This Week in Anime
What the Hell is Happening in Deca-Dence?

by Nick Dupree & Steve Jones,

Mob Psycho 100 director Yuzuru Tachikawa successfully pulled a fast one on even the most seasoned anime viewers with Deca-Dence's big reveal in episode two. Nick and Steve lay out what the heel-turn means for the show's themes and why it's the "must watch" of the season.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

You can read our Daily Streaming reviews for Deca-Dence here.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Steve
Nick, I'm sick of jokes. We don't have to subvert expectations every week. Let's just have a totally normal column for once and enjoy a good, old-fashioned, and completely unsurprising chat about this season's new premier sci-fi series about fighting giant monsters in a mobile rocket punch fortress. That's all there is to it.
Nick
I know this is a bit but honestly I could spend a good couple hours just talking about the Kawamori-esque majesty of Deca-Dence having its titular mobile dystopia transform into a giant fist to just wallop kaiju.
This is what I'm talking about! What a cool first episode! The characters are charming. The setting is evocative. Everything is compellingly realized through the adaptation and animation choices. What more could you ask for?
Not much! But that's basically what I expected going into this show. Like, Yuzuru Tachikawa is 2-for-2 on directing phenomenally resonant and meaningful series, so letting him loose with another original series seems like a no-brainer for anime of the season. Plus it stars Anitwitter's new seasonal Daughter!
I'm looking at the screencaps I picked out for this column, and at least half of them are Natsume moods.

She's great! And a great example of how Deca-Dence managed to surprise me in its early moments. You see the post-apocalypse setting, the young kid hanging out with a gruff and stern older mentor, you think this is gonna be a typical dour sci-fi adventure. But there's so much energy and joy emanating from Natsume's animation that I spent most of the premiere with a huge dumb smile on my face.
Yeah, it's definitely unsurprising when you consider the rest of Tachikawa's oeuvre, but he knows how to put an anime together. The building blocks here are all familiar (and, some might say, low-hanging), but they're handled with such precision and warmth that it's hard not to be infected by them.
Just look at Kaburagi, who for all appearances is the grizzled, jaded old saw who wants Natsume to give up on trying to be a soldier. But as we peal back the layers we see he has a hidden subversive side too him, so much that he keeps a cute monster-puppy in his apartment as a secret pet.

Look at that ugly little bastard. I love it.
Pipe is a good...whatever Pipe is. Look, these Gadoll names sound like some future generation of Pokémon introduced long after GAME FREAK have given up, so I hope we're not expected to remember them.
Haha, Gadoll go burrrrrrrrn.
Though the Gadoll do make up an interesting...enemy? In that unlike, say, Titans, they're not a constant threat so much as a fuel source the Deca-Dence needs to keep functioning. Which at once makes their appearances a threat and an opportunity, which explains why being a "Gear" in the system is more aggrandized than just being a mead shield for the colony.
It's neat spin on what would otherwise be a familiarly post-apocalyptic setting. Like, it's worlds better than that one Netflix show we covered where humanity is also under constant attack from giant bugs, but for no other reason than "because." In a post-Titan world, that's just not good enough, and consequently I can't even remember what the title of that show was. Deca-Dence, however, uses its first episode not only to establish the threat of the Gadoll, but introduce these more complex thematic elements about a society thoroughly molded by their presence, to a symbiotic degree. It's good!
And episode 2 opens with a lot more solemnity than I expected. Like yeah, the fight with the monsters is cool and Punch City rocks, but it's also bloody and dangerous work that can cost as much as it gains.

It's a neat and meaningful contrast with how the first episode's climax languishes in these cinematic three-dimensional zero-G dogfights with the Gadoll, not to mention the city-sized uppercut concluding the battle. Deca-Dence pulls back and wants us to know it's going to be a story about people first and foremost. And that's the way it should be.

And just people. Regular human beings. Flesh and blood. That's definitely it.
It's a strong writing choice that sets up a lot of expectations forrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
STEVE I CAN'T KEEP THE KAYFABE UP.
HEYBOTS HAVE CONQUERED THE WORLD.
HAHA SUCKERS. You thought you were enjoying the new Yuzuru Tachikawa series, huh? Gonna love the fun prestige sci-fi anime hit of the summer, right? Full of cool kaiju battles with relatable characters and a touching coming-of-age narrative? NOPE. Enjoy season two of Heybot!.
This is the curse Micchy laid upon us, and I swear I will get revenge.
I had to put those images together so y'all can properly appreciate how upsettingly similar these character designs are. Welcome to the future, and it's Heybot! farting on a human face, forever.
So yeah, immediately after the sober funeral of faceless but nonetheless human fighters, we learn that SURPRISE, this is all some absolutely fucked MMO made by cyborgs in a spaceship who built Deca-Dence for fun & profit.

And that alone wouldn't be THAT big of a swerve. Like sure, it's a big twist that shifts our idea of the story and setting, but it's not unheard of in sci-fi. What really throws you is that the cyborgs behind all this look like...this.
Again, for emphasis, almost functionally indistinguishable from a Heybot! screencap.
I mean, there is some difference. The humans don't look like hideous Beyblade rejects.
If you weren't online last Wednesday, you seriously missed out on the anitwitter event of the season. In fact, I'd go even further to say this second episode is one of the most memorable about-faces in recent serialized media.
It's not quite at the level of Slicing Simian Mutilating Monkey Guillotine Guerilla, but it still caught basically every person I know on the back foot. Great job hiding every single hint at this secret going in, guys. Especially considering one of the cyborgs is your friggin deuteragonist.
Keeping all of this a secret until the day it aired is an absolute masterstroke by Tachikawa and the rest of the crew. Only the greatest of artists would go so far to troll their audience. I cannot commend them highly enough. Similarly, I praise the creative choice to keep Kaburagi's voice and personality completely unchanged in Heybot! mode. It makes for incredible screenshots.
Also props to this shot RIGHT as we got the reveal. As somebody currently playing another dystopia video game it was VERY familiar.
No divorced lizard and owl wives in Deca-Dence, though, sadly.
YET.
You're right, I should trust Tachikawa.
Though really, this twist wouldn't be all that impressive if it was just surprising. What's brilliant here is that while it shifts the frame, it doesn't necessarily alter or invalidate anything we said about the first episode. All the emotion and thematic depth is still there, it's just that now the layers of social stratification between "Tankers" and "Gears" is all the more stark and we have a more clear-cut idea of why and how. Like this conversation? Still holds weight. It's just that we know Kaburagi is discouraging Natsume because the world she lives in was actively designed to keep her from succeeding.

That's a very important point. The twist uproots nothing and instead hones the existing thematic concerns into a razor-sharp satirical edge.

Like hmmm I wonder if this show about humanity's last remnants fighting to their deaths over a limited natural resource collected by their literally-monolithic and omnipotent corporate overlords is trying to say anything.
I'm sure it's nothing. NOTHING. THERE'S NO MESSAGE NO WAIT WHERE ARE YOU GO-

Welcome to Deca-Dence's dystopia, where Jeff Bezos not only purchases all of mankind for the sole purpose of making a video game, but also institutes the death penalty for the high crime of aimbotting.
Really though, the reverse Wall-E concept works wonders for personifying the idea of cold, empathy-devoid corporatism. The cyborgs, while being human in consciousness, are reduced to, well, Gears in the machine. They exist to fulfill The System's vision of order and failure or refusal of that leads to being scrapped and replaced with somebody who will earn the fuel they require.
Yep, any deviation from the established corporate goals is considered a "bug" and swiftly eliminated. Obviously they're using computer terms since they're all cyborgs, but the letter of this law is no different from existing attitudes about who is or isn't allowed to reap the benefits from capitalist society.
And it's kind of brilliantly insidious how the system keeps its people from questioning it. By turning resource-gathering into a gamified process that can earn you status and comfort. Who's got time to question the morality of keeping the last remaining humans in the basement of a video game when you've got leaderboards to chase?

Oh did we not mention that? Yeah the actual humans in the "game" are real, and living out their lives while the robot cogs try to get the most Fortnite funbucks to spend on laserbeam drugs or whatever.
Gamification is hardly a new concept, nor is it a stranger to dystopian critiques (hell, just flip to a random Black Mirror episode to see how much it's been played out), but Deca-Dence's stroke of brilliance is centering its first episode so completely around the human cost of this "game" that we aren't even made aware it's a game.
Also helps that this twist comes in the first 1/10th of the show, so it gets to actually explore and expand upon it instead, say, dropping it in the last 3 episodes and rushing through it with no fucking clue why it matters. Like a certain other sci-fi show with a roving fortress city.
I'm also still struck by chef's-kiss-worthy confidence of committing the entire show to exploring these ideas. Shock value is transient, and the murmurs about the second episode will eventually fade, but if Deca-Dence's writing continues to be this forthright and perceptive in its critique of fundamentally exploitative systems, we're gonna be talking about it for a while.

At the very least, I'll keep talking about it so long as it continues to frame Kaburagi's dopey Heybot! body in these low dramatic camera angles.
Though I think the key to it making any of its commentary land sits with Natsume, who continues to be The Best. I especially liked the sensitivity the show treats her relationship with her prosthetic.


In a media landscape that can often treat a character just having a prosthesis as a burden, it's nice to see the show recognize that folks can build an attachment to the things that help them live their life.
Natsume's a "bug" in the sense that not only is she no longer a part of the system's surveillance system, but is also clearly a deviant when it comes to what that system would consider necessary and/or productive. That's, of course, exactly what makes her a good protagonist. Also the faces. The faces help.
Listen Kaburagi you better protect this...well not "smile" but, y'know what I mean.
We also seem to have the same taste in women, so kudos to her in that respect as well.
Oh I am very much looking forward to learning more about Kurenai.

Also this isn't important but I love this bit from when Kaburagi takes Natsume into the player hub.
Honestly, the most I have to suspend my disbelief in Deca-Dence is accepting the apparent lack of Monster Factory-caliber player characters walking around the city. Like, you're expecting me to believe that Natsume hasn't run into The Final Pam yet? Sure. Okay.
I mean, I'm sure Todd Howard here has strict rules on character creation. That the Gears get to have unnatural skin colors and fangs is probably pushing it.
Maybe that will be the True arc of the show: overthrowing the system and letting the Gears finally create the fursonas of their dreams.
I mean if Natsume and Kaburagi get to overthrow the space computer alongside Knife Dad and Toucan Dan I'm all for it, but regardless I'm just hear to enjoy whatever ride Tachikawa has planned for me.
Oh yeah I am all-in on whichever cards Deca-Dence decides to deal. I've enjoyed pretty much every part of these first three episodes, from the timely critiques of corporatism to the colorful Heybot!-like character designs, and its concoction of emotional resonance and deadpan satire feels like exactly what I need right now.
Just give me more Natsume faces, please.
But at what cost?
She'll be fine!
RIP.
: )

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