Deca-Dence – 02 – A Bug’s Second Life

Well now…that was weird. Deca-Dence completely changes gears in its second episode, all but putting Natsume’s story on hold to answer some of the most pressing questions of the opening outing. Why is Kaburagi so good at fighting? He was once a high-ranking Gear. Why is he collecting “chips” from random humans in the shadows? It’s the true nature of the new job given to him after falling from the system’s good graces.

What was the deal with that crazy Yellow Submarine-like city at the end of the last episode? Well, uh…that’s actually Kaburagi’s reality. His human form is only an avatar, and Deca-Dence is a huge and elaborate entertainment facility run by the all-powerful Solid Quake Corporation.

The Gears are all like him: robot-like beings liking in the corporations “Chimney Town” when not playing Deca-Dence. Only the Tankers are all real human beings—the last of their species.

That’s…a lot, but what’s so incredible is how organically all this new information fits into what we’ve seen thus far, and how everything that seemed a little “off” about last week is logically explained here. And in an extended flashback to seven years ago, we see Kaburagi and his elite ranker team. They all sport odd skin and hair color because they’re not really human, just avatars.

Kaburagi is in the Top-5 Gears in all of Deca-Dence, but he can feel he’s reached his peak and bracing for the down-slope. On the other hand, his young and eager comrade Mikey is slowly rising in the ranks, with much the same stats as Kaburagi in his prime. When not playing, Kaburagi is ingesting Oxyone like all the other people in Chimney Town, or getting stimulation in the form of “beam” sessions.

While Kaburagi sees a bright future for Mikey, Mikey himself is impatient, and feels something is missing, namely the ability to release his limiter, a risky maneuver that will give him enhanced strength and speed in the game.

Now that Mikey knows what it’s liked to be a ranker, he no longer wants to feel like he’s “replaceable” (even though he kinda unwittingly is replacing Kaburagi). After quite a bit of begging Kaburagi relents and shows Mikey how to do it.

However, Mikey gets caught as a cheater and labeled a “bug” by Hugin, the stoic, matter-of-fact system administrator. Mikey gets scrapped and the entire ranker team disbanded. While all of Kaburagi’s other teammates were sent into confinement for refusing their next assignment, Kaburagi decides not to go against the system today so he can live to possibly fight it another day.

The nature of Kaburagi’s new job? He’s demoted to armor repairer with the Tankers, but that’s just his day job. By night he’ll be a “recovery agent”, collecting the chips from humans deemed by the Hugin to be “bugs” that could harm the system.

Now that (mostly) all has been explained, we return to Natsume incessantly begging Kaburagi to train her to fight. Having already lost a dad and an arm to combat, she isn’t fazed in the slightest by the gory aftermath of the Gadoll battle. No doubt Kaburagi compares her to Mikey, who also begged to be more significant and paid the price for it.

Even when Natsume halfheartedly tries to blackmail him with a photo she took with Pipe, Kaburagi won’t budge on helping her. However, one night she spots him sneaking around in the shadows and catches him removing a chip from someone. Of course, not knowing his story, as far as she knows he’s just robbing him because he’s hard up for cash.

Natsume gets Kaburagi to promise not to rob anyone else, and stop talking about it being “over” for him. Little does she know he’s telling the truth, as he’s been intentionally refraining from ingesting oxyone or rebooting, which will eventually lead to shutdown—a slow suicide, if you will.

Kaburagi always assumed that Natsume was another bug—maybe even the next on the list provided by Hugin. But when he scans her face, he finds no data among the current population of Tankers, and a deeper search reveals that she was listed as deceased way back when her dad died and she lost her arm.

That means she’s not only a bug in the system, but one that’s outside it’s control due to the lack of a chip. If the system won’t recognize her, or believes she’s of no value, then he’ll recognize her. He finally ingests the oxyone, crediting her with saving him from an early demise, agrees to train her, and shows her around the swanky Gears’ base.

The more I learn about this weird whimsical world, the more I like it, and the more invested I am in watching how Kaburagi and Natsume manage to resist a cruel system that considers her an anomaly to be eradicated. Deca-Dence has exhibited a willingness to take big bold risks in each of its first two episodes, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 27 (S2 02) – Showing What They’re Maid Of

Emilia and Subaru bid Crusch and Felix farewell with thanks, hearty handshakes and best wishes. With Crusch’s memories gone who knows what shape the royal selection will take, but for now the priority is returning home and getting some answers. But upon returning to the village, they learn Roswaal, Ram, and others have yet to return from the Sanctuary.

Upon arriving at Roswaal manor (driven there by Otto), Emilia and Subaru are surprised to be welcomed by new maid, a “beast-girl” named Frederica Baumann. I immediately recognized the dulcet tones of Nazuka Kaori (Eureka), which complement Frederica’s adorably sharp teeth quite well. Turns out Frederica worked for the mansion just before Subaru arrived, and had been on personal leave until Ram called her back.

Subaru pays Beatrice a visit, and we see that extended isolation has not made her more pleasant to deal with. She’s downright prickly with Subaru, especially when he presents the gospel he took off of the dead Betelgeuse. Beatrice seems to regard “Geuse” as a dear friend who, like others, left her behind. She also resents Subaru once again using her as a mere “tool of convenience”.

Could this mean Betelgeuse was once good, or just that Beako doesn’t see the world in terms of good and bad? In any case, she has no answers for him, only the means to seek them. Roswaal’s intentions, the meaning of the Gospel, and answers about this “Witch Factor” thing all lie in the Sanctuary, which Frederica has been instructed to tell Emilia and Subaru how to access.

Before heading to the Woods of Clemaldy where the Sanctuary is located, Subaru says goodbye to the sleeping Rem and tasks new Maid-in-Training Petra(!) with Rem’s care, and Frederica with Petra’s care. Petra doesn’t have the maid-like manner of speaking down yet, but she’s eager to prove she’s an adult upon whom people can depend.

Frederica presents Emilia with a jewel that will help them pass a magical barrier that impedes access to the sanctuary. Petra bashfully gives Subaru a handkerchief as a kind of old tradition with travelers; he’ll return it to her stained from his adventures when he comes back.

The journey into the woods is uneventful at first. Emilia is nervous, especially considering Puck isn’t answering her calls to come out (Puck did tell Subaru he’d be relying on him to take care of Lia). She’s also apprehensive about hte possibility of meeting other half-elves in Clemaldy, a stronghold of demi-humans.

Her barrier jewel starts to glow, and Subaru decides the proper thing to do is to yank it off of her, causing her to pass out. The next thing Subaru knows, Emilia, Otto, and the wagon are gone, and he’s lost in the lost woods…not a great situation to be in! He encounters a small pink-haired elf in a white tunic and when she runs off he gives chase.

He comes upon a clearing where a stone ruin stands, and starts to walk through the front door…as Frederica said, will and resolve are as necessary as magic and strength in the Sanctuary. That’s when he’s transported again, this time to Windows XP’s default background, Bliss.

Just above him on the crest of a hill sits a woman with long silver hair having tea under an ornate umbrella. She introduces herself as Echidna, AKA the Witch of Greed. While voiced by Sakamoto Maaya (always a good decision), Echidna looks an awful lot like Emilia. But wasn’t the witch she said she resembled named Satella?

While this was mostly a getting-from-A-to-B(-to-C) transitory episode with lots of goodbyes between characters (and no telling whether they’ll ever see each other again), the intro of Frederica, Maid Petra, and of course Echidna represented major developments, and the steady buildup of Clemaldy as no place for the weak was highly effective.

It will be interesting to see if Subaru has reached a new “save point” for his Return by Death, or if that little trick is already obsolete. For now, he seems separated from everyone and unable to protect anyone but himself…if that. In other words, he’s been thrown right back into the Shit!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 21 – On Your Marks

I tellya, if Sakura doesn’t start taking her rival seriously, this could soon turn into The Meiling and Syaoran Show! In all seriousness, since arriving Meiling has done all she can to take over Sakura’s spotlight. Despite the fact Sakura isn’t actually trying to compete with her for anything (or anyone), Meiling is committed to beating Sakura at every turn–even a 2.5k when all the races she’s ever run were sprints.

It’s all too apropos that “reserving your energy” is a foreign concept to Meiling; it takes both Syaoran and Wei to convince her that she needed go all-out at the beginning of the race, and she should focus more on her breathing. Going for a run after a big meal is also a bad move, but Meiling is determined to cross that finish line 1-2 with Syaoran, so she’ll weather any stomach cramps or other hardships.

When the day of the race arrives, Tomoyo injures her foot, but that just means she gets to record Sakura running. She even employs Kero-chan as an aerial spotter. Meiling shows off how much she’s learned by keeping pace with both Syaoran and Sakura—who are both motivated by the fact Yukito is watching them run with Touya.

But as the race progresses, the theme song transitions to more ominous music, indicating something’s not quite right. Sakura, Syaoran and Meiling cross Tomoyo twice…in the same direction. As Sakura notes that the tree-lined road seems longer than usual, Meiling trips and hurts her ankle. No matter how far they run they can’t seem to get to the finish line. That means a Clow Card is in play, and sure enough Kero-chan identifies Loop as the culprit.

Once Sakura literally stumbles on the seam between “real” space and the loop’s spacial distortion, she and Syaoran each produce swords with which to cut said loop, which takes the form of a red ribbon. Sakura seals the card, and despite Meiling’s insistence Syaoran cut it first, it passes into Sakura’s possession. Syaoran finally relents and carries Meiling on his back across the finish line, thus achieving the spirit if not the letter of her dream.