What struck me the most about the ice skating scene from Death Parade was the creeping feeling of dread I experienced as the sequence went longer… and longer… and longer.
When it eventually becomes Chiyuki’s turn to be judged, things are done a bit differently. With the decidedly biased nature of the judgment process being questioned so harshly by both Chiyuki and the arbiters themselves, Decim lets Chiyuki do a solo ice skating routine instead.
Chiyuki’s memories, as usual of the ones being judged, start from the beginning, synced with the beginning of her routine. A childhood memory of her first axel flashes in her mind, just as she’s about to execute an axel of her own. The deliberateness of showing these two actions in sequence communicates to us that her routine and her past are linked. How she performs in her routine will reflect what happened to her when she lived.
The sounds of Chiyuki’s skating fade out as the music takes over and her childhood memories flow continuously. A lovely viewing of sakura trees. A fireworks festival in a beautiful yukata. A successful and happy birthday party with her equally if not more happy parents. She’s shown to have good friends in skating. Everything, like her performance, is perfect. Soon Chiyuki wins her first competition, the trophy sitting proudly in her room. Her future looks bright.
Time flashes forward into high school and the music turns more intense. Strangely, however, everything still seems to be going fine for her. Chiyuki is so popular with her peers that when socializing happens she’s the only one sitting down. Meaning, they naturally congregate around her. Chiyuki’s parents buy her a magnificent pair of ice skates for Christmas, the same ones you see her wear in Quindecim, as a physical symbol of their devotion to supporting Chiyuki’s dreams. She poses with her friends for their graduation photo, and a clever match cut turns that into her reminiscing in her room, with that photo and a shelf with three trophies in total. She looks hopeful and happy, and her future shines brighter than before.
As the music slows down and Chiyuki pirouettes in the middle of the rink, you’re given time to collect our thoughts on what just happened. Nothing, right? Everything for Chiyuki seems to be pretty ideal so far. At this point, she’s recognized and acclaimed for what she loves most, made lots of friends, loves her parents, and most of all left no discernable negative impacts with her actions. This is odd. Worryingly odd.
Death Parade conditions you into thinking that every human that ends up in Quindecim has a harrowing if not morbid event in their life. A married couple in doubt over each others’ faithfulness. A single mother always getting dealt a bad hand in life. A detective who turns vigilante after his wife’s murder. Such intense moments are prime material for the death games, and so anyone currently under judgment will be expected to have that.
So when is this going to happen for Chiyuki? For someone to appear at Quindecim with a past so clean, there has to be something about what happens next that turns all of this upside down. When? When is it going to happen? Your anxiety grows as the music continues to swell. Chiyuki is getting closer and closer to her current age. She still has friends in the rink. She’s still in contact with and is friends with her mother. She even goes out dating and socializing.
An image of her practicing with a coach passes by, and it showcases the first look of uncertainty she shows us with her past. Another image of her at the edge of the rink, in the same costume that she’s wearing now, waving to her fans, turns that anxiety into dread. The show finally answers you back, “Here. Here is where it’s going to happen.”
Chiyuki’s skate scoops the ice as she attempts her next axel. After such a long period of uninterrupted background music, the harsh sound jolts you back into reality.
In response, the music shrieks to a halt.
Images of a devastated knee flash before Chiyuki’s eyes. Time passes exponentially. She obviously failed the competition, but she’s also told she’ll never skate again. People crowd around her hospital bed. A last shot of her past depicts an expressionless woman, alone and chained to a hospital bed.
She makes a bad landing. Her knee cracks open and her marionette vessel shows its strings. She spins out and collapses.
Her fresh “wound” is shown alongside a previous one, located on her wrist, telling us of her fate.
Everything is silent.