The World Might Suck But You Don’t Have To
The title of this anime gives you a bit of a hit going in that things are not exactly as they seem in episode one. With ‘decadence’ being a decline usually as a result of excessive indulgence you kind of assume when you see the set up that the Tankers, humans who live inside the mobile fortress, Deca-Dence, that somewhere along the line we’re going to see a master class that has skewed things so that they can live in luxury. While that isn’t actually the case it most certainly does make it easier to pick up the signs in episode one of what else is going on that the innocent protagonist seems unaware of.
Where Deca-Dence definitely won me over however, was that in the introduction to episode 2 they simply let the audience in on what that secret was. While I have nothing against anime that allow the audience to discover the ‘truth’ with the protagonist and the suspense that can come from anticipation and waiting to show your hand, it seemed refreshing for an anime to just come out and make it clear to the audience what the state of play actually was and then let us watch as things unfolded from there with the protagonist really not getting to find out what was really going on until about three quarters of the journey through.
With that said, there will be some spoilers in the review below however I haven’t included any images from beyond the half-way point and will refrain from discussing the ending, other than expressing my absolute satisfaction that in 12 episodes this anime told its story, reached its climax, and even dealt with the fallout. While it might be a little too neatly tied up in the final moments, I wasn’t left feeling disappointed when it ended and I don’t need to wait for a sequel that may or may not ever happen.
When trying to describe Deca-Dence to someone who hasn’t watched it you really are a bit stuck. On the one hand it tells a nice coming of age story for protagonist Natsume. As a precocious child she sneaks out of the fortress with her father and then they are promptly attacked by a monster. She loses part of her arm as a result and he is killed. All of this happens as the introduction to the story. Despite her disability, Natsume is determined and though so many people around her try to dissuade her from the path she has chosen, Natsume is working toward becoming a soldier and one of the few Tankers (humans who live inside the fortress) who can join the army which is largely made up of ‘Gears’ (who are warriors who live on the upper floors).
While Natsume’s arc is a little heavy handed at times as she goes through periods of grim-determination followed by set-backs, acquires a mentor and confidant who at first is reluctant to take her on and then is fiercely defensive of her, feels abandoned by friends and then reconnects, and works to define what it is she is fighting for, her character journey shapes the rest of the story that is unfolding around her for the most part without her knowledge. It is solidly done and Natsume is a delightful character. She reminds me a little bit of Emma from the Promised Neverland, but she is most definitely her own character. However, it is impossible to spend time watching Natsume and not want to better yourself or work to improve your situation. She’s just a bundle of motivation.
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Though, describing it as a character journey would kind of be lacking. The overarching narrative is incredibly far-reaching as the nature of the world is described and then changed through the course of the story. As a dystopian sci-fi there’s some common tropes with civilisation on Earth having ended due to pollution and corporations seizing power as governments collapse. We’ve seen these basic trapping before. Even the Gadoll, monsters who attack the fortress, aren’t overly unique, though they are very colourful. When we throw in game simulation elements, cyborgs, and an AI system that has decided it is perfect and defends itself (strong reminder of Psycho Pass’s system coming through without the mental health aspects) a basic description of this 12 episode anime might leave someone thinking that the writers simply threw a bunch of ideas together hoping some of them would stick.
I will admit, the second part of episode 1, where the entire fortress did a transformers style reconfiguration and turned into a giant canon in order to blow up a giant Gadoll, and as we saw the first fight with the Gears zipping around in the Gadoll’s zone (which manipulates gravity allowing for some pretty cool fight sequences really) had me worried that this Deca-Dence might end up being a little too derivative and have tried to push too much into its own narrative. Fortunately, I was very wrong as all things considered the narrative is actually pretty tightly woven and the characters are strong enough to link events and ground the more fantastical plot elements at play.
After watching an episode I was asked by a friend what I thought and at the time I was feeling a mixture of Chrome Shelled Regios vibes crossed with Darling in the Franxx, and realistically that wasn’t exactly inspiring confidence. Fortunately, by the end of the second episode, and when I first tweeted my impressions, Deca-Dence had managed to really sell me on the idea that this anime was going to walk its own path and I was genuinely curious.
Ultimately, Deca-Dence does not disappoint. The action gets more intense as each battle has higher and higher stakes, character growth and development continues throughout, and plot threads are always purposeful. Even minor characters are given decent motivations and goals that underpin their actions making most of the events feel purposeful. Jumping between locations from the bleak wasteland to the inside of the fortress to the home of the system isn’t jarring as each setting is distinct as are the characters who inhabit it.
There’s little I would change about this anime as each phase of the story seems to do what it needs to do and move on. The audience is never left in the dark for too long and there’s really only one plot development that seems to exist simply for the sake of driving us to the climax. Everything else feels very natural within the set-up. If you didn’t catch Deca-Dence when it aired, I would definitely recommend giving it a watch as it is surprisingly delightful.
Images used for review from: Deca-Dence. Dir. Y Tachikawa. Nut. 2020.
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