Hello Deca-Dence fans, we have quite a lot to talk about.
Deca-Dence made it clear from day one that it wasn’t going to be an ordinary seasonal. We’re still only two weeks into the lean Summer season, but it doesn’t seem unfair to call Deca-Dence an early Anime Of The Season candidate. In last week’s recap, I briefly mentioned a scene in which Kaburagi, one of our protagonists, seems to assassinate someone under the directive of a computer, represented by a needle-nosed, highly-stylized avatar. I questioned what the scene had to do with the rest of the episode. I even went so far as to call it the one element that seemed out of place.
I’ve never been the type to dislike being proven wrong. That scene, as it turns out, is just as important to Deca-Dence and what it’s doing as everything about Natsume. Our orange-haired female lead is in fact absent for much of “Sprocket,” the second episode. “Sprocket” is Kaburagi’s story, and it is far, far stranger than many would’ve imagined.
Deca-Dence is, in fact, two stories. Or rather, an outer and inner story that will likely meet up in the middle before series’ end. We saw the inner story– that of the Deca-Dence fortress, its “Tanker” (human) inhabitants, and Natsume and her place within those structures– last episode. “Sprocket” is about the much stranger outer story. To condense quite a lot of material into a very small space: the Deca-Dence fortress is the creation of a spacefaring post-human society (these are the Gears). They use the Deca-Dence as the staging point for what is, essentially, an MMO. The Gears have physical avatars. Their multi-hued humanoid forms we saw last week; these let them interact with the world of the fortress. That world, incidentally, is “the great continent of Eurasia.“
We don’t get any details about how this all came to be in “Sprocket,” and maybe we never will. But it’s worth noting how radically this changes the story that Deca-Dence is trying to tell. Suddenly, the situation of the fortress is not an act of random chance or the consequence of some disaster. It’s deliberate, engineered by a social and economic caste so high above the human Tankers that they don’t even know it exists. It’s implied, though not outright stated, that none of the humans aboard the Deca-Dence fortress are aware of its true nature. Gadoll-hunting is the “sport” of Deca-Dence the game, and players who excel at it are known as “Top Rankers.” This piece of information is central to the story “Sprocket” tells.
Also of note? The radically different art style the Gears are drawn in when in their native environment. The style gives off the energy of Kaiba by way of aughts flash cartoons. The gears themselves rather look like robotic beans with arms and legs.
This brings us back to Kaburagi. He is, it turns out, a Gear. His role on the fortress, to be a “recovery agent” by night. (We’ll get to what that means in a minute.) Kaburagi was at one point an avid player of Deca-Dence the game. “Sprocket” chronicles the journey of his former crew. To again greatly condense: the gist is that both Kaburagi, and eventually Mikey, one of his teammates, found a way to cheat the system. This method, “limiter releasing,” increases the physical power of the humanoid bodies, at the cost of being detrimental to the Gears’ real bodies. Kaburagi was a user of this technique, and Mikey, aiming for the top, begged him to teach him how to do it.
Mikey is a sympathetic figure; his reason for wanting to be the best is that it makes him no longer “replaceable.” Something that comes up several times in “Sprocket” is that the Gears, for all the luxuries they enjoy, are still just cogs in a dystopian system of their own. The masters of this setup, which is actually called “The System,” are the purple, Rubik’s Cube-like robots that directly serve it.
We learn little of their motives in “Sprocket,” but we see their work in action. Mikey is eventually caught, branded a “bug” and is executed for his crime. The rest of Kaburagi’s team is broken up. Two of its members resist, and are also executed. Kaburagi himself agrees to work as the System’s “recovery agent.”
What’s a recovery agent? Someone who takes out “problem-causing” humans in the lower part of the Deca-Dence fortress and recovers the chips they’re implanted with. That is what we saw Kaburagi doing.
This all brings us back to the present.
This part of “Sprocket” is much shorter. The important bits being that Natsume catches Kaburagi retrieving someone’s chip and misinterprets it as him stealing from an unconscious man. The second is that, to Kaburagi’s great surprise, Natsume is listed as legally dead in The System’s… well, system. This inspires him to actually acquiesce her constant requests to help her learn to fight. Kaburagi, it would seem, still has some rebel in him.
Which leaves us at the end of the episode and with far more questions than answers. We can safely say though that Deca-Dence is a show with a lot on its mind. The System is such classic cyberpunk megacorp-as-capitalism-commentary that it’s almost on the nose. Elsewhere, conversations about hard-to-get high quality “oxyene” (a natural resource Gears need to top up on once in a while to live) serve as the scaffolding propping up explorations likely to come on the nature of resource and worker exploitation alike. If last week’s “Ignition” was promising, “Sprocket” as an episode is another promise– that this is going to be one to surprise you again and again.
Until next time, Deca-Dence fans.