It figures. I made a big effort to watch as much anime this season as I possibly could, and it just so happens to be the season where I just couldn’t get into the vast majority of news shows I tried to pick up. I think I ended up dropping far more of them than I ended up finishing.
Deca-Dence was not a series I dropped though. Haha! Check out that amateur verbal sleight of hand. Nah, honestly, Deca-Dence has been my favourite anime of this Summer anime season. And one that I only ended up watching thanks to some dumb luck and forgetting to cancel my Funimation subscription.
One part Gurren Lagann, two parts Attack on Titan all mixed up and sprinkled with a bunch of The Matrix, then just add a tiny garnish of Monsters Inc at the end. That’s Deca-Dence. An anime original series from NUT, Deca-Dence focuses on the mobile city/fortress with the same name; the last bastion of humanity who are in a constant war of attrition against the Gadoll. A race of monsters that relentlessly attack humanity while also serving as their main source of food and fuel.
It’s a setting that paints a grim reality for humanity, one in which a slow extinction seems like an inevitability. I was all settled in for this story of hope against impossible odds and constant tragedy, but then the show decided to twist and go in a direction I’m not sure I could have ever predicted in my wildest dreams.
As the first episode ends, it’s revealed to us that the world isn’t as brown and beige as it first appeared. In actuality, Deca-Dence is a giant augmented reality game, one in which cute anime robots control flesh and blood avatars, and battle against the manufactured Gadoll monsters all being part of some prewritten narrative.
One with humanity playing the role the unsuspecting supporting characters in this story.
While this is a super cool setting with a really compelling twist to deepen those hooks into the audience right at the end of the first episode, like all great stories the setting ends up being incidental to the human story being told at the core of it. And the story at the core of Deca-Dence is one that speaks to me more today than at any other point in my life.
It’s a story about a former high ranking Deca-Dence player named Kaburagi the system in which he inhabits is inherently broken. That it exerts a suffocating control over everything within it, quashing all forms of freedom and creativity while conforming to its norm. Distracting everyone with games and entertainment. All while treating humans like a resource, an asset in a prewritten narrative to maintain the status quo.
The themes in the series are ones of personal freedoms while being told to “know your place”. Natsume, our other main character is born a human within Deca-Dence (known as Tankers), and dreams of fighting the Gadol like her father did before her. The problem being that everyone around her keeps telling her otherwise. Compounded by her job assignment upon becoming an adult.
Natsume was in an accident as a child, one that cost her father his life and lost her arm. One that has since been replaced by a scrap built replacement. Something that would hold her back in a fight against the Gadol. It’s an ongoing theme throughout the series. Natsume is treated as strange and different for wanting to break away from the status quo, even so far as alienating her best friend, who seems content to make the most of her meagre role in this society.
Which is what brings her directly into contact with Kaburagi. Having become even further indebted to the system, he lives his life masquerading as a Tanker, taking out the “bugs” as the system deems them; those who even come close to threatening the status quo. He’s lost all lust for life and seems to float through as a cog in the machine. It’s Natsume’s enthusiasm for more and living by her own rules that reinvigorates Kaburagi.
It’s an increasingly wistful idea these days: Breaking away from the corporations that continue to find new ways to increase their control over us as the days go by. The idea of rising up, breaking away and establishing something new seems so attractive, but as a certain Black Mirror episode showed, fantasising this illusion is just another tactic to prevent us from actually doing anything about it.
I had to stop watching Black Mirror, it hit too close to home and depressed the hell out of me.
Outside of this grand metaphor, the show still finds time to be fun, action-packed and jam full of very likeable characters. Ironically, while looking much cuter, the world of cyborgs is darker than that of the Deca-Dence game. Sure, humanity might be on the verge of extinction, constantly on the run from terrible monsters, and yet they live in blissful ignorance. They have their heroes in the form of the Gears (the cyborg avatars) and are relatively well protected inside the mobile rocket punch fortress.
While the cyborgs are living in the full cyberpunk dystopia, ruled over by megacorporations, who are masters of distracting from reality with empty entertainment. Anyone who does try to break away from these constraints are deemed as bug and are either eliminated or send to the shit farms, where they are cut off from normal society.
I know which world I’d rather be living in. As one Joey Pants once said: “Ignorance is bliss”.
In the end, Deca-Dence is much more of a feel-good story than the early episodes would lead you to believe. The setting is cool as hell, the fight animation (which seems like is has a lot to thank Attack on Titan for) is amazing and all of the cast are fun, bright and likeable characters. The contrasting animation styles of the humans and the cyborgs adds an extra layer of fun to the worlds.
And while Kaburagi’s story of redemption it pretty standard for this kind of show, it’s well-executed and hits exactly where it needs to to to be effective on me. Once the major twists of the story are all out in the open, Deca-Dence is pretty by the numbers, but executes it all very well. I enjoyed the hell out of Deca-Dence and would recommend it enthusiastically.