In most fictional stories, you can be safe in assuming that, regardless of the dangers they face, the heroes are not in real danger of dying–well, until the final climax at least. After all, without the main heroes, how can we experience and connect with the story on an emotional level? Unfortunately, this necessary evil can undercut the tension of a story. Even perilous danger can be boring when the danger is nothing but a facade as far as the main characters are concerned.
Qualidea Code gets around this through the constant use of a particular narrative trope to convince the audience that death could come for any of the leads at a moment’s notice: the death flag.
[Note: This article contains major spoilers for Qualidea Code.]
A death flag is a narrative device in fiction that provides foreshadowing for a character’s impending doom. Perhaps the most well-known death flag in the US is a cop being only a few days away from retirement. In this well-known ironic cliche, the poor cop’s fate is sealed; he will die and likely prove to be the impetus for his partner’s all-consuming goal for the rest of the story.
There are many more commonly used death flags. “I have something to tell you after this battle” and “my wife is pregnant” are key among them.
The trick with Qualidea Code is twofold. The first is that it uses the “shock death” trope early in the show’s run–i.e., building a character up as a main and making said character incredibly likable so that his or her death proves that “anyone could die” while also emotionally stunning both the audience and characters alike.
Often, shock deaths are just tricks to make the remaining heroes seem to be in mortal peril while the heroes are, in reality, just as safe as the majority of fiction’s protagonists. However, sometimes, a shock death trope signals a dark turn in the story–and characters are slowly picked off one by one as the plot heads towards its conclusion.
Qualidea Code is the latter type of tale. However, there is one weak point inherent to a story like this: You become hyper-aware of death flags. And once you see the subsequent flags, you can be relatively certain who is going to go next. Qualidea Code sidesteps the problem by not waving just one character’s death flag before and/or during the next battle, but instead by waving those of nearly all the characters.
Maihime does the classic “I’ll hold them (the enemy) off and catch up later.” Ichiya, filled with grief and rage, dives into a horde of enemies with no regard for himself. Hotaru pulls the ominous “I’ll come back to you, I promise.” Even the constant pair Asuha and Kasumi wave a minor flag by becoming separated in battle.
The resulting feeling is that any and/or all of them really could potentially die at any second. It is an uncertainty I have rarely experienced in anime and a novelty that has drawn me in far beyond what I had expected.