Deca-Dence – Mid Season Anime Review
For More Summer Anime Reviews check out our Summer 2020 Coverage Guide!
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)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: When Deca-Dence first started, it came off as yet another post-apocalyptic/dystopian tale about humanity’s struggle to survive against an alien invader/new monstrous life forms. Thanks to cast/creature designs and world building, it still managed to stand out, even if it hit some pretty familiar beats. However, episode 2 is where Deca-Dence showed its true colours; revealing new, game-changing details about the world of Deca-dence that shook up the entire setting, basically reinventing the narrative. It’s a drastic reveal, one that sets the story off in a completely different direction and goes from what could have been described as a basic post-civilization sci-fi human survival story to something with more layers, conspiracies and angles.
Tom: Deca-Dence’s abrupt, second episode twist truly deepens the entire production, adding layers that are clearly social commentary and bring a greater weight to Deca-Dence’s narrative. That said, for as elevating as these additional layers are, they come at a cost. Deca-Dence’s early twist is very much the kind of thing most anime would wait to do until episode 6, or even as last as the pen-ultimate episode. It’s a shake up that most anime would use to throw audience understanding out the window and cross fingers that the sudden upheaval of the status quo would be remembered as an awe-inspiring moment. Here they decide to get it out of the way early, but not early enough. Fans were left after Episode 1, waiting a whole week, with expectations seemingly set as for what to expect; Natsumi’s quest of a pseudo-revenge against the Gadoll for taking her father away, and a chance to save humanity from a stagnant existence against the ever-present threat of the monstrous Gadoll. It’s no wonder then when Episode 2 pulled back the curtains and revealed Natsume’s focus was but a component to a larger narrative, that some were left jilted. The re-contextualization is so rushed that not only is it a lot to take in, but many viewers were even confused about niggling details. These aren’t the kind of details that should be in the shadows either, but information that helps people to understand exactly what’s transpiring. So for all the good the twist ultimately brings, there’s an uncomfortable transition period where you’re still trying to understand exactly what the true status quo of Deca-Dence is. Still, sitting through the twist is very much worth it, as each episode since has only strengthened my desire to see how this series ultimately plays out.
Linny: Natsume is our protagonist that kicks off the story and she is definitely meant to be the lead that attracts a younger crowd, thanks not only to her age but her more upbeat and even naive, ‘never give up’ attitude to the various obstacles she faces, a quality common amongst most young anime protagonist. She’s a fun character, able to play the fool when needed for laughs and full of determination for the audience to cheer on. We then have Kaburagi, initially introduced as Natsume’s mentor but becomes the series’ second main character. He’s a lead for an older viewer, clearly jaded by his past experiences but still a badass to boot. While both of these characters have traits one would call familiar or even cliche, having such competing characters playing leads together helps the series to feel more balanced and widen its appeal. In fact, while one might have expected to have the two constantly playing off each other with a greater focus on Natsume, Deca-dence goes so far as to separate them and even give a fair amount of the spotlight to Kaburagi, making it clear that they equally share the spotlight.
Warning: Full Spoilers to Follow – Skip Ahead
Tom: That’s about as much as we can say without giving away Episode 2’s game-changing reveal; quite literally. If you’re still not sold on the series, here goes; Natsume and her quest to eradicate the Gadoll and save humanity aren’t a lie, but the world she lives in very much is. As it turns out humanity nearly wiped itself out many generations ago. To prevent that from ever happening again a massive corporation, the Solid Quake Corporation, rose up to take charge of humanity. They upgraded humanity, turning numerous individuals into Cyborgs, until eventually the cyberized human population greatly outnumbered the remaining humans. Now, an undefined number of years later, the remainder of humanity is unwitting pawns in a massive MMO0-style game utilized to keep the Cyborgs content. Solid Quake manufactures the Gadoll that terrorize the humans, and it’s up to the Cyborgs to ‘log-in’ to the ‘game world’ and do battle against these horrific monsters that plagued the last remaining humans taking refuge in the mobile fortress Deca-Dence. We still follow Natsume’s quest to eradicate the Gadoll, but the other big focus is on Kaburagi. Kaburagi, as it turns out, is a former “Ranker,” or top-player and direct minion of Solid Quake. After a terrible incident from his past left him questioning his life it’s the presence of Natsume, and what she represents that makes Kaburagi want to push back against the world of Deca-Dence in eventual, open dissension.
Linny: It’s that dual narrative that forms that keeps Deca-Dence from becoming stale with Natsume’s more predictable storyline. Natsume could prove to be a challenging character for those tired of the wide-eyed, ever optimistic, somewhat dim young lead found in so many Shonen tales time and time again. Heck, Deca-dence even goes so far as to have Natsume rush into a dangerous situation, clearly way beyond her skill level, and have her basically cause the death of someone who had to rush in to save her from her own stupidity. Thankfully, Kaburagi’s more reserved reactions and narrative helps to save the series for anyone bored by Natsume. Not that his story beats are all that original either. Most well-watched viewers will easily identify the predictable character arc both leads have been given. However, Deca-dence does avoid some of the biggest cliches and does enough with its world building and plot developments to make the journey feel engaging even with familiar stepping stones. For example, Deca-dence avoids having Natsume be a ‘chosen one’ who goes from bumbling to magnificent in a handful of episodes. In fact, we are six episodes in and it’s clear that Natsume is still learning the ropes rather than taking down Gadoll after Gadoll without breaking a sweat like some generic anime protagonist.
Tom: The deeper we get with Deca-Dence the more interesting the series gets. Natsume is gradually side-lined to explore the world beyond humanity, giving Kaburagi a greater opportunity to shine as a lead, and allow audiences to come to better understand what’s truly happened to humanity. There’s a lot of meaning within these developments, including an undoubtedly anti-capitalism sentiment that feels like an actual message, keeping Deca-Dence from feeling like another fun, but forgettable and ultimately message-less piece of entertainment. The twist is still awkward however, and I wish there were stronger hints of it in Episode 1 itself, to perhaps better avoid the severe audience backlash we saw with Episode 2. It doesn’t help that the twist confused many, because details were sparse and that’s never a good thing when you’re flipping the entire script. Still, I would implore viewers to stick with it, because for all the early mishandling of such game-changing developments, Deca-Dence continues to impress, only getting more and more interesting as the focus shifts to Kaburagi and what’s really going on behind the facade of Deca-Dence.
Linny: My biggest gripe with Deca-dence besides the poorly handled big twist reveal might be a personal matter in that the art style/designed’s utilized for the cyborgs (characters revealed post Episode 2 twist) reminds me too much of silly, colourful characters crafted to grab the attention of toddlers. It becomes difficult for me to get invested or take seriously any event happening onscreen with these cutesy cyborg characters, especially when they face some truly dark developments. Watching them undergo cruel treatment or engage in life or death duels becomes a surreal experience. However, Deca-dence throws in so many layers with its story, revealing twists after twists that it still managed to keep me invested overall, eager to find out what new developments await us. Given that the show mixes in familiar story beats with a unique take on an dystopian world, Deca-dence might end up as one of the more noteworthy series in its season, if it manages to keep things balanced. By drawing on popular well-established tropes and using just enough unique elements to make them feel renewed, Deca-dence could be the show to recommend anyone seeking something action packed that also packs a punch with its deepening story.
Deca-Dence is available for streaming via Funimation.