by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Dismantling the decadence of a capitalistic system is a determined decision, but it's also one of those things that's easier said than done. And so this eighth episode of Deca-Dence focuses on the prep for Kaburagi's proposed raid on the Gadoll factory, explaining what obstacles the cyborgs face and how a lot of the information and world-building composed so far will be coming together as part of their plot to get past them. It's a robust use of technical elements in a series that's used such things previously for equal parts visual splendor and shocking story turns, so it's nice to see how stuff like the avatars' chips get used for more practical plot application. But this is Deca-Dence, so of course there's plenty else going on as well.
The main thing that jumps out at me about this entry in the series is the sheer amount of characters that get attention through it. We've spent so much of the series up to now being aggressively locked into the viewpoints of just Kaburagi and Natsume, with the other cast members entering adjacently to play off of them, building up the world and the heroes' attitudes in how they react to it. This episode, by comparison, lets us see the actions and motivations of so many others with the main characters largely not privy to them. One way this shakes out is the structure: The central section of this episode is basically a heist movie, with Kaburagi and the crew assuming avatars to steal his old body back. It necessitates an ensemble affair with lots of personality-driven moving parts.
Some of it is largely characteristic flavor filling in the proceedings. We finally get to see the delightful Jill in all her Michiyo-Murase-voiced glory jump into action (she also gets to deliver the hilarious shit-eating secret that finally motivates all these gamers to rise up), and there's the amusing point that the entire scheme is powered by the unanimous agreement that Kaburagi's old best bud Minato is absolutely the type to keep the old avatar around. This lends itself to the fun of the body-jacking sequence, playing out as a type of ‘action’ scene completely unlike anything Deca-Dence has done before. The madly milling factorial setting of avatar storage makes for an unexpectedly distinct setpiece (and given the recent Wreck-It Ralph revelations regarding this series, it's not too much of a stretch to suspect this section owes something to the door-dangling climax of Pixar's Monsters, Inc.). It's complemented by that careful character work informing the quirks of how it's presented, from the stalking Hugin's bizarre rigid posture as he moves along, to clever technical details like Turkey ejecting Sark out of his avatar in an emergency by simply player-killing him. It proves that Deca-Dence's direction can lean on clever setups for action even when it doesn't have anti-gravity gimmicks or crazy CGI monsters to utilize.
But that spread-out character work also belies a more idea-driven use of such a storytelling decision. Targeted as it is by the Kaburagi comrades, the excessive implication of crushing capitalism need not have itself and its myriad of failings detailed even further in this instance. Instead, the ensemble of players is used to explore how others react to living in such a system, dependent on the degree to which they feel they're suffering under it. The most elaborated instance here is Minato, who's striving to take care of himself, and supposedly arranging to fully re-institute Kaburagi, but believes fully betraying the system is impossible and ultimately dangerous. He lives a knowing hypocrisy, his own actions in secret service of his friend effectively marking him as a ‘bug’ as anyone rebelling in interest of something that isn't the company's profits would be, but believes his actions can be sufficiently concealed to avoid true disruption. “Every man for himself” works here as a tacitly-encouraged method of survival because it discourages us from uniting with our fellows to realize what we can accomplish when we become bigger than the bosses. Minato's inability to see this as part of the design of his own subversion marks his ultimate splitting with our hero: Kaburagi opens this episode articulating his realization that “The system is crazy”, while Minato insists close to the end that “The system is order.”
It's almost amicable in comparison to the treacherous Turkey, who's scheming is still rooted in that idea of people feeling they're forced into competition over resources out of varying degrees of loyalty, comfort, and dependence on the system. Turkey seems to genuinely believe, bottom of a literal shit-hole where he is right now, that his life can't get any better, and any attempt at disruptions will inevitably make things worse overall. It's another lie we've all been sold at one stage or another, of course, with Turkey taking a turn to pay it forward to the hapless Sarkozy. This background backstabbing being plotted is almost a dark mirror of the previous episode's illustration of the humans of Deca-Dence coming together to pool their resources, motivated by Natsume's insistence on what was possible. The attitude of Gears like Turkey and Sarkozy is pointedly not far off from what Kaburagi had resigned himself to at the beginning of the series – the tragedy being that they don't have their own Natsume, the kind of bug the world needs, to show them a better way.
It makes for an amusingly roundabout affirmation of the classic ‘Something only I can do’ philosophy that we've seen Natsume struggling to embody so far. And that effect is directly quantified in my favorite part of the episode, as Kaburagi knowingly reunites with Natsume in his ‘real’ body. It's only been a couple episodes, but it was absolutely heartwarming to have the rapport of these two fully back. And for all my issues last week regarding Natsume's sketchy relationship with her agency in how this story's pulling her along, her efforts were pointedly rewarded here. The fact, as made clear by Kaburagi himself, is that she was ultimately right: There is a way to fully save humanity from the Gadoll, and it's necessary for her to risk everything on a dangerous mission to do so. It's a heartening win she's given here, cleverly reframing the story's previous context of constructed hopelessness with the audacity of that better way she herself revealed to Kaburagi.
All of this makes for an episode of Deca-Dence which, despite being necessarily transitory, is unexpectedly delightful. This should technically be a heavy, tense episode of the story, heading into its last quarter with stakes ramping up and a villainous betrayal on the horizon. But the escalation of the ensemble element lightens things enough, and portrays both the plot and conceptual elements in a way that's entertaining and interesting to digest on all levels. It's a strange mingling of tangible efforts, as Deca-Dence is a weighty thematic show with major systemic upheavals it's campaigning for in its efforts, but it's also clearly one that Yuzuru Tachikawa and everyone else at Studio NuT are having the time of their lives making.
Deca-Dence is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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