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.

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.

Kakegurui – 11

When Yumeko gives up two queens, it convinces Kaede she’s going for the choice to make the “weakest” hand win. When Itsuki fronts 100 chips for Yumeko’s cause, Kaede stays on the “high road” and simply continues to raise, knowing he has enough funds to best them and choose “strongest.”

Just as he expected, Yumeko raises and raises until there’s no more money left, until she brings up life plan she got from the council when she was in deep debt, stating one’s “life” in terms of the value appraised by such plans should be a bet-able commodity.

While Itsuki initially struggles with offering the value of her own life for Yumeko’s sake, she realizes she can’t win and stop Kaede and others from looking down on her if she isn’t willing to bet everything she has and everything she is and ever will be. As a symbol of her wager, she tears out her fancy nails with her teeth – which really would hurt more than she lets on!

Kaede doesn’t accept the raise at first, as he considers the life plans given to livestock to be mere collateral until debts are paid. But as dealer the Vice President gets to decide, not him or Yumeko, and she decides the bet is valid to the tune of 10 billion yen. When Kaede bristles at her authority, she removes her mask to reveal she is President Momobami; she never left.

This is where Kaede, in a desperate bid to regain control of the game, decides he’ll raise Yumeko and Itsuka once more by betting his own life, thus straying from the high road he was assured would take him all the way to the national finance minister’s office. He believes this can only happen if he usurps Momobami, and Itsuka’s funds are a crucial means to that end.

Having raised his life, Kaede is awarded choice, and chooses “strongest.” Itsuka’s initial reaction looks like one of shock over putting all her hopes in Yumeko and losing again…but Kaede’s three 8’s are no match for Yumeko’s three Jacks, and Yumeko and Itsuka are victorious. All because he left the high road…and couldn’t stop looking down on Itsuka, inspiring her to defeat him at all costs.

The loss leaves Kaede unconscious, with hair as white as snow, as if bled dry of all vitality. As he’s carried off by medics, Itsuka feels bad for him, without whom she’d never have gotten into the council, or stood where she stands now. Yumeko can’t help but think how beautiful is the sight of someone who bet everything…and lost.

That leaves Momobami and Yumeko boring holes into one another with their blue and red eyes, respectively. Having beaten Kaede (and drawn out a side of him she’s never seen), the president has all but confirmed that the one gambler who has a snowball’s chance in hell of standing beside her is this Jabami Yumeko person.

Yumeko seems to be similarly interested in what Momobami is capable of, and deduces her the root of her discontent all along, even as she watched the life escape from countless gamblers: What Momobami wants most of all is to see herself in that position…and that requires someone other than herself; someone who can surpass her. She can’t wait to see if that’s who Yumeko is, and Yumeko can’t wait to show her.

Kakegurui – 10

Fresh off of beating Yumemi, Yumeko challenges Manyuda to an official match in front of the same crowd, without so much as an intermission for bathroom breaks! The Vice President (she of the white mask and distorted voice) steps in as dealer of a game called “choice poker”, in which no folding or calling is allowed, but the last person to raise can decide whether the stronger or weaker hand is the winning one.

In the crowd, both Mary and Sumeragi recognize that this game overwhelmingly favors the player with more money; in this case, Manyuda with his 100 starting chips over Yumeko and her 31. But having watched three other council members fall to her, Manyuda has a good basis of data upon which to calculate the best strategy to defeat Yumeko.

Specifically, he knows she’s a compulsive gambler and a little insane, and so needlessly makes risky raises despite the fact this is a game of more measured, one-chip raises. Sugita Tomokazu’s inner monologue dominates the episode, and at times it sounds like a slightly less apathetic Kyon is playing a particularly serious game of cards against Haruhi.

But at the end of the day, it’s a simple card game, with simple rules, and when Manyuda sticks to fundamentals, he manages to easily bait Yumeko out of all her chips. It’s then when Yumeko beseeches Sumeragi, who said she wanted to be her friend, to bail her out with more cash.

It’s revealed that Manyuda recommended Sumeragi’s entry into the Student Council, after she proved to him they had similar levels of ambition, but when Yumeko beat her she was discarded, and Manyuda concluded Sumeragi never had the talent to match her lofty ambitions.

That doesn’t stop him from appealing to her desperation in trying to return to a position of power where she can again vie for the top spot, as well as inherit her family’s business, something only possible with a council seat, so he dangles that over her head to counter Yumeko’s request.

Sumeragi doesn’t fall for it, instead pledging 100 chips to Yumeko, hoping to exact revenge on Manyuda, who only ever saw her as a pawn; a stepping stone on his own road to the top. Yumeko rarely looks that reliable, but Manyuda is clearly underestimating her. There’s a method to her madness she has yet to reveal to anyone—perhaps even herself!

Kakegurui – 07

When I first saw Midari with her eyepatch, I assumed combined with the piercings and arm bandages that she was simply fusing Chuunibyou and delinquent aesthetics into her personal style. But the eyepatch is functional, covering up the fact she has no left eye.

In the past, Midari was a gifted gambler, but never found any happiness from her victories or the doors it opened. So when she ran herself into nearly $3 million in debt, President Tsubomi offered to buy her eye for just the amount she owed.

Before a surgery can be arranged, Midari gouged out her own eye right there, intriguing Tsubomi enough to call them square and offer a place on the council, which Midari eventually took.

From that self-eye-gouging moment, Midari learned what it was could fill the hole in her heart: the pain and fear of dying she gets from her particular brand of gambling. In her three-round cards-and-pistols game with Yumeko, she wins the first round, but loses the second when Ryouta realizes he should arrange the cards exactly the way Yumeko did, because that’s what he believes she’d want him to do.

When it’s Yumeko’s turn to fire, she doesn’t have the slightest amount of fear of either dying or kiling Midari. For one thing, she can tell from the slight difference in weight that she’s holding her own gun, which has no bullets. That leaves them tied, one game each.

In the final round, Ryouta notices that the image of the two players is reversed on his monitor, and accuses Midari of cheating, but Yumeko saw through it all along, as Ryouta’s image was also reversed, and she played accordingly. Furthermore, Yumeko is not amused by this dull trickery, which seems intended to assure that Midari loses the game.

Midari is trying to get that feeling of gouging her own eye out, spurred on by the President who will never have her. In Yumeko she sought a “schemer” like Tsubomi who she could count on to “dominate” evry part of her her in every way.

She ultimately wants Yumeko to kill her, unsatisfied with Tsubomi’s promise to eventually do so. Suffice it to say, Yumeko won’t play this game, not because it’s morally repugnant, but because Midari is being selfish by trying to hoard all of the pain for herself.

In Yumeko’s ideal, both sides feel death’s cruel skeletal fingers scratching at their door. In this rather rote S&M scenario, it isn’t even that Midari expects Yumeko to get off on dominating her…she simply doesn’t care if or how Yumeko at all; only whether she, Midari, gets her pain, release, and death. Yumeko gets nothing, and that pisses her off, flashing her scariest face yet.

With the third round complete, ending in a draw (Yumeko chose all her cards wrong to thwart any chance of winning), she gets up and walks out, their business completed. And while Midari got off one more time from Yumeko’s utter rejection, it looks like that will be the last time ever, if Yumeko has anything to say about it.

We’ve never seen Yumeko as angry about something as she is at Midari, and it speaks to her fundamental humanity in spite of her seeming super-human senses and gambling skill. People like Midari piss her off most because they’re only in it for themselves, while Yumeko’s happiest moments occur in which someone else gets something out of it, whether it’s a stern lesson in not underestimating her, a shot at redemption, or simply a shared joy over a gamble well-played.

This is why despite getting all worked up in Midari’s dungeon, Yumeko is back to her pleasant self, and I don’t even think she’s putting on a mask. Instead, she seems to take solace in the fact that Ryouta was there with her, and the two were in sync enough to foil Midari’s underhanded, self-destructive plans. I don’t think Yumeko is stringing Ryouta along. I think she values his friendship, and treats him how he treats her: with kindness and respect.

Oh yeah, also, Mary utterly refuses to join the student council, and Tsubomi can believe whatever she wants is the reason, Mary won’t tell her. Of course, we know why: while one could argue that having an “inside man” on the council could be useful in an inside-out rebellion, it’s just as likely the council would change her than vice-versa.

Instead, Mary won’t legitimize a council that treats “livestock” like an inferior race and uses life plans to practice eugenics. She’ll seek a way to destroy it from the outside.

Kakegurui – 06

Following her stunning victory, Mary is approached by her former entourage, who offer a half-hearted apology…that she accepts, and things are back to the way they were before she became a Miké.

She doesn’t seem to hold a grudge for how they treated her; written or unwritten, they abided by the rules and traditions of the school with regard to treatment of livestock.

But they also revealed something about the school’s enrollment: one need not be in debt to be livestock. These three girls aren’t technically Mikés, but they are another kind of livestock: they never lead; they only follow, even unto the slaughterhouse.

Momobami and the council seem interested only in those who break out of that mold; in someone like Yumeko, who has yet to pay her debts and be relieved of Livestock status even though she has the funds…and like Mary, the “girl who became a human.”

No one truly knows why Yumeko maintains her Miké status, but it’s assumed its so she can challenge the council to another offical match, and it’s assumed the one she wants to gamble with the most is the president, Momobami Kirari. But she doesn’t get Momobami; not this time.

Instead, she’s intercepted and arrested by the council member she’ll have to play with first in order to get to Momobami; Beautification Committee chairman (and noted gun nut and lunatic) Ikishima Midari.

Midari has her stylish gal-goons take Yumeko (and Ryouta) to a dank interrogation chamber in the bowels of the school, where they’ll play an “ESP card game” in which they guess which cards will be drawn in the adjacent room. Each correct guess means a point, and the person with the most points gets to fire one of two .357 Magnum revolvers loaded with anywhere from zero to six bullets.

Knowing what we know about Midari, it’s a very Midari game (what with the large amount of pure chance involved), and if Yumeko is worried, she doesn’t let on, keeping her calm, cool face throughout. However, Midari also sees in Yumeko a slightly more buttoned-up version of herself: a pervert who gets off on gambling to fulfill her appetites.

Making Ryouta deal the cards that he believes will determine the fate of two women is a great exercise to toughen him up (or just make him a nervous wreck), while Midari agrees that if she loses, she’ll pay Yumeko a cool billion yen ($9 million).

Following a fairly routine pattern in this show, Yumeko loses the first of three rounds by one point, giving Midari the first shot. Since she fully loaded her pistol, Midari has at least a 50-50 chance of shooting her. If Yumeko loaded any bullets into hers, the odds are better. Of course, either of the guns could backfire, which could be why Yumeko warns Midari not to fire when the time comes.

Yumeko always seems to gamble like her life (and certainly her enjoyment) is on the line, so as theatrical and wild as Midari is, this is simply a more raw and concentrated version of the feeling Yumeko craves. I forsee both parties coming away from this not only alive, but…satisfied.

As for Mary, she’s the one intercepted by President Momobami, who doesn’t mince words over tea: she wants Mary to join the council. Clearly, she sees potential in her. Mary may not be as nuts as Yumeko, but she’s definitely going places.

Kakegurui – 05

I may have bristled at least week’s structure (spend the entire first half introducing Ikishima, someone not involved in the second half’s gambling) but it was a blessing in disguise, putting a welcome kink in the gamble-a-week rhythm of the show to this point. Also, a poker game this layered with lies, deceit, and glorious twists needed more than two halves of an episode; it needed three.

Liberated from the need for setup (ably achieved in the first half) the crazy-faces showed up early and often here, as did the twists, the most important one being that the moves of the seemingly superfluous fourth player, Tsubomi, are being controlled by Kiwatari, the only non-livestock in the game.

Tsubomi and Mary are aware of this (Tsubomi isn’t so great at hiding the cheating), but in the tenth and final game, when Kiwatari tells Tsubomi she’s not allowed to beat him, Tsubomi does her stuff: painstakingly picking and peeling back the emotionless facade Tsubomi had built to repress the trauma of losing her beautiful locks of hair, roughly hacked off by Kiwatari himself once she became livestock.

Tsubomi tells her that losing intentionally here, when she has a perfect opportunity to prove she’s not “lifelong livestock”, would be like a “motionless pig in an open cage.” Unable to accept that, Tsubomi’s facade cracks, beats Kiwatari in the round, and becomes a human again.

The game would have ended with Tsubomi in first place, if the chip count, which we’d been getting from Kiwatari, was accurate. Turns out that is the last and final twist in the game: Mary and Yumeko falsified their debt reports (just like Kiwatari did), then swapped them, so the boards in front of them at the card table gave Kiwatari the wrong figures to do his math throughout the game.

It’s a total defeat brought on by Kiwatari’s confidence in his control over Tsubomi, as well as his hard-headed belief he can judge everyone as if they were cut from the same cloth. Meanwhile, Tsubomi may still technically be livestock, but regained her will to live and fight for solvency.

The council secretary Igarashi worries about what Pandora’s Box President Momobari (whom she seems to love) has opened by allowing someone as inscrutable as Jabami Yumeko to roam free. However, when Igarashi says “the usual things” that one can use to control a person don’t work on her; she’s not entirely right.

I have no doubt if Yumeko’s friends were threatened, she wouldn’t stand by and do nothing. And now Yumeko has two friends—Ryouta and Mary—who may be leveraged against her in the future. We’ll see how she deals with that as she faces off against more and stronger opponents.

Btooom! – 08

Sakamoto and Himiko spend the night in an abandoned building, and Himiko is suddenly woken up by a mysterious figure with disheveled hair and a flashlight. Sakamoto sees a lit room in the distance, and is attacked by the figure, who turns out to be a woman, Shiki. He knocks her out, and when she comes to, Himiko manages to calm her down. She was a player in the Btooom! game that preceded theirs, and her arm was blown off, so she has no chip. She was betrayed by a man, Date, who she’d worked with until they got six chips. She warns Himiko no be careful around men. Back where Taira is resting, Date has returned.

Sakamoto’s constant niceness and saving of her life is starting to have an effect on Himiko, especially now that she knows he was the Sakamoto she married in the virtual Btooom!. They both used the game as escapes from real lives that they didn’t like. Because we’re a party to both Sakamoto and Himiko’s thoughts, we know neither of them have designs on stabbing the other in the back. In fact, with the new information from Shiki – that the winner is airlifted out via helicopter, Sakamoto is even optimistic about the possibility of hijacking that ride with BIMs and getting out alive together (even with Taira, still clinging to life).

There are problems, of course. Sakamoto mentions how a “limiter” within him turns off when shit hits the fan, and he becomes calmer and gains the will to do whatever is necessary, whether it’s defeating an opponent or rescuing whom he regarded as his game wife. Who’s to say another limiter won’t turn off when he’s only one chip away from victory, and the seventh is in Himiko’s hand? Also, Tyrannos is watching and listening in on everything, so there’s no way to get the jump on them or game their system unless they find a place where there are no cameras or mics, and they’re not even aware they’re being observed. So even if the lovebirds collect fourteen chips without killing one another, they’re not in control of their fate.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)