Deca-Dence – 06 – The Shaw-Clank Redemption

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

Note the background cameo by…the Coronavirus?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deca-Dence – 03 – Riding the Wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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