Nothing is more surprising than when an anime throws a curveball at you within the first few episodes of a show.
It’s not uncommon within shows to do this when they begin to ramp up its story into something larger than life or want to increase the scale of their plotline to emphasize their thematic point. Occasionally though, this does happen early on in the show as we see with this week’s’ episode of Deca-Dence, proving the reason that the “three-episode rule” mantra of many people’s seasonal habits exists for shows such as these.
As I’m sure plenty of people thought similarly to me, the twist in Deca-Dence showing that the world showcased previously was simply an overlay of a virtual one framed as their form of entertainment. In this entertainment arena of sorts, these alien-like individuals control avatars to fight the Gadolls in the form of a ranking system, as one would see within a leaderboard of an MMO. With Kaburagi being the main focus of this episode, we learn a lot more about his past and why his jaded behavior towards Natsume was the way it was, especially when it came to him being against her becoming a Gear and part of The Power.
However, I think one of the most interesting parts of this episode wasn’t necessarily the reveal, but how the creators of the show managed to weave this gigantic plot twist and reveal so seamlessly that it was so well-hidden in episode 1, and yet also still having the plot points make sense looking back at it.
That’s not to say that it was fully deceptive either though, as a lot of the elements that existed solely as world-building in episode 1 also have purposes within the plot as revealed in this episode. One example being Pipe’s existence in the system as a bug. Kaburagi doesn’t want to eliminate him due to his lack of drive to continue existing, both within his new profession of eliminating bugs and his life in general after the game’s Mikey incident, with him playing a key role factoring into Mikey’s death. Small details like this allowed the first episode to establish plot-centric details without revealing its full hand; a key factor in keeping this reveal under wraps until the proper time.
While we can look at this as a simple bait-and-switch tactic, I think it’s also important to note that the major reason this worked as well as it did was simply the well-timed delivery of the switch. By releasing this as the second episode, the creators managed to let the viewer in on enough details that this major divergence from the original episode wouldn’t be different enough to drive viewers away, but also still giving them that feeling of surprise in the new directions that the story was going to take. Doing this reveal in the first episode would have felt the show feel confused into what it wanted to portray, not leaving enough world-building details to solidly build off of, and leaving this reveal too late would have either negated the surprise factor or would have potentially alienated the audience interested in the original premise of the show through drastic changes or sheer lack of unique qualities of the show.
While the show succeeded in my opinion of revealing this twist this early, some would disagree with the new direction that the show has taken due to the major changes that have developed. This, too, is a risk of any show that wants to pull major plot changes in its show. However, simply looking at other shows with major twists such as Madoka Magica, Attack on Titan, and Gurren Lagann, it’s clear that major twists can attract major attention and fans if the show executes itself well as it continues to progress.
Only time will tell if Deca-Dence can pull off its twist and succeed as well as these other shows were able to.