look at someone and say, “I think that you’re society’s dregs, and as such, I’m willing to pay money so that you stay in prison and never get a second chance,” is the cruelest thing we can do.

TONI: And something that I think about in that moment of the gaze, the watching of the violence happening, is there’s a sense that all the different times where… You know, there’s so many different apparatuses that the state sets up to surveil the violence that happens to us and enumerate it and quantify it. And Saidiya Hartman kind of talks about it… I know I’m bringing in the theory, but Saidiya Hartman talks about, in Scenes of Subjection, the constant iteration of, especially Black suffering, but suffering more generally as this kind of scene, this kind of almost borderline entertainment, but never actually leading to anybody taking action to prevent the violence, but only used to judge society or to judge people, but never to actually “Okay, let’s see how we can end this system that is systematically harming people.”

CAITLIN: So there’s this kind of feeling of this tension at the end, because I feel like a lot of stories about creating some systemic change end in this big revolution and things are different now. Right? But that’s not how it goes in Death Parade. At the end, Decim is changed.

CY: Irrevocably.

CAITLIN: Yeah. And Decim’s… his feelings are changed; his sense of humanity has changed. He can see humans with empathy, which was what they wanted to avoid, right? The idea is that arbiters should not feel emotions because that kind of takes away from their impartial judgment, and they cannot experience death because it would make them too similar to humans. And Decim is no longer impartial. He tries to see from the perspectives of humans. He feels fondness for humans.

CY: He cares.

CAITLIN: Although he always had that respect for a life well lived, right?

CY: Right. But now he cares about that life. That life has meaning,

CAITLIN: But the system is still there in place. And Nona has backed off from it, from trying to create that change, because Oculus is watching her a little too closely. That kind of hampers her ability to do anything. If she keeps trying to do this project, this reform, then that could mean huge consequences for her without anything actually changing on a grander scale. And it’s a very downbeat, more realistic ending than a lot of these series, I think. And I’m just curious, how do you guys feel about that?

CY: I actually found myself this watch feeling this deep sense of optimism because, yes, the system is still in place, but the fact that there is one person who has changed, who is starting to see that we have to administer death with humanity gave me a lot of hope, partially because I think we’re having that conversation on a bigger scale in the States of who has the right to be human, who has the right to be perceived as themselves, as legally human, as legally (let’s just put it out there) trans, for instance, as legally able to vote, these kind of bigger questions. 

And I felt this sense of optimism from that finale, because it is very much so played straight. It’s a gut punch because you’re like, yeah, it’s gonna be another 82 years before she gets to change the system. But she pushed it and it stuck. Decim doesn’t get his memory wiped. He does that little smile at the end, and he gets to keep that part of himself. And I was like, you know what? Sometimes momentum is slow, and it hurts because it sucks that it takes so long for things, but I felt this kind of hope, that I was like, you know what? If he can change, so can others. Others can come around to changing the system. And who knows? Maybe there’s a future where the entire system is upended. So, yeah.

TONI: I might slightly disagree, if that’s okay.

CY: Oh, no. Yeah, please, please!

TONI: I find the ending really interesting. It reminds me of so many times that I’ve seen where people try to change a system and then just get stomped down so hard. Now, admittedly, Decim himself doesn’t get punished super hard, but it’s very obvious that Oculus now has his eye on them. And to me, it’s like if any system where there’s still people getting sent down to a Void where they will be eternally suffering, at all, is messed the fuck up. 

And to me, it’s like very much… I almost feel like with Deca-Dence the director was trying to reach for the kind of revolution that he would like to create in this series. But I think there is a slight, not a failure of imagination, because I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, but a real struggle to imagine what a real revolution that actually abolishes these oppressive systems would look like when it comes from these individuals trying to change the system. And I think that that is an interesting struggle, and it’s a struggle that… I personally love to see that struggle. You see that same struggle when you watch Madoka and especially Madoka: Rebellion. You see that same struggle in so many different anime. And I think it’s interesting—

CAITLIN: [whispering] The Good Place!

TONI: It’s an interesting choice that Death Parade decides to be like, “Yeah, no. One person maybe can’t change a system on their own.”

CY: And I think my optimism might be coming out of, like, “God, I just love it when one person says, ‘I see humanity.’” And I think that, in and of itself, I have to question. Why do I feel so optimistic when one person sees my humanity? Like, what is it that…? That’s a very… Who knows? I’m probably going to write something because I have a lot of big feelings, because why do I feel that optimism this time of, like, “Wow, one person changed!”

TONI: [Laughs]

CY: “One!”

TONI: Yeah.

CY: [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: And once again, this brings me back to The Good Place, because I remember watching The Good Place as it was coming out and that kind of feeling of “Okay, well, they’re just going to change the numbers, and so now only bad people will go to hell.” But guys, spoilers for The Good Place. Skip ahead ten… Well, maybe stop listening here for a little while. They say, “No, to hell with it! Well, no, not to hell with it. To hell with nothing! The whole concept of hell is wrong because people come out of the systems that they were born into and people are, for the most part, just doing their best.”

CY: Right. Well, and I think that’s what’s so impressive about Death Parade, because Death Parade does push back in the finale of the concept of “There’s no evil. There’s no pure evil. That just doesn’t exist.” There are people who do make choices. Those acts in and of themselves can be horrible, but pure evil as someone being born into that does not exist.

CAITLIN: Yeah, and The Good Place ends with abolition.

CY: I gotta get on watching The Good Place. [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: Death Parade doesn’t do that. And I appreciate that it… Actually, I don’t think it does have that optimistic feeling of, “Well, one person changed. Therefore, that can lead to the whole system changing.” It says, “Well, one person changed. But now what?” And it doesn’t have an answer for that.

CY: I actually really appreciate you both pushing back because I do think what I’m experiencing is… Yeah, I think my excitement was I was like, “Oh, one person saw humanity! Yay!”

CAITLIN: Yeah. And listen, we love Decim. We love Decim here.

CY: We love Decim, but Decim’s not enough. There’s a whole tower of people that need to see. There’s a whole system in place that has to change.

CAITLIN: 7,000 people are dying every hour, and they’re all being judged.

CY: Yeah. And with that, they’re not getting long judgments. They’re having to work through real quick. You know, we’re getting 24-minute anime episodes, but who’s to say that in reality, that time, that’s a mere snapshot of the amount of time they’ve got to move through. Yeah, yeah. It’s going to take a lot to even get to reformist for the system, but it’s certainly going to take a lot for them to get to abolitionism.

CAITLIN: Toni, do you want to talk a bit about the Buddhism and the transformative justice and cycles of abuse?

TONI: Yeah, I feel like we touched upon it a lot when talking about… Is her name Misaki? Misaki, right? We talked about that quite a bit. But in general what I was gonna say is I think that a large part of the show is questioning of “Are people static or constantly transforming?” And one of the main Buddhist ideas about identity is that we are constantly changing and that the idea of a self is an illusion. Even our sense of selves is an illusion. And so, that means that we can change and will change. We don’t have to be stuck in a continuous cycle.

But yeah, I think what’s interesting to me about (and I guess maybe this can lead into a discussion of how the show applies to our lives)… is how that relates to the show’s larger critique of organized abandonment, because I think a large part of what the show is arguing is that so many people in our society are effectively… Organized abandonment is a concept that comes from Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who’s an abolitionist theorist. And she essentially argues that certain groups of people are consigned to suffering by our society in systematic abandonment. They’re put in prisons; they are not protected; they experience horrible violence on the street; they’re put in homeless shelters. 

I think what the show is calling out is how the people who experience that kind of organized abandonment of certain groups are then judged for what they do to survive, when they have been abandoned by society. And then they are hyper-labeled. They are labeled with “This is who you are. What you do to survive is who you are, and you will never change.” And we can see that in the way the show talks about Misaki, especially how the show talks about Shimada. And he is very explicitly experiencing that organized abandonment as an orphan.

CAITLIN: Mm-hm. And Japan specifically, they don’t have a big adoption system or a foster care system, so most children who end up institutionalized, they don’t… That’s it. That’s their entire childhood.

CY: And I would say, when you consider things like a family register and how important being tied to a family is, that’s isolating if you don’t have that tie.

CAITLIN: People die because they’re not on family registers and they can’t access benefits.

CY: Yeah. And Toni, I was thinking about what you said about people being systematically abandoned for what they do. I mean, if listeners need an American example, think of how they talked about people in the wake of George Floyd, how they called them rioters and looters, when people were taking back things that they don’t get. Yeah, you can look at somebody carrying out a 52-inch and be like, “They don’t really need that.” But when you’ve had nothing your entire life, something feels real good. Something feels like “Well, everyone wants something.” You know? This show is deep. [Chuckles] It’s so deep!

CAITLIN: Yeah, I do want us to talk briefly about how this show and the scenes kind of touch our lives. Toni and I are both teachers. Cy… Cy, you have been a teacher.

CY: Yes.

CAITLIN: And so, I think a lot about specifically (I talked about it a little bit earlier) the concept of someone being bad or mean and, instead of that, thinking about “Well, what is lacking for this child?” And so, in my classroom for this year, I’ve put a lot of focus on creating a feeling of belonging, particularly with this one child who I’ve been working closely with a lot, and helping the other children to not judge her and to kind of greet her where she is. And the difference between the child who walked into the room that first day and the child that we have now is night and day. 

If I had just sat down and judged her when my co-teacher tried to talk to her for the first time and she yelled, “Get out of my face!” or just randomly calling people stupid jerks, I would have been like, “Well, we have this problem child,” regarded her as a problem child the whole year. But instead, trying to find what she needs, I can see all of the amazing things about her and the other children are seeing all the amazing things about her.

CY: Everybody needs a little humanity. That’s so often just viewing someone as an equal and as a human.

CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Yeah, and it all ties into the organized abandonment, the justice and judgment. It all really comes together.

TONI: Right. Because if teachers are going around telling each other, “Oh, this kid is a problem child, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and then encouraging each other to effectively abandon that child in that moment, try to get them out of your classroom, then you are engaging in organized abandonment. right? And I see that every single day when I teach. So often, I would be teaching and I would be talking to an English teacher, I would be talking to her and she would mention a student and be like, and she’s the English teacher and she’d be like, “Yeah, somebody needs to teach this child to read.” And I’m like, “Girl, you’re the English teacher! What is happening here?” 

But the thing is that it’s not her individual fault. The system was not set up to give her the tools to be able to support that child. And because of that, a child is experiencing organized abandonment, where they’re not having any of the tools that they need to be able to succeed in the classroom, and then they’re being read as deviant or whatever. So often, when I—

CAITLIN: They get failed!

TONI: Yeah.

CAITLIN: Which is a judgment.

TONI: Right. And it’s really pertinent for me when I’m teaching… I teach mostly students who grow up under the violence of American racism. Most of my students are Black and Dominican, and they’re in the Bronx, and they experience all the violence that comes with being in a low-income community in New York City—and, of course, all of the creativity and brilliance that they bring to those circumstances and to make beauty out of these experiences. 

But often what I see is just the students get suspended over and over again, and then what ends up happening with those students who get suspended over and over again is that they become even more alienated from the school and they feel like the school does not want them there. It leaves them to reasonably, quite reasonably, reject the care that I give them in, which reminds me of that quote from Chiyuki where she’s talking to Decim, where she’s like, “Yeah, sometimes I guess you give them a hug before you throw them in the Void.”

CY: Right.

CAITLIN: Oh! Called him out.

CY: [crosstalk] When she reads him for filth! Mm!

TONI: Right. And as a teacher, I so often get the sense like, “Wow, I act like I love these kids, but if a kid is doing something that is against the school rules, will I still write them up in a way that will end up getting them suspended?” Do I give them a hug on their way to the prison house? Of course, you know, talking about the trajectory of what we call the school-to-prison pipeline. So, how does one act as a disrupter in that system where you are only one person? It’s hard, and you can be punished so severely for it. So, often, as a teacher, you end up in the position of Decim and you’re just like, “Oh, what do I do? This just hurts more, now that I know what’s going on!” [Chuckles]

CY: For me, inclusive of the school-to-prison pipeline, this series made me think a lot about arbiters of death via hate crimes. And it made me think a lot of how we are now living in a time where there are a very specific group of white neo-Nazi nationalists that are playing arbiter and judge, jury, and executioner via hate crimes to decide who gets to have humanity and who doesn’t, whether that’s through legislation, whether that’s through pulling the trigger on a gun. This show in 2022 is very hard to watch without thinking about the very real-world ramifications of what it’s talking about.

And I will say the one really positive thing for me that the show has reapplied is how I think about disability, because Chiyuki is someone who becomes disabled later in life. And I can say, for me, I have that experience. I have always been disabled. I did not identify as someone disabled until much later in life because I didn’t really understand. And I think growing up in an able society, we’re often taught that if you don’t have a mobility aid or a visual marker that you can’t count, whereas I have chronic fatigue and I have PCOS; I have to nap every day. If I get too cold, if certain things happen, I’m laid out. 

And so, this show really has made me want to actively restructure my own internal abilization around, like… you know, when you’re disabled, you have a right to life, too. And I think the finale really is a reminder that like, hey, treat your disabled friends and loved ones with humanity because you do not understand sometimes if you’re able-bodied how tenuous life can be and how hard it is to feel like you have a right to live. I’m sorry, I’m tearing up! [Chuckles] I’m so sorry.

TONI: Oh, absolutely. I really connect with that!

CAITLIN: Oh, no! It’s okay!

TONI: For me, I became really severely disabled a couple years ago. Well, I ended up in a position where I was having migraines like 24/7. I would be in constant, constant pain. And that made it so that, like Chiyuki, the thing that I had built my life around… I used to be a professional saxophonist or aimed to be, at least. I was working towards it, and I was getting gigs. And I could not do that anymore because every single time I would do it, I would be in even worse pain. And I realized at a certain point this year that I would never probably be able to play the saxophone again at that level. Maybe I could pick it up once a year, but I would never be able to play every single day again. And that feeling… There’s two things to that: both this sense of having to completely restructure your life and really choose, so intentionally, who am I going to be, now that I am not that?

CY: We are hitting a point where COVID-19 is now going to be a part of our daily lives. But what also comes with that is we are hitting a point where about a third of society is some level of disabled. And I think the cruel thing is we are all taught to not expect to ever be disabled unless something bad happens and then if it happens that’s the end of your life. And that’s really horrible, I can say, as a disabled person who very much so has a good life. What a horrible thing to tell people. But we’re entering a period where disability is gonna have to be a topic. We’re gonna have to talk about the humanity. And there’s a bigger conversation. There are going to be some people who are going to make choices and I respect if that is what they personally want to. But, you know, like…

CAITLIN: Real though…[unintelligible]

CY: We gotta wrap up! We gotta wrap up, though!

CAITLIN: We gotta wrap up! We’re over!

CY: [crosstalk] Big thoughts! Look for the articles coming to AniFem!

CAITLIN: Vrai’s gonna give me dirty looks again.

CY: [Chuckles] Oh no! I can feel them from the East Coast. [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: [crosstalk] This happens every time I host.

CY: Really good conversation.

CAITLIN: So, any final thoughts?

CY: So glad we got to talk to you, Toni!

CAITLIN: Yeah! It was so great having you.

TONI: It’s so great to finally get to talk to y’all. AniFem is what got me back— God, I feel so corny. AniFem was what got me back into anime. I was looking for anime that wouldn’t make me want to claw my eyes out, when I was getting back into anime after taking an eight-year hiatus. And then finding AniFem and the community really was like, “Oh, wait! Anime can be connected to the things I give a crap about, like resisting organized abandonment or figuring out what it means to be a disabled person.” All these things in this show and this discussion really encapsulates what I love so much about anime and what it can mean when you’re watching it and trying to understand your life as a disabled person, as somebody who’s experienced organized abandonment. And yeah, so, just thank you so much for having me.

CY: Yeah!

CAITLIN: Yeah! Of course, I’m so happy that… You know, I got so excited when I realized that my Death Parade watch was coming up on the heels of you watching it and that we were going to be able to have this conversation. Cy can verify I came crashing into the AniFem Discord saying, “I want to do a Death Parade podcast! If I can’t get two more people here, that’s fine. In fact, I almost kind of hope I don’t because I want to have Toni on!”


CAITLIN: I didn’t actually say all that out loud, but it was what I was thinking.

CY: Can confirm.


CAITLIN: Anyway, um… [Exhales sharply] All right. Time to gather our feelings together and wrap up. Thank you all so much for listening to Chatty AF. I hope you enjoyed our discussion. I hope we gave you a lot to talk about. Thank you again to Cy and to Toni for being here with us.

If you are listening to the podcast and somehow you haven’t ended up on our website, that’s okay! We’re at and on Twitter @AnimeFeminist and Tumblr at animefeminist.

We also have lots of merch because we have the best logo on the entire internet. And if you really enjoyed this discussion and you want to support our work, you can donate to our Patreon. We have multiple cool benefits including a Discord server where you can talk to me and you can talk to Toni and maybe occasionally Cy. They’re not on it very much.

CY: [crosstalk] Discord scares me! [Chuckles]

CAITLIN: No! It’s so nice! [Chuckles] But we’re there! And we have fun there, guys. So for $5 a month, we would love to have you there. And if you can’t give $5, that’s okay. Even $1 a month would help.

Anyway, thanks so much for listening. And…

CY: Live long and prosper.

CAITLIN: Be kind to each other. [Laughs] Live long and prosper, and be kind to each other.

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