The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Yurei Deco ?
Community score: 3.5
What is this?
From Science SARU comes an original story based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The story begins when Berry, an average girl from an average home, meets Hack, a girl who looks like a boy. Charmed by Hack, Berry meets up with the team Hack leads, the Ghost Detectives Club. Members of this club are “socially dead,” working invisibly within the digitally controlled society of Tom Sawyer. As she works with the group, Berry learns about Zero, a mysterious figure who lurks within Tom Sawyer's underground. She and Hack decide to chase down this figure, and in time, the truth behind the city is revealed…
How was the first episode?
There have been a number of speculative anime in the past few years exploring the potential directions the growing interconnectedness between the internet and reality could take, at varying levels of insightfulness. The appeal of these possible futures have varied greatly, from the playful relationship children have with augmented reality in Den-noh Coil to the alien-inspired abuses in Gatchaman Crowds. None, however, have felt as pointed and as terrifying as the fully AR-driven future presented in Yurei Deco.
If you read or watched Ready Player ONE and thought a world in which the impoverished distracted themselves from their material conditions by immersing themselves in an online world sounded nightmarish, Yurei Deco may just be the series for you. Dai Sato's script and Tomohisa Shimoyama's visual direction work in conjunction to show a dystopia where augmented reality overlays belie a dilapidated concrete nightmare of a city. The script is peppered with chilling details, including the fact that children have the system implanted into their actual eyeballs at the age of four.
Not that the people in the series think of things that way; this is just the world they live in. The main character, a teenage girl named Berry with a glitchy Deco, has never really questioned the system. However, she's fascinated by the idea of an entity called Phantom ZERO that supposedly drains the Love points of everyone near it and is undefinable by their society's framework. She's a fun heroine to spend time with, curious and spunky with a slight disregard for society's rules. I could see people reacting more negatively, on the other hand, to the invisible-to-everyone-else hacker she runs into. They're enigmatic, but also use a lot of childish, even storybook-like repetitive language. And even if it's a bit obnoxious, kudos to the translator who made that choice based on their speech patterns in Japanese. (Hey Crunchyroll, start crediting your dang translators.)
There's a lot here to sink your teeth into; one could write a critical essay on the concepts introduced in this episode alone. It could easily turn into old man Sato yelling at clouds and those darn kids with their Instagrams and their Fortnites but so far, I sense a much more nuanced approach to the subject, because there is a lot about the modern internet that is nightmarish and a lot of corporations who want to make it even worse. Science SARU has never steered me wrong so far, and I trust them.
There have been a lot of interesting, unique, and terrifying dystopia portrayed in anime, but I think this show's conceit—What If The Metaverse Won?—is the most horrifying I've seen to date. Imagine a world where not only do you have to “go to” work by logging into a virtual reality interface designed to look like an office building or classroom, but you have to get computer implants jammed into your eyes at age three to do it. Imagine a world where what kinds of Fortnite skins you can afford and how many Insta followers you can get determines a quantified, always visible measure of your social standing. There may not be any terrible conspiracies (yet), but there's something genuinely unsettling and potentially prescient about a world where everyone, no matter what, is always Online.
This premiere spends most of its runtime showcasing Tom Sawyer Island as a fascinating portrait of a particular kind of future. Through the eyes of both the young and old characters, we get a look at the exciting and mundane sides of a world ordered around Decos, and how the systems behind them shape society. There's cool stuff like Berry's weird-looking virtual pet and the ability to customize your own perception of the buildings around you. There are potentially sinister aspects, like when we see Berry's dad at work, seemingly auditing social media posts and deleting ones deemed unsuitable, or how earning “Love” through performative acts is essentially a necessity. And it's all delivered from a ground-level perspective that nonetheless begs for skepticism, like when Berry's school teacher insists the proliferation of Decos has eliminated crime on the island. Throw in the whole idea of Phantom Zero, and it's a rich, vibrant world that's rife for interesting commentary.
All of that is brought to life through an extremely busy—and potentially divisive—art design. It's not just the stylized and exaggerated character designs or Science SARU's typical super flat color work, but also the many (purposefully) garish aspects of augmented reality. The bright, gaudy colors of the virtual world clash with and then all but obscure the gray, utilitarian buildings of the physical world. The view from Berry's malfunctioning eye implant is executed through dead pixels and visual artifacts across the entire frame in a way that makes a point, but can also be headache-inducing. It's executed well, but I also couldn't blame folks for being put off by just how much visual overload there is in this premiere. I enjoyed it and there were still points where I needed to rest my eyes for a minute.
The characters may also be a sticking point for some. Berry and the heretofore unnamed hacker are both loud personalities, especially the latter who throws out Pig Latin and words like “thingie-thing” whenever she speaks. Neither gets a ton of depth in this first episode, but through the show's elastic character animation, striking designs, and the sheer momentum of learning more about the world through them, I did find myself enjoying both. There's a lot of potential in how Berry is so absorbed in the social currency of the island, and the hacker is a straight-up thief who seemingly hunts down marks to rob them of their twitter Likes, which is fascinating even if she's not very likable as of yet. Much like the visuals, they're an acquired taste, but I lean more positive than negative so far.
And really, I'm just excited to see where this show is going and what it has to say about all of this. Series like Den-noh Coil and Gatchaman Crowds have tackled similar ideas about society and technology, but with how much the online world can change in just a few years, seeing these concepts tackled in a new light could prove really engaging. With so many wild ideas and so much energy, it should be fun getting to the bottom of it all.
The “Notice” at the beginning of Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn famously reads “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” That certainly hasn't stopped anyone over the years (although I did get detention in seventh grade for asking my teacher if the Tom Sawyer in this book was the same Tom Sawyer in Tom Sawyer Abroad), but it feels like the spirit of Twain's notice is alive and well in Science SARU's Yurei Deco. The first episode is deliberately confusing, full of visual noise in a digitally-enhanced world, and if there's a point or a statement to be found, well, it just may be hiding in plain sight.
In many ways, that just makes this more fascinating. Berry, our ostensible protagonist, is suffering from a glitch in the hardware all children have installed in their eyes to enable them to live in their digital overlay, and that allows her to see more clearly. Specifically, it gives her a workaround to the cloaking technology used by a mysterious (and mildly annoying) kid she assumes is the local legend Phantom Zero. In a plot point that seems to suggest that this show may take more of its inspiration from the less-read Twain tale Tom Sawyer, Detective (which chronologically comes after The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, although it was written fourth in the sequence), Berry is part of a group of junior detectives who are determined to catch Phantom Zero. The story's jumping-off point seems to be that they have no idea what they're getting into and are barking up the wrong tree in terms of how actually destructive and potentially dangerous Phantom Zero is.
At the risk of angering the ghost of Mark Twain, this feels very much like a statement about how a world fueled by digital unreality and paid for with “Love” (basically likes) is in itself a trap. Berry's boundless enthusiasm and the seemingly perfect world she lives in stand in contrast to what she sees when she chases Phantom Zero, and it will be interesting to see if she maintains her sunny outlook as she learns more about what's going on. The Day-Glo colors used for everyone and everything except the object of Berry's pursuit do a great job implying that the story takes place in a fabricated world. If its semi-translucency is unsettling, well, I think that's very much on purpose. For me, at least, it is a bit difficult to focus on because the art is so busy, and the kid Berry's chasing really irritates me, but there's still enough potential here that it may be worth pushing past those things to see where the story goes from here.
Yurei Deco is the kind of delightfully creative and self-assured premiere that basically feels par for the course coming from Science SARU. While the levels of creative expression and ingenuity on display in this premiere is hardly shocking, I will admit that I was very surprised to learn that this original story is actually a kind of a postmodern day-glo twist on Mark Twain's American literature classics, The Adventures of Mark Twain and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It's an incredibly loose take on the material, granted—I doubt Twain could have ever envisioned a world where his most famous character was trifurcated into three different characters named Hack, Berry, and Finn, who all exist in a cyber-funk digital “utopia” that is being threatened with some kind of null virus…maybe?
Yeah, if there is one major criticism that you could lob at Yurei Deco so far, it's that the show takes a good long while to fully break down what its premise even is, and I would doubtless be a lot more confused if I wasn't able to watch the first few episodes in one sitting. There will be no spoilers here, don't worry, but just in case this first episode worked a bit too fast and loose with its tech-sposition, here's the simple version: In the futuristic society of Tom Sawyer Island, citizens exist in a world that is enhanced with augmented reality that is accessed either through special accessories or via straight-up ocular implants. On top of those layers of physical and digital reality, there is also a completely virtual space known as the Hyperverse. Citizens navigate both the real world and the Hyperverse using profiles/avatars/interfaces known as Decos, which are fully linked into a system that has abolished all crime and replaced traditional currency with social media likes (or, in this case, “Loves”).
It's a lot to take in, and the first episode admittedly doesn't do an excellent job of clarifying the borders between the physical world, the augmented reality that enhances that physical world, and the Hyperverse. That's also a bit of the point, though, since the show is clearly playing with the increasingly blurred lines between a person's online persona and the one that they inhabit in the “real” world”. And “play” is the operative term here, because the greatest thing about Yurei Deco is how it marries its heady science-fiction trappings with the acute visual style that Science SARU has been perfecting over the years. Yurei Deco is simply a joy to watch, another visual feast that also serves as a love letter to the expansive possibilities of animation from the studio.
As for the plot, it becomes a lot more engaging in the second and third episodes, as Berry and Hack both explore the more precarious corners of their supposedly perfect world, sticking it to the powers that be in a manner that would surely make Mark Twain smile (you know, once you sat him down and explained the two centuries worth of context he'd need to even know what the hell he was looking at). I have faith that series writer Dai Sato knows what he's doing; you don't get to a CV filled with credits like Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain for nothing, you know? Yurei Deco might not be off to a strictly perfect start, but it is a perfectly delightful work of animation in its own way, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.
Few anime I've ever seen have been so blatant about their social commentary—or so imaginative in how they go about showing it. Yurei Deco gives us a world where social media-style “likes” means everything... literally. If you do things that are socially acceptable—like going to school or taking happy photos with your friends—you get likes. These likes are then used as currency for anything from real-world services like doctor's appointments to AR or VR skins for yourself—meaning the more socially acceptable you are, the better you look to everyone else. Along the same lines, you can also change how beautiful the world looks to you by adding bright colors and decoration to the world around you via AR. Basically, Yurei Deco depicts a society based around the gamification of being a good person.
But while the official line is that this has created a society without crime or unhappiness, it's clear that this isn't the truth. What we really have is a surveillance state where everyone is a camera—because your technologically augmented eyes are literally recording everything you see. Yet, therein lies a massive loophole: if you can't be seen by the system, neither you nor your crimes technically exist. In this episode alone we see Hack (as the official site calls him) do everything from thievery and battery to identity fraud and hacking without consequence. But you don't need to be invisible to the system to do immoral acts. I mean, we see a man embezzling his dead father's likes instead of giving the poor man a proper funeral—which is apparently fine as far as the system is concerned.
All this shows that, as perfect as the system appears to be, it is anything but. It is a pretty façade simply hiding the ever-present problems any society faces beneath cartoony AR wonder. However, in such a world, being able to see reality rather than the system's fantasy is basically a superpower. Berry is able the see the hidden beauty the system obfuscates—namely the flower Hack is trying to take from her. On the other hand, her parents' reaction to her glitchy eye is basically to give her an eye patch so that she can literally turn a blind eye to the world they actually inhabit.
All in all, Yurei Deco is anything but subtle in its messaging or what it wants to explore. And while we have seen similar things before (the gamification of being a good person is the central concept of Gatchaman Crowds, and both Robotics;Notes and Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale have presented worlds brimming with AR integration), the wonderfully imaginative way it does so is truly a breath of fresh air.
discuss this in the forum (216 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history