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 – 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.

Deca-Dence – 01 (First Impressions) – A Study in Scale

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!

Houkago no Pleiades – 06

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When the Pleiadian spaceship starts to shift into their dimension, the plan to rebuild its engine accelerates, as does the need to find as many fragments as possible. For once, the girls are able to snag one without interference from Dark Minato, but it turns out to be a trap he sets that lets him discover their base.

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He places a magical barrier around the entire school, trapping Subaru inside. After delving into Hikaru and Itsuki’s pasts, personalities, and motivations the last two weeks, HnP swings back around to the pink-haired protagonist, face-to-face with Dark Minato on solid ground for the first time. But before he can get too close, her Drive Shaft activates and brisks her away.

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She ends up in Nice Minato’s observatory, in an embrace neither are embarrassed about. Subaru is scared, and finds solace and comfort here, with him. Is he an old friend she forgot? Why are there two versions of him? Neither of these questions are explained, but as usual, this Minato is able to provide some advice that helps her press forward, despite her fear. But this visit feels like a goodbye.

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A path leads to a new exit, but when she opens the doors to her friends’ delight, all of a sudden the whole damn school is floating up in orbit, just above the Pleiadian spaceship. Exactly why this happens isn’t explained, but it’s very surreal and cool.

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The President says if the spaceship fully shifts and awakens all of his countrymen, it would be very bad, without going into detail, so when Dark Minato attacks them, Subaru blocks his path. She’s decided she’s not giving up the fragments, she’ snot letting him destroy the school, and she’s not letting him hurt Aoi. He gettin’ nothing!

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Even though she’s scared and shaking, it doesn’t matter; she’s not backing down. Dark Minato is taken aback, as he’s used to using fear and little else to keep his adversaries down. Likely due to Subaru’s resolve and show of strength, their Drive Shafts transform into more recognizable Subaru products, and the five of them create a spark that knocks the ship back into a higher dimension where it will be safe until the engine is completed.

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The ship, the school, and her friends are safe, but when she returns to the magical conservatory, it’s dark and barren, and Minato is nowhere to be found. Will they ever meet again? Or was Subaru’s decision to walk down that path and exit out the rooftop door a symbol of moving on from the security blanket of Minato’s counsel; that moving forward meant leaving a part of herself behind?

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P.S. While I still like this show, it’s likely to be next on the dropping block, as Zane wants me to take Re-Kan! off his hands since he’s dropped Mikagura to review Ore Monogatari!!. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

Houkago no Pleiades – 05

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The cosplay club’s class is doing the play “The Lady in the Tower”, and pegged the elegant Itsuki as the princess and the tomboyish Aoi as the prince. Aoi, who is actually pretty girly, gets all gung-ho about making a dress for Itsuki, and Itsuki maintains a pleasant composure and lets everyone do what they want…but she seems a little uneasy, and wigs out when Subaru pulls her bangs back.

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In another Minato’s Garden sequence that calls into question where exactly Subaru actually is during such sequences (it seems likely they’re either in a shared dream or Subaru’s), Subaru likens Minato to the lady in the tower, only he doesn’t see any point in ever leaving; maybe because he doesn’t know what’s out there, or maybe because he’s exactly where he should be.

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In any case, he motivates Subaru to have another go to see what’s up with Itsuki, and they end up “going for a drive” which is a great euphemism (if a bit understated) for ascending into low earth orbit at dusk (they’ve collected enough fragments that this is now child’s play even for Subaru). There, Itsuki tells her about the time she herself was a tomboy, who’d put herself in danger.

While climbing a tree, the wind took her hat, and believing she could fly, leapt off the tree to catch it. The fall gave her a scar, for which her parents blamed her brother. From that point on, Itsuki vowed never to cause problems for others again. The wound on her forehead was still fresh when she saw the Pleiadian ship break up, the event that brought her together with the other girls.

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While up in orbit, the Pleiadian alerts Subaru and Itsuki to a “nearby” fragment, that he tries to draw to them, but instead it draws all of them to it. This results in the expected but still awesome expansion of the scale of the girls’ playground to include the rest of the solar system. In a particularly thrilling and charming sequence, the girls pass Mars, the Belt, and Jupiter while describing all of the foods their colors remind them of.

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When they finally come to a stop in a dense field of ice beads, the camera pulls way, way back to reveal they’re floating over the rings of Saturn, arguably the system’s most photogenic and charismatic planet. The pull-back creates another grand sense of scale; a scale larger than anything that came before. Indeed, the show even mentions the rings are as wide as five earths.

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Naturally, Minato (who may or may not be the same Minato in Subaru’s garden scenes…I’m just not sure yet) was able to follow the girls and tries to snatch the frag, but loses sight of it. Itsuki comes up with the idea of barreling through the rings, which flow like a river, to reveal the frag’s hiding spot, since its mass varies from the ice beads). It’s deeper science than one would expect from a Magical Girl show, and I like it!

Minato tries to go for the frag when they uncover it, but Itsuki decides to, well, not let her hair down, but pull her bangs up, throwing caution to the wind to beat Minato to the frag. I like this more fallable, defeatable Minato better than the bully of earlier episodes. I also liked Subaru and the others’ assurance that Itsuki shouldn’t fear causing problems for them; in fact, they would be honored if she did.

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Her bangs, and the scar below, were kind of like a tower Itsuki built around herself, along with the determination to avoid causing trouble, even if it meant suppressing who she was. If everyone wanted her to be a princess, she’d be one.

But now that she realizes that causing problems for those we love and care fore, and vice versa, is just part of the territory, she makes another bold move that’s true to herself by swapping roles with Aoi in the play. And it really works!

The awesome planetary adventures with dash of hard sci-fi combined subversion of Itsuki’s role in the group as “the elegant princess”, were all factors that contributed to my generous rating. Pleiades is on a roll.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 04

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The magical transformations girls make in Magical Girl shows often go hand in hand with their personal growth. It’s as much about discovery and mastery of their identity as much as their powers.

Pleiades is no different from this convention; where it continues to distinguish itself is in the execution and the emotional impact of its situations. Last week was about Subaru. This week, it’s Hikaru’s turn to get fleshed out.

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At the same time, the show continues to incrementally extend the reach of its magical girl action with each passing episode, much to my delight. First the sky, then the boundary between Earth and space, and now…the moon. The training, involving being able to attain not only escape velocity, but a speed that will ensure they don’t miss school! I love it.

While largely about the highly intelligent and talented, yet underachieving Hikaru’s personal emotional impasse with her similarly intelligent, talented, overachieving parents, there’s also room this week for Subaru’s weekly visit to Minato’s garden of encouragement, where he plants the seed of believing someone, and being believed, if there’s no reason for them to think you’re lying.

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That’s important, because Hikaru’s family communicates their daily whereabouts primarily through whiteboard. Her apartment may look empty and lonely at first glance, but that board is crucial, dutifully filled out as it is every day without fail: it’s the way they devised to always stay in contact in spirit, if not often in person.

Before leaving for the moon, Hikaru makes something up on the board, once again “doing things halfway”. But then she decides to wipe out the white lie on the whiteboard and write where she’s actually going: the Moon.

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It’s another awesome journey full of grace and grandeur; another wonderful study on the full breadth of magical girl power. I especially liked the different, more subtle sound space made once the girls were clear of Earth’s atmo, and I really enjoyed Hikaru’s cute little dream where her subconscious’ version Subaru as a bit of an idiot—only to learn Subaru shared her dream!

That’s also key because Subaru knows about Hikaru’s unease with her father and the song he wrote. One night she heard music in his practice room even though he wasn’t in there, and decided to write a measure of music in a place where he had gotten stuck. It’s something she always felt guilty about, worried she was interfering in her parents fully achieving their dreams.

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Where she’s wrong is that she is the shared dream of her parents; one far more important than any concerto or astronomical discovery. When her dad sees she wrote down “Moon!” on the whiteboard, he and her mom work together to send his piano music to the Moon; to the cherished daughter they don’t feel they deserve.

She didn’t mess up her dad’s music; she helped him finished it, and the loving way he plays it demonstrates his pride and gratitude for that. The nabbing of their biggest fragment yet is a great product of their lunar excursion, but it’s overshadowed by Hikaru finally being able to show her feelings in front of her friends, who may be initially shocked by her tears, but are also happy they’re seeing another side of their friend.

So, all in all another very good episode from Pleiades. I look forward to seeing who’s turn it will be to get a little more fleshed out next week—Itsuki? Nanako?—and hope the show’s expansion will proceed deeper out into the solar system, and beyond!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 03

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I entered my third week of Pleiades a bit ambivalent. Here was a nice-looking show with a mild degree of Gainax flair whose most glaring flaw was a slavish adhesion to the well-tread magical girl formula, with a hint of repetition Even the girls seem a bit listless in their cosplay club, wondering whether they’re just going through the motions in vain, having worked hard to secure another engine fragment, only to have it snatched away by that stuck-up crimson-haired twerp.

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The alien president tells the girls it isn’t their potential that’s the problem, only their amorphous wills and resolve, which are borne out of the fact they’re in the gray area between childhood and adulthood. When Subaru comes home to see her father tinkering with defective engine parts (probably from a Subaru), she sees herself as a defective part, keeping the machine that is the group of girls from working properly.

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At another accidental visit to Minato’s garden, she laments her crippling hesitation in making decisions, but when Minato asks her the question “do you want to be with them?” she doesn’t hesitate; she does. It’s not that she hasn’t made a decision, she’s just scared of executing. But Minato tells her she shouldn’t think of herself as the only one who’s scared. When you have friends, you cease being defined merely by yourself, but by others, revealing things you never knew you possessed.

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Despite thinking she’s a fifth wheel, what Subaru possesses, at least in the immediate present upon returning to the clubroom, is the ability to amplify the signal of Nanako’s tracking circle, which allows them to pinpoint the next fragment. Just like Subaru said, her friends were waiting for her. Far from being left behind, they needed her power in order to proceed.

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Pleiades truly distinguished itself this week, both in breaking the pattern of the first two eps and greatly expanding the depth and breadth of the girls’ powers under the Pleiadian, who is able to harness more of their potential the more unusual situations they find themselves in. This time, neither they nor Minato manage to grab the fragment in the sky, and it drops into the ocean, but because they’re magical girls, they don’t have to worry about the lack of air or the crushing pressure of those depths…though they do have to change into swimsuits! Umi Monogatari, anyone?

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The expansion continues when, after they surface with the fragment, and the duel with Minato continues, Itsuki, their best flyer, is able to level up thanks to help from Subaru spotting the wind. This level-up is accompanied by even more overt Subaruization of Itsuki’s drive shaft, complete with Forester grille and instrumentation. Where before she was hitting the rev limiter above a certain altitude, now she can soar ever higher into the sky, with the others in tow. Aoi then uses her athletic prowess to knock the fragment away from Minato for the others to catch.

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Before they know it, they’ve risen all the way up into space, adding yet another layer of grandeur and discovery to their exploits this week. Minato follows them even here, but this time Subaru uses strong, uncompromising words to force his retreat. She rejects all the mean things he says, and insists they have as much a right to the fragments as they do, and she won’t hear her and her friends be called failures.

After he’s gone, the girls can “hear space”, their potential realized to a level never before achieved. It’s very grand and a bit trippy thanks to the ambient music and striking visuals.

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The episode closes back down on the good old earth with a nice family moment. Her father tells her she’s not some manufactured part that can only serve one purpose. Rather she can take any shape she wants at any time, and indeed, that’s what we observed from her and her friends: all of them chip in here and there, according to their individual strengths, and together they form a a humming fragment-collecting engine to be reckoned with. All they have to do is have confidence in themselves and trust in one another, and they’ll do fine.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 02

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Pleiades is undeniably pretty and inoffensive show, but at the end of two episodes the forgiving sheen of newness has worn off, revealing what is (and was from the start, really) a fairly lightweight and highly derivative affair.

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Whether being very reminiscent of a show I’ve already watched is grounds for dropping depends on the show it reminds me of, and in this case, Pleiades is at a a distinct disadvantage. It’s directed by the same guy who helmed FLCL, while its obvious thematic and aesthetic inspiration would appear be Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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Pleiades isn’t nearly as original as Fooly nor as dark and profound as Puella, and if we’re honest, contributes virtually nothing new to stand apart from either. But to be fair, both those shows cast huge shadows…and despite its directorial pedigree and familiar milieu, it’s also not really trying to approach the greatness of those singular classics.

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Rather, it’s content to have a good old time bringing two rootable former friends, who aren’t quite sure why they forgot one another or got split up in the first place, back together. Subaru and Aoi are the focus of this episode, with the latter giving the former flying lessons.

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Again, there’s nothing either deep or groundbreaking, but the two co-leads still made me care about them reconnecting, and indeed its the power of their friendship, and a mutually-remembered song, that nets them two big engine fragments for their alien president.

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Then Minato swoops in and snatches one, and here’s where the show falls down a bit. While he seems to be a nice enough kid in that hidden fountain garden room, to the point he almost resembles a potential love interest for Subaru, his complete character shift to sinister bully feels arbitrary, not to mention repetitive.

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Until there’s a little more revealed about why he’s picking on the girls and Subaru in particular, Minato will remain a rather dull enigma. But despite his sabotage, the girls are making progress, and have even secured a room at their school under the aegis of the official establishment of the “Cosplay Research Club”; as good a cover for a group of magical schoolgirls as any!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 01 (First Impressions)

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FLCL is one of our favorites here in the office—I know I often check Craigslist for used Vespas—and Zane is a fan of the first Medaka Box. So when the director of both is involved with a new show, we at least take a look. And my first impressions of it are pretty good.

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So what have we got? A solid, straightforward, and earnest new entry in the magical girl genre, with enough self-awareness of the legacy it’s carrying on and including enough unique details to keep it interesting. This show will never be accused of inventing the wheel with regards to its character types or the situations they find themselves in, so it comes down to those details, technical execution, and how it makes me feel.

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For those who want a quick(ish) synopsis, here goes: Subaru (pink hair) is a relatively unremarkable, slightly slow and clumsy girl who loves stargazing and ends up invited into a secret club of classmates, including her former friend Aoi (blue hair) by their president (a jellyfish-lke alien).

The balance of the quintet is made up of Itsuki (raven hair), Nanako (lilac), and Hikaru (orange). There’s also a sickly dude Subie meets who has crimson hair. Whatever your favorite color—or hat type, for that matter—there’s a girl for you!

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We follow Subaru through her brisk initiation, which half-explains things along the way, because even the already initiated know very little about exactly what’s going on. For those not aware, Subaru is the Japanese term for the constellation Pleiades, and also the brand name for Fuji Heavy Industries’ automobile division, with the constellation as their logo.

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Some of HnP’s amusing details may only appeal to gear/petrolheads or owners, but Subaru’s family owns a Subaru R1, and the front ends of the broom-like “drive shafts” they use to fly resemble the front fascias of various Subaru models. Whether this is stealthy product placement or simply the creators’ love of the marque, I for one love Subarus, so I’m glad they made the connection.

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Whether it’s flying over them in airplanes or bursting through them in a movie or tv show, there’s something awe-inspiring about the cloudtops at dusk, especially when there’s a big rainstorm just below them. That breathlessness is captured perfectly when Subaru’s drive shaft shoots her into the stratosphere, followed closely by her new comrades, in order to capture an engine fragment of their alien president’s spaceship.

They fail on their first try, and indeed have never succeeded up to that point, but when Subaru realizes Aoi doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than she does, she finds her confidence and leads them back, and this time they succeed in cutting off, degenerating, and finalizing the fragment, all terms that are intentionally not expanded upon, because there’s no time for elaborate explanations, even if the other girls had them, which they don’t.

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Enter the good/bad antagonist: when Subaru is attacked by a “dark shooting star”, the crimson-headed bishonen Minato saves her from falling, but steals the fragment away, as if in payment. However, the fact of the matter is, Subaru, slow and clumsy she may be, was the group’s missing piece, and she even manages to score a mini consolation fragment. The episode closes with the new quintet watching the meteor shower Subaru had been looking forward to all day.

I was looking forward to HnP as soon as I heard about it, and while it wasn’t life-changingly fantastic, it was a solid, colorful, entertaining effort with a hearty helping of whimsy, which is easy on the eyes (unlike Sailor Moon Crystal, which I couldn’t quite get through) but not too taxing on the ol’ noggin. An ideal show for hump day.

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