Deca-Dance starts small and modest: a father on a mission to investigate artifacts; his young daughter Natsume tagging along out of a sense of adventure. It doesn’t end well for Natsume: she loses her dad and her right arm. Still, she survives, and dreams of fighting and making a difference.
Fast forward to when Natsume’s about to leave school and take on a job as a Tanker, supporting the Gears who fight monsters called Gadoll. They all live on Deca-Dence, a massive mobile fortress and humanity’s last bastion. Only she never hears back from The Power that doles out the jobs. She wanted to be a soldier, but it seems her missing arm disqualifies her.
Natsume is instead given a hard, dirty armor cleaning job under the supervision of a joyless man named Kaburagi. He slaps a harness on her and pushes her off a ledge onto the sheer side of Deca-Dence. Rookies typically scrub rotten Gadoll guts and blood for five years before any kind of advancement.
While it’s gross exhausting work, Natsume eventually gets the hang of it. In both the classroom exposition scene and her working montage, Deca-Dence the show exhibits a willingness to use these methods of shorthand to deliver all the information it needs to deliver. The montage works better than the student recitation of What’s Going On mostly because it’s showing, not telling, and what it shows is very cool-looking.
Natsume eventually convinces her stoic boss to throw a welcome party for her, during which she gets tipsy and takes Kaburagi to task for his fatalism. He just wants to live a relatively quiet peaceful life within the walls, and can’t see why Natsume looks at her arm stump and says to herself “More of that, please.”
The older Kaburagi has clearly been worn down by his experiences, while despite suffering quite a bit of trauma of her own Natsume remains optimistic about the prospect of defeating Gadoll and living in true peace and prosperity.
At the same time, Kaburagi has a pet harmless Gadoll whom Natsume names “Pipe”, and also a strange, unexplained side-job involving extracting “chips” from people when ordered to by a shadowy boss. We learn a lot this week, but there’s still a lot of mysteries to unravel; more on that later.
Eventually Deca-Dence comes afoul of a Gadoll attack party, led by an immense, Leviathan-like mega Gadoll that is larger than the fortress, surrounded by a bevy of bizarre candy-colored Gadoll small fry. They may look like Pokemon rejects but even the smallest of them are bigger and faster than humans. It’s a good thing then that the Gears use flight packs in order to increase their speed and mobility (similar to the flight packs in Youjo Senki, another Nut anime).
When the Gadoll are spotted Natsume and Kaburagi are still outside, and their colleague Fennel and another maintenance guy end up falling off the side of the fortress. They fall for a very long time, accentuating the sheer scale of their home as well as the battle unfolding below.
That battle actually doesn’t seem to be going so well when Kaburagi drops in with Natsume, but he grabs a flight back from one of the dead Gears and proceeds to unleash a can of whoop-ass on the lesser Gadolls, with a tethered, nauseous Natsume trailing behind him.
It’s an absolutely gonzo sequence with tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details. More importantly, it (along with his side job and pet Gadoll) drive home the fact that there’s a lot more to Kaburagi to sleepy maintenance work, and despite not having Natsume’s moxie, unlike her he’s ready to fight at a moment’s notice.
I can see why he wouldn’t want her getting involved in this bloody business, but I still hope she convinces him to train her, “just in case” she has to fight some Gadoll on her own someday.
From the small-scale battlefield we pull way, way back to the final clash between Deca-Dence and the gargantuan Gadoll boss. In a high-tech command center that belies the fortress’ chaotic, grungy exterior, General Minato has his crew go through a number of checks and elaborate technobabble that essentially transform the fortress into a giant mass driver cannon in the shape of a fist.
Once that fist is charged up, they wait until the Gadoll is as close as possible before firing, and boy howdy can you ever feel the impact of that. The physics of large scale masses coming into contact at ridiculous speeds, and their effect on the surrounding environment, is beautifully rendered down to the smallest spec of debris.
With the latest round of bad guys thoroughly defeated, it’s time to collect all the Gadoll meat, rest, heal, repair, and celebrate…until the next battle, and the next, and the next. You can feel Kaburagi’s weariness with this business, but also understand why Natksume wants to play a meaningful role.
Instead of ending conventionally with watching the humans deal with the aftermath of the battle we see that the humans had been observed by weird trippy robots in a trippy Dr. Seuss city. I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on here, but I sure as shit was enticed, as it adds an entirely new layer (and scale) of surrealism and mystery to the past, mostly straightforward proceedings.
Gargantua. Sidonia. Macross. Er…Chrome-Shelled Regios—I’ve always had a soft spot for anime about a group of humans aboard a massive self-sustaining vehicle in a desperate struggle for survival. Deca-Dence is no different. From the city-punching, overarching Gadoll struggle down to the smaller, cozier struggle of one spunky girl trying to carve her way in the world, to the strange intriguing mysteries and ambiguity over who is actually the aggressor in this war, Deca-Dence is a sure keeper in my book.
P.S. Thanks to Crow for another shout-out!