A huge twist in “Sprocket” completely re-contextualizes Deca-Dence, and wherever it’s going next, getting there suddenly seems a much more interesting proposition.
This recap of Deca-Dence season 1, episode 2, “Sprocket”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
With “Sprocket”, Studio NUT’s Deca-Dence has almost played a joke at the expense of everyone who wrote it off as an Attack on Titan clone. After a decent first episode that introduced a class-stratified world of walking cities, giant insectoid monsters, and death-defying aerial combat, Deca-Dence episode 2 flips that entire idea on its head by revealing that the whole thing’s a simulated game for the entertainment of odd-looking aliens playing from a nearby spaceship.
This is a major twist, and because the show isn’t based on any kind of source material, it’s one nobody really saw coming. Some of the details are still a little hazy, mind. The continent of Eurasia, where the game takes place, is real, as are the human “Tankers”, including the show’s ostensible protagonist, Natsumi. She and presumably the rest of the Tankers are totally unaware that the heroic Gears – including her mentor, Kaburagi – are being piloted by slightly unhinged extra-terrestrials, and their unconventional looks are because they’re customizable avatars. It makes a lot of sense for the audience, even if it’s a lot to wrap your head around.
It’s a lot because there’s plenty going on in the alien world, and how it relates to the game-world, that complicates matters further. Natsumi is technically dead as far as the database is concerned and exists somewhat outside of the system; a means, one assumes, for the disenfranchised Kaburagi, a former top-ranked player, to rebel against what seems like an entirely rigged ranking system.
The ranking is important to the aliens, as we learn in “Sprocket”, since their rank determines whether or not they’re “scrapped” by a tyrannical governing organization, and at present, the ranking is all messed up thanks to widespread cheating (players don’t suffer any real physical consequences when their avatars die, although top players have figured out how to endanger their real selves for better in-game rewards.) Deca-Dence episode 2 provides lots of new information, but it grounds it in basically the same takeaway relationship as in the first episode – Natsumi and Kaburagi in a mentor-mentee dynamic that is going to amount to… well, something, although exactly what seems understandably less clear now.
There’s a lot still to learn, and that’s good. I’m not entirely convinced by the art style used to render the aliens, and I think there was a perfectly good show here without such a gigantic re-contextualization, but I always admire this kind of bold storytelling decision, and Deca-Dence completely reinventing itself in just its second episode is certainly worthy of some respect. Wherever this is going next, finding out is suddenly a much more interesting proposition.
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