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 – 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.

Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.