(This post is the first in a series called “12 Days of Anime“, a blogging tradition that encourages anibloggers–both novices and veterans alike–to look back on the past year and discuss 12 anime moments. There’s no registration process involved–just start writing daily posts about twelve of your memorable anime moments this year on December 14th and keep going until Christmas Day.)
“I…want to live again.” – Chiyuki
When you think of winter, certain things may come to mind. Cold, of course, and for places lucky enough to experience actual weather, winter means snow-bedecked neighborhoods, frozen ice ponds and snowball fights.Winter is host to the holidays, spending time with family and friends, the season of charitable giving and warmth.
Winter is also an ending, the season most closely associated with death.
“I’m sorry…for not valuing my life…for not understanding how you felt…for causing you so much grief…for not even letting you have a proper goodbye…” -Chiyuki
It’s weird to start off with this year’s 12 Days with a heavy topic but it’s important to remember that winter, like death, is a time of endings. The days dwindle and “die” into longer dark nights. Trees “die” in the sense that they shed their leaves, which crunch and crumble to dust as the trees prepare to slumber, only to awaken at spring’s warm call. Similarly, crops and most other plants that bring sustenance succumb to winter’s deathly chill.
As winter’s chill both kills and ushers in spring and rebirth, Chiyuki’s epiphanic moment of clarity in the face of the temptation of life, of starting over to wholly appreciate the life she had once so carelessly given up, is both a moment of death’s finality and transformation. Chiyuki realizes intuitively that she is finally dead but that only in death’s embrace has she had the opportunity to receive the ultimate blessing–a life after death. To seize the temptation to live would ironically to be shunning life itself–both the sacrificed life of another but her very own life as well.
“Even if they have nothing to do with me, somewhere, there is definitely someone else who cherishes them!”
Through her time with Decim in the Quindecim bar, serving as both his assistant, conscience and companion, she has, perhaps for the first time since her happier childhood years, been able to truly live.
By accepting her fate as a blessing rather than a curse, Chiyuki is able to overcome temptation’s seductive call to reverse death in return for the death of another. Because temptation’s allure, like Chiyuki’s trial, is itself an illusion. Reversing death is as impossible as reversing winter or the course of the seasons. Chiyuki’s decision to cherish life by accepting her death induces a transformative metamorphosis in the manner winter’s passing gives way to the warmth of spring. Her emotional acceptance of the finality of her death melts Decim’s frozen exterior, shattering his passionless arbiter’s facade to yield someone utterly and unmistakably human.
“I am terribly sorry! How this hurts…so this is sorrow!” -Decim
Decim abandons his arbiter’s position and joins Chiyuki not as an observer but as a participant in her grieving. Arms locked together in an embrace, they both weep for what has been lost, keenly aware of the pain their shared suffering has wrought and borne.
“What is the point of a judgment that isn’t accompanied by suffering? To suffer, yet stand firm–that’s what it is to live, isn’t it?” -Nona
As an arbiter and impartial judge of the dead, Decim is forbidden to harbor feelings for the souls he judges, but as Nona so eloquently points out, arbiters cannot judge humans without understanding their suffering and need emotions themselves. Compassionate judgment, rather than “righteous” judgment, becomes the modus operandi that Nona advocates for and that Decim, at the conclusion of the anime, exemplifies when he warmly greets the newly dead souls.
Death Parade, despite its cold underworld setting, is not so much a tale of a cruel winter of death but of a winter that lovingly renews, allowing souls to make peace with themselves and the lives they have lived and will continue to live again.