#1 Because of that absurdly long title.
#2 Basic isekai shenanigans
Death March is an anime adaptation of a light novel, starring a 20-something programmer for a games company who winds up being teleported to the fantasy world of his upcoming MMORPG for no apparent 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 and Death March takes the Log Horizon angle where main character Satou (Satoo) has an interface and gameplay mechanics, while the world around him is very much real with living NPCs and complex interaction. 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 with it to still get by. A complex world, intriguing characters, some interesting gimmicks, or presenting the main character with a challenge are all good examples, but Death March just kind of tosses in some generic fantasy tropes and fills up the cast with a bunch of simple stereotypes.
#3 Satou is Kirito, but worse
Death March wastes no time at all when it comes to establishing itself as a power fantasy, as Satou 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. Satou is going to be the best and most powerful dude no matter where he goes and, 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, as 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 it was actually astounding to me, some of which are just really offputting 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.
Satou 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 Satou hits level 310, 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 Satou’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, but a highlight of this first season comes 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 Satou 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 by the show’s end our Kirito look-alike still has more points to invest than the game can actually count. A scene I took particular offense to happens when the Satou 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, allowing him to buy it for a fair price without looking like an idiot.
This even reaches self-defeating and childish heights, which could only be made interesting if the story had some revelation along the lines where Satou is confronted with how recklessly he squandered his talent points. One of the slave girls he rescues knows how to control horses, but 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 until the final episode. The childish part happens when one of the girls shows she can play music, at which point Satou unlocks the musician skill and immediately maxes it in an attempt to outdo her.
#5 A lack of actual ideas
I can’t really make claims about this, but Death March distinctly feels like the author started writing at some point with absolutely zero planning and only the vaguest of directions. I say this, because 12 episodes and with little chance of a continuation (though I have been made to eat those words before) there is little of an objective in mind 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 and imply that those who pass away in the real world reincarnate into this fantasy world. These ideas are entirely incompatible, because 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 (which I doubt the author is ever going to properly figure out) 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, but if that is the actual intent then this writer is playing the long game I tell you. We barely get away from the starting town throughout these 12 episodes. The pacing is slooooooooooooow and most of the stories concern distractions and standalone events, which only incidentally reference that there might be a Demon Lord coming… sometime.
The actual finale of the show is bizarrely placed, as it just concerns Satou solving a minor problem for newly-introduced characters, which doesn’t even come close to topping some of his prior achievements.