#1 Absurdly long title
#2 Basic isekai shenanigans
Death March is, as you might expect, an anime adaptation of a light novel. Its story stars a programmer called Ichirou “Satoo” Suzuki who winds up being teleported to the fantasy world of his company’s upcoming MMORPG; seemingly for no real reason. He just goes to bed, opens his eyes, and suddenly there is an interface and 300 lizardmen on his ass.
The setting is kind of a weak showing, considering 2018 is also giving us Goblin Slayer, two new seasons for both Overlord and Sword Art Online, How Not To Summon a Demon Lord, and that slime anime I still need to watch. It’s a busy year for isekai.
Death March takes the Log Horizon angle where main character Satoo has an interface and gameplay mechanics, while the world around him is very much real. For example, NPCs are actually alive and thus capable of complex interactions. It’s all fine, but nothing you haven’t seen a dozen times before in the last 5 years alone.
The escapist fantasy of living in a swords & sorcery fantasy world is inherently appealing, but so explored that I feel you need to do something special to still get by. You need an interesting world and characters, or interesting twists on the familiar formula. You could explore the isekai concept from a bold new direction or at the very least have some novel gimmicks to set yourself apart. Death March instead compiles some generic fantasy tropes and fills up the cast with simplistic stereotypes. It makes 0 effort to even seem like it might be a fresh story.
#3 Satou is Kirito, but worse
Death March wastes no time at all when it comes to establishing itself as a power fantasy. Satoo causes a bit of an accident early on that leads to him becoming level 310, maxing out every stat, filling up his inventory with rare loot, and earning enough skill points to effectively max out any talent he gets. Satoo is going to be the best and most powerful dude no matter where he goes. Combined with how quickly he picks up and masters new skills, he’s kind of a mix of Sword Art‘s Kirito and the protagonist from Re:Monster.
He’s also the most token nice guy around. He befriends a female mage who helps him get into town, where he then ends up freeing a bunch of female slaves that all stick around in his permanent party. The cast introduces new girls so quickly and often that it was actually overwhelming. Some of them are also just off-putting, like this 13-year-old with a bust size that is… problematic. And while not all these women are sexually available, the hunt for the protagonist’s penis is very much ongoing.
Satoo is just boring. His very presence immediately deflates the tension from the plot and the way he goes about picking up new skills makes him more suited for some kind of parody on isekai. Since this is a serious story, you might as well watch the first 15 minutes until Satoo hits level 310. You can then close the video content in the knowledge that the protagonist has overcome all the challenges he was ever going to face.
#4 Where’s my tension?
To harp on that point a little more, I want to add that Death March is really tame with how challenging it wants to make the world. It’s like a tabletop Game Master that is still throwing basic goblins at the players 7 sessions in. After that initial event that skyrockets Satoo’s level, everything he comes across is pathetically weak and often resolved without his input.
At one point he comes across a dragon, which is promptly killed by random soldiers an absolute fraction of his level. Or how about when the town is attacked by a mighty swarm of… ants. Most of an episode is dedicated to an invasion of level 3 flying ants, which Satoo hardly even acknowledges. Likewise, most of the heroes he comes across are like level 20 or 30; even a giant Demon said to be the buddy of the big, evil demon lord ends up being barely level 70.
Even non-combat challenges pose absolutely 0 threat because skills unlock when they become relevant and our Kirito look-alike has more points to invest than the game can actually count. A scene I took particular offense to happens when Satoo is locked in a conversation with a merchant, who rightfully points out that he needs a horse. In that very moment, MC-kun unlocks the estimation skill, glances a horse through the window, and immediately knows the price for it. This allows him to buy it for a fair price without looking like a rookie.
This even reaches self-defeating and childish heights. This could only be made interesting if the story had some revelation along the lines where Satoo is confronted with how recklessly he squandered his talent points. One of the slave girls he rescues knows how to control horses, for example. Instead of letting her do just that, he only has her do it for just long enough to pick up the skill himself. After that, she becomes so useless I honestly forgot she was even there.
The most childish example happens when one of the girls reveals that she can play music. At which point Satoo unlocks the musician skill and immediately maxes it in an attempt to outperform her. This is a grown man who seemingly has so little self-confidence that he can’t bear the thought of a little girl having a talent that he doesn’t.
#5 A lack of actual ideas
Death March distinctly feels like the author started writing at some point with absolutely zero planning and only the vaguest of direction in mind. I say this, because 12 episodes in—and with little chance of a continuation—there is no objective for the characters and the world itself feels poorly established.
A major point that confuses me still is that the world is first established to be that of the video game our protagonist was working on. Complete with bugs and recently-finished mechanics he literally just implemented. This very much suggests the experience is a dream, but later encounters suggest the world is real. In fact, it’s implied that those who pass away in the real world reincarnate into this fantasy world. These ideas appear entirely incompatible. If both apply, that means everybody that ever died reincarnated in a buggy WIP MMO that wouldn’t be developed until the early 21st century.
Besides that massive hurdle, there is the other issue of the characters not having much to do. It very heavily suggests that the protagonist must slay a demon lord preparing to resurrect into the world. If that is the actual intent, then this writer is playing the long game. We barely get away from the starting town throughout these 12 episodes. Most of the story revolves around distractions and standalone events, which only incidentally reference that there might be a Demon Lord coming… sometime.
The actual finale of the show is also bizarrely placed. It just has Satoo solving a minor problem for newly-introduced characters, which doesn’t even come close to topping some of his prior achievements. Then the show closes out and that’s a wrap for this anime. What a half-assed way to conclude a series that was already low on ambition,