by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
So...now what? It was the obvious question for both the audience and the characters at the end of last week's Deca-Dence, after the genocide of the Gadoll seemed to succeed surprisingly smoothly. Kaburagi and Natsume just took out one of the core components of the system corralling the humans, so with several episodes still to go, what happens next? Dismantling an oppressive economic setup is itself easier said than done, but it's still just step one, and must be followed by things being changed and built in that system's place. Which only gets harder when it turns out that step one itself still has several steps left to go.
The rebuilding part of this televised revolution, if we're to see any of it, will seemingly have to wait until later, as we don't get a lot of exposition on the subject of how Kaburagi thinks the humans can handle themselves post-Gadoll and post-Solid Quake. He makes some allusions to taking on the corporation directly before they get a chance to rebuild the factory, and seemingly intends to leave Natsume to decide her own destiny now that she's all but fully in the loop and as ‘free’ from the monsters as the other humans. That very process of decision forms the actual core conflict of this episode, accompanied by setup for what may turn out to be Deca-Dence's actual big finish.
In fact I want to get right into discussing the portentous process of the surviving Gadoll's rebound, on account of how shockingly well I think it works for this show. A major denouement leading into a big, true ‘final boss’ of an enemy to confront is part and parcel for any stripe of fantasy storytelling, anime especially. So despite the heroes' intent to wipe out all the Gadoll in episode 9, from that perspective it's not surprising to see how life finds a way. But with Deca-Dence always playing pointedly subversively with its plotting, I can see a less graceful implementation of this tried and true trope landing flatly. But instead, Tachikawa and Seko use the necessity of this opportunity to further the allegorical narrative they've been dealing in all this time. If the gamified infrastructure of the Gadoll was representative of western-style capitalism, then this last remaining representative of them is our good friend late capitalism: An out-of-control infinitely-growing monster devouring the people it once sustained in a desperate, frenzied effort to keep itself existing.
It speaks well to the ‘now what’ conceit powering this episode – that simply crashing one stage of the system isn't cause for getting comfortable. Even before the big final boss makes its appearance, Kaburagi and the others catch onto this point, realizing that Hugin and the rest of Solid Quake won't simply let bugs like them and Natsume off the hook. But the massive monster embodies the way the system eventually makes victims of everybody, these creatures apparently evolving right under the noses of their creators to be able to subsist in ways further than they ever intended. Singular control of any system is an illusion, let alone one specifically designed for infinite growth powered by consuming any and all resources available.
That salience in regards to illustrations of systemic issues impresses me this week as it also, by comparison, makes clear where some of the smaller-scale character work comes up a bit short. Natsume takes the revelation of Deca-Dence's true nature about as well as you would expect. To the staff's credit at portraying this part of her arc, they do nail some specific relatable feelings. Having your eyes opened to the inherent injustice of the system you've made your best living in can be draining and frustrating. It's the classic paradox of wanting to take care of yourself and your own living needs, while also being unavoidably aware of everything happening to everyone else that you feel powerless to affect. And ironically enough, that fealty to self-sustenance is another ingrained feature of capitalism, even in the face of its own destruction and the self-aware guilt from those who want to abolish it. "I don't want to know anything anymore,” Natsume laments, us knowing that if she had access to Twitter in this world she'd probably already be locked into an unhealthy cycle of doomscrolling. There are layers to pick apart with her initial rejection and disdain for Kaburagi's revelations, especially, in my opinion, the possibility of internalized guilt from driving so hard for her own changes and earning of confidence in what she only now realizes, much later, was actually energy to be expended on a greater societal good.
I refer to those nuances only in terms of potential though, because this episode of Deca-Dence hardly informs much time for Natsume to progress through that arc as it's also doing everything else. There's a sense of unfairness to the allocation of the narrative, since keeping Natsume locked out of the secret for nine episodes limited her ability to react to the real thematics of the story. While she's finally been brought into the fold, the writing is still making time for Kaburagi's next stage and Hugin's scheming and leftover Gadoll growing. Consequently, Natsume's own journey amounts to a couple of poignant scenes before she swiftly realizes that making decisions for the betterment of humanity can also be a component of her own growing self-confidence. I mean, Natsume finally learns the full truth of her father's death and Solid Quake's role in it this episode, and I feel there should be a more tangible effect on her arc. Instead, she hardly reflects on that specific point at all in this episode.
I understand Natsume's role in the story has always been intended as a motivating well of ultimately-irrepressible optimism, but even Kaburagi took multiple episodes of interacting with her to get his will to live back. Natsume rebounds in fifteen minutes after she gets some head-pats and tacos from Kurenai. In her defense, I guess that would also be plenty of motivation for me. But in Natsume's case, it means that even at a point where she should be a more proactive force in her own story (an idea which Kaburagi specifically expounds on), forces still conspire to keep her relegated to a reactionary role, forced to play off Kurenai's wizened understanding or Hugin's dramatically-timed appearance.
I'm ultimately not too fussed with Deca-Dence turning out another transitory episode, especially after the sheer magnitude of what it accomplished last week and some of the cleverness this one shows in its seeds for the future. I'm still immensely down with what it's doing on the social commentary side of things, and I haven't seen a show plow through this density of plot while still retaining well-paced efficiency since Planet With. But it does make clear that some of the story allocation isn't perfect. I still love Natsume and everything she represents in her role, but I'm hoping that she will surprise me a couple more times before the series ends, like Deca-Dence as a show has so often did.
Deca-Dence is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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