Death Billiards is a rather unassuming title. It is a short that only has a ½ hour episode going for it with an interesting name but a lacking synopsis. What story could possibly be told in a half an hour that could engage you? Well this hidden gem not only told it well but left me wanting more.
Unlike my other reviews, this one won’t be as lengthy. This is because it is only one episode and thus does not need a lengthy review.
Imagine, you suddenly find yourself in an elevator that leads you to a strange bar. When you try to recollect just how you got there you suddenly can’t remember. Another person also comes into the bar, you shake hands for the first time and introduce yourselves. Then the bartender tells you that you two will play a game against each other, the prize is your life.
This is the story of death billiards. It appears simple enough; an old man is paired against a young man in a game of billiards to fight for their life (sounds a lot like the MAL summary, hm?). But as you progress further into the episode more of the story is revealed. it’s an enriching story about life and death that weaved very nicely with how human beings come to terms with both.
As expected of Madhouse the art and animation were absolutely stunning. The characters were simple in their design, made to look normal in their peculiar environment. This combined with the matte, purple color scheme of the show you, as the audience, know that you are in for a dark and unnatural ride.
How would you act knowing that you had to play a game for your life? Even though we only get one episode with these two players; their life, their character, and their desperation paints a perfect and rather grim picture on the human psychology. Their true nature is revealed during the game, which is just so raw and true to us that I couldn't help but relate and sympathize with them. We don’t get too much on their backgrounds, but it’s just enough to understand their lives and how they ended up playing pool together, which is more than enough for the show.
Overall I was very impressed. Like I have stated, the art and animation was beautiful, the characters felt so real, and the story is entirely enthralling and rather refreshing. If you have a spare half an hour just watch it. And if you DO end up loving the show, or if you’re reluctant to watch a short never fear! Madhouse will be producing the anime ‘Death Parade’, which will be the adaptation to Death Billiards. It’ll be coming out along with the other winter 2015 season anime, and if staying true to 'Death Billiards' should prove to be a very good show.
Death Billiards! Woo! Time for a badass game of pool! TO THE DEATH! And let me tell you, I was totally psyched to watch Death Billiards because I judged it solely on the title. Not on the studio or any flim-flammery that deals with what it's about by a synopsis or what have you, but by this badass title. Death Billiards, because regular 8-Ball just ain't enough. And what the title implies is what you get: A game of billiards to the death, but wait, there's more! It's much more than a game to the death and I got my surprise on that front. It goes deeper than that and considering the short run-time of this short movie, any spoiler would be spoiling the movie. I actually liked the depth and extra plot within it, didn't hinder my enjoyment at all. And what I enjoyed most of all was Gramps. You see that screenshot on the entry page? That old man with the look in his eyes that says "I don't take no shit from nobody. You want to fuck with me then bring it on, bitch." He's badass.
For a short, it left me wanting more. More as a series because I'm a fan of these high-stakes survival games, and it has style. Wanted more than 25 minutes and I could see myself watching a series of this. It's a real good concept and totally worth the watch, at the cost of an episode of one of your regular shows.
Bartender also reminds me of that guy from Mushishi. Wanted to say that.
How to thoroughly review a title whose total length is only half an hour, that is the question.
Imagine you arrive at a bar. There are only 3 other people there: the greeter, the barman, and one man just sat at the bar drinking. You share a drink and bum a cigarette. Then you are convinced to play a game of pool. However, you cannot remember how you arrived at this bar in the first place.
This is the spoiler free synopsis of the story. But it is a story with so much depth it's hard to believe it took such a small amount of time to watch.
The animation is smooth and well executed throughout. Smoking is something that always bothers me in anime, as cigarettes in the real world never seem to behave the way they do in the media, however even these were well done enough to not bother me (petty I know, but hey ho). The bar itself looks incredible, as does the table and balls the men are using for their game. Smooth action sequences throughout.
The sound is well executed with competent voice actors playing roles well, really letting their emotions show well. Couple with ambient music playing through important setpieces and the sound really helps immerse the watcher in the show.
Characters. Wow. I never thought I'd be able to enjoy a small cast of 4 characters where we never even learn any of their names. But I really, really did. I may not know their names, but I feel I know an awful lot about at least the two playing the game. Anything about the barstaff is pure speculation, but fun to do anyway.
Overall, it's half an hour. And half an hour you seriously wont regret! By the end it will feel like nowhere near enough time as the anime leaves you with far more questions than it ever begins to answer! Between watching this anime and writing this review I must have spent at least two hours reading as much extra information as I could find about this short that would not give me spoilers for the full series that follows it. The mere fact I found 10 different interpretations of the ending in that time, all of which had their own merits and weaknesses shows how impactful this short is!
Madhouse, Madhouse, Madhouse... whatever will I do with you? As usual, magnificent animation, top notch sound (slightly marred by the voice acting of the young player), a good premise... and that's about it. The story is explained in the name. Billiards, Death, that's it. Putting your life on the line causes people to act a certain way, puts extreme pressure on people, and causes them to act differently. This is a very classic theme in film and literature.
Putting your life on the line in a game of pool to define who you really are is the premise for a famous short video (I think it was one of the crowning moments of the first run of the Twilight Zone, back when TV was black and white). Death Billiards adds to that a few more facets, but essentially less is more in this case. From a story perspective, the added backgrounds, details, and other elements contribute nothing but to dilute the point.
Still, we have gorgeous animation, with only one scene having the characters too stiff annoying me (and removing my ability to give a perfect score here). The backgrounds are gorgeous and well thought out. The character designs crisp, distinct, and intelligent. The movement is fluid enough to feel seamless with the rest. The artistic section is good and creative for the most part, though a bit over the top in one of the sequences. The points where leaving the traditional perspective are intelligent, and the metaphors are good and not distracting.
The sound section is near perfect, but the voice acting of the younger player (as mentioned earlier) is kind of annoying. I get that he's supposed to be the angry young man under intense pressure, still, it goes a bit over the top. The soundtrack is a fantastic fit, all the way through. The effects section is flawlessly executed. In short, the audio is top tier stuff, and the choice to go a less cinematic and more standard TV route works very well.
What suffers here is the characters. They don't mean much from the intellectual perspective, and their backstories are kept as condensed flashes, be it by audio of video means. Still, they have depth, and the beauty of the premise is that we get a hint at who they really are. Can we truly condemn one? These are interesting questions brought on, but still, since so much of the focus of Death Billiards is on them, the execution could have been done smoother.
Overall, Death Billiards is an enjoyable view and definitely worth your time. Recommended if you aren't looking for humor, fluff, or romance.
What I Liked: Great character designs. Good use of colour to evoke ambiance, with a nice contrast between the cool bar scenes and the warm flashbacks. Love the exuberant design of the bar. Story is cohesive and well-constructed, and screentime is used effectively. Avoids the glaring pitfalls of the Survival Game genre. Solid animation.
What I Didn't: Yuuichi Nakamura's performance as The Man was a bit too aggressive at times. YMMV on the rather ambiguous ending.
Final Verdict: As engrossing as it is stylish, Death Billiards is a rather well-crafted short exploring themes of morality and mortality through the thoughts and actions of two very different men locked in a game to the death. While it does have a bit of a head-scratcher of an ending, it is still an interesting and worthwhile supernatural thriller.