by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
In a work as decidedly dense as Deca-Dence, it can be easy to get so caught up exploring the woods of its thematics that you almost forget there's a whole show happening in there as well. That means actual plot points that would be expected beats in the core story can catch you off-guard where they might not otherwise, and so it went for me with a key tragic cornerstone of this episode's undertaking. By the end of the episode, all the earlier foreshadowing around the fate of Pipe, the goodest boy in the whole wide world, smacked of obvious sacrifice to our pathos as viewers. Kaburagi's royal treatment of a bunch of extra food, and his solemn door-close as he and Natsume departed on their potentially-final mission was something I took of portents for the duo's own serious risks, tying it into their symbolic class struggle, and I didn't even connect the dots when the lynchpin of the plan was literally named the ‘Gadoll Genocide System’. And to think I was the one who, weeks ago, proudly declared his ability to decipher Deca-Dence's deployment of story mechanics as metaphors themselves!
Can you blame me though? Kaburagi's tragic Old-Yeller-ing of Pipe is but one triumphant moment of many dotting this episode's layered depictions of decadent direct action. That it can work in that kind of powerful character work while also delivering one of the most blistering criticisms of capitalism in a time when such thematics are necessarily becoming more common is a testament to Deca-Dence's abilities. At this point I'm shocked at how smoothly Studio NuT's production of this series have seemingly gone at every level. There is clear synergy with the ideas and storytelling on display here, which is especially obvious in instances like this episode where we're constantly cutting rapidly between the humans and same-styled avatars mixing it up and those now-ubiquitous cutesy cyborgs just one literal level below, the two worlds ever closer to colliding as all our heroes work to bring the system crashing down.
The human side of the action is where Studio NuT shows they really haven't lost steam in the sheer imaginative gimmickry of what they're doing. The plot to have all the surrounding Gadoll deploy their anti-gravity zones so Kaburagi and Natsume can just swim through the station is a brilliant extension of the mechanics the show's been working with all this time. And the dramatic appearance and duel with Hugin is a strong central showcase only tempered by the brilliance of the gag behind it—Kaburagi's old boss now serving as a ‘Boss’ of the game he's playing for real, complete with doors shutting on a specific arena and overwrought dramatic declarations right before the battle starts. Between this and the rip-roaring good time Donatello let himself have in his last go in the game and his later Gear-world assault, there's a sense that Deca-Dence is keeping the ‘game’ motif going as hard as possible in a show of contrast. The system wears us down any way it can, even in a gamified setting designed to profit off of us. But once we cut loose and start ‘playing’ for ourselves and our own class, we can find infinitely more satisfaction in our actions and existence.
In terms of making this display work with all the thematics at play here, I have to keep coming back to the rawness of how Tachikawa and co are expressing their thesis at this point. Yes, they're clearly having a ball creating the series, going hog-wild with anti-gravity monster fights and silly cyborg character designs. But motivated by the unrelenting art of their creation, there's a palpable anger at the whole system they're skewering here, and it keeps spreading to further aspects with each installment. The plan in the Gear prison turns out to be the initiation of a full-on riot, with cyborgs setting their environment ablaze and cheering as it burns, the direct intent being to have the smoke from their destruction literally destabilize the power structure above them so it may be deactivated by insurgents.
That's salient stuff to think about any time as a participant (willing or otherwise) in a western-style capitalist system, but it becomes downright harrowing in this specific moment of 2020. The real strength of this, as I indicated, is the absolute unwillingness of Deca-Dence to compromise in terms of the side it's taking. The prisoners have been the sympathetic ones since we got here in this story, and destroying the Gadoll factory and everything it stands for portrayed as a universal good. This extends to the degree to which the opposition is cast, another case of wondering if ‘allegory’ is too light a term for the obvious motions this plot is making: Turkey and Sarkozy sic the police on their fellow workers mid-uprising under the auspices of a greater good. And it is portrayed as an unambiguously villainous action. Turkey is the villain for what he has the enforcers do, the justifiable classification of someone who would have people protesting their rights gunned down in the name of ‘protecting order’. And it categorically makes Sarkozy realize that what he did as well, misinformed good intentions or no, was still villainous. There's not even a passing glance at ‘both-sides-ism’ from Deca-Dence on this front; Sarkozy's unambiguously heroic act at the climax of this episode being tantamount to an enemy of the state suicide-bombing a prison labor camp.
What else can I even say about that? How can I ‘review’ a triumph of thematic intent like that or the dozens of other layers of commentary and corralled-in character work this episode of Deca-Dence pulls off? I can remark on the touching brilliance of the mechanics of Sarkozy's sacrifice, going out using an ability that was purely ‘his’ to be given to his fellow man, not monetized by the system. I can gush again about how great the show still looks in portraying the rampant destruction the riots and insurgency cause to the factory at all levels, or the viciously contrasting weights of how Kaburagi and Hugin move through the antigravity zone in their brilliant boss battle. I could sit and dissect its thematics and allegories more, but this act represents the show shouting them in the most obvious way yet. It's all superfluous in the face of another damn-near-perfect episode of television, with a production that's never stopped speaking for itself.
Deca-Dence is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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