(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

There is an unwritten rule that you should give a new anime three episodes before deciding whether to keep watching or drop it entirely. The idea is that a show usually needs around three episodes to breathe before it shows what it’s really about and what the rest of the story is going to look like. Some shows need a bit more time (like Cowboy Bebop) while others hook you in right out of the gate. 

Some shows, however, use their first episode to lull the audience into a false sense of security by drawing comparisons to other high-concept shows, like Attack on Titan in this casebefore pulling the rug – and basically the entire house – out from under the audience to reveal an absolutely cuckoo bananas premise that completely changes everything you had previously thought about the show. And all this at the beginning of the second episode. That show is Deca-Dence, a show that draws you in with a post-apocalyptic Fury Road-like dystopian action story that changes tone and even visuals to reveal a colorful, hilarious, and bonkers anime equivalent of Fall Guys — all while being a pretty timely indictment of how capitalist systems oppress those caught both in and outside of it.

The twist in Deca-Dence is such a big one, and yet such an essential part of the show’s real premise, that I’ll change things up for this column. I’ll mostly talk about the first episode, and vaguely touch on some of the themes from later in the series, and then and add a well-marked section at the end to cover all the delicious spoilers. 

What Makes It Great

Directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa (from the wonderful Death Parade, which we already covered in this column), Deca-Dence certainly could be mistaken for the Attack on Titan/Fury Road anime crossover you never knew you needed. The show takes place in the 2400s after most of humanity has gone extinct and replaced by monstrous creatures called the Gadoll. What remains of humanity lives inside a mobile fortress city called Deca-dence, which runs on an energy source distilled from the corpses of the Gadoll. 

The show very effectively uses the audience’s familiarity with this type of dystopian high-concept while introducing its own original details that bring new flavor to this popular setting. Sure, there’s the mobilized fortress city like in Mortal Engines, the dieselpunk aesthetic of the warriors that go fight the Gadoll on crazy-modified bikes and cars, and even a more sci-fi version of Attack on Titan‘s 3D maneuver gear that allows soldiers to fly through the air when fighting. But the characters, especially the Gadoll, look more colorful than anything Attack on Titan has to offer. And then the titular Deca-dence fortress transforms into a monster-destroying weapon that literally fires a giant boxing glove via a spring to punch the living hell out of giant Gadoll.

The action sequences use creative angles and camera movement to bring the audience right to the middle of the many epic and bloody battles. Each of the characters has very distinct body language and unlike many anime shows out there, the CGI is used creatively and in combination with 2D animation to enhance the world of the show.

What It Brings to the Conversation

What makes the twist in the second episode so perfect is how it recontextualizes the previous episode without contradicting any part of it. On the contrary, it only reinforces the themes we have already seen. Deca-Dence may take place in the far future after an apocalypse has killed most life on Earth, but it’s all about how a system’s wish for control can never be more than a simple illusion, and how oppressing systems of capitalism devour anything that doesn’t fit their vision. 

In the first episode, the protagonist laments how she is unable to join the prestigious and privileged “Tankers” who get to go out and fight the Gadoll and then return home and enjoy the exploits of their labor, while everyone else just labors inside the dark fortress. The show brilliantly gamifies its struggle in the face of late capitalism: you think you can simply train to be good at fighting monsters, and then live a better life. In reality, you are stuck in your predetermined position because the “system” deemed you’re not worth spending more resources on. Eventually, even the ones who think they’re higher up in the system’s hierarchy are reduced to simple gears in the machine whose sole purpose is to fulfill the system’s vision for control — a control that simply doesn’t exist.

Deca-Dence does many things well, but it is the way it keeps presenting new layers to its social commentary and manages to effortlessly weave it in with a very dense plot that makes it the biggest anime surprise of the summer. 

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

If you want the same feeling of “I can’t believe what I’m seeing” that you get when you first watch Fury Road, the entire existence of which feels like a miracle, then you should give Deca-Dence a chance.

Full of exciting action, colorful characters, huge world-building, and plot twists on top of plot twists that feel like the show condensing four seasons’ worth of story into 12 episodes even as it carefully builds up those 12 episodes with even more story, this is not only the best show of the summer, but one of the best shows of the year.

Watch This If You Like: Attack on Titan, Fury Road, Westworld

Deca-Dence is now streaming on Hulu.

***

Okay, now that we got the more general things out of the way, let’s talk about some spoilers, for anyone who is interested.

The Big Twist

If you thought you were going to enjoy a new epic post-apocalyptic show where characters could die at any moment, giant monsters wreaked havoc, and giant cities punched said monsters in a safe and familiar environment, think again. Deca-Dence is not Attack on Titan meets Fury Road. It’s Westworld meets Wall-E meets Fall Guys. Knowing that everything we saw in the first episode was simply a giant MMO theme park run by alien cyborgs that use the last remaining humans as NPCs only reinforces the cries for fighting the system in the first episode. 

The show’s visuals only become more impressive once we move away from the gritty dystopia to the colorful world of the cyborgs that play in Deca-Dence. The show’s later episodes even manage to blend both vastly different designs smoothly. And after pulling the rug from under the audience in the second episode, the subtext becomes gloriously bonkers text. It would be one thing to follow a teenager trying to enter a privileged order of warriors while the system tells her she can’t. Another thing entirely is to literally label her a bug that the system instantly sentences to death, while other cogs in the machine realize the system changes its definition of bug whenever it pleases, and will eventually come for all of them.

Even if this sounds dour and pessimistic, Deca-Dence is surprisingly optimistic, using humor and inspiring speeches to build up the idea that you can truly bring down an oppressing system if you “believe in the you that believes in yourself.”

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