Every year there is more thrilling anime to get excited about, whether it’s returning series or new shows. Anime has certainly gotten more ambitious in recent years and it continues to become easier to gain access to titles that haven’t made their way over to North America yet. In spite of America doing their part to make sure you’re getting as many fantastic titles as possible, there are two new series this year that rise above the rest and demand your attention. If you’re to watch any anime this year, it needs to be Assassination Classroom and Death Parade.
Coming from writer/director Yuzuru Tachikawa, who has had directing gigs on gems like Terror in Resonance, Kill la Kill, and Attack on Titan, this feels like his most powerful work yet. Based on the short film Death Billiards, which absolutely operates as a backdoor pilot for the show, Death Parade kind of has an amazing premise: when two people die at the same time, they are sent to a place called Quindecim, a limbo-ish purgatory.
There the two people play a competitive game against each other to determine which of them goes to Heaven and which one goes to Hell. Only the two people involved don’t realize they’re dead or a lot of the particulars of their circumstances. These games consist of things like billiards, darts, bowling, and even arcade games, in a wicked mesh of sensibilities as these things control their future. Just seeing the bizarre ways in which these traditional games are perverted is part of the crazy fun of Death Parade, too.
There’s a particularly brilliant execution of this idea in the “Death Arcade” episode where these two people see their lives broken down into finishing moves and sound bite slogans in an arcade fighter (which has a beautiful style that’s clearly evocative of Marvel Vs. Capcom). Each person gets to rotate through a character select screen, yet the only character they can choose is themselves. It’s a chilling sequence that also doubles as an interesting piece of commentary on fate.
While it’s certainly a concept-heavy show that focuses on the games at play, it’s truly about the characters that are playing them. Every episode acts as a mini character study while you slowly learn about these peoples’ lives and their regrets through it all. There is some really moving stuff going on here. The sort of thing that will bring you to tears even, and the genius backstories you’d get from Lost back when it was in its prime. This is a perfect sort of anthology presentation as (almost) every week presents you with a different pair playing a game for the outcome of their souls. And while something like this could seem repetitive or tiresome, there are genuinely fresh character dynamics at play each time, as well as clever twists to the games that plague these people. The rules are very much fluid and seeing the inspired ways people get around things or fudge the game is really exciting.
Again, Death Parade is just such a standout here with the creative mesh of the outlandish with the personal, which creates a wholly unique product full of emotion and insanity. While the creative aspects behind Death Parade are impressive, it’s also got a wonderful, atmospheric art design to it too, courtesy of Satoru Hirayanagi (Hakuoki, Another, Ai Tenchi Muyo!). The way Quindecim is composed mostly of shadows and stark colors is the perfect approach. The camera is always moving and it’s crazy how it can make something like a simple game of billiards look like a NASCAR race. Really smart stuff is going on here that refines the product even more.
The sound design is impressive to match, with Quindecim having an appropriately spooky feel. The music, by Yuki Hayashi (Haikyuu!!, Gundam Build Fighters, Blood Lad), knows when to amp up the tension in these competitions, often using a jazzy sort of score for the backdrop. There’s also some really fun, upbeat music going on in the opening and closing credits, too.
Assassination Classroom is another anime with a beyond-strong premise to fall back on. Basically a mysterious tentacled alien, who can fly at Mach 20 amongst a myriad of other abilities, has come to earth with the promise of destroying it in a year’s time. To prove that he’s serious and capable of this feat, he blows up 70 percent of the moon. The more perplexing element here is when this monster pledges that he wants to be a teacher. All of a sudden his students find themselves in an arrangement where they have a year to kill their teacher and earn a reward of 10 billion dollars, or experience the destruction of the earth. If that isn’t an amazing premise I don’t know what is.
Directed by Seiji Kishi (My Bride is a Mermaid, Astro Fighter Sunred, and most of the Persona anime series) and adapted by Yusei Matsui’s manga of the same name, their sensibilities make this bizarre show operate nearly seamlessly. Why it stands out amongst other anime is that this “one year” condensed timeline it forces upon itself adds a great deal of urgency and energy to the show. It really does add tension to it, as if time is running out here. There is also a small set of rules that control this universe and premise and seeing how these characters are hyper-aware of them and try to “outsmart” them is wonderful.
Every episode sets out to show how the students of Class-E (the end class, where all of the rejects and bottom students are sent) try to outsmart their monster teacher (who has been named Korosensai) and kill him. There’s something exhilarating about watching these young students try and murder their teacher in increasingly inventive ways every week, but what’s just as satisfying is how concerned Korosensai is with actually being a good teacher to these students.
The series shows him taking efforts to educate and improve these people, with the reason he’s become a teacher still being held a secret. Watching how good Korosensai is for these kids and the complicated relationship it’s creating is a great dynamic with much depth to it. It doesn’t hurt that their assassination attempts are truly creative and brilliant plans of action that are just fun to watch play out as well. Seriously, this show manages to turn things like a baseball, octopus, and gelato into formidable assassination weapons.
Assassination Classroom is gorgeous to look at, with it having a frenetic, fluid pace to it, as you’re often seeing dozens of frenzied hands attacking Korosensai at once. Furthermore, the artwork done with his tentacles showing how elastic they are and the freedom they have really goes above and beyond. It’s the perfect slick look to match the chaotic angle of it. Every episode manages to impress you in some new way with what they’re capable of doing with the tentacles and art.
Similarly, there’s catchy, quick music that matches the quarrelsome tempos that the show often operates in. The opening and closing themes are both a lot of fun, and the music by Naoki Sato (Space Battleship Yamato, The Eternal Zero, and the Rurouni Kenshin films) consistently matches what’s going on in a strong way.
And if you find yourself with some extra time on your hands, Comical Psychosomatic Medicine (Anime de Wakaru Shinryounaika) and the sequel of Durarara!! are also more than worthy of your attention. Comical Psychosomatic Medicine is a pill-sized five-minute show that tries to explain the many aspects of mental illness as well as specific disorders, using humor, pop culture, and puns as the tools. This show tries to educate you on these serious ideas as lightly as possible.
The supernatural, interconnected mosaic Durarara!!x2 is important to watch because this atmospheric follow-up has finally arrived after four years of waiting. This series is also creatively being presented in three sets. The first one is airing now, with the next one set for July, and the final piece of the Durarara!! story hitting in January 2016. They both lack some of the impact and creativity that Assassination Classroom and Death Parade do, but are still incredible pieces of animation.
Assassination Classroom and Death Parade are still in their infancy, with them only being a handful of episodes in but both showing extreme promise. They’ve become some of the shows that I look forward to the most each week, and as they dig deeper into their stories, this addiction only grows stronger. They’re both going to be incredible rides and you’d be foolish to not get in on them now, and with both series being simulcast by Funimation in North America, there’s really no excuse not to. You have no idea what you’re missing.