The Dream of Many a Man
Just here to check out the review. Is Death March worth watching?
Your mileage may vary, and it mostly depends on what you expect, coming into the series. First off, it certainly isn’t dramatic or action packed, and a focus on slice of life might bore some people. This isn’t a show for everyone. That said, Death March is quite consistent, and I couldn’t identify a moment as being ‘terrible’, though there weren’t a significant number of standout scenes. So what could you possibly enjoy? Like Log Horizon, a game interface is integrated into Satou’s point of view. Watching him achieve various titles became a source of unlikely entertainment, and at the end of the day, it’s really like watching someone else play a video game. Personally, I enjoy watching gameplay just as much as playing games myself, so this was totally up my street.
In spite of my lack of qualms, I want to outline a few things, that some folks might find distasteful. Death March’s more contentious themes would be an overpowered protagonist, loli fanservice and harem elements. But these aren’t particularly relevant in the grand scheme of the story. Yeah, Satou might be overpowered. But he doesn’t stomp through all his encounters either, and sometimes has to use his brains to figure out a solution. The series comes up with reasonable obstacles, that target his weaker understanding of the world around him, as opposed to letting him brute force everything. Also, despite questionable moments of fanservice, Satou’s poker face reactions were spot on. At the start of the series, he proclaims ‘I’m no lolicon’, and remains true to his words. And that’s not to say that the man is asexual either, seeing how he visits brothels every now and then, getting his Sexual Skills up to Lvl 2. This points towards an evident lack of any interest in these young girls, who are seen as daughters more than anything else. By refusing to exploit them, Satou is clearly a man of justice, that doesn’t actively dabble in harem antics.
Having explained why more contentious themes don’t necessarily pose an obstacle to enjoyment, I will now proceed to divulging my personal thoughts on the series, and why it works for me.
An Unconventional Isekai Protagonist
It cannot be denied that isekai (other-world) stories are a massive guilty pleasure of mine. I’m sufficiently entertained, seeing someone getting a second chance, without making the same mistakes from their previous life. However, upon reviewing the idea in a personal context, the same cannot be said about myself. If I became an extremely overpowered isekai protagonist, what would I do? Being spoiled for choice would leave me incapacitated. Supermarket shopping is already a nightmare, because I spend too long considering which breads or apples are available. Optimising RPG characters is even worse, to the point where I typically default to guides, when making decisions that I’d otherwise spend too much time mulling over. Without any direction, or cookie cutter steps to follow, I’d be stuck doing nothing for an eternity.
Additionally, I’m lazy to a fault. Why push myself past any sort of limits, when there’s a simple and happy life I can enjoy? Saving the world would take too much effort, and I’d rather avoid being placed in such a precarious scenario, unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’m not willing to sacrifice myself, for a greater good that I don’t even know about. Heck, I’d probably have been transported without consent, so why should I comply with the biddings of people who forcibly subjugated my free will?
This is why I find Death March compelling, even if it doesn’t offer anything new in terms of setting and concept. To me, Satou is a refreshing isekai protagonist who makes decisions like a rational being, despite his arguably bland characterisation. He comes across as an older iteration of the Gary Stu archetype, but that crucial distinction is all we require. As a middle aged programmer, he offers a frequently untapped adult perspective, with other priorities that are not obscured by delusions of grandeur. Instead of treating the isekai experience like a game that needs completion, or a hell hole to be escaped from, he approaches it like an extended vacation. Despite having the abilities that would allow him to do so much more, he chooses to kick back, by immersing himself in otherworldly cultures. Especially in culinary riches. Naturally, he intervenes when there’s no other way, or when his moral sensibilities flare up. Which allowed us to get awesome RPG-esque moments, like Satou heroically tearing through the labyrinth, in order to save Mia. Furthermore, he generally tries to remain as uninvolved as he possibly can, offering tactical support, before his direct intervention is inevitably needed. For some reason, I get the impression that many people would follow a similar path, if put in the same situation.
You might ask, if he was such a righteous man, then why didn’t Satou liberate the slaves? The man has reasons. Sadly, the anime cut out the explanations. Beast folk are heavily discriminated against, as we saw in the starting town. If Liza, Pochi and Tama were freed, a dangerous possibility existed, wherein some human toerag would have tried to take them as slaves. For these reasons, they begged him to keep them as slaves, wishes he chose to respect. As for Arisa and Lulu, they would need to break a high level curse, before their slave statuses can be removed. They choose to trust Satou as their master, rather than gambling, and potentially ending up with a depraved noble. Why not, if he’s such a nice guy towards them? As far as I could tell, most nobles in that world were complete scum, so that turned out to be a pretty good decision.
Unfortunately, the anime only covered the first few volumes, giving us a mere glimpse of this wonderfully carefree lifestyle. We got flashes with stuff like camping, sampling food, making potions, etc. But it’s a pitiful fraction, when compared against Satou’s later ventures. And what use is a solid foundation, when there’s ultimately no house built on top? Excluding Arisa, the slaves got severely shafted, with heavy cuts being made to their characterisation. Sadly, this is a limitation of single cour adaptations, which is a shame. With light novels in particular, the problem is more pronounced, where adapting studios will try to cram in as much of the story as possible, resulting in what feels like a poorly paced story. Worst of all, due to said limitation, Death March’s anime couldn’t express itself fully, in a way that would positively diverge from most other isekai shows. The end product was by no means bad. But considering the source material carries worthwhile qualities, and is something I’d consider to be special within the field of isekai, I feel it is a terrible shame we didn’t get a complete package.
What single thing would I have done differently, if I was the director? Easy. Go for a partial adaptation of the third volume. The Illusionary Forest Arc was fun to watch, but I would rather bulk up other arcs, while prioritising female characterisation throughout the rest of the series. There was no helping Lulu, since most of her characterisation took place in later volumes outside of feasible adaptation range. But in my opinion, something could have been done to help Liza and Zena, who are better characters compared with how they were ultimately portrayed. This is totally speculation on my part, since it’s hard to say whether such a change would have led to overall improvement, if sacrifices ended up being made elsewhere. Nevertheless, I would personally have liked to see characters reaching their potential, as depicted in the source material. In the case that you’re waiting for a second season which might not arrive, and you’re interested in what happens next, I have a suggestion to make.
For an authentic experience of what Death March is really about, I highly recommend picking up the light novel starting from Volume 3. Although the content is covered in the anime, they pretty much cut out a good chunk so that everything would fit, which is worth going back over to see. The subsequent volume is also where the plot starts to really pick up, so you would be in for a pleasant surprise! To conclude, though the anime is definitely enjoyable, there’s a whole other oyster of delights out there, waiting to be opened up at your choosing.