[Review] YUREI DECO: A Love-y Attempt at Substance

The anime-original YUREI DECO recently wrapped up after 12 episodes and for all intents and purposes is a complete package with little need for a sequel or spin-off. Part of this is due to the material from which it took inspiration as well as the manner in which the writing paced itself through to the end. Colorful and idealistic from the beginning, the larger themes of freedom, value, and family are inspiring but too ambitious for such a small box. While I was fond of YUREI DECO’s characters, I ultimately found myself frustrated with the rushed ending that did little to address the story’s many issues.

Our main character, Berry, lives with her family on Tom Sawyer Island where everyone in the city thrives off an augmented reality called Deco bought by Love, a currency that touches everything in their lives. Not only do they wear gear like glasses and goggles, they can also obtain contacts to make the experience even more immersive. However, one of Berry’s contacts malfunctions, allowing her to see both realities at once and the secrets hiding in plain sight. The resulting encounters with the island’s “yurei,” undocumented people living outside of the city and its systems, starts her on a track to discovering the truth of her world.

YUREI DECO‘s inspiration from Mark Twin’s writings of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequels are obvious with the names littering the setting and its characters. It’s been several years since I read these works or watched their film adaptations, but I’m still familiar with many of the names and themes:

  • Berry = Tom Sawyer
  • Hack? / Finn = Huckleberry Finn
  • Injunction Jo = Injun Joe
  • Yurei Detective Club = Jackson’s Island
  • Database Mark Twain = Author Mark Twain
  • likely many more parallels

Both watching this anime and reading Twain’s works gives the reader a window into childhood and how it contrasts with the adult world. Berry is incorrigible in her disregard of authority and curiosity into the forbidden. We see her repeatedly ignore her teachers in favor of playing games with her friends, which often takes the form of hacking into the Hyperverse. This childish attitude doesn’t just revolve around Berry; the bright Deco colors of the entire city give off a youthful sense of play that stands in stark contrast to the very strict rules that govern the island. As full of “love” as the setting appears, there’s plenty of censorship to go around convincing everyone of the peaceful world they have the privilege of calling home.

When Berry’s contact starts malfunctioning and allows her dual sight into the real world and the augmented one, she notices inconsistencies that would have otherwise gone unseen. This is how she meets Hack, a youth who flits through the city invisible to most gathering up all the Love they can trick out its inhabitants. Their ability to walk both worlds intrigues Berry and results in her Hyperverse encounter with Phantom Zero, an otherwise urban legend known for zeroing out all the Love in its immediate vicinity. This otherworldly meeting and her rule breaking send Berry outside of the city confines into the unregulated, but free, settlement just outside the walls. So begins a series of investigations by the Yurei Detective Club into the mysteries of Tom Sawyer Island.

Although Berry joins Hack’s group and aids them in their cases as an individual now free of her former constraints, she never forgets the people she left behind: her parents and friends. Like Hack, she can run through the city unseen, but does so at constant risk of detection, detainment, or worse. Gone are financial stability, protection from the unknown, and open access to the Hyperverse. We’re treated to an unfiltered outer reality, complete with trash piles and and Deco sickness. The members of the detective club are very convincing in their touting of knowledge and true freedom with heartwarming meals around the table devoid of Deco flavor and appearance, constantly telling us that the tangible ingredients are more valuable than any perceived worth.

As we move through the various detective cases and get to know the different members of the club more, we’re invited to consider the many injustices that populate Tom Sawyer Island. Everything points our characters to the making of their world and its creator, Mark Twain. Multiple times we hear the creation story, fanciful with its all-seeing giant, its destruction to the people it once protected, and the new order that rose from the ashes in the form of a more benevolent, omniscient order. But through the Detective Club’s setting outside of the city walls and Finn’s backstory, it’s clear Mark Twain only offers safety to a select population who lives within the confines of its rules and regulations. Dissidents like Berry and Hack are confined, given an unfair trial, and disposed of; those outside are “yurei” in name and spirit, considered dead to the system and undeserving of any human rights. This obviously wasn’t the case at one point in the island’s history given the existence of the waste management plant we see in Finn’s past, but its long period of disrepair despite multiple reports proves their present lack of worth.

Rather than taking the time to fully explore the many issues raised throughout the season, YUREI DECO opts for a closed ending that ties up our characters’ lives in neat bows. None of the actual problems are truly solved aside from swapping out one authoritative figure for another. The only changes we see right off the bat are open Hyperverse access, community service in exchange for Love, and anti-censorship laws. There are no consequences for ill actions committed by Injunction Jo, Customer Care, or Finn’s former family members. Hack’s brief background reveal is simply that: there is no further exploration of origins or feelings on the matter. Even more unbelievable is Hack’s placement as the new leader given all their actions up to that point. The yurei continue to live outside the city and there’s just as much Deco covering the environment at the end as there was at the start.

As this show drew to a close, I walked away with hardly anything gained aside from a lingering aftertaste of disappointment. It’s ironic that a setting using augmented reality turned out a vibrant piece of fiction masking a corruption still very much alive. We began this journey with Berry the child, played our game of make believe, and lived happily ever after, but unlike those fairy tales that have entrenched themselves in our memories, YUREI DECO will likely fade away the moment the next season begins.

Rating: 0 dango

(Watch on Crunchyroll & VRV)

*Rating system:

  • 0 dango – average and forgettable.
  • 1 dango – very good in its category.
  • 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
  • 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.

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