OP: 「Theatre of Life」 by (Konomi Suzuki (鈴木このみ))
To quote… someone:
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.
Well, there ya go.
We certainly saw a major reset button hit with Deca-Dence, no denying that (and kudos to the staff for doing an admirable job keeping the secret). There was indeed a hope, based on the masthead – and the final moments of the premiere – that all that cliche was a bait-and-switch. And I have to say a pretty ballsy one too, to intentionally make your first episode as derivative and generic as possible to execute a plot point. Given how short the attention span of many anime viewers is these days, there’s real risk in that. But Tachikawa Yuzuru – and Seko Hiroshi too, for that matter – actually have a track record of atypical premieres followed by resets. Just not to this extreme.
For me, then, a major hurdle has been cleared. If that first episode had been offered at face value I likely would have bailed on Deca-Dence pretty quickly, because it wasn’t very interesting. My faith in Tachikawa-sensei wavered there, but he restored a good chunk of it. That said, though, it’s really only the first hurdle that’s been cleared – there’s still the matter of the actual show being a good one. And with as many unanswered questions as this series has already put out there, it’s far too early to make a call on that one.
So just what the heck is going on here, then? To be honest I’m not totally sure. Taken at face value, we seem to be inside a simulation, where Minions-like aliens are playing what amounts to an immersive MMORPG. As for the actual humans who interact with them inside the game, they’re part of an “endangered” human race – perhaps unknowingly filling the role of NPCs. But to the aliens, this seems like a job as much as a game – and if they screw up or break the rules they’re “scrapped”. They also have to fill up on “Oxyone” or they die (or whatever would be their equivalent).
That’s exactly what Kaburagi-alien seems to have decided to do. By flashback (7 years), we see him as part of a crack team of ranked gears (given that two of his teammates are Donatello and Mikey, we clearly have a TMNT fan in the writer’s room). The catch here is that this Deca-Dence simulation the aliens are involved in is apparently physically real, possible even on Earth (Eurasia). If they take off their limiters, they can enhance their abilities into the game while also subjecting themselves to physical harm. Pain junkies are into it, it seems, but Mikey wants to do it so he can move up in rank – and it’s Kaburagi who shows him how. When the boss finds out, Mikey is scrapped and the team is broken up, and Kaburagi is forced to work for the boss, eliminating “bugs”.
Kaburagi is supposed to be around for 175 more years, apparently, but he’s had enough. The annoying little human Natsume sparks enough curiosity in him, however, to get him to shoot up on Oxyone and keep plugging along. She’s supposed to dead – “processed” – but the system probably thinks so because her ID chip was in her lost arm. She’s an anomaly and that interests Kaburagi, who decides not only not to die but to accede to Natsume’s request and train her up, just to see what happens.
Whatever the heck this is, it’s certainly more interesting that what Deca-Dence looked like it was after 21 minutes of the premiere. From an extremely predictable narrative we’ve gone to one that’s more or less a cipher (though it does borrow from The Matrix and, especially, the criminally-underrated Dark City). It’s not exactly what I would call compelling, yet, nor are any of the characters – who are, ironically, the one element that remains pretty generic even after the plot reboot. But Deca-Dence is at least fraught with possibility now, and that certainly constitutes a massive improvement.
ED: 「Kioku no Hakobune」 (記憶の箱舟) by (Kashitarou Itou (伊東歌詞太郎))