TL;DR – There is no heaven, no hell, there is only a bar where souls end up playing games to decide if they get reincarnated or sent into the void.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Bartender Decim is the emotionless judge and arbiter at the Quindecim bar, a place where two souls arrive to play games that decide whether they enter an elevator that leads to reincarnation or the void. The souls do not realise they have died, nor do they remember what type of life they lived. It is through the game they play that their memories come back.
First off the animation in this series is excellent. There’s a style and detail that is reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop and it has a funky soundtrack that contrasts with the sombre material.
Each pair of souls that end up in Quindecim are more complex than what they first appear. As in real life, they have secrets, regrets, and experiences both happy and sad. Through playing various games such as darts, bowling and air hockey, they regain their memories and react accordingly. What becomes evident is that the pair of souls always have a connection in some way, they are not chosen randomly. And always, it is this connection that is the pivotal point that triggers their actions/reactions when memories come flooding back. Decim passes judgement on these interactions and the souls get sent into an elevator that either goes to the void or leads to reincarnation.
The stories of the souls and the events leading up to their death and appearance at Quindecim are interesting and clever. Nothing is ever black and white and there are always shades of grey. If the anime focused solely on this, it would still be an enjoyable series.
But it becomes far more cerebral when a black-haired girl arrives and becomes Decim’s assistant. The world opens to reveal there is more than one bar, and there is a system of arbiters dishing out judgement on souls. When Decim’s assistant starts raising complexities around humans and their motivations/actions/emotions, it leads to Decim to question whether some of his judgments are wrong.
The ambiguity leading to Decim wanting to understand more about human suffering and what drives people to extremes of behaviour. Ultimately, the series does not tell you what is “right” or “wrong”. As the viewer, it is up to you to come to your own conclusions, and that is fine by me. It becomes a fascinating exploration into what makes us who we are. Not black and white, not even varying shades of grey, but actually a multitude of colours.
9 out of 10