Death Billiards from the Anime Mirai project is without a doubt one of the shortest, but most thought provoking anime I’ve seen in a LONG time. Animation, complements of MadHouse brim with flair and polish, getting to point quickly: that 2 individuals who die at the same time have a chance to play a game of pool to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. And just a reminder: unless noted I won’t give any spoilers, so be sure to stick around.
Though Death Billiards doesn’t have the time to develop a deep narrative or extensive backstory with characters, Its bread and butter relies on the plot and most importantly, hinges on the element of choice. At most, the story spends 5 or 7 minutes total on each character’s backstory, but ultimately is unimportant, only serving as a canvas for the story’s paint with subtly pigmented hues. Unlike magicians who conjures from thin air, nearly everything in the story is in plain view. So metaphorically, the show was more akin to an illusionist than anything else, merely making what’s on the other side of your lens appear different than it actually is. It’s up to you to adjust your vision and see things for what they truly are. And golly, what rare form this illusionist is in. The few tricks Death Billiards does pull from its masterful hat are carefully designed to second-guess & misdirect. And like in real life, superficial appearances cannot be avoided, but at the same time must be careful carefully be kept at arms distance to truly get to know the story at heart without getting sidetracked.
Depending on how you watch anime or pay attention to media in general, you might have to watch Death Billiards two or three times to confidently understand; as is the case with a Yin & Yang there are always two sides to every story and along with trying to save alive, there are two avenues through which the pool players can do so. Without giving too much away, winning the game is only but one option. Though whichever option’s picked, heeding the rules is the other part to keep in mind.
The thing I truly appreciate about this show aside from the wonderful animation is the way it handles itself. It doesn’t pose as some pretentious bastard sitting in a love-seat sipping on some champagne only to scoff at you with seemingly nonsensical philosophy to deep for itself. Simply put, it’s more like an exam; if you paid attention previously then you’ll most likely understand the course material but if not, you’ll be easily confused by profound yet deviously simple statements making you over-think & potentially second-guess yourself if unsure — as usual, the devil’s in the details.
Similar to the recent BioShock Infinite, the ending is incredibly provocative And incredibly satisfying if you get it. Not satisfying so much because it ends the way you want it to, but because it is it’s completely plausible and shows personal choice has no denominator.
I sincerely fought with myself on how to score this one-episode anime, but in the end I think it’s only right to give this a 10 out of 10 — there was next to NOTHING the show could do better. It strikes the perfect balance between telling you just barely what you need to know, but leaving enough room to imagine what you don’t. Just like a good parent, the show doesn’t exactly hold your hand but it doesn’t leave you at the wayside either.
Ashamedly, I stopped watching anime for a while last year because I felt like it wasn’t giving me the same experience it used to and I was really worried about where that feeling had gone but Death Billiards finally got me back that feeling I missed. Additionally, this experience comes with an invaluable lesson: it doesn’t matter whether you’re deciding who to marry, choosing a prospective school, or whether to open the door for a stranger, these all serve as the vehicle to steer our fate in one direction or the other. We might not always know where we are going, but nonetheless we have the ability to at least try.