by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Deca-Dence thinks it can pull one over on us with its weekly swerves and subversions, but thankfully I've watched an anime or two in my time. So you'll recall that I covered my ass last week talking about Kaburagi's seemingly perfectly-timed demise by referring to it as his ‘apparent’ death, since I knew what we were witnessing might be about impact first and clear occurrence second. And indeed, it turns out that what we actually saw was Kaburagi's human avatar being deactivated, while the real little guy controlling it gets sent to where all Heybots deserve to end up: A prison labor camp. The narrative arc of that previous episode still works as described. The pathos of Kaburagi disappearing from her life is a clear motivating factor in the brief time we see Natsume in this week's episode, his changing of the storyline coming at a heavy cost for everyone involved around him.
The immediate reveal might undercut the perfectly-constructed pathos of that previous episode's ending, but I'm hardly complaining. Kaburagi continues to be the same compelling character he's been since we learned what he really was, and now we get the interest in following him down a new path with a new lease on life. That could progress to an even deeper interpretation of that latter element, as a matter of fact, this week's episode ending as it does with Kaburagi diving back into the game environment of Deca-Dence in a brand-new account, but that's obviously getting ahead of ourselves. This one is all about Kaburagi's journey, his getting to that point after his actions in episode 5 sent him as low as he possibly could in this setting.
Kaburagi's insistence on continuing to live at all costs is a central focus of his drive here, which is appropriate. While I was satisfied with the tragedy of him seeming to die on his own terms previously, from a character perspective it makes much more sense for him to soldier on. This is the guy who specifically reversed his own slow-motion suicide entirely because of Natsume, so naturally he would want to keep going just to find out what happened to her. And by following only him for at least the first half of the episode, it brings us along on his viewpoint both in a narrative and sympathetic sense: We want to find out what happened to Natsume post-storyline-change as well, so while of course we're happy to have Kaburagi still alive for his own sake, we want him to keep at it so we can be rewarded with any revelations.
It stacks on more of that lovely narrative metatext that's driven Deca-Dence so well for the past few episodes in particular. Kaburagi's brick-wall boss cryptically remarks that ‘someone intervened’ in his sentencing to send our favorite Rolie Polie Olie to the slave mines instead of the scrapyard, and while the obvious literal interpretation is that mysterious mute emoji-orb which seems to be more influential than it lets on, there are deeper layers to uncover in how those events unfold. Kaburagi really only stays alive because Tachikawa and Seko allow him to, and they do that because they think we'll be most interested in the story this way. A tower of telling interests dictate the lives of these characters even at the Gear level, the same way the story of Natsume and the other Tankers has been closely supervised by Solid Quake.
The clearest point of this seven-layer-dip of symbolism is Deca-Dence's ongoing unsubtle relationship with capitalist systems. We're only ‘allowed’ to do whatever we want at the behest of the value those in charge find in it, whether it's entertainment or utility. Kaburagi's experiences in the prison camp make it obvious this is the case even in the dregs with these supposed outcasts. Prisoners aren't truly to be rehabilitated or reeducated, they simply serve yet another function in the mechanics of the economy. It's a perfectly ironic situation for Kaburagi to find himself in, the most trapped he's ever been in a close mirror of the system he was so adamantly admonishing Natsume for rallying against. Deep in these mines the setup is every bit as hopeless and inescapable as the humans' never ending fight against the Gadoll, but Kaburagi knows it would be a betrayal of Natsume's drive if he gives up here after she refused to. It's obvious, but remarkable all the same, the way Deca-Dence outlines such speedy-yet-sensible character growth for Kaburagi just six episodes into the series, all fueled by his interactions with Natsume, from first choosing to continue living because of her, to now adopting her do-the-impossible driving worldview.
Following Kaburagi this way is also a treat in just getting to spend another large chunk of time continuously in the Gear environment side of things. And this itself is an exercise in contrast as this pitiful poop-prison is a far cry from the polished setting of the Solid Quake mother ship. Kiyotaka Oshiyama gets to go even more nuts than usual with cyborg designs, as we're getting to see more of them at once and in various stages of depreciation. And with them carrying this whole episode, the animators really go bug-wild on the character acting and expressions on these little guys. They even throw in more grounded details like personally-brewed robo-liquor or a squared-up cyber-cigar, lending so much cultural character to what would be an absurd fever-dream of a setting if we hadn't spent six episodes prepping to be acclimated to it. This distinctive decision doesn't play perfectly, as we get a full action scene between cyborgs for the first time, and their animation and compositing with CGI background elements comes off a bit clunkier than the glorious fights we'd had before, especially in the preceding episode. It's an odd place where I could finally pick out some real room for growth in Deca-Dence, even as this episode kept the storyline humming along almost perfectly.
That bit of visual oddness can hardly dent the pointedly strange trip that is this episode of the show. It has the unenviable task of succeeding the near-masterwork that was the previous episode, doing so with a sidelong setting-shift and using those to chip away at new corners of its systems of storytelling. In that respect, possibly even moreso than being the most time we've spent with the cyborg Gears since episode 2, it feels fresh. This is Deca-Dence putting us back at the top of the roller coaster, ready to plummet down its next set of outlandish twists and turns.
Deca-Dence is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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