Anime about game-like worlds have something of a stale reputation these days. The sheer ubiquity of virtual reality and RPG-inspired isekai anime results in many series taking relatively shallow treatments of their science fictional aspects. Obsession with game mechanics and/or power fantasy are par for the course. Amidst these trends, Deca-Dence is not only refreshing for its interesting worldbuilding and compelling characters, but it also feels like a genuinely innovative look as well as subversion of game-derived concepts within the context of a society built around them.
Deca-Dence is a tricky anime to review due to its many plot twists. It’s not the type of series that is “ruined” by knowing the big spoilers, as full knowledge of what’s really going on just invites more questions to ponder over, but I think it’s more knowing less so that the show can work its initial magic.
Thus, the most I’ll say about the basic premise is this: Deca-Dence takes place in a world where humanity is confined to a mobile fortress called the Deca-Dence, which is key to their survival against mysterious monsters called the Gadol. Assisting them in their fight is a system reminiscent of the vertical maneuvering gear of Attack on Titan: backpacks that allow people to levitate, and harpoons capable of draining a vital fluid from them that can be used as a power source. The story focuses on a girl named Natsume, who loses both her father and her arm in humanity’s battle against the Gadol, and it’s the clash between her desire to become a front-line fighter and her self-perception as a relative nobody that gradually opens up the secrets of the world to her. Of all the people she gets to know, the most important is a man named Kaburagi, a former combatant who’s tired of living.
The term I use to describe Natsume and many of the other characters is “NPCs,” or non-player characters. I understand that the term might raise some eyebrows, as it’s commonly used by the alt-right to demean and diminish those who don’t follow their hate-filled ideologies, but here it’s meant in the context of characters who “matter less” within their world because they’re not supposed to be the ones going out and achieving glory. There’s a very clear divide in their society, with a group of extremely skilled warriors known as the “Power” at the very top, whose battle prowess seems all but unattainable for the common folk. It’s as if their world is structured to follow game-like notions of character importance, and Natsume is the one who inadvertently moves beyond her “station” as an NPC of sorts.
Deca-Dence is a satisfying robust science fiction series that both entertains and challenges the viewer. It’s a show that encourages you to think and imagine in the best way possible. I highly recommend it, and am considering writing a spoiler-heavy review just to go over some of the important and provocative ideas to come out of it.