This recap contains major spoilers for the Deca-Dence episode “Brake System.”
From the beginning, Deca-Dence has been the story of a world in the process of changing. Who, exactly, it centers on has also changed. Initially very much the story of Natsume, Deca-Dence has increasingly shifted focus to Kaburagi. And from there, to its world at large. It’s not unreasonable to read this as a flaw (and we’ll get to that, believe me), but the first thing that struck me about “Brake System” was how it handled the difficulty of the transition period. From a world that is broken in a way hidden to most, to how those that learn the truth might cope with it. (Or not cope with it, as the case may be.)
The case study here is Natsume herself. She learns the truth at the very start of the episode. Kaburagi’s attempts at a somewhat rambling explanation are pointedly drowned out by her desperate gasping, and she promptly passes out. When she comes to sometime later, after she and Kaburagi have fled the Gadoll Factory, she’s livid with him. Not without reason; a core point of this episode is that Kaburagi has, no matter his intentions, deceived Natsume since the day they met. That trust is lost at the beginning of this episode and not repaired until its very end. Natsume’s disillusionment is pretty understandable. The world she thought she understood has been ripped out from underneath her. Her natural expressiveness is even put to more dramatic ends here after spending most of the series as a tool for comedic relief.
Natsume’s disposition in this episode is, consequently, a lot more dour than usual. To anyone who’s ever been awoken to some massive injustice they were previously unaware of, it will feel immediately familiar. Kurenai offering her emotional support is a good chunk of what gets Natsume through this, but Natsume’s own determination shouldn’t be ruled out. This is also where we get to the episode’s core issue. Which is how it handles Kaburagi and Natsume’s temporary falling-out.
There’s not anything wrong with having one character’s desire to protect another serve as a motivation. But if Deca-Dence has had a core issue, it’s that Kaburagi’s actions have not really been examined. This is rectified in “Brake System,” but only to a point. The bulk of the episode sees both Kaburagi and Natsume disillusioned, the former still willing to fight, the latter unsure of what she’s even doing anymore. The way they make up is a touch contrived. Kaburagi writes Natsume an apologetic letter. She is, rightly, angry.
She accuses him of “just writing whatever he wants and leaving again.” Which is, in fact, true. Because Kaburagi does plan to leave again, to continue the fight with his fellow cyborgs. Natsume has to come to forgive him herself. Most of the emotional process we see her do consists of flashbacks. So it does feel a touch hollow when, at the end of the episode, things are better.
It hardly the worst flaw a show of this sort could have. But it does cut against Deca-Dence’s strong character writing, and it remains the most glaring issue in “Brake System”. An episode that is otherwise quite strong.
The back half of “Brake System” is a bit more action-packed, and much of it involves the prison’s cyborg population finally breaking out. They defeat the “Game Police” and ride off into the wasteland, Mad Max-style. The episode closes on Kaburagi and Natsume, just reconciled, being barged in on by Hugin. Hugin promptly kills Kaburagi’s avatar, ending things on an uncertain note. Even worse, a massive parasitic Gadoll that somehow survived the destruction of the Gadoll Factory rises in the distance. Deca-Dence is nearing its final hour, and it’s hard to say how it will end. But we’ll be covering it the entire way.
Until next time, Deca-Dence fans!