Life can suck. It can be stressful with not even enough time to enjoy the quieter moments. Various circumstances leave you powerless under the pressures of society. What if you had the power to do something about that. The ability to live life with leisure. Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is a show partially about that.
Isekai and the Power Fantasy
A guy dies and gets sent to a fantasy world where he has a special power and a bunch of girls want him. That line probably sounds familiar. It’s the standard power fantasy. The idea is that a lot of the time people feel like they don’t have the ability to achieve their goals, so they consume media that allows them to feel that rush. This is in no way a bad thing though. But, the genre is often cast off as just rehashes of each other, all providing the same thing. Though, a teenage power fantasy is not the only type of fantasy that isekai can offer and Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is proof of this.
Rest and Relaxation
That is not to say that there are no elements of a traditional power fantasy within Death March, there certainly is. What makes Death March different though, is that it’s focus is not on telling a story of becoming the hero or anything as grand as that, but one of relaxation and enjoying life. If Satou, the protagonist happens to save some girls along the way, that’s just fulfilling genre conventions. Large chunks of the run time of Death March so far has been dedicated to Satou simply enjoying the food he is given at a relaxing pace. This is entirely the point.
A Whole New World
Isekai offer an exciting new world for the protagonist. They can explore and adventure through new terrain as they defeat any difficulties in their way. In Death March, the goal is to explore and enjoy this fantasy to it’s fullest. There’s so many beautiful sights to be seen, so much culture to absorb in a fantasy world. While it might just be flavor text in other shows, in Death March, the enjoyment of these aspects of the fantasy is the direct purpose. The concept might seem strange to one used to traditional fantasy that is based on clear cut goals. This style of exploration and relaxation isekai is not exclusive to Death March, it’s plenty common in the world of web novels. I hope some more get anime one day so that people can see more of this concept.
Elements of Traditional Power Fantasy
As much as I’d like this to not be the case for this show, traditional power fantasy is still part of this show. Satou’s powers allows him to defeat any foe in his path, and most of the girls he meets are drawn to him. This is even more irritating as Satou’s narration includes the ever so fun “character comments on how if it was a story a cliche would happen without realizing that said cliche is actually occurring”. It is, however, important to note what Satou’s OP nature does for the shows core foundation of relaxation. Since Satou has the ability to get out of any situation there are absolutely no stakes in Death March. As there are no stakes, the show can justify scenes where Satou chills and does not progress any narrative.
Why Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody exists
Most isekai feature hikikomori protagonists, though in Death March‘s case, the protagonist is a working adult at 29. This is important and explains why Death March focuses so much on this calming leisurely pace. To put it simply, Japan has something of an overworking problem. The term “karoshi” mean death from overwork, and is not something to ignore. In 2015, there were over 90 suicides ruled due to karoshi along with over 90 heart attacks. One survey stated that 12% of employees worked over 100 hours overtime a month. Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody begins with it’s protagonist as a programmer, working crazy amounts of overtime. After he seemingly dies of overtime he finds himself in the video game he was working on. This reveals the direct purpose of Death March almost explicitly, Satou lived a life where he could not relax, so he’s given a world where he can do things like savor well cooked food. A very real fantasy.
What Does This Mean
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody isn’t perfect, in fact I’d be hard pressed to call it good. Satou’s not a particularly interesting character, and the rest of the characterization is rather weak. It’s treatment of slavery is … questionable at best. With all this considered, it’s important to acknowledge the things that differentiate Death March from other isekai anime. Isekai stories aren’t a monolith, and interesting variations occur. It’s especially interesting when you take into account the real world influence of wish fulfilment. Media doesn’t exist in a vacuum so take a bit deeper of a look sometime.