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In the short one-shot Death Billiards, the old man says something to the bartender at the end when they choose which elevator to get into (presumably, one goes to hell and the other to heaven). What did the old man say? He smirked at the end so it seemed like he got something that he wanted or had somehow tricked the younger man. The bartender wouldn't say what it was. Am I missing something or is this just completely wide-open-ended?

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    this was adapted into an anime called death parade. if you go according to the anime's pov, the old man's soul was sent into the void, while the 30 year old man's soul was placed into a new body. None of them really lived. Maybe that helped? (Btw the hostess's eyes are different, she's human) This is just based off the anime, which narrows down the possible answers a little, I think. There really isn't any right or wrong answer hahahh – user12849 Feb 21 '15 at 14:48
  • Maybe since the old man is so wise with experience and knowledge, he told Decim that he had fulfill his life, so is ready to move on, and the young man deserved more a second chance to start over and not make the same mistakes he did in his past life. – user18728 Oct 26 '15 at 19:57
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As the white-haired bartender said, "秘密です," (himitsu desu, it's a secret).

With such an open-ended ending, there's no way to know for sure (much like the "Cart Driver Dilemma" in Code Geass).

The story implies that the younger guy went to heaven while the older dude went to hell, with the masks above their respective elevators with a white face and a demon face.

However, who is to say any of them went to heaven or hell? Or that things are exactly as they are described by the white-haired bartender?

I think the intention of such an open-ended ending is to get viewers to form their version of the story.

Some points to consider are:

  • The fact that the bartender was lying (or at least telling a half-truth and leaving out key details) from the beginning makes you question all of his explanations. Which parts are red herring? Which parts are true?

    If you look closely, the so-implied "corpses" the bartender shows the young man are actually marionette parts (look closely at the legs hanging towards the middle right). The bartender mentions that when they arrived, they were of equal footing, perhaps referring to the fact that none of them had their original memories... and with each ball pocketed by the opposing side they got a bit of their memory back.

  • The fact that the game (and its outcome) was predetermined

    and the old man was supposed to win.

  • The fact that the old man arrives after the young man

    (even though the bartender mentions that those that die at the same time are invited there). If they died at the same time, wouldn't they arrive at the same time?

  • The fact that they leave in the same elevator they came from (at least the old man does)

  • The fact that the old man bites his lip before the white-haired bartender hugs the young man.

  • The fact that the old man's flashback happens in reverse order compared to the young man's and also

    how the old man's death is never shown, nor is the first memory of his last moment truly his. It was actually the old man's wife's and his memorial portrait is shown, with offerings meaning that he probably was already dead.

  • And most importantly, the jellyfish. The jellyfish are a recurring symbol throughout the series, from the chandeliers to the aquarium, and the stained glass pattern behind the counter and the same design on the bathroom tiles. According to shamanism the jellyfish totem is supposed to represent "inner strength, vulnerability, transparency, and truth."

From this, we can imply that although there is a game of life and death going on, it is not as the bartender describes...

The bartender mentions that he is the "さいてい者" which can be implied to be the "arbiter", the person who decides if someone goes to "heaven" or "hell"... however, who is being judged is never directly stated. The setting could be a place in limbo and it could be just the young man that is being judged, not for whether he goes to heaven or hell, but if he deserves a second chance (さいてい can also mean "second chance"), whether to be reincarnated or getting a second chance in his current life. The presence of the old man might be there to play a devil's advocate type of role to prevent this from happening. The old man might be a person that was condemned to hell and given a second chance to be able to be reincarnated if he can reveal the bad side of darkness and sink him into despair.

What the old man asks the bartender near the end could be something like "Is the game over (can I move on)?" and the bartender's reply could be, "not yet."

This could be why the old man bites his lip. Because he knows he's lost. His smile as the elevator door closes could be because he knows that he'll be back for another shot.

Since the plot and ending is so open-ended, a lot of other things can be implied... much like the ending to Inception. You're meant to infer the ending that you want, rather than be told what it is.

The hostess seems to be a bit out of place. The piano player is a marionette moved by wires, and it is demonstrated that the wires can move things around. There seems to be no need for a hostess, as she does not serve a particular function (the bartender makes the drinks, she is only seen receiving the empty glass of water). Most of her other actions after the game starts are imitating the bartender's...

What if she was a person that lost the game and is stuck in this limbo until she discovers the true meaning of life and herself like the young man did. As the credits roll, the hostess first asks the bartender what the old man said to him, he immediately says that it's "a secret," but when she asks who went to what place, instead of telling her that it's a secret, he asks what she thinks, perhaps asking her if she's learned anything, she replies she's asking because she doesn't know, he replies that it's a secret... perhaps implying that she is not yet ready to know... her own fate.

As a side note, though the gg Fansub translate the name of the place as "Queen Decim," I personally believe the place to be called "Quindecim(e)", the latin word for "15" (十五, じゅうご, "jyuugo"), perhaps implying the Ten Epithets of Buddha (十号, also "jyuugou")?

The Ten Epithets of the Buddha 仏十号(butsujyuugou):

  1. Tathagata/如来(nyorai), one who has come from the world of truth
  2. 応供(gu), one who deserves oblations
  3. 正偏知(shouhenchi), one who knows everything perfectly.
  4. 明行足(myougyou-soku), one who sees the truth and walks the way satisfactorily
  5. 善逝(zenzei), one who is gone to the world of enlightenment
  6. 世間解(sekenge), one who understands the world
  7. 無上士(mujouji), one who is unsurpassed by anyone else
  8. 調御丈夫(jougo-joubu), one who controls men
  9. 天人師 (tenninshi), who teaches gods and men
  10. 仏世尊(Butsu-seson), the enlightened one who is honored by the people of the world
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    十号 is juugou not juugo. I am just not sure how far the relation can be stretched here. Apart from that, nice post. I don't even notice all those little details. – nhahtdh Apr 14 '13 at 2:43
  • I'm not sure, but it seems that some part of the answer can be updated with information from Death Parade. For example, the part about the the game being set up to test the young man. Some of the guesses here are spot on, though – nhahtdh Jul 22 '15 at 2:28
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With everthing thats been said here I would conclude the old man is part of the test to test if the 30 year old man is worthy of going to heaven. The old man goes into the same elevator he came from to start the test with a new person while the 30 year old man goes in the elevator that will either lead him to heaven or hell

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    Looking at the long series Death Parade, I don't think the old man can be part of another test. Both of them are given a second chance to change their destination, from the one initially decided when they arrive at Quindecim. – nhahtdh Jul 22 '15 at 2:26

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