Deca-Dence is an anime original series that hooks readers with an unusual, easy to grasp premise. The last of humanity lives on a mobile fortress called Deca-dence that roams the land in search of monsters to hunt, their blood a valuable resource. Warriors that fight these monsters are the Gears, most of them alien. Humans, for the large part, work as maintenance and hospitality crew referred to as Tankers. Tanker girl Natsume dreams of rising up to become a Gear, but the system seems stacked against her and denies her at every turn.
Little does she know that the system is in fact against her. Against all humans. Deca-dence and its adventures are actually a playground for cyborgs to fight monsters via humanoid avatars like some video game. The monster blood is worth points and extends cyborg life. High rankers receive handsome rewards. Furthermore, the whole “game” and every human within it belong to a giant corporation. This is Mortal Engines meets The Truman Show.
The reveal of the second reality with cyborgs is jarring if going in blind, as I did, for the visual styles of the two worlds are vastly different. The game world looks normal, albeit barren and grimy, whereas the cyborg world is out of a children’s morning cartoon. We don’t see the latter until episode two. I thought I had changed anime.
This is a good hook for the story and offers many questions that the audience wants answered. Who are these cyborgs? What do they really want? How did the world get this way? Is Deca-dence the only fortress? What’s with the mega corporation? Natsume is found to be a bug in the system, unaccounted for in the corporation records – but how? Will her exterminator friend delete this bug? And of course, we have the usual questions surrounding a dystopian world and its society. So many questions. So many possibilities.
It saddens me to report that the setup is the high point of the series and the story only declines in quality by the episode. The ending, most of all, is weak. For this sort of world, this sort of story with these themes you can’t settle on a utopian conclusion. Since I don’t want to spoil any more, I’ll use a parallel. This ending is like making a WW2 film, but once the Nazis are defeated, there is no other conflict to resolve or logistics to deal with (such as assisting all the homeless civilians). I’m not suggesting your story has to deal with them, yet you can’t pretend they don’t exist. Solving one problem doesn’t magically fix everything.
It’s more than that, however. The answers to those aforementioned questions – what questions they do answer – are frankly predictable and too normal. Deca-Dence is a slowly deflating balloon.
The characters are quite good, Natsume being a fun underdog easy to cheer for. Even so, the story doesn’t take them to interesting places as the themes dwindle to embers.
Deca-Dence never reaches a bad point. At no stage do I think, “This is so stupid.” It’s simply…mediocre.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it, though I am hesitant to suggest even that since the start is the best part of Deca-Dence and doesn’t follow through.
Now this is more like it. I was told that the Alabasta arc was generally seen as the point where One Piece picks up. They were right. Being the first arc that isn’t about recruiting someone – where everything must tie into the new member – allows Alabasta episodes to broaden the scope and delve into a multi-layered cake of story.
The Straw Hats and Princess Vivi arrive at their destination, the kingdom of Alabasta, which is in turmoil from three factions amid a drought – the royal army, the rebels, and the sinister Baroque Works. The situation is bad when the crew arrives. They only become worse by the hour.
Alabasta is the largest dominion in the series so far with multiple territories on the one island. The king of Alabasta (Vivi’s father) is under fire for “stealing” rain from other islands by using a substance called Dance Powder that forces clouds above to rain early. Naturally, this means that those clouds will no longer rain further along the journey. In a desert region, there can be no higher crime than stealing the lifeblood of the people. Did you know that this is based on a real technique called cloud seeding? Scientists can “sow” special particles into clouds to make them rain sooner, often to increase rain in water catchment areas or to weaken incoming storms. Not as effective as the magical Dance Powder, though.
Where to start with great points of this season? The villains. I like the Baroque leader, Crocodile, and his ability – great fights versus Luffy. What an interesting coincidence that the authors for One Piece and Naruto had the idea for a sand-powered villain at the same time, yet luckily made them quite different. As cool as Crocodile is, no villain is better than the shapeshifting ballerina, Mr 2 Bon Clay. I love this crazy dude. Every minute he is on screen is a delight. He’s funny, has an interesting ability, and you never know what he’s thinking. I want to see more of this guy.
As for best fight of the season – no, best fight of all seasons so far, it has to go to Nami versus Ms Doublefinger. As Nami has no special power, she consults fellow power-free pirate, Usopp, for a weapon to match Baroque Works. (Good idea to address their “normal” status, by the way.) Usopp provides her with a staff that breaks into three segments, each capable of various weather based abilities. It is so goofy that I love it. This fight keeps growing sillier and sillier to the point where I have my head in my hands in disbelief at what they will do next. This is One Piece action to me. And as someone who values time more than anything else, I appreciate the brevity of these fights.
On the good guys team, Vivi has more opportunities for development and works well as a “guest” character. The appearance of Luffy’s brother Ace was a surprise. Funny story: I have seen Ace many times before, often featured in display cases of Akihabara figure stores. Thing is, I thought that was older Luffy. One Piece has been going for so long that I figured the characters aged, like in Naruto, at a certain point and this guy was Luffy Shippuden. He was a good addition to the story for adding a little more to Luffy, though he didn’t stay long enough. He doesn’t feel relevant yet. I look forward to his return.
Can’t forget Smoker, one of my favourites, whom I never say no to see more of. It is a good idea to have players in the game with direct conflict to Luffy, increasing personal tension. You don’t want the protagonist’s sole motivation to be helping others – one of Bleach’s many flaws after a few seasons. If the protagonist is only around because there are random bad guys to fight, the audience loses connection.
We’ve had good characters and good fights before, so those alone wouldn’t make Alabasta great. The layers and effort in a more complex story place this season well above previous ones. This feels like the first season where the author could flex some storytelling, now that introductions are out of the way. Crocodile’s plan is interesting, with many moving parts that involve the whole kingdom and every character, coated in a nice layer of politics, justifying the time spent on developing an entirely new society. It makes everything feel relevant. No filler. These 38 episodes could almost be a standalone anime.
In fact, I would use this season as the selling point for those hesitant to start One Piece. Rewind a bit and begin at the island where they meet Vivi and go from there. After Alabasta, which ends on a satisfying cut off, then there is investment to sit through over 60 episodes of backstory and introduction. If someone isn’t feeling it after watching Alabasta, then I can’t imagine any other season would sell them on One Piece. This has everything that represents One Piece. However, if someone quits after the third arc in a row about a pirate’s tragic backstory, I can understand. I don’t know if Eiichiro Oda planned the story so far before he began, but it doesn’t feel like it. This needs a bit of a restructure. Shifting most of the backstory arcs to later on helps with more than flow and pacing. It increases mystery. Naruto does character mystery so much better. At this point in One Piece, I don’t have an urge to learn more about the main six. I want to see them do great new things, yes, but who they are, where they come from, ghosts of the past, etc. hold no interest over me. That could change. Oda could retcon in new past mysteries that were “totally planned from the beginning”. It can work.
In short, loved this season. Should have come sooner in the series.
Quality so far – High
Current thoughts: This is easily the best season of One Piece so far. I hope for more of these deeper arcs. See you in the next one!
The kingdom of New Yogo is under the grip of an eternal drought believed to be caused by a water spirit living within Chagum, prince of the realm. Ancient scriptures say that the first emperor ended a drought by slaying the water spirit. The current emperor has no choice – Prince Chagum must die. In a desperate attempt to save her son, Chagum’s mother implores the spear-wielding mercenary known as Balsa to take her son and flee.
Balsa is a woman of considerable skill and great honour. What starts as an assignment to protect an inept child soon turns into a quest of a spiritual and personal nature. Chagum is the learn more about the people that funded his lavish lifestyle, while Balsa will repay an old debt and open her heart to life. These two are the core of Moribito, so I’m pleased to find depth here. Balsa in particular is a stand out as one of the best female leads in anime. She strikes a good balance of toughness and wisdom without losing identity as a woman, which plays into her almost motherly role to Chagum.
People tell us she’s a skilled warrior and the animators made sure we knew it. The action in Moribito is up close and personal, a flurry of attacks illustrated with beautiful animation. It’s sharp, weighty, to the point and doesn’t drag. I just wish there was more of it. We see a great fight early on, giving the false hope that such scenes will continue throughout the series, but it’s a half dozen at most.
Not that I’m complaining about what comes instead. There are two primary threads – Balsa and her mission to protect the prince while figuring out this water spirit (Mushishi-esque magic), and Chagum’s evolution from a useless royal to someone with a purpose. I like the scenes of him with the resourceful street rat and his friend as they roam among the people.
Moribito, like any good Japanese period piece, is steeped in “way of the warrior” mythology, deeply spiritual and philosophical. My favourite episode takes place in a swordsmith’s workshop. Balsa needs her spear fixed but must hide in the back room when the emperor’s men arrive to have their weapons fixed from the same fight. While he finishes a job, the smith tells the soldiers of the ultimate sword being one that doesn’t kill and a story of a warrior protecting a child at all costs, even when his friends have orders to kill him. Compelling.
I was surprised to learn after finishing this anime that it is an adaptation of only the first novel in a 12-part series. I say surprised because this doesn’t feel incomplete. It certainly builds a world with possibilities beyond what we see though doesn’t leave us hanging. Much appreciated.
Art – High
The action visuals are beautiful. Whoever key animated those fights did an excellent job. The character designs strikes that ideal balance of anime meets realistic with a layer of fantasy. The grander environments, however, with sweeping camera movements or long shots in use show their age. One can see this is at the threshold of CG modelling to shortcut large environments.
Sound – High
For a period piece such as this, you have to watch it in Japanese even if the English acting is fine. It sounds a little weird in any other language. Good music.
Story – High
A prince set for death to cleanse a curse plaguing his kingdom finds a second lease on life when a lone warrior woman take him under her protection. With a protagonist as engaging as Balsa and an interesting world, Moribito is an easy watch from start to finish. I do wish there was more of that action.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is something a little different that you don’t see much of anymore. There is also a live action series if that is your preference.
This time in One Piece, we look at two seasons: Grand Line Inrush arc and Chopper on Winter Island arc.
The Grand Line Inrush arc takes Luffy and his crew along the Grand Line, a volatile band of water that divides the oceans and where the laws of nature take a vacation. One could be on a desert island in the morning only to hit a land of perpetual rain by evening. Monsters are a common sight in these parts. After a brief encounter with a lonely giant whale, Luffy arrives at an island of bounty hunters that want that sweet, sweet mullah on his head. This is a mere pit stop in the story to introduce us to Princess Vivi of Alabasta. She employs the talents of the Straw Hats to transport her to safety back to her country, where a rebellion threatens.
Matters become more interesting on the next island. Two giants have been stuck in a duel for 100 years, evenly matched for eternity. The giants turn out to be rather friendly. However, a dastardly organisation called Baroque Works – responsible for the troubles in Alabasta – has plans for the giants and their new friends. Agent “Mr 3” wants to turn everyone into a giant wax wedding cake. Our heroes are to remain as cake toppers for all time!
What an unusual power. Similar to Gaara’s sand tomb, it’s a terrifying ability to imagine as it would suffocate you to death. One Piece, of course, tempers it with humour. These quirky villains are a riot. The guy literally has his hair styled into a 3 with the end lit like a candle!
The story gets a little more serious in the Chopper on Winter Island arc, where the team need to find a witch to cure Nami’s illness. The island, as the arc title would indicate, is in perpetual winter. And what is synonymous with winter? Reindeer. The witch’s small reindeer assistant is Chopper. Of all the character backstories so far, I like his the most. He was assistant to a crazy doctor reminiscent of a good Rick from Rick & Morty until his death, wish unfulfilled. It’s a touching story of regret, powerlessness, and ambition. He becomes the Straw Hats’ doctor after they help him fulfil his old teacher’s dying wish. This cute reindeer is the show’s mascot. Just don’t make him angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry. I want to see more of him, though I hope he isn’t relegated to mere comedy relief.
One Piece’s adventurous feel continues to be its greatest asset, aided by a good pace on a micro level wherein no story lasts too long. However, we still seem to be in the introduction stage. On a macro level, these 92 episodes haven’t gone far in the grand scheme and I wonder how long it will take a real plot to develop.
There isn’t much more to say about these seasons. They continue in much the same vein as what came before. See you in the next season.
Quality so far – Medium (still)
Current Thoughts: I like the addition of Hulk the Reindeer to the team. It is also great to see the continued feel of adventure with the locations and cultures. Two giants stuck in an eternal battle – why not? An island covered in snow in the middle of the ocean? Let’s do it.
Never has the saying “better late than never” been more applicable to my anime viewing timeline. At over 900 episodes as of this writing, One Piece has reached proportions that seem impossible to tackle (read all about my recurring nightmare here, in One Piece and the Curse of the Backlog). However, I shall take this one episode at a time and finally conquer the seas! (Or until I no longer find it entertaining. Whichever comes first.)
For those of you marooned on an island in the South Pacific since 1999, One Piece follows the adventures of Luffy, a boy with ambitions of becoming king of the pirates and who has the power to stretch his body like Mr Fantastic. First, he needs a crew if he means to survive all that the ocean and other pirates have to throw at him. Much of this first season is travelling to various locations, where he meets and recruits crewmates. Among them, we have Zoro the three-sword pirate, Sanji the chef, Nami the cartographer, and Usopp the best pirate to have ever lived.
I had tried One Piece many years ago – a few times, in fact, but had given up within an episode or two. Revisiting it now hasn’t changed my mind on those opening few. They give a terrible first impression. What is with the shouting? Of the approximately 190 lines of dialogue in the first episodes, over 100 are shouted – that doesn’t even include the action/reaction yells and one-word screams. Some pink-haired kid yells just about every line he has! Yelling for dialogue is a trait of cartoons for little kids, as it holds their attention better. This coupled with Luffy’s laissez-faire attitude to the most dangerous situations (more on him later) makes One Piece feels so bloody juvenile. Is this for five-year-olds? Thankfully, this only holds true for the first few episodes. Once they reach the Usopp recruitment story (starts episode nine), the tone jumps up two age demographics.
I think back to the start of Naruto, which also had a weak few episodes. Who can forget the second episode where Naruto hangs out with that brat Konohamaru? However, Naruto was clever enough to include the scene when a teacher betrays him and shows him how life isn’t friendly or fair. This is a promise from the author that despite the juvenile tone of the early episodes, this isn’t a “happy go lucky” anime. One Piece needed that moment.
It’s obvious One Piece isn’t for small children with all the guns, alcohol, and smoking, which leads me into an aside about the original 4Kids dub, having gone down in infamy. I watched the new Funimation dub, which is unedited and matches the original Japanese, but I also looked into the 4Kids atrocity that removed blood, replaced all the guns with…something, swapped Sanji’s cigarette for a lollipop, skipped entire episodes, and cut the alcohol, amongst many other changes. This was their most censored import. Why bother bringing it over at all if they’re going to change everything, you ask? As I’ve discovered, the decision makers at 4Kids did not watch One Piece before acquiring the licence. It was a package deal with other anime, likely for a younger audience than One Piece. So when it came time to dub it, they realised it didn’t fit their target demographic and thus began the massacre. Funimation, thankfully, took over the project years later and undid all of the changes to release it remastered in HD.
This HD re-release was a fantastic idea. When I thought back to One Piece’s art style before this viewing, all I could remember was those giant mouths. I still hate them of course (they add to the screaming as well). However, outside of this pet peeve, One Piece’s art holds up well because of the textured environments and the character designs. Imagine if it had gone for the standard style of the day with those flat colours, two-tone shading/lighting, and shallow backgrounds. It wouldn’t have aged well at all! As for the character designs, I find some great examples here. I love the fish people from the octopus guy to the sawfish captain. The fat pirate queen in episode one and her look later in the season (plus her perfect skin power) has me laughing. Best design award has to go to Captain Smoker, a marine in pursuit of Luffy who smokes not one but two cigars at all times and has belts of cigars strapped across his massive biceps and chest. Bloody hilarious! More than having good individual designs, there is strong cohesion for such a large cast.
By contrast, I find audio to be One Piece’s weakest department. The original Japanese performances are a mixed bag, as is often the case in battle shounen, while the dub is quite good (the new one). The lack of great music so far most surprises me. I think back to how many iconic tracks Naruto already had by this point, though that is probably a genre exception. For many battle anime, the OPs are all people remember, sometimes just the songs created by the dub studio such as Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.
As for story, I am mixed so far. It is better than my past impressions had led me to believe, there is no doubt here. This is very much a romanticised view of pirates and is rather tame, despite all of the “not safe 4Kids” content. Almost all story arcs so far have been about recruiting someone to Luffy’s crew and/or giving us their backstory. We have Zoro the edgelord with a sword in his mouth (I don’t like this design) who kept losing to a girl, Nami and the death of her mother at the hands of the fishmen she works for, Usopp the greatest pirate to have sailed the four seas and his tissue of lies, and so on. These are fine stories, some better (Nami) than others (Zoro). However, when I think of what Naruto and Bleach have accomplished by the 60-episode mark, they far outshine One Piece. Naruto has completed the Zabuza arc and is mid-chunin exam, while Bleach is at the climax of the Soul Society Arc. That said, anyone who has seen Bleach would tell you that one good arc doesn’t make for a great anime. One Piece has plenty more to show off, so I hope it delivers something great.
I don’t mean to say an anime such as this needs to turn dark right away as Naruto did. What I want is depth. Even if it’s just a few promises of what is to come. The biggest disappointment has to be Luffy. Battle protagonists are rarely the most interesting of the cast since they have little flexibility in demographic marketing, yet even by those standards, Luffy is a thumbs down from me at the moment. I hate how he doesn’t care about anything or how he laughs at every predicament. In a more serious setting, they would all be dead because of him. Not to keep drawing comparisons to Naruto, but when the orange ninja laughs and brushes off dangerous situations, there are consequences. Most of all, I hate how half of Luffy’s dialogue is yelling about how he’s going to be “king of the pirates”. We get it!
The action is quite good. Standard shounen content on the positive side of the scale. It doesn’t have the flashiness of Bleach or the strategy of Naruto or the brisk pacing in Yu Yu Hakusho. However, it doesn’t have any glaring problems either. One Piece hasn’t had the action drag for ages (Bleach, Naruto) or power reset (Bleach) or repeated some trope to death (there is always a bigger fish in Yu Yu Hakusho). I will want something more soon though or I’ll stop paying attention when a fight starts.
To end on a positive, I want to discuss One Piece’s greatest promise for the future of the series – the world. There is such variety and limitless possibilities for a world where you can sail to a new island, meet a new culture, a new species of person. It reminds me of a simpler classic Star Trek (one of my favourite franchises) and that is always a plus. I love the restaurant ship that roams the seas to feed one and all in a scrumptious experience. There are rules (“more what you’d call guidelines”) that vary by location. One gets a strong sense of character and personality at each destination. When the crew gets on that ship and hits the open blue, I want to see what island they will discover next. One Piece delivers a true feeling of adventure.
Quality so far – Medium
Current thoughts: The early episodes don’t give a good first impression, but once the longer story begins, One Piece stretches it’s creativity to give a good opening season with promises of so much more adventure. Luffy needs to grow up and do something. See you in the next season.