Hella Spoilers on this one. I wanted to avoid giving away too much, but with a show like this, I have to talk about some of the plot twists to explain my full thoughts on it. (Yup, this is going to be a long one.) If you prefer to watch anime blind and just want to know whether you should or shouldn’t watch Deca-DENCE, well, ehhhhhhhhh….
So, the first episode is one of the best first episodes of anime I’ve seen in a while. In a post-apocalyptic world, the last vestiges of humanity are constantly under attack from bug monsters called the Gaddoll, and hide in a giant mobile fortress tank. A few brave soldiers use the monster’s anti-gravity fields to fight back against them, a young girl, Natsume, longs to join them. She may have no experience and a clunky robotic arm, but that’s not gonna stop our plucky shonen hero! The grizzled Kaburagi begrudgingly takes her on board, and soon Natsume is on the adventure of a lifetime. It’s got classic anime influences: from Nausicca to Gurren Lagann, with fluid 2D and 3D animation, an ethereal Celtic-inspired OST, and an inspiring young female action hero. I was so excited after just the first episode, I thought it could be my anime of the year right then and there. And then I watched episode 2…
The big twist at the end of the first episode is that this world is manufactured. Sometime in the 24th century, humanity nearly went extinct due to catastrophic global warming, until a sentient AI bought the rights to our humble species. They created an army of little androids and Deca-DENCE, a massive multiplayer RPG (UGHGHGH) that the robots play. Humans are their unwitting slaves, and the Gadoll are just boss monsters there to ensure that the population doesn’t get too high. But even the Androids aren’t free, as they are forced to obey everything the “system” dictates. There’s only one man – erm, robot – who can put an end to all this: Kaburagi, whose true identity this weirdly adorable TV/Digimon-type critter.
I just… Wow. So instead of a post-apocalyptic survival story, what we have here is, like, an isekai where the machines are playing the humans? Or maybe it’s more like The Matrix meets my childhood nightmares? This show is such a weird, incongruous mess, I don’t even really know how to describe it. And it’s only the second episode!
Let’s break this down. How did an AI buy the “rights” to the entire human species? How does that even work? What is “the system” and why does it exist? They keep talking about profit, but why would an all-powerful machine need money in the first place? What do sentient androids get out of playing an MMORPG, and why do they need to enslave humans to do it? What is the practical function behind anything that is happening? This world is so goddamn convoluted, but none of it makes sense or adds to the story in an interesting way.
This might seem like nitpicking, but the confused worldbuilding ruins Deca-DENCE’s themes and robs it of its lead protagonist. Since Natsume is left in the dark about the true nature of the world for most of the series, she effectively doesn’t get to do anything but fight meaningless monsters and be cute for most of the show’s runtime. The real main character role goes to Kaburagi, who just isn’t interesting enough to carry the show all by himself. He has the griff, stoic badass thing down, but that’s pretty much all there is to him. They also do an annoying fake out where you think he dies early on, but nope, he’s a robot, so he can just get a new body, and then that body dies so he has to get back the old one… It’s so stupid, and like, why?!
Actually, there are a lot of pointless characters and subplots for an anime that’s only 12 episodes long. There’s this part where Kabu gets thrown into prison, and has to beat up the biggest and baddest inmate, and then it turns out this green electrical juice that the robots all need to survive is actually liquified Gaddoll shit, so they stage a prison break. It goes nowhere for way too long and is excruciating to watch. There’s a lot of shit in this anime, both figuratively and literally…
Honestly, almost all the robots are either bland or annoying, and they take up way more screen time than the characters I actually liked. There’s this one lady called Kurenai who’s a badass female mentor to Natsume and is hinted to have a secret past with Kaburagi. And they don’t do anything with her! She shows up for one boss fight and then you don’t see her again until the finale. I love her design, but I had to go on MAL just so I could remember what her name is!
I really wanted to like this anime. I kept waiting for the moment where everything would click, and it just never came. Confused writing is one thing, but with Deca-DENCE, I genuinely don’t understand what they were even trying to say. They certainly try to tackle big themes: technophobia, the dangers of unchecked capitalism, and Natsume’s low-key inspiring arc about overcoming her disability a la Edward from Full Metal Alchemist. But all of these ideas are poorly thought out and executed, and they’re not nearly as deep or original as the creators seem to think they are. The Gainax anime this one is clearly trying to be (Eva, FLCL, and of course Gurren) do a much better job of balancing existential themes with over the top action and humor. Even Darling in the FranXX works better as a post-apocalypse story, and I don’t care for that show at all. Deca-DENCE, while showing promise early on, is ultimately just another forgettable seasonal anime that failed to capitalize on its potential. I’m not mad. Just disappointed.
I made it to episode 3. After reading your review, I’m really glad I didn’t go farther! Now I can pretend it went in a different direction.
I like your site’s new layout, BTW.
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Thanks! The most recent updates kinda screwed up my old one and I’m not great with the new editor, so I’m glad it looks okay heh
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