by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
It's all part of the game. The idea of shady, monolithic entities directly controlling every move of our lives is the stuff of excusatory conspiracy theories, but that's because that kind of personal focus would be way more work than necessary. Societal systems can be arranged by those with the most resources and power, the people they're exploiting corralled into situations where they're forced to continue along with the narrative most beneficial to those pulling the strings. If you're this far into Deca-Dence, you probably don't need all that or the fact that the show's saying it explained to you, but it's prudent framing all the same in regards to the presentation of themes in this episode. It has to polish off the most damning demonstration of that all-encompassing game to make clear what the next step it's always been building to is: If something you're in is unwinnable by design, the correct move isn't to not play, it's to smash the whole console to bits.
In that regard and with the tease of where Kaburagi and his reunited guildies will be taking the fight next week, his ban-evading dive-in using a burner account this episode smacks of a ‘last dance’, one final game before things have to get serious. In keeping with that, we do get to see his orange-skinned alt-account in action towards the beginning of this one, another one of Deca-Dence's sterling action sequences spiced up this time by taking place inside the titular fortress; that and seeing how readily and effectively Natsume jumps into action now make clear how things have changed even during this briefest of time-skips. Even as we're appreciating the spectacle, it mostly exists so we can pull back afterwards and do all that character-centric and thematic table-setting. It's the practiced narrative efficiency that we've come to expect from the show, as one quick action sequence entertains us as well as sets up what everyone's going to be working through for the rest of the half-hour.
The game of contrasts the series has consistently been operating on enhances its own flavor, cutting from the Gears gushing about the entertainment value of the new scenario to the humans of the tank being terrorized in the aftermath of their home being directly attacked. There was the question of how things would go from bad to worse in the wake of the fifth episode's revelations, and these are the consequences Kaburagi gets to see of him moving the story timetable up: Solid Quake is taking the opportunity to callously cull the population of the humans he only recently learned to care about. But contrasting against how frankly dire things have gotten for the Tankers, Kaburagi also gets to witness how Natsume has seemingly risen to this occasion. She's still serving as a soldier despite her dejection at failing to exterminate the Gadoll, and her can-do attitude is inspiring waves in her peers to social choices and shifts they may not have considered before, as it did with Kaburagi.
Natsume's idea to pool the Tankers' housing repair resources in service of patching the hole the Gadoll are coming in through is also such a brilliantly direct bit of illustration. It of course seems customarily hopeless, in the same considerations we give any sort of communal cooperation, even in the most dire of times. As with basically every economic allegory in Deca-Dence (can you even call it an allegory if it's just a 1:1 demonstration?), that hopelessness is by design. The hole was put there by Solid Quake themselves, and they're the reason the crew doesn't have enough of their own resources to repair it. It can seem so trite, but there's also a rawness to how strongly Yuzuru Tachikawa wants us to think about our own society in parallel. When we encounter serious systemic setbacks like this, we have to ask: What do others stand to gain from this situation, and how did they arrange it to work out this way? For all the harping on the notions of its capitalist dystopia, Deca-Dence is still fundamentally idealistic to offer a way out, courtesy of Natsume's aforementioned inspiring attitude, convincing others that communal sharing of their resources can reconcile the lack of options that would spell doom for everyone eventually.
The road to that inspiration is communicated via a reiteration of Natsume's character arc that takes to task society's previous view of her, specifically as seen through the eyes of her former friend, Fei. It's that microcosm effect again, with Fei's fear of Natsume changing reflecting our inherent inability to move through dramatic, challenging situations towards solutions if it means our immediate discomfort. But it also works because it speaks to the easily-embraced selfishness that can cause us all to be so insular. Fei valued the comfortable simplicity of her life with Natsume, before the latter made her own decisions to grow and change – Fei momentarily damns and ousts Natsume for that. But it's a fact of our lives that others cannot stay static for our own comfort. People we know are going to grow and change in ways we never even considered, and it's selfish to ask the otherwise for our own perceived sake. That stake in our own routine is yet another element that's designed by the gamed system we're operating in, as any component operating outside the effectively profitable routine can be forced back into line or even replaced at the most extreme. That Natsume's appeals ultimately resulted in communal change rather than her own total ostracisation begs the question of how the narrative this is built around regards her effectiveness: Was it the spirit of Kaburagi she's carrying on in his absence, or her own inherent nature as a ‘bug’? Both, most likely.
As much as Natsume's carrying of that component of the conceptual narrative shoulders the storytelling burden this episode, with us following Kaburagi's smurfing account that functions mostly as a viewpoint tool, it also underscores her own struggles as a person and one of the smallest quibbles I could have with the story so far. As inspiring as it is to see Natsume inherit Kaburagi's legacy while blazing new trails for both the other humans and Kaburagi himself, there are times when that inspiration seems secondary to her own journey. Kaburagi, as the more important of the two main characters, has had an incredibly detailed arc just in the first half here, privy as he is to the secrets of the world and the system he's now adamantly opposing. But Natsume is still firmly in the dark about what it is she's actually railing against, which can leave her feeling somewhat aimless in terms of what she's specifically growing towards. There's still plenty of series left, and I absolutely trust Tachikawa, Seko and the gang not to let me down with the direction of Deca-Dence, but it's an uneven comparison for our two heroes all the same.
That frustrated, aimless feeling in Natsume is at least palpable as a conscious component of her character, how it affects Kaburagi, and their bittersweet reunion that caps off this episode. There's a wonderful wordless element to Natsume's confused revelation that the man she's speaking with must be Kaburagi in some form, even as she's not sure how. It's symbolized as well in her final breakdown, with the man being the only person her optimism, honed for the sake of others, can finally crumble in the face of the hopeless oppression Kaburagi had previously tried so strongly to warn her about. And even as it again reduces Natsume more than I'd like to an object of motivation for someone other than her own independent character in the moment, it's still one hell of a moment. Because in our own moments, we understand what enrages Kaburagi about this, the point that for all of Natsume's uniting of community and inspiring changes of heart about what people like her are capable of, she's only bringing herself to do it out of a need to ‘be more useful’ in what she still thinks is a completely happenstance tragedy. Kaburagi's fury is a triumph in that moment in an episode that, despite the sheer amount of stuff that occurred and progressed within it, had felt surprisingly low-key. It's expert direction codifying Kaburagi's new goal for the system that would put his surrogate daughter through this: He's gonna wreck it!
Deca-Dence is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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