Content warning: Black character designed with prominent/exaggerated lips
What’s it about? The island of Tom Sawyer is a peaceful place, a crime-free city where augmented reality devices called Decos are implanted in citizens at an early age and currency is based on the amount of “Love” accrued for one’s posts. Young daydreamer Berry’s Deco is on the fritz, which allows her to catch a glimpse of a local hacker she thinks might be the mysterious urban legend Phantom Zero.
A spec-fic anime original made by Science SARU, Choi Eun-Young and Yuasa Masaaki’s experimental animation studio that gave us DEVILMAN crybaby, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, AND The Heike Story? This was easily my most anticipated show of the season.
It’s definitely a great looking premiere, though the bright colors and digital layering/glitching effects might cause eye strain if you’re prone to it. Berry and the yet-unnamed (and un-gendered) hacker already have a great rapport, and the augmented reality setting is a rich vein for imaginative action sequences. If nothing else, I’m jazzed to follow these gremlin kids for twelve episodes. There’s also a lot of rich thematic potential being laid in this jam-packed premiere about surveillance states and social-currency-as-literal-currency. Y’all, I wanna believe.
It’s just…there’s all these flags. Like I’m passing an eerie gas station before my car breaks down in front of a cannibal’s house. Chief among them is the series composer credit. Sato Dai has one hell of a pedigree as a writer, but I’ve tended to find his scripts to be among the less memorable of the many undeniable classics he’s contributed to (except for Samurai Champloo’s “War of the Words”; that’s one of the greatest single episodes of anything). As solo series composer, Sato was recently behind the rock music mecha series Listeners, which also had a great premise, an excellent premiere…and went on to damsel its ostensible female co-lead for the final arc.
Shimoyama Tomohisa, meanwhile, is a seasoned animation director but only has one credit as chief director under his belt: the short series Super Shiro, a spin-off of long-running franchise Crayon Shin-Chan. Going from five-minute episodes on a kid’s show to a full-length cour is quite the shift, and I’d be lying if I said the ghost of the last ambitious series directed by a veteran animator didn’t haunt me going into this.
I also can’t shake the fear that this is going to be an “old man yells at cloud” type of series about the influence of social media on Kids These Days. Berry’s only able to get in on the adventure because her Deco is malfunctioning, after all. The opening exposition about how this society is the “purest expression of liberalism” that values “compassion, empathy, and respect for one another’s personal space” is also pretty damn interesting. It could be setting up a story that talks about how the emphasis on personal freedom in liberalism often washes its hands of vulnerable populations and the importance of collective struggle to enact change for the socially vulnerable, say—there’s certainly an emphasis on a racially diverse cast from the start (which, alongside our brown-skinned hacker and the natural-haired Phantom Zero, includes a Black character in the opening credits with heavily overexaggerated lips).
But anime about social media—and any show that starts defining political ideologies in its first five minutes is definitely angling to be capital-a About something—just hasn’t had the best track record, often bringing up complicated issues but offering a conclusion that amounts to “just unplug (from the thing that is integral to every factor of modern life)!”2007’s Den-noh Coil might still be one of the most prescient and effective anime about augmented reality, partly because it was ultimately a personal story about grief and the digital footprints left by the dead. At best, I suspect we’ll get a fun action show with its heart in the right place that falls apart if you think too hard about the metaphor. At worst, it might tank itself into the realms of implicit conservatism.
I would love to be wrong—I am downright daring, nay, begging YUREI DECO to prove me wrong. Either way, I’m along for the ride. For better or worse, there’s not gonna be anything quite like it this summer.