By the late 25th century, environmental degradation reached such extremes that it threatened to drive all life into extinction. Cyborgs were developed to operate in the increasingly lethal environment, only to eventually outnumber humans as the planetary population declined. That’s when the Gadoll appeared: mysterious, bug-like aliens committed to the annihilation of humanity, they almost completed the job started by the ecological collapse. Hundreds of years later, the remnants of humanity live within Deca-Dence, a massive mobile city that criss-crosses the desolate Eurasian plain. The population is divided into two castes: the Gears, elite warriors charged with the task of defending Deca-Dence against Gadoll attacks; and Tankers, an underclass who carry out maintenance and repair functions. Natsume, whose father was killed during a Gadoll attack, is a young Tanker woman assigned to the maintenance of Deca-Dence’s external armour under the supervision of the taciturn foreman Kaburagi. But Kaburagi is more than he seems: once an elite Gear, he has been relegated to working undercover among the Tankers, tasked with the assignment of detecting and eliminating “bugs” – individuals who threaten the governing order within Deca-Dence. When Kaburagi discovers that Natsume – who dreams of becoming a Gear – is one such “bug”, this sets off a series of events that threatens to reveal the true nature of the relationship between Gears and Tankers (and by extension, the identity of the powers who rule Deca-Dence), as well as the fact that the history of humanity as Natsume understands it might just be one colossal lie…

Originally announced by Japanese media conglomerate Kadokawa, and produced by anime studio NUT, “Deca-Dence” first aired on Japanese television between July and September 2020. Presented in an animation style whose visual aesthetics and character design range from the grittily realistic to the cartoonish, “Deca-Dence” takes the well-worn sci-fi trope of a false reality that is actually an artificial program designed by an exterior intelligence, and gives it its own twist, at the same time working into the narrative the equally familiar dystopian trope of the worm who turns.  Although the story arc doesn’t always unfold in a coherent manner, and some Western audiences might find the visuals grating – especially the imposition of the Japanese concept of “kawaii” or “cuteness” on some of the key character designs – “Deca-Dence” nonetheless manages to explore issues such as the nature of reality, the divisions created by class, gender, and race, and the possibility of individual freedom even in a crushingly pre-determined environment.  By turns action-packed and reflective, “Deca-Dence” is an intriguing – if inconsistent – exploration of the politics of class, economics, and differentiation, wrapped up within a sci-fi/dystopian matrix.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.