Deca-Dence – Anime Review
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Synopsis: After nearly being driven to extinction by life forms known as Gadoll, humanity dwells in a mobile fortress named Deca-Dence. Built to protect humans from the Gadoll threat, it’s occupied by Gears, warriors who fight daily, and Tankers, those without the same skills. Natsume, who dreams of fighting, meets Kaburagi, an armor repairman. Their chance meeting will shake the future of this world. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Major Spoilers for Episode 2 to Follow):
Tom: Deca-Dence made a name for itself early on this past season with a ‘bait and switch’ first couple episodes. Initially the series was billed as the story of Natsume, a girl living in mankind’s last refuge, the mobile fortress Deca-Dence, and her struggle to defeat the Gadoll menace that claimed her father’s life years ago. But Episode 2 re-contextualized events significantly, and while the original premise wasn’t invalidated, it turned out to be but a component of a much grander story. This twist was a gamble, one that put off quite a few viewers so early on, and begged the question as to whether such a shift in narrative focus was worth that risk. With the series now concluded I think it’s safe to say that what Deca-Dence ended up offering was better than what Episode 1 purported to offer, ultimately positioning Deca-Dence as perhaps this Summer’s best new title.
Linny: What seemingly starts as yet another post apocalyptic battle for humanity’s survival turns into a story about a rather strange new biome, where humans and cyborgs coexist, with the former party completely unaware of the true nature of the situation they are in and a secret power pulling all the strings. There’s lot of surprises and twists regarding the city and its inhabitants and even the very monsters they fight. This gives the show a lot of potential as it leaves viewers curious for answers…though there is the risk that if you had grown attached to the original set up in episode one then this 180 degree reveal would leave you feeling cold.
Tom: Episode 2 reveals that humanity is but a pawn in the cyborg’s secret civilization. Humans exist as “NPCs” in a massive, real world, online game that cyborgs can participate in. Even the Gadoll menace, that Natsume fights against with so much fiery passion, is a carefully constructed enemy for the cyborgs to play against. Rather, the main story is about Kaburagi, a disgraced major player in the world of Deca-Dence and his struggle against a society he increasingly sees as wrong. By getting its game changing twist out of the way so early on, compared to other anime that might’ve left this for the half-point or pen-ultimate reveal, this allows Deca-Dence to offer greater depth and exploration of the ‘true world’ hiding out of sight from Natsume and the other humans. Natsume and her struggle doesn’t sink away entirely either, and fans of her more traditional narrative can rest easy knowing she doesn’t disappear, acting as the important catalyst character that keeps pushing Kaburagi forward.
Linny: Not only does Deca-Dence’s 180 degree development make the show feel more unique but it also gives it the freedom to play around. By featuring sentient, self aware cyborgs and having the world be a sort of semi-simulation situation, it is able to throw in a lot of twists, turns or even just jokes and situations that would not have worked had it been a more traditional story and setting. For example, the cyborgs’ real bodies are depicted as comical or eccentric in design, making them great avenues for comedic set up. It also enables the show to jump between comedy and action less jarringly as the complete shift in character designs between situations helps the viewer to mentally switch and follow along. The marked divide helps Deca-dence to keep its clashing tones separate but still engaging. Once you’re past the shock and exposition dump from episode 1 and 2, Deca-dence does a good job of selling itself, making even tense or tragic moments work even when being portrayed by its ‘goofier’ looking characters.
Tom: Truly the whole series has a unique, unconventional design sense extending past the cyborgs. From the Gadoll themselves, to the flying/floating gear used to combat them, and even the massive mobile fortress Deca-Dence itself, everything about this series sits far enough away from more traditional anime designs that it leaves Deca-Dence feeling memorable on its facade alone. This unique visual sense helps to craft memorable, thrilling battles between the monstrous Gadoll and the forces of humanity and cyborg combined. Heck, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time we see Deca-Dence transform into its combat configuration, a giant fist, and punch the gigantic Gadoll advancing on it into oblivion. It’s absolutely absurd, but in a lovable way.
Linny: Though, as much as we are showering Deca-dence with praise, we cannot ignore the fact that the CGI segments of Deca-dence are NOT exactly great. Not only is the frame-rate rough, it clashes immensely with the more traditional 2D segments. Given that the standard anime viewer tends to not be a fan of CGI animation, Deca-dence is likely going to have a strike against it for employing it every time the show needs to depict the titular Deca-dence machine or any of the more ‘impressive’ Gadoll monsters.
Tom: Moving again past the visuals, let’s discuss the characters. For as much as Natsume feels like our heroine for Episode 1, the show increasingly shifts its focus to Kaburagi, eventually making it clear that Deca-Dence is truly about him and his revelations concerning cyborg society. It’s around Episode 6 that Natsume is positioned as the catalyst character responsible for always pushing Kaburagi when he doubts himself, or when he questions whether the system of Deca-Dence can truly be toppled. While losing a female lead isn’t fantastic, Kaburagi’s kind of disheartened, run-down, aged hero that has to find the fiery passion for life again feels so much more rare in the anime medium, a medium that focuses on teenage heroes to an overwhelming degree. The story really is about Kaburagi, and Natsume to a lesser degree. However, if neither character sounds like your cup of tea, that could be a real problem, as the show uses its side characters more so as components to the overall narrative, rather than personalities for the audience to become infatuated with.
Linny: To be perfectly frank, as enjoyable as Kaburagi and his story is… it doesn’t hold up to too close of an inspection. At the end of the day, most of us have seen this before. Jaded, bitter older expert finds a new reason to live/excel thanks to young and super optimistic rookie. Even Natsume’s plot follows all the predictable, though solid, beats of the super cheerful, never say die, anime protagonist who ends up inspiring and befriending even her old enemies and nemesis by the end of the series. That isn’t to say the story isn’t enjoyable because it still is. It’s just not a show you’d pick up for super original characters or character journeys.
Tom: While Deca-Dence’s greatest obstacle is the early ‘bait and switch’ reveal, there’s a few black marks against it at the end. It’s clear that Deca-Dence might’ve been served by a few more episodes, as the final episode seems to rush through major, lingering obstacles, letting everything wrap up perhaps too cleanly. That said, Deca-Dence is still fun, and at the end of the day that’s all you really need. Kaburagi is a compelling, if not entirely original character. The same goes for Natsume, and perhaps both being such archetypal characters is softened by how surprising Deca-Dence’s reveals can be, letting the series feel unique enough to overlook its more tired elements. Despite the main thrust of the narrative being Kaburagi’s quest to topple society, there’s still a lot of giant monster vs human/cyborg action that keeps Deca-Dence exciting for those who need a rush of comabt. If you watch nothing else from this season, at least give Deca-Dence a shot, as it’s the best this Summer had to offer.
Linny: Deca-dence is undoubtedly one of the stronger new shows to emerge this season. Is it a must watch for everyone? Definitely not. But if you tend to enjoy tales of jaded heroes rising against insurmountable powers and corporations or stories set in a world where nothing is at it seems then you might come away rather entertained by Deca-dence. Yes, you have to be accepting of some popular tropes when it comes to characters and story, like how nobody you know for more than an episode truly dies, leading to some really contrived revivals and jokes in the final episode. But if those aren’t deal breakers to you and you’d love to dive into a generally unique setting, then Deca-dence might be the pick of its season for you.
Deca-Dence is available for streaming via Funimation.