The bar with Deca-Dence is, oddly, both very high and very low – it depends on how you look at it. We have a truncated season that was weak even before the pandemic decimated it, and this is an original series from Tachikawa Yuzuru – it would be shocking if it weren’t at or very near the top of the pile. But then, because it is a Tachikawa Yuzuru original expectations can’t help but be high. Tachikawa-sensei is the most accomplished young director in TV anime, and everything he’s helmed has been great (at the very least).
To be honest, if I didn’t know who the staff was, I’m not sure Deca-Dence would have been a show I was really targeting. The premise sounded pretty generic. But the staff list is a dazzler – in addition to Tachikawa it sports an all-star team of animators and designers (many of whom worked on Death Parade). It’s interesting that Tachikawa developed this project at little studio NUT after stellar success as giants Madhouse and Bones, but it’s clear from the premiere that budget wasn’t an obstacle.
My take after one episode was – frankly, to my disappointment – just about what it looked like it was going to be. Deca-Dence mostly does look great, but the story and characters feel extremely generic. Tachikawa was involved in the development but the main writer here is Seko Hiroshi, who has a very goos track record with adaptations (including Mob Psycho 100) but not much history with originals. Maybe he’s capable of writing a great original (we know Tachikawa is), and maybe Deca-Dence will be it, but there’s no evidence of that after one ep.
Based on interviews Tachikawa seems to have developed this show mostly because he really just wanted to do a mecha anime, and that’s perfectly fine in and of itself. But it plays like not much more thought than that went into it. Hell, there’s even a lazy exposition-by-explanation scene at the beginning, which I’ve never seen this director stoop to. The plucky girl heroine Natsume (Kusonoki Tomori) is generic. The grumpy boss/foil Kaburagi (Konishi Katsuyuki) is generic. The post-apocalyptic premise is generic. In fact Deca-Dence more than anything starts off like an amalgam of earlier mecha shows which were themselves mostly generic, which makes it generic squared.
There are hints there may be more going on here. I want to know more about this secret life Kaburagi leads, where he searches for “bugs” for some sort of secret organization. And the last few moments of the episode are very weird indeed – are those creatures robots or aliens? It’s not unrealistic to hope that with Tachikawa on the bridge all this predictability is s feint, and Deca-Dence is going to chart a much more unpredictable course than it appears. But that’s no more than a hope at this point.
If nothing else there’s the eye candy, which is probably why a lot of people are here. And the premiere certainly offers plenty of that, though there’s a not inconsiderable amount of CGI to go along with the sakuga. The giant mechanical fortress of the title is certainly a fun creation, though its method of attack is more campy than practical. And the battles have plenty of gorgeous animation, though the way they’re choreographed is rather impersonal in that it’s hard to follow what Kaburagi and the others are actually doing. I want more than all that though, and badly. Deca-Dence doesn’t have to be Tachikawa at his best to stand out this season, but no season ever needed him at his best more than this one does.