DECA-DENCE: The AniTAY Review

3 weeks ago 16

Illustration for article titled iDECA-DENCE/i: The AniTAY Review

Screenshot: Funimation

While it may have flown under some radars, DECA-DENCE served as a favorite and front-runner for many AniTAY writers’ prestigious anime of the year votes. Today, Dark Aether, DilKokoro, DocKev, TheMamaLuigi, and TGRIP will share their reviews of the abstract anime. We tried our best to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but as always, be wary of minor thematic spoilers.

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Screenshot: Funimation

Dark Aether

Every season, there is usually at least one show that comes out of left field, where I have absolutely no idea what direction it might take. Deca-Dence is difficult to describe, and that’s before we get to the major plot twist that kicks off in episode 2. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans are on the brink of extinction due to air pollution and the threat of the alien lifeforms known as Gadoll, massive corporations are brought in to combat the Gadoll and protect the last remnants of humanity. But as the ages pass and technology becomes more commonplace, the entity that governs the newly formed haven of Deca-Dence begins to shift its focus on maintaining a natural order in the wake of the Gadoll. Organizing the select few humans who can fight into Gears, they venture into the wastelands and exterminate the Gadoll while the non-combatants called Tankers maintain and repair the mobile fortress.

On its surface, Deca-Dence is a familiar post-apocalyptic story dealing with your trademark themes of survival and conformity vs freedom. Despite treading recognizable ground, all of it serves as a backdrop for the series to explore the relationship between spirited Tanker Natsume and veteran handyman Kaburagi. As the pair’s ideals and views of existence come into conflict, with Kaburagi notably detached from the world around him as he settles into a routine life, their mutual bond of student and teacher becomes the driving force for each of them to reevaluate their priorities and reject the roles that the establishment would have them carry out. But even after their rejection of the powers that be, Deca-Dence leaves no bug unchecked as the truth about their world threatens to upset more than just the balance of power, leading to a much more startling revelation about their own existence.

If I’m purposely being vague, it’s because Deca-Dence carefully balances a state of uncertainty through its colorful environments and surprisingly upbeat cast given the circumstances. Though this series is often compared to Attack on Titan with a focus on aerial combat and maneuvers, I can’t help but see a little of Gurren Lagann’s framework with its optimism and fierce cast of fighters eager to challenge the status quo. I’ve been emphasizing a lot about the show’s thematic elements up until now, but make no mistake, Deca-Dence is very much self-aware about its own visual aesthetics, no doubt in large part thanks to Studio Nut’s handiwork. While no two viewers will walk away with the same experience, Deca-Dence is truly this year’s most decadent original anime, eager to indulge your wildest expectations.

TL;DR: Whether you are here for the slick visuals and incredible score or just want a deeply driven narrative about being more than just a cog in the machine, Deca-Dence soars to newfound heights as one of the best anime of the year.

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Screenshot: Funimation

DilKokoro

There are anime that come around and excel at drawing you into their worlds, characters, and messages so effectively that the delivery can outweigh the obstacles of spoilers. Going into DECA-DENCE, I had the entire plot spoiled for me thoroughly by some excited viewers. Because of this, I fully expected to not enjoy the journey since I knew the twists that were coming. Lo and behold, DECA-DENCE was so enjoyable in every facet that, despite knowing these spoilers, I was moved to tears by the emotional weight of the adventure on which these characters embark.

If I had to pin a single aspect as the anime’s most divisive point, it has to be with the stylistic liberties that are taken to show a certain narrative choice. Without spoiling much, there is a part of DECA-DENCE’s world that is starkly different in animation when compared to the bulk of the world built in the first episode. For some, this was very clever but, as I’m sure a good chunk of the Internet can attest, it has put many off from wanting to continue the series. This isn’t completely unfounded - the cartoony style of some parts make it difficult to hold on to the saddle (particularly around the middle episodes), but it is not anything offensive once you get acclimated to the scenes. It looks more off-putting in stills than in motion. Even though the style stays and creates a dizzyingly abstract style, it does not detract from anything that makes this show special.

The most impressive part of this anime comes from its messages about hope and pushing ourselves to our limits. Young Natsume is in an uphill battle that, as we learn, comes to represent humanity as a whole. Kaburagi, meanwhile, is an individual who has long since given up on the ideals of pushing himself and simply waits for an inevitable end. When he meets Natsume, he has a hope rekindled and a drive that defies the laws of nature itself. It is this defilement that DECA-DENCE beats its drum to that delivers a powerful finale, making the series well worth watching.

TL;DR: DECA-DENCE is a remarkable story about the limits of humanity and how hope can prevail. It has an abstract delivery of this amazing message, but is well worth the journey.

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Screenshot: Funimation

DocKev

What do you get if you mix the kinetic aerial combat of Attack on Titan and The Saga of Tanya the Evil with the bonkers creativity of Mob Psycho 100 and a weird amalgam of the design sensibilities of Studio Ghibli’s movies and Bandai’s Heybot? Surely an ungodly mess, right? And with a groan-inducingly terrible title like Deca-Dence, it has to be awful. Thankfully not - this deeply strange hot-pot of disparate influences is distilled into a perfectly-constructed 12-episode moonshine shot of pure fun. The last anime that was as economical and propulsive with its convulsing plot was 2018’s Planet With, and Deca-Dence surpasses even that.

It’s really hard to explain what makes Deca-Dence so good without spoiling the show’s basic premise. That first episode arranges all the pieces for what looks like a great sci-fi/fantasy anime about a mobile post-apocalyptic city and its embattled denizens who fight massive monsters. That alone is a promising start for a short anime series. But Deca-Dence has so much more up its sleeve with a massive, early, head-spinning twist that upends every viewer’s expectation. Although it does remain the show it initially purports to be, it adds several extra dimensions - truly becoming Peak Anime: Hypercube Edition. This plot unspools into hyperdimensional space, baby. (Imagine that line read by Space Dandy for maximum impact.)

Protagonist Natsume is a typical anime lead - plucky, full of energy and ambition, and willing to stand against opposition and indifference to pursue her goals of using weird anti-gravity tech to smash squishy enemies and drain them of their lifeblood using massive hypodermic syringe weapons. She’s a great focal point for audience sympathy as she’s curious about her world and motivated to progress within it.

Natsume’s natural counterpoint is mentor figure Kaburagi - a man of multiple faces, all of them tired. His world-weariness (to the point of terminal resignation) is challenged by his chipper apprentice, and their relationship is the plot’s strong central pivot - always helping to drive the action, even when they spend entire episodes - and seemingly worlds - apart. Natsume overcomes horrors like the loss of her father and the mutilation of her arm with a sunny smile and solemn determination. Kaburagi is inspired to finally transcend his self-imposed restrictions to help them both break free from the metaphorical and physical chains that bind both them and their comrades to a meaningless, demeaning and degrading system that literally churns up the bodies of those who refuse to conform to the authorities and their soulless society.

Deca-Dence is a timely and creative reminder that in these days of late-stage capitalism, digital demagoguery and fake-news-filled media, “sticking it to the man” is as important an ambition as ever.

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Screenshot: Funimation

TheMamaLuigi

How far are you willing to go to break what binds you?

It’s a question that weighs heavily on us all as the world both proverbially and literally falls apart around us. We all feel trapped — in our homes, in our heads, revolution feels a million miles away. I feel it too, sitting here in my apartment for yet another month, staring out my window at a world I can touch but can’t grasp. Deca-Dence arrived at just the right time for me: a giant robotic gut-punch to my melancholic malaise, an assurance that hope is both our greatest ally and a force both visceral and dynamic.

Without spoiling the show — as you really should watch this as blind as possible — Deca-Dence explores the implications and aftermath of capitalism taken to the extreme: the exploitation of human lives in favour of profit and capital gain. Doesn’t sound too dissimilar from our own world, does it? Deca-Dence relies on the viewer’s understanding of this, of how the systems that protect us also bind us.

By focalizing this exploration around Natsume and Kaburagi, Deca-Dence treats viewers to two empathetic sides of the same coin, two characters reckoning with both the weight of the world and their place within that world. Natsume, in particular, is an endless source of joy as she grows from a naive, directionless youth into someone more mindful and mature without losing the hope that defines her. Her journey is one marked by tragedy, and it is the show’s exploration of how Natsume’s handling of that tragedy is both created and influenced by the system that seeks to destroy her that sets Deca-Dence apart. Kaburagi’s development runs parallel to Natsume’s as apathy gives way to passion, to the eminence of spirit. Deca-Dence soars as Natsume learns how to fly and Kaburagi embraces falling. That middle ground, that liminal space, is where we float together, elated and emboldened.

Activation is central to Deca-Dence. A theme made actualized, the show founds itself on the costs of awakening, the challenges of reconciling what we knew with what we know. With an ending simultaneously poignant, hopeful, and delightfully idealistic, Deca-Dence is an instant classic, reminding us that optimism, togetherness, and spirit can break what binds us. I’m still staring out my window, but the other side doesn’t seem so far away now, does it?

TL;DR: Unashamedly optimistic and lovingly idealistic, Deca-Dence is one of the best anime of 2020 and one we most definitely need right now. A remarkably special and recognizably relevant story about how hope both defines us and begets our future, this is one to watch — and watch again.

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Screenshot: Funimation

TGRIP

Deca-Dence is a lot. It tackles hefty subject matter such as the place of a person within society, working for a system that doesn’t value your own humanity, and the hurdles in trying to go against it, eventually changing it into something unrecognizable, all this in the span of just 12 episodes. The first five episodes reminded me most of Planet With in how it impressively achieved so much in such a short timespan, establishing a great protagonist (Natsume) and her mentor figure (Kaburagi), an interesting setting, and two sets of antagonists which create two distinct levels of conflict. Episode six, however, shifts the show’s perspective notably from Natsume to Kaburagi, and it’s where it loses some of its infectious momentum. It’s also where I noticed that despite the writing and direction still being top notch, the story beats felt like they were going too fast for the overall story to land with the appropriate amount of oomph.

When Kaburagi finds himself in prison at episode six, I was expecting a time-jump to show just how long he toiled away, but instead it looks like he was there for just a few weeks at most, making his return not feel like much of an achievement. The show’s cute mascot Pipe feels as though he should have more of a purpose than being just cute, and while his background ties in really well into the show’s overarching theme of “bugs aren’t inherently bad”, by the end Pipe also feels like a missed opportunity, like he should’ve tied into the finale much more than he did.. My favorite character, Kurenai, despite an awesome character design with a fun personality and an implied history with Kaburagi, doesn’t get much character development aside from assisting Natsume in a few key encounters. It’s a bunch of small stuff, I know, but it all adds ups, and it’s why I think that despite enjoying my time with it, I haven’t thought about Deca-Dence much after its conclusion.. It has a lot of small things that felt like they could’ve and should’ve been… “more,” somehow.

I hope that my main issue of “this show could’ve really used another 12 or so episodes” isn’t seen as too harsh a criticism, since many other shows have the same problem. For Deca-Dence especially, though, I think this very much applies in the subject matter and themes it tackles, in that societal change rarely comes about overnight, or even in the span of a month or two. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but even this thematic perspective aside, I know that giving this show more time would’ve made the rest of its run land with the impact of its first five episodes, in giving all its characters fully realized arcs and a conclusion that was more than just fitting but also distinct and earned. And honestly, if the main problem I have with a show is “I wish there was more of it so that it could fully realize its potential”, it must have gotten a helluva lot right, right?


Tl:DR Deca-Dence is good, damn good; one of the best anime of the year thanks to great animation, solid direction, and a fascinating story that tackles some very timely concepts. But it just misses out on being an all-time great, needing one more cour to fully realize said concepts and further flesh out its great cast of characters.


Authors in Order of Appearance (Alphabetical)

Dark AetherDilKokoroDocKev
TheMamaLuigiTGRIP

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