When two people die at once, their souls are sent to a bar called Quindecim to be judged. The judgment takes the form of a selected high-stake game the deceased must participate in; something that will gradually reveal their “true” character and ultimately allow the arbiter to pass judgment on them. The fate of their souls is either reincarnation or being sent to “the void.”
Initially starting out in 2013 as a one-episode OVA called Death Billiards, the short proved to be well-received enough to warrant a 12-episode television series. At first glance, its simple premise would likely lead one to assume it will mostly be an episodic piece, and while a fair amount of the episodes are standalone, the majority of it is surprisingly serial in its arrangement. Even the standalone episodes serve both to foreshadow later plot points and as a means of developing the arcs of its two lead characters: the stoic arbiter named Decim, and the nameless black-haired woman who assists him.
It’s easy to assume the show will be a bleak one as well, be it through just a glance at its summary or a viewing of its first episode alone, it feels like it’s going to be a psychological snuff fest. While the show--depending on the stomach the viewer has, of course--could be plenty entertaining on its own simply sticking to its initial formula, it ends up blossoming into a meatier, philosophical story, and a vehemently anti-nihilistic one to boot. The morality behind the judgment process and how much legitimacy it truly holds is questioned a mere two episodes in, and it doesn’t stop there. It still has its fair share of downer episodes that put your heart in a vise grip and leave you emotionally drained once it’s let go, but these only serve to further affirm its stance on the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of humanity, and how all lives mean something, one way or another.
Its subject matter is heavy enough to leave an impact (it’s worth warning that it touches on issues such as domestic abuse, suicide, and depression) but it also delivers it in small enough doses for the casual viewer to swallow. The ending is enormously satisfying and leaves just enough room open for a potential second season. Recommended.