Horimiya – 12 – The Mantis

This week it’s Christmas in Horimiyaland, and everyone is figuring out how—and with whom—they want to spend their holiday. It’s just too perfect that Yuki fell in love with Tooru having absolutely no clue that the boy’s family was freakin’ loaded. Money can’t buy you love! If anything, it intimidates a girl of more modest means like Yuki.

At a time when everyone needs Christmas cake, Izumi is scheduled to work through the holidays at the bakery, meaning he won’t be able to join Kyouko and her family. While she’s understanding—her boy’s fam gotta earn, nothing you can do about it—her dad, mom, and Souta are less forgiving. Never mind if it’s Kyouko’s the one technically dating him. They want Izumi!

Shuu and Sengoku were both convinced Tooru and Yuki were already an item, but by saying he only “recently” harbored a crush on Kyouko, Tooru he reveals he’s still in a transitory place: not yet far enough removed from the pain of not having those feelings returned, and thus not quite ready to look for love elsewhere. Compounding matters is that he likely considers Yuki his best mates.

Why else would he so helplessly waver when she asks if she can come to his place to play video games? Or sneak in the house like something elicit is afoot? Or so determined to keep the family’s statuesque personal assistant Yashiro’s nose out of his business? Like his other friends, Tooru likely doesn’t want Yashiro or his family to get the wrong idea in the present—even if it may well turn out to be the right idea in the future.

After they both calm down after tea and cake (from Izumi’s bakery!) and fire up the video games, Tooru lets slip that he’s “happy with the way things are.” And honestly, I really don’t see Yuki disagreeing with that. As they watch that loading screen, they both seem content and comfortable. No need to rush things.

There’s a bit of drama at school when Sengoku doesn’t immediately agree to spend Christmas with Remi at Remi’s, and for a very bizarre reason: her dad is into catching bugs and putting them in boxes. When it’s trifling things like this that come between lovers, you know it’s true love. Sengoku simply has to grow a pair. The bugs are DEAD, dude!

When Kyouko shows her parents her superlative marks (all A’s save gym and art…kinda the opposite of me!) her mom remarks how there will only be one more report card, and then she’ll graduate. As her parents bicker and Souta asks her to look at his marks, Kyouko gets lost in thought: What will her life be like after graduation?

But before that, it’s Christmas, and the episode doesn’t want to leave anyone out as it checks in on just about everyone, starting with a contact-wearing Yanagi and Yuki’s big sister, who have a cute little exchange by a big outdoor Christmas tree. Tanihara and his brother wrestle over a clear view of the TV.

In what is a promising development, Yuki and Tooru are hanging out together for Christmas. I’m rooting for you two tentative bastards….take all the time you need!

Motoko is studying hard even the night before Christmas, but Shuu makes sure she takes a fried chicken and cake break. Sakura urges Sengoku to stop being a goddamn wimp and go hang out with his adorable girlfriend on one of (if not the) most important nights for couples both potential and extant. On the latter front, Shindou asks his girlfriend to wait one more year for him to graduate, and she agrees.

The entire Hori residence—including Souta’s cute friend Yura—is united in their elation when Izumi stops by to drop off their cake. When he says he can’t stay, Kyouko is again understanding, but her family won’t let him leave without a hot drink, eventually stealing a whole hour of his shift at the bakery.

When they finally allow him to leave, Kyouko walks him home, despite not being dressed for the chilly night; she’s in slippers, for goodness sake! But there’s something she wants to say to Izumi, and mercifully it’s not to ask him to berate or hit her; that particular pothole on their relationship road seems to have smoothed out off-camera…and that’s fine.

No, Kyouko tells him the same thing he told her back when they first started going out: she still doesn’t know very much about him. But due in part to that and other factors, she wants to be with him even after they graduate. Izumi goes quite a few steps beyond agreeing, and proposes marriage! Whoa, boy! Immediately embarrassed by blurting out what is surely deep-seated but still premature desire, he shuffles off.

But Kyouko promises she’ll “make him happy”, something Izumi says is usually what the guy is supposed to say in such a situation—which ironically is the kind of cisnormative comment you’d expect from Kyouko! She insists she should be the one to say it, as she admits she’s self-centered and “only good at studying and chores” though she’s selling herself short.

These two lovable dorks then bow to each other, expressing how they’re looking forward to their future together. All I can really say to that is BAAAAAWWWW.

After the credits, we fast-forward to New Year’s, which Kyouko and Izumi are spending together at a festival. They get their fortunes, but they hardly matter, since they both agree that as long as the other person is smiling, it’s all gravy. They grab some amazake and reflect how they were the last people they saw at the end of the previous year and the first people they saw at the beginning of the new one.

Izumi wants every year to be like that. Izumi walks Kyouko home hand-in-hand, assuring her that they can and will indeed be together forever. And damnit, I believe him. And like them, I’m happy just seeing the two smiling together, shrugging off the anxiety around what would happen after high school, laying out their future, and sharing in the warmth, relief, and elation of knowing graduation will only be the end of their beginning.

Kemono Jihen – 02 – The Strong, Sad Type

Inugami introduces Kabane to his new roommates and colleagues at the “kemonoist” agency: Shiki, a fellow hanyo one year older than Kabane who adopts a hostile attitude towards him early on, and the beautiful Akira, who looks like (but isn’t yet confirmed to be) a yuki-onna with one key difference: he’s a boy, and Kabane gets off on the wrong foot by mistaking him for a girl.

Last week Kabane was surrounded by people who hated him and wished he’d go away until Inugami showed up. But neither Shiki nor Akira hate him, nor treat him as badly as the humans in his village treated him. Shiki even offers him pizza, which he’s shocked to learn Kabane has never tried, which means he’s never really lived. He’s also intrigued when his flesh-rending silk cuts Kabane’s ankle, but it heals immediately.

Before the new home dynamic of Kabane, Shiki and Akira can be further explored, Inugami gets a call and it’s off to the next case. The police let the “specialists” get through simply because they’re stumped about what to do about a woman and her child being completely engulfed by swarms of bloodthirsty bugs…beyond burning the whole house down and leaving the other two kids orphans.

That’s…obviously not ideal! Inugami prepares to harden his skin in order to go in the room and deal with the bugs, and it seems like the only other choice when Shiki’s silk is just eaten by said bugs. But then Kabane volunteers to head in, and while the bugs swarm and crawl all over him, he has no blood for them to drink, and he feels neither pain nor revulsion after a life of ostracism.

As Inugami tells Shiki and Akira, Kabane’s unflappable nature means he never wavers, which combined with his immortality makes him plenty strong…but it’s also sad that living with humans has sapped much of the boy in him. That said, Kabane gets the job done, separating the item causing guilt that summoned the bugs: a pair of new shoes shoplifted by one of the mom’s sons because he felt bad about her worn ones.

After being thanked for saving his mom and sibling, Kabane is officially accepted by Shiki, who was only putting him through his paces to learn more about him. Kabane gets a hammock in the bedroom with Shiki and Akira, while Inugami calls a fellow kemono colleague about having found an immortal half-demon hanyo—who could be a threat, but could also be all their salvation.

While the departure from the sleepy village sapped a bit of this episode’s lush natural beauty, the bright and straightforward personalities of Akira and Shiki, along with Tokyo’s endless lights, helped illuminate Kabane’s world, while the first case-of-the-week was an appropriately creepy intro into the kind of work the agency does on the regular. Surely more challenging cases lie ahead, and we’ll meet more kemono, but as an establishment of Kabane’s new life, this episode got the job done.

Deca-Dence – 12 (Fin) – A New Grand Process

When Jill tells Natsume that Kaburagi has connected with Deca-Dence to become Kabu-Dence, Natsume is momentarily bewildered by her Boss’ constant changing forms. But change is at the heart of this episode, and ultimately the salvation of free cyborgs and humans both.

Everyone rallies behind Kabu and Minato, with the Gears logging in en masse to participate in the game’s climactic “Final Mission” while Donatello fills in Kurenai and the Tankers.

Minato and Jill are concerned that despite a successful connection, Deca-Dence isn’t doing anything. That’s because Kaburagi first has to deal with something very similar to Neo in The Matrix Reloaded when he meets The Architect. In this case, it’s The System itself, telling him that even bugs are a part of the system, meaning anything he does will be within the System’s calculations.

But if that were the case, why try to stop him? Kabu doesn’t buy that cog-in-the-machine crap anymore; he’s living his life by the precepts gained through Natsume: push yourself to the limits in order to help create a better, freer world. With that declaration, and Natsume simultaneously smashing her arm to pieces “waking” Boss up, Kabu-Dence finally stirs to life.

With glowing tendrils it reaches out at all the hunks of debris throughout its surroundings, which were brought back to life thanks to the Gears and Tankers topping them off with oxyone. To Kabu’s distress, one of the people helping is Natsume, initially trying to push a huge part all by herself before being joined by Kurenai and her Tanker comrades.

With less than ninety seconds until total spacial displacement, Minato orders the now charged and upgraded Kabu-Dence cannon to fire upon Gadoll omega, the beam of which Donatello deflects by sacrificing his Gear avatar. It fires, and there’s a big boom but…it doesn’t work. The beam wasn’t strong enough to break through omega’s adamantoise-esque shell.

With under forty seconds on the clock, Kabu seems resigned to oblivion…until stored memories of Natsume’s best and most formative moments flash before his visual interface. Natsume herself was drawn within Kabu-Dence’s machinery, and her presence seems to snap Kabu out of giving up.

Kabu-Dence’s limiter is suddenly removed, enabling a far more powerful attack even with the oxyone stores depleted. The blast is enough to destroy Gadoll omega, but completes the destruction of Deca-Dence as a mobile fortress in the process.

Whether due to the strain of the limit break attack or damage to his body caused by falling debris, Kaburagi concedes that his time has finally come. The System was right about one thing—that he was going to die either way. Left out of that statement is the fact he wouldn’t die until after he successfully broke that system, with the help of his friends.

When Natsume finally finds Kabu’s cyborg body, his face is broken and the one light remaining behind is about to go out. Natsume lets some tears fall, but she doesn’t lose it; she merely expresses gratitude to her boss and assures him she’ll be okay on her own from now on. He gave her and every human and free cyborg a chance.

Three Years Later, and Deca-Dence is now a bustling city surrounded by verdant farmland, where humans and cyborgs peacefully coexist. Under “Supreme Administrator” Minato’s leadership and Jill’s scientific prowess, the game has changed: no longer a brutal battle in which Tankers were cannon fodder and servants, now cyborgs share in the labor and betterment of the new civilization beside their human friends.

Natsume has started a business taking cyborg tourists out on exploration and adventure trips. Her new arm can become a helicopter rotor, which is pretty awesome and also makes her a kind of unique conduit between the human and cyborg experience. As she promised, she made a life for herself and thrived without boss around. But that doesn’t mean when Jill eventually manages to bring Kaburagi back, using his backup data and a new avatar body, she isn’t glad to see him again!

It’s a fast, focused ending and the epilogue-over-end-credits is perhaps a bit rushed (I’d have loved to spend more time in this lush, just new world). But seeing Natsume’s face light up once more as she recognizes him emerging from the glaring sunset is as fitting image as any on which to close the book on the tremendously entertaining and unflinchingly relevant Deca-Dence.

Season Average: 9.17

Deca-Dence – 11 – Being a Mistake is What Makes It Right

Spoilers: Natsume does not meet her maker by Hugin’s hand this week. Instead she’s saved by two things: Hugin’s momentary distraction with the new Gadoll bug, and Kabu managing to log back in as the orange Gear and shoot Hugin through the chest, thus logging him out of Deca-Dence. It’s a bit convenient and plot-armory, but fine, it’s not like I wanted Natsume’s story to end in that trailer.

After that, Natsume must quickly wrap her head around the fact that the Boss she knows who is lying dead on the ground is just an empty avatar, and the Boss himself is in the orange Gear body. Minato’s crew determines the massive Gadoll to be a bug that survived the GGS. The System designates it Gadoll Omega, and orders Deca-Dence to take it out.

But while this Gadoll bug isn’t that much larger than the largest Gadoll they’ve fought and defeated in the past, it’s much tougher, not only absorbing Deca-Dence’s fist blow in its crab-like claws, but shoving Deca-Dence back, doing critical damage to its movement apparatus. When Solid Quake’s orbital HQ uses its Solid Cannon from orbit, the Gadoll meets that beam with its own red one…and wins.

It’s the first time we’ve seen the pristine Solid Quake HQ ship damaged, and it’s enough to spook The System into pure Self-Preservation Mode. To that end, the entire Deca-Dence program is being shut down. Hugin is replaced by Munin, who politely announces to Minato that all Deca-Dence facilties are to be reverted along with Omega via the spacial decompression device—a fail-safe in case the game ever threatened the System.

Suddenly, there’s six hours until the end of everything on the planet surface, including what remains of humanity. But Jill, reestablishing contact with Kabu, says there’s still a way for a user to log in with Deca-Dence itself as their avatar. She knows this because prior to being designated a bug, she helped build Deca-Dence’s core.

Kabu and Natsume go their separate ways, but Natsume assumes they’ll meet up again at some point, while Kabu is ready to not return, as he’s volunteered to take the reins of Deca-Dence. His jeep passes Natsume, marking the first time she’s seen his cyborg form. Of course, she only gets a brief glimpse and has no idea it’s him.

At the epically huge and cool-looking core, Minato confronts Kabu, telling him there’s still time to run, to which Kabu asks where to? When Minato admits he has no idea what he should believe or do anymore, Kabu tells him he was once the same way, and simply waiting to be scrapper, until he met Natsume the Tanker Bug, who taught him he can make his own choices.

Then the best thing ever happens: Natsume meets Kabu’s cyborg comrades…and after a few moments of profound confusion, accepts it, finds them adorable, laughs, and introduces herself. Now Jill sees why Kabu has gone so far for a human bug’s sake. Jill herself has a bug still within Deca-Dence she’s hoping will make a difference.

Minato decides to help Kabu log in as Deca-Dence after all. While it’s true Deca-Dence is an absolute wreck, perhaps being under Kabu’s direct control (rather than the System’s) combined with Jill’s surprise bug, could conspire to unlock heretofore unseen abilities.

They’ll need everything they can get in the forthcoming finale, as the twin existential crises of the still-evolving Gadoll (and its brood) and the countdown to self-destruct will both have to be dealt with if anyone is to survive.

Deca-Dence – 10 – Not All Right At All

When Kaburagi tries to tell Natsume the truth in a masterfully-directed scene in which we feel her disorientation, Natsume passes out, much like Neo when Morpheus first tells him he’s in the real world (though she doesn’t vomit). Could it be her status as a bug depended on her believing the lie? Did Kabu break her with the truth?

We’re left in suspense after she faints, as the episode cuts to the three techs evacuate the Gadoll Factory. The director tells his subordinate to simply leave the tiny cute Gadoll, as it’s already dying, and the Gadoll sticks two little tendrils into him. By the time he notices they left red welts on his green belly, the elevator goes out of control.

As Kaburagi drives Natsume back to Deca-Dence, she wakes up yelling and he puts the brakes on. Once he calmly explains to her what’s going on, she takes hold of the part about him deceiving her. She’s not shocked anymore so much as betrayed and disappointed. She also wishes Kaburagi never told her the truth—saying this through broken glass is a nice touch, as her world is now thoroughly shattered.

After what is no doubt a wordless trip home, Kabu returns to find Pipe has disintegrated along with the other Gadoll as he expected (it’s an absolutely gutting scene, and perfectly staged and lit). Natsume hangs around the elated Tankers celebrating the apparent end of the war, but when she’s approached by Kurenai, she runs off.

In a way the truth as told to her by Kabu did break her. Wallowing in a dark alley, she no longer knows what to do, who to trust, or if any of her efforts ever mattered in the first place. Having pushed herself to her limits, she finds herself in the same position as Mei when Natsume became a soldier: why couldn’t things stay the way they were?

It’s only when Kaburagi is about to log out when he notices the note Natsume wrote him still lying unread on his desk. It’s a simple message, with the part about letting her know when he’s back crossed out, but still readable. Kabu decides the best way to apologize is to hand-write a letter of his own to her.

The Tankers may be celebrating, but the revolution is not over, and they’re far from free. The cyborg admins basically put Deca-Dence on pause for all Gears, and Hugin stalks around the Tank searching for Natsume. This is especially chilling since Kabu logs out after writing his letter, leaving Natsume alone and exposed.

As for the little Gadoll that could, it is reborn within the dead green factory director’s belly (he and his team don’t survive the elevator drop) It bursts out, Alien-style, then proceeds to devour the three bodies, and begins to…grow.

With the prison overrun by police when Kabu logs out, he, Jill, Donatello and the surviving inmates flee in a jeep, which I believe is the first time we see cyborgs interacting directly with “human” machinery. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition to say the least! When Kabu learns Hugin is in Deca-Dence he races to get to Jill’s hideout so he can log back in.

Hugin hasn’t quite found Natsume, but Kurenai does, and allowing Natsume to talk about how she feels (or doesn’t feel) without judgment. Asking questions about what she should think or feel or do, Kurenai tells her simply that she’s glad she’s back and unharmed, and everything else is up to her; the opinions of others are ultimately only supplementary to her choices. It’s a lovely, elegant scene between the two women in which Kaburagi doesn’t even come up.

That said, when Natsume returns to her home and finds and read’s Kabu’s heartfelt letter, she learns a lot more about him, how he was about to off himself when he met her, and how she changed him for the better. The words of his letter are beautifully accompanied by a montage of the moments in his and Natsume’s lives that he mentions.

With this, Natsume rushes to Kabu’s trailer, and just happens to whack him in the head when she throws open his door; he had just logged back in; great timing! Natsume gets everything he’s said now, but doesn’t like the connotations in the letter that suggest that he’s leaving again. If he is resolved to breaking all the rules, as she says with certitude: “he’ll have her help”.

It’s an absolutely heartwarming reunion and reconciliation of our co-protagonists, and Deca-Dence knows it…which is why it chooses the very moment Kaburagi agrees to let her keep helping him that he’s impaled through the chest by Hugin, who expected him to return to his trailer.

In his haste to reconcile he completely forgot the danger he and Natsume were in. His life’s blood splatters across a shocked Natsume’s face, and back at the hideout Jill tells the logged-out Kabu he can’t return to the Kaburagi avatar. Natsume is all alone with his lifeless avatar, and a sinister, smirking Hugin tells her she won’t escape, for The World Must Be Rid Of Bugs.

If that weren’t enough, our little Gadoll friend has grown quite a bit…into something that looks bigger than all of Deca-Dence; perhaps the largest Gadoll ever. Kabu and Jill watch as it rises over the horizon, no doubt still hungry and ready to devour everything and anyone it can get its hands on.

This giant Gadoll, sole survivor of the GGS, may even be out of the control of Hugin and the system, unless that ship in orbit has some serious space-to-ground firepower. If that’s the case, perhaps the Gadoll can be somehow used to help break the system, instead of just everyone.

Stay with me here…but what if the Gadoll, with their potential for collective intelligence, know that Kaburagi and Natsume were kind to Pipe? That’s all I’ve got for now, because as audacious as Deca-Dence continues to be, I can’t see this ending with the heroine being unceremoniously killed off.

Deca-Dence – 09 – Pushed to the Limit

After a cool Kaburagi warns Kurenai not die before he returns, calling her the “strongest, finest woman alive”,  he and Natsume take advantage of the chaos of the latest Gadoll battle to slip through and on to the factory’s barrier unnoticed.

On top of wondering if all the parts of their intricately constructed plan to break the system move how and when they’re supposed to, Kabu is dealing with a crucial unknown: how Natsume will actually react when she learns the truth about the Gadoll, the world, and him.

But when they reach the barrier, before Kabu can tell her anything she urges him to keep up, walking straight through the barrier without any problems. Both impressed with her resolve and realizing he shouldn’t be clouding her focus, he remains silent, and the operation proceeds.

And what an operation! Deca-Dence has been carefully preparing both the practicalities of the plan, the geography of the prison and factory, while also fleshing out all of the players involved. It’s an absolute treat to watch this episode wind up the sum product and let ‘er rip.

Turk initially performs his part of the plan, leading the inmates in a full-on riot in which they toss explosives into the piles of Gadoll shit and create a massive cloud of pollution that not only infects the lake’s clear water the Gadoll need to maturate, but causes to activate their natural defense systems, i.e. Zones.

The pollution of the lake and the berserk Gadoll and their Zones conspire to create utter havoc within the factory, allowing Kaburagi and Natsume to slip in without any of the preoccupied staff noticing. But upon entering a compartment that leads to the “Gadoll Genocide System” they must activate, they’re stopped dead in their tracks…by Hugin, tipped off by Turkey.

A desperate battle between Kaburagi and Hugin ensues, with Jill using her hacking prowess to make it appear that not only are their several dozen Kaburagis to target, but the “Natsume” whom Hugin impales with his hand (causing my heart to skip a beat or two in horror) is really just a hologram, and the real Natsume is safe behind a bulkhead.

Turk sits back and watches his betrayal bear rotten fruit as enhanced security forces start mowing down inmates. When Sarkozy asks Why? Turk simply laughs and tells him that’s how the cookie crumbles, and if he doesn’t like it, tough. Sark understandably feels betrayed by Turk, but still lacks the willpower to do anything about it.

When Jill discovers they’ve been betrayed and Turk and Sark are the culprits, she yanks Donatello (fighting one last Gadoll battle as a Gear) out of Deca-Dence and has him hunt Turk down, ultimately tossing him in the giant churning vat to drown in rotting Gadoll shit—a fitting end for someone “fine with the way things are.”

Turk’s comeuppance comes just after he left a wounded Sarkozy for dead, ultimately only interested in getting a pardon and rejoining the outside world. But as he suffers a lethal oxyone leak, he remember’s Kabu’s words about taking himself to his very limits.

Rather than lie around and die, Sark decides to take himself to his limits as well, and in doing so becomes the hero he was so intent on becoming. By injesting a tube of super-concentrated oxyone liquor (the titular “super charger”) he essentially becomes a walking bomb whose body is the fuse. Leaping into the vat after Turk, he detonates the Gadoll shit within.

The resulting explosion takes out the factory’s reactor, meaning Jill and Kabu’s plan is still viable. The fouled water starts bursting through vents and walls, including in Hugin’s face at a crucial moment that gives Kabu and Natsume time to escape.

They reach the room containing GGS controls, Kabu hits a couple buttons, and he and Natsume pull two levers in tandem. The GGS works instantly, as Gadoll everywhere spontaneously burst into clouds of black ash, much like victims of Thanos’ Snap.

This confuses Natsume, as the control screens glow within her puzzled eyes: there was no main nest to destroy, just levers to pull…what’s that all about? Injured, possibly seriously, by his scrap with Hugin, Kabu decides to simply come out and say it: the world, the Gadoll, and even his body are manufactured.

Just like that, Natsume’s world is changed forever, and with it the status quo of Deca-Dence. And it was all perfectly set up and executed. Now we await her reaction—and learn whether these revelations end up pushing her sanity past its limits.

Deca-Dence – 08 – Demolishing the Crap Factory

When Kaburagi announces his plan to destroy the Gadoll Factory to his fellow inmates, they think he’s touched. Their cyborg forms are trapped in the underground poop prison; their avatar forms in Deca-Dence have chips that instantly log them out if they touch the shield surrounding the factory.

Well, not every avatar has a chip: Kaburagi’s original avatar doesn’t, so all they have to do is log in and steal it from the avatar deep storage. That means a heist, though if we’re honest the most useful member of his team by far is the sardonic super-hacker Jill.

And what a heist it is! Watching our robot inmate friends in slick human forms with Skittle colors dart around the storage facility just as Hugin responds to a tip that Minato is illegally hoarding the very Kaburagi avatar they’re after.

The speed and complexity of the storage module tracks, their precise timing, and Hugin’s agile menace, combined with how loud and clumsy Sarkozy is being (Turkey has to snap his neck, causing him to log out)—it all conspires to kick the tension up to 11.

Thankfully, Kaburagi and Donatello manage to secure the avatar before it reaches its destination, replacing it with a sex toy that Hugin will let slide as long as Minato “enjoys it alone and in private.”

While Donatello gets the other inmates on board with destroying the poop factory (aided by Jill telling them the poop they clean up is recycled, refined and injected right back into them—a literal toxic cycle) Kaburagi decides to reunite with Natsume and Kurenai in the creepiest way possible: by sidling up to them from behind and reaching out to touch her shoulder.

While the ladies hit him, when they realize who he is they’re both elated. Natsume doesn’t even bring up the fact he left without saying anything, as she knew it had to be something important…and it was: finding the source of the Gadoll.

Just as all avatars with chips cannot cross the factory shield, it will also terminate all Tankers. But since Natsume is a Tanker Bug who is already considered dead, Kabu is confident she’ll be able to pass through with him, which is important, since he can’t bring the factory down alone.

When Kabu brings up the fact it may well be a one-way mission with no guarantee either of them will survive, Natsume urges him to dispense with such talk. She’s not quite the same kid Kaburagi left behind. She’s stronger, wiser, and braver…and she’s coming with him, no matter what. It isn’t even a question.

During their chat, Kabu gets a call from Minato asking to meet him in the prison immediately. Minato has been a good and loyal friend to Kabu, but like Fei with Natsume, had placed limits on how far that friendship can go. Like Fei wanted things to stay the same, Minato wanted Kabu to keep his head down. Threatening to blow up the Gadoll Factory and bringing down the entire system…ain’t that.

He’ll admit he wasn’t following a command of the system when he saved and helped Kabu, but that’s one thing; destroying the system is another. Whether due to the privilege of his position, emotional distance from the human beings in the Tank, or effective conditioning from the system (or all three), Minato believes there must be a system for there to be order.

Where did freedom for all get humanity? Bought out and treated as livestock by their own creations. Having never met someone like Natsume to transform his way of thinking, or instill a sense of envy for humans’ innate ability to think for themselves and choose their own path, Minato can’t see what Kabu sees. He may not immediately report Kabu, but Minato isn’t a bug.

I’m not sure that’s that—Minato may well change his mind—but Donatello’s sidekick Turkey is already forging his own path, believing Kabu’s plan to be folly and the only option is to make a deal with the authorities and save Kabu and Don “from themselves” as he sees it.

Sarkozy seemingly falls for Turk’s plan, so now Kabu and Natsume will face threats from all directions. No matter; obeying the system is no longer an option, and can no longer be called true living. They’re going to break it or die trying.

Deca-Dence – 07 – Doing What You Can Do

Before Kaburagi dives back into Deca-Dence on a rogue account, Jill tells him there aren’t any battles going on, but he returns to the tank to find there’s an absolutely gigantic hole through which Gadoll are attacking, taxing the Tanker fighters. It’s hard for Kabu to move and fight in his new novice Gear avatar, but he quietly does what he can to defeat the invading monsters.

The interior of the Tank is not usually a battlefield, which means this is the first time Natsume’s former classmates Fei and Linmei have seen her in action; they’re about as slack-jawed as you’d expect after she singlehandedly brings down a big Gadoll and gets thanked by an admiring little kid.

Kabu also witnesses Natsume’s heroics, but considering he looks like a completely different person, actually approaching her as Kaburagi is a tricky proposition, so he keeps his distance. Instead he makes contact with Commander Minato, who doesn’t want Kabu to risk getting into any further trouble…but also wants to help him.

We also learn from Minato that the hole was “stagecraft”—a means of “tactfully culling” the growing human population. With the Gadoll threat over for the time being, Kurenai and the Tankers ponder how they’ll be able to patch such a massive hole in the armor. Natsume proposes they try to enlist the help of the rest of the people in the Tank, and gather their house repair kits.

At first, Natsume’s mission seems hopeless. Even if she gets everyone’s kits and they all agree to help, the hole may not be patched before the Gadoll return. But rather than anyone agreeing to help, everyone turns her down, declaring they’re already doing all they can and can’t do any more. She tries to convince Fei, but Fei resents the fact Natsume ever wanted to change; Fei liked things the way they were.

Discouraged and exhausted after canvassing the entire town, Natsume returns to find some people changed their minds and decided that they actually could do a bit more: even the gruff butcher, Fei, and Linmei. Honestly, it’s pretty silly for them to go about their jobs when the Gadoll could come back through the open hole at any time.

Instead, in such a time of crisis, everyone steps outside their normal duties and routines and come together for a single cause. After Natsume gives Fei a grateful hug, repairs commence and the Tankers make enough progress to gain the attention of the command center. Minato orders his crew to let the Tankers be; there’s no way they’ll be able to fully repair the wall. But Minato isn’t human, so he’s probably underestimating them.

That night, a tired Natsume returns home to play with Pipe, and is approached by a strange and somewhat handsome orange-skinned Gear who offers her a skin of her favorite milk. At first Natsume is freaked out—especially at the prospect of a Gear seeing Pipe—but when she sees how the guy interacts with Pipe, she momentarily sees Kaburagi. Alas, he doesn’t open the can of worms that he actually is Kabu here; he just says he’s a good friend.

Drinking the milk outside as the sun sets, Natsume laments that Kaburagi isn’t around, but knows that someone as amazing as him is surely needed elsewhere. Kaburagi mentions how he saw her running around all day, never giving up, and wonders if that part of her isn’t what ultimately saved Kaburagi.

Natsume starts to cry as she states how weak she still is and how much more “useful” she has to be, but the tears fall even harder when she wonders if Kabu was right and the fighting will never end; that peace will never come no matter how strong everyone is. I honestly thought Kaburagi was going to pull Natsume into a comforting hug and reveal who he really is and how. Instead, he simply stews.

When he logs out and returns to the prison, he announces to Donatello and his crew his intention to eliminate all the Gadoll by destroying the factory that produces them. He doesn’t tell them his ultimate reason, but it needn’t be anything other than so Natsume can live, and won’t have to fight or cry anymore.

Deca-Dence – 06 – The Shaw-Clank Redemption

When Hugin zaps Kaburagi, it doesn’t result in his death; he’s not even sentenced to be scrapped, despite becoming one of the bugs Hugin loathes so. Instead, he’s sent right back down to the surface to spend the rest of his existence in a Bug correctional facility. From the moment he gets there, all of Kaburagi’s thoughts are bent getting back to Natsume—if she’s still alive.

Note the background cameo by…the Coronavirus?!

One minute I thought the hand-off to Natsume—the “true protagonist” of Deca-Dence and “hopeful future of bugs” personified—was complete, and the next we have an episode entirely dedicated to Kaburagi’s time in prison. Mind you I’m not complaining, as the show has shown a penchant for subverting expectations in clever and satisfying ways.

There’s also a wonderful symbolism in Kaburagi having to reach rock-bottom—in this case a prison underneath a lake—before he can rise again to reunite with and support Natsume. There actually is a time when Kabu seems to lose heart, but he knows exactly what to do to restore hope: listen to a stored recording of Natsume telling him she’ll push herself to the absolute limit. He can do no less.

The warden says to work hard and you’ll be treated well, and so that’s what Kabu does: even if all he’s doing is shoveling rock-hard Gadoll shit into a giant hole, he’ll stand tall and proudly and diligently do that duty without complaint…even when other inmates tell him no one ever leaves.

One of those complacent inmates is also his bunkmate, Sarkozy, who tells Kaburagi that not only is Natsume probably still alive, but the Gadoll attacks have paused. We later cut to the Gadoll factory to see Gear-like scientists growing and raising a fresh batch of Gadoll.

All Natsume and Kurenai can do back at Deca-Dence is keep doing their jobs, stay alive, and hope Kabu is alive and will come back soon. Sure enough, he’s on his way to doing just that, as thanks to Sarkozy he encounters a group of hard inmates with access to a contraband Deca-Dence terminal.

The leader of those inmates is his old comrade and fellow ranker Donatello, who initially regards Kabu with contempt and distrust, as he chose to obey the system rather than being imprisoned. Kabu declares the past is past, and he’ll do and risk anything necessary in order to get back to Deca-Dence.

Even though Donatello and the others find Kabu’s attachment to a “novelty” Tanker is laughable, he agrees to give his old friend a chance, but first he must defeat him in a “death dive”, a duel in which the two will fight with shovels and try to knock each other into the giant vat of Gadoll dung.

I have to say, it’s an immensely entertaining fight, with Donatello attempting to use brute force and familiarity with the surroundings to overpower Kabu, and Kabu using his speed and agility to get onto Don’s head so he can rip off his horn and threaten to stab him with it.

The two end up both falling into the poo, but survive thanks to Kabu’s operational jet-packs. Donatello accepts defeat and agrees to give Kabu access to the equipment—after the two wash off all the poop. He’s warned that he won’t be the old Armor Repairer Kaburagi anymore, but inhabiting an avatar who will likely be a stranger to Natsume.

Kabu doesn’t care. This is his only chance, so he’ll take what he can get, as he always has. The episode ends with him selecting to start a New Game on the main menu, leaving us hanging until next week to learn who he’ll ultimately become, where he’ll end up, and whether he can stay under Hugin’s radar this time.

Deca-Dence – 05 – What the World Needs Now are Bugs Sweet Bugs

Squad 6 enters the Gadoll nest to find a gruesome mess of dead Gears floating in Gadoll alpha’s zone. Despite none of them being able to score a hit on the beast, an angry Natsume charges right in—and almost gets herself killed. She’s saved by her CO Mindy, who declares she was sick of seeing kids charge in and get killed.

Mindy ends up dying from her wounds seriously wounded and out of action, but Natsume charges right back in, and even manages to score a hit with some acrobatic harpoon action. Once again, she’s nearly killed but for plot armor a second savior in Kaburagi, who saw her boarding the transports on TV and rushed to her side, determined not to let her die.

That determination unlocks Kabu’s limiter, and he makes quick work of Gadoll alpha, despite the fact he and his veteran ranker comrades aren’t supposed to be in the battle until alpha has killed most if not all of the Tankers and Gears. He messes up the storyline, and then something even Commander Minato didn’t forsee: the giant Gadoll prototype Stargate emerges from its slumber.

Stargate is a genuinely creepy giant monster, with visual elements that call to mind the giant warriors in Nausicaa and the queen in Alien. It’s also as of yet incomplete, so despite its terrifying oxyone laser, Kabu is able to knock it off balance by attacking one of its spindly legs, which buys Minato time to maneuver Deca-Dence into position to punch it into oblivion. It’s all A+ large-scale spectacle, with hand-drawn and CGI elements seamlessly integrated.

Even when Natsume and the Tankers think the day has been won and the Gadoll are done, the very sky itself transforms from sunset to midday, and reveals at least three more gargantuan Gadoll looming on the horizon, and clouds of lesser Gadoll buzzing in their enormous eyes. A shocked look of defeat washes over Natsume as she remembers Kabu’s words about the war never ending.

Before she can ask if he knew all this would happen, he’s vanished—and reporting to Hugin, making his first appearance in the game world. When Kabu refuses to repeat that the world must be rid of all bugs—and instead says the world needs bugs—Hugin zaps him. Whatever punishment for Kabu follows, it looks like Natsume will be on her own for what’s to come.

Deca-Dence – 04 – Changing the World That Is Yourself

Natsume happens to be thrust into her first battle by no fault of her own, but there’s no way she’s just going to stand around and watch. She borrows some tank gear and runs into the thick of it. Even when a Gadoll impales one of her fellow fighters and blood splatters everywhere, she heads towards the danger. Like a soldier. This is your place and time, a voice must be saying in her head. Don’t let it go to waste.

Natsume darts around the battlefield with aplomb, Taking every single stitch of training from Kaburagi and making full use of her brand-new arm cannon. She’s too busy to be afraid to die; she can die when the battle’s over; when her time is up, something she’s always known is something she can’t control, only maintain.

She really shows something out there, such that the other Tanker fighters and their illustrious leader Kurenai takes notice. When Natsume tells her she’s not technically “in” the Power because she’s a “bug”, Kurenai laughs off the self-deprication. If Natsume’s a bug, her two lieutenants are boogers.

Kurenai warmly welcomes Natsume to join the Power and her unit if she so wishes, and of course Natsume very much wishes, being sure to thank her boss, without whom she wouldn’t be there. Kaburagi, who is just trying to keep Pipe out of sight, gets accosted by Kurenai, who remembers “Kabu-san” when he was on the front lines and has a huge crush on him.

Natsume would seem to have joined the fight at an auspicious time, when the largest battle in Deca-Dence history is about to take place. Gear scouts have discovered the main Gadoll nest, and Kurenai’s Tanker squad is being given the toughest and most important job. They’re to defeat “Gadoll alpha”, a monster creating a cloud of fog across the nest. With the fog gone, the Gears will be able to easily mop up.

While touted in-game as the ultimate epic final battle that, when won, will finally enable humanity to live in peace, back at Solid Quake Kaburagi learns from a friend that the arc will result in a crushing defeat for Deca-Dence and massive losses. Those tragic developments will pave the way for the return of “legendary heroes” to save Deca-Dence in its hour of need.

One of those heroes is Kaburagi himself, who is being pulled out of his chip-collecting retirement as a result of rave reviews of his unplanned return to the battlefield back in the first episode. When Kaburagi told Natsume to “make sure not to die”, he was telling her to be careful. But now, if she participates in the battle she’ll die for sure. And since she’s human, she won’t come back.

Natsume meets Mindy, Mundy and Mendy, triplets who are, other than her, the youngest members of Kurenai’s unit. She makes a bad first impression when Mindy tries to shake Natsume’s artificial right hand and it accidentally transforms into a spear launcher.

Mindy is livid, warning Natsume that going into battle with a weapon you haven’t mastered is no different than begging for death (her siblings think she was too harsh.) Back in her neck of the woods, Natsume sees her friend Fei, who has decided to wash her hands of Natsume. Like Mindy, Fei sees Natsume’s disability as a disqualifying attribute. If she tries to be a soldier, she’ll just die.

Having had those encounters, you can imagine Natsume is decidedly not in the mood to have someone else tell her she can’t do what she wants to do, and is pleasantly surprised when Kaburagi knocks on her door for a change. She offers him milk (no doubt a rare delicacy), but he’s come to warn her not to join the battle tomorrow.

While we know full well Kaburagi is dissuading her for the right reason (she may well be ready, but the battle is literally rigged), Natsume assumes he’s once again joined the ranks of the naysayers. He can’t tell her the truth about why he knows, because that would be opening a whole other can of worms. So Kaburagi goes full “bad guy” and breaks her Tank. She may live to hate him, but she’ll live, and that’s what matters.

The spilled milk and oxyone pooling together on the floor was a really cool and effective symbol for the split worlds of Kaburagi and Natsume, as well as their oil-and-water difference of positions.

Natsume approaches Kurenai to tell her she’s sitting the battle out. Kurenai is understanding, but wants Natsume to be sure it’s what she wants. When asked why she fights, Kurenai states worthiness of Kaburagi  to be one reason, but also because living her days aimlessly in a cramped dirty metal box just isn’t for her.

As she skulks home, Natsume remembers feeling the same way as Kurenai, even as an adorable little kid. Her father would show her amazing sights of the outside world, and told her they’d be able to visit them when peace was achieved. She came to believe she’d be the hero to end the war, but after she lost her arm, and got told all the things she couldn’t do, that belief waned.

As Natsume tells Kurenai after changing her mind and declaring she’ll join them after all, she doesn’t like the way she is right now, and wants to change it. She wants to change into the fighter and the hero her younger self dreamed of being. She just needs to borrow some money to replace her tank! And then, of course, not die.

But hell, even if Natsume knew and believed everything Kaburagi knew—about cyborgs usurping humanity as the dominant species on earth, about how every aspect of her and every human’s life is manipulated by a corporation—she may well still decide to fight. This week’s episode made it clear this is her story, and her choice. And if she existed outside the system as a “bug” this long, not even Kabu-san knows how far she’s capable of defying that system.

Deca-Dence – 03 – Riding the Wave

Now that we, the audience, generally know the score in terms of the cyborg and human worlds, this episode is free to spend most of its runtime on Natsme’s Gadoll-hunting training. That’s fine with me, as I’m a big fan of Natsume, and this episode doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulty of fighting Gadoll.

It’s hard, brutal work that can turn you into hamburger. It’s also extremely a good move for us learn the mechanics of variable-gravity battle by having Kaburagi toss Natsume right into the shit—or in this case, a tutorial zone that’s still incredibly grueling for her. Her Tanker friend is worried about her going out into battle zones, especially with that arm.

Natsume isn’t going to let failure after failure or naysaying peers keep her from learning how to “ride the wave” of Gadoll zones. Kabu attaches her to a kite to learn how to fly, and tosses her into the drink to learn how to catch fish with a spear. Both are essential foundational skills for a Gear or fighting Tanker (a group of merely 200, compared to 50,000 Gears).

Preston didn’t mind Bofuri’s many Maple montages, and I feel similarly positive about the use of montage here. It accelerates the pace of Natsume getting knocked down and getting back up again until she gradually gets better and better, and even impresses Kabu. You can tell she’s working her bum off, and it’s paying off because she has a good, patient teacher.

Kaburagi even goes over film of Natsume’s training, and notices her crude artificial arm is taking too long adjusting her Tank (flying device), which could prove fatal in a real battle against tougher Gadoll. In the middle of film review, he’s contacted by Hugin, who wonders why he hasn’t processed a Bug in 13 days, 7 hours, and 28 minutes. I had to take a deep breath after hearing those precise time figures, for I qas initially worried Hugin was on to Kaburagi training a human Bug.

I guess he’s not all-knowing and all-seeing, merely extremely rigid in his belief all bugs must be eliminated. Both Hugin and a corporate presentation of world history, in which cyborgs eventually supplanted humans as the dominant species on Earth, implies that not keeping bugs in check led to the humans’ downfall.

When Kabu dives back into his human avatar, Natsume is at his door with an outfit for Pipe so he can run around outside. I’m not sure how Pipe’s wearing anything would make him less conspicuous to others, but never mind. When Natsume tells Kabu that she’s aware her old arm is a problem, he takes her to a weapons shop and outfits her with a new five-fingered model.

She’s already over the moon to have fine control in both hands now, but Wait…There’s More: her arm can transform into a spear-gun, which should improve her fighting speed considerably. She’s eager to test it out in the field, but a Gadoll alarm sounds, Deca-Dence hits some kind of sinkhole and stops, and the resulting earthquake sends Natsume, Kabu, and Pipe flying.

When Pipe falls into one of the cracks in the earth, Kaburagi follows after him, and requests location support from Commander Minato. We quickly flash back to six years ago when he found Pipe in a glob of Gadoll guts. Rather than kill or report the bug, he bought a trailer in Tanker Town and kept it as a pet. Both Pipe and now Natsume are products of his desire—his need—to rebel against Hugin and The System…at least a little.

Meanwhile Natsume runs down and through the underground passage until she comes upon an absolutely massive cavern where she can watch the battle between medium-sized Gadoll and Gears unfolding. The scale of the sight is awesome to behold. If only she had her gear, she could join in the battle. Then again, the size of the cavern and possibility it was made suggests that a much, much larger Gadoll may be lurking deeper in the earth. I’m not sure she’s ready for that quite yet.

Great Pretender – 13 – Same As They Used to Be

When a hungry Makoto finds a toffee tin in the fridge, Cynthia quickly snatches it away, declaring that the toffees aren’t on the menu. Back in the past, Coleman makes a deal with Thomas: all he wants are ten forgeries he can pass off as “miraculous discoveries” of masterworks, and in return he’ll make Thomas a Big Deal.

The Faustian deal gives Thomas what he always wanted—financial stability and a measure of luxury—but he knows it’s wrong, and whenever Cynthia mentions that it’s wrong, it shatters the veneer of success he’s trying to maintain, thus straining their relationship. Back in the present, Abby reports her findings on her investigation of Laurent, and shows she’s not above using her “vivaciousness” to gain the older man’s confidence.

Makoto eventually makes contact with present-day Thomas Mayer, whose life took a turn after breaking up with Cynthia. That said, his two million pounds in debt isn’t due to gambling or addiction problems, but a pure and just heart. When he saw a kid sketching one of his forgeries in a museum, he vowed to quit painting forever and borrowed heavily in order to buy back the three paintings he’d forged.

This us why he initially turned down Cynthia: why would he paint a forgery to make back the money he spent removing his forgeries from the art world? But then Makoto remembers the toffee tin and presents it to Thomas. It contains a detailed drawing of a wedding ring he drew for Cynthia in better days. That she kept it all these years means she must still feel something for him.

That proves to be the spark Thomas needs to come out of retirement—that, and Makoto telling him she needs his talent in order to settle the score with Coleman. It probably takes more than one all-nighter, but he manages to pull off a very impressive forgery of Snow of London.

When Cynthia stops by to inspect the work, Thomas is asleep in bed, but Makoto tells her that he was only able to create the forgery because of her. Trying to play matchmaker, he thinks that despite everything that’s happened, the two of them still bring out the best in each other, and that deep down they’re both the same people they were back then.