Welcome to Anime Rants’ review of Deca-Dence, a Summer 2020 anime by studio Nut. Monsters called Gadoll prowl the world, driving the last of humanity into a gigantic morbile fortress called Deca-Dence. Gears are the strong warriors who get to exit the fortress and fight the Gadoll. Tankers are the weaker races, who normally don’t qualify to join the battles. Natsume is an orphaned girl who lost her right hand in a Gadoll attack. She dreams of fighting the Gadoll despite being a Tanker. And as she starts to make this ambition a reality, Natsume is about to discover that there’s a lot more to this world than meets the eye. Let’s begin the review.
For me, the visuals in Deca-Dence were more than adequate, but nothing special. There are two different styles used. A fairly standard modern anime style is used for the humans and avatars, and an extremely simple, cartoonish style is used for the cyborgs. The presence of the latter drove some viewers away from the anime, but I don’t mind having more than one art style in an anime. I also don’t mind that this was obviously a budget-saving technique. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying anime with lower production value, especially if it’s done creatively.
The animation for the Tankers and Gears seemed about average for a 2020 anime, in my opinion. The majority of Gadoll monsters, on the other hand, were largely unimpressive. But I did like the CG used for the omega Gadoll and themobile fortress of Deca-Dence. The switches from cyborg cartoon style to the more realistic anime style made me appreciate the detail in the latter so much more. Backgrounds and settings are good, too. Lighting and shading are mostly on-point, especially during key moments like when Natsume cries in the sunset in episode 7. The colors used were fine, but nothing remarkable.
As for character designs, once again, they were just fine but not really memorable or unique. One thing I really enjoy about anime and animation in general are face expressions. Deca-Dence did a pretty good job on this front. From humorously over-the-top to seriously determined, a fine range of expressions was captured. Overall, the visuals in Deca-Dence were about average.
Voice-acting in Deca-Dence was standard for Japanese anime. Its far better than most English dubs, but the acting is sometimes too exaggerated, and other times, fails to emphasize important lines. I like the voice for Kaburagi, Katsuyuki Konishi, and he did a fine job. I’ve heard him around in various anime here and there. Tomori Kusunoki, who I don’t remember ever hearing before, peformed well as Natsume. Michiyo Murase impressed me with her acting as Jill the cyborg. A favorite seiyuu of mine, Eri Kitamura, plays Kurenai. Her performance in this role was nothing special, but it’s always good to hear her voice.
Deca-Dence’s music scores were adequate but unremarkable. The opening song, “Theater of Life” by Konomi Suzuki, was good, though not good enough for me to add to my playlists. However, I absolutely love the ending song, “Kioku no Hakobune” by Kashitarou Itou. It has beautiful and moving vocals and melody. Considering this and how I liked some of the seiyuu performances, I give Deca-Dence a 7/10 for audio.
Story and Themes: 6/10
Deca-Dence has a lot going for it in terms of concept and originality. The initial synopsis you may read makes the story seem quite a bit simpler than it is. Just get two or three episodes into the show, and it’s clear there’s a lot of different creative elements at work. The obvious example is the truth behind Deca-Dence, which is ruled by an ancient AI System and inhabited by cyborgs who created the Gadoll monsters for entertainment. The few humans left are called Tankers and kept alive as an endangered species without being told the truth.
We have elements of a good dystopia here, and some other ideas I like, such as the Tank system of fighting Gadoll. So what’s the issue? Mostly, it’s that something with this much potential can’t possibly be explored well in only 12 episodes. If the anime is a gemstone, it’s still rough, dirty, and embedded in rock. The story, world, and character development could have been flushed out over at least 25 episodes. There’s enough unique or interesting content to make it work. Instead, everything is rushed, and the structuring is poor, making the story awkward. One example was the rushed episode where the Tankers and Gears fight Gadoll Alpha, only to see Gadolls return in multitudes moments later.
There just wasn’t enough time for anything. Kaburagi’s time in the cyborg re-education camp could have been a lot more interesting, relying less on humor, if given the proper room. Natsume’s disillusionment about the manufactured world around her only lasts half an episode or less before she is back to her bouncy self. Related to the structure and pacing issues was the lack of exposition about such details as the technology of the cyborgs, the artificial creation of Gadolls, and the System that rules the fortress. Then again, it’s only natural for a crammed show to not have time for detailed world-building.
It’s a shame that these aspects are weak, because most of the other elements in the story category are pretty good. Themes, humor, and emotional moments were all handled well (though the suspense and intensity areas were lacking). Speaking of the themes, the main one is that “bugs” or irregularities are important in society. This is a motif I enjoy quite a bit. It goes well alongside the other main message of being independent and exercising free will. Despite some strong points here and there, the story in Deca-Dence wastes most of its potential, and I can’t give it higher than 6/10.
The characters are one of the main strengths in Deca-Dence. That’s not to say there are no major issues. Many of the characters are not developed enough, like Fei and Kurenai. The villain, Hugen, was incredibly weak in terms of motivations and personality. There was nothing to him. Even the System itself turned out to be a disappointing when it so easily gave control of Deca-Dence to Kaburagi in the finale. Despite these issues, the two main characters are excellent.
Kaburagi was interesting to me because he started as a character who followed the rules loyally, later becoming a complete revolutionary. His character journey was presented quite well. Because of an incident in the past, Kaburagi’s team was disbanded. Most of them were sent to prison, and the youngest of them was executed by the System. Kaburagi got to walk because he still expressed loyalty to the System. But this event and the guilt and emptiness associated with it weighed down on him so much that he lost interest in life. He planned to let himself die.
Enter Natsume, the “Bug.” After she met Kaburagi, things started completely turning around. So let us say a few words about this spunky heroine. First of all, it’s great to have a girl as a main character, especially one that doesn’t fall into too many tropes, and is cute and funny. Natsume can also be said to be a character with a Disability, which is also an unusual change. She has an artificial hand and lower arm to replace hers which she lost in the Gadoll attack. Seeing her overcome that with Kaburagi’s help was fantastic.
Certain aspects of Natsume’s story are overused, such as the whole orphan card. Overall, though, Natsume has more than enough originality to her. One of the most interesting things to me was her motivation for fighting Gadoll. It isn’t to avenge her father, nor to save the world from monsters. It’s for her own personal growth and confidence. She wants to like herself and believe in herself, pushing herself to her limits. That’s not something I often see in a female main character in anime.
Now, all the areas I’ve mentioned deserved far more development and expansion for both Kaburagi and Natsume. Once again, the issue is that there’s not enough time in this short series to flush out so many good elements at once. Other characters like Kurenai should have gotten more time as well. But because of the two excellent main characters, and the good concepts for the characters in general, I think this category earns a solid 7/10.
Personal Enjoyment: 8/10
In terms of personal enjoyment, Deca-Dence stood up to the level of bigger shows this season (like Re:Zero) without any issue. I think the category I enjoyed most would be characters. Natsume is just so delightful, frequently making me smile. Kaburagi is an interesting and realistic character who undergoes bold and courageous change. In addition, the character of Jill in the second half of the show was highly entertaining. Considering what little time there was, the show did a pretty good job with pulling off her mysterious nature and amusing personality.
The general atmosphere of Deca-Dence is somehow refreshing, and the core messages of free will and the importance of irregularities in the system are ones that I value highly. I enjoyed some aspects of each of the categories I discussed. Natsume’s character design is very simple, but I like it. The cyborgs are cute. I could listen to the ending song on repeat for hours. The many plot and world ideas in this anime are fascinating and unusual. As you can see, Deca-Dence afforded me much enjoyment.
Overall Score: 6.8/10.0 Fine
The overall score is the average of the numbers for the five categories we went over. Scores in 6s range are “Fine,” while scores in the 7s range are “Good.” Deca-Dence is right on the borderline. I don’t want anyone to think I dislike this series, but I do want to give my honest scores and be as fair as possible. Well then, thank you for reading and enjoy your day!