Love is everywhere in the world of Yurei Deco, the latest anime from celebrated Japanese animation studio Science Saru — or at least that’s what the thought police would have you believe. “Love is approval. Love is value,” an elderly teacher tells an online classroom of animal-like avatars at the beginning of the series. “And so, with love approximated as a score, it serves as a currency required for public services.” In this world, “love” is not so much a feeling as it is a means to reward or punish those who uphold or oppose the authority of the state.
Directed by Tomohisa Shimoyama (Super Shiro) and based on a story conceived by former Science Saru president Masaaki Yuasa (Devilman Crybaby, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!) and screenwriter Dai Sato (Eureka Seven, Cowboy Bebop), Yurei Deco is a sci-fi coming-of-age mystery loosely inspired by Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The series follows Berry, a mischievous but average girl living in the utopian “data metropolis” of Tom Sawyer Island, a “benevolent” surveillance state where reality and cyberspace intersect.
After playing hooky from class, Berry unexpectedly crosses paths with Hack, a talented hacker and habitual prankster who lives between the margins of Tom Sawyer’s society as a “yurei” (aka undocumented citizen). After Hack is captured by the island’s police force and falsely implicated as a nefarious hacker known only as Phantom Zero, Berry teams up with Hack’s fellow yurei Finn to help Hack escape while uncovering the dark truth behind Tom Sawyer’s supposedly “perfect” world.
Dai Sato is no stranger to dystopian premises packed with allegory-laden imagery — see his work on 2006’s Ergo Proxy. What will immediately leap out at any viewer — and where Yurei Deco differs most dramatically from Ergo — is its visual design. The world of Tom Sawyer Island is a strange and bewildering one, where garish augmented reality billboards disguise dilapidated concrete structures with scrupulous precision and flesh-and-blood humans live alongside subservient robot companions. The citizens of Tom Sawyer are required to adopt “Decos,” visual data devices which are either worn as visors or surgically implanted into their eyes by the age of 4, which flood their vision with a wash of euphoric colors and images that are exclusively purchased with “love” while stern-faced “content moderators” delete any sights or sensations that might cause them unease or distress.
Akira Honma’s character designs feel reminiscent of Naoyuki Asano’s work on Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! with their clean and simplified outlines, solid color palettes, and exaggerated expressions. There’s a range of fantastic designs in this series, from Jimi Hendrix lookalikes to pill-shaped robots to giant anthropomorphic cats in business suits. Beyond those eccentricities, most of the personalities of the cast come across as thin at the moment — though this doesn’t preclude the possibility of their characterizations becoming more fleshed out as the series progresses.
The idea of “love” being abstracted and commodified into a tool of oppression is a provocative and promising one. And the potential for the story to rise above “we live in a society” sophistry to tell an entertaining story about growing up in a world of information overload is apparent from the start. If it’s able to follow through on the potential (beyond the first three episodes, which Crunchyroll provided to Polygon ahead of the premiere), and stick the landing, Yurei Deco looks like it could be a solid contender for one of this season’s best anime. And even if it doesn’t, there’s still a lot to love.
Yurei Deco streams Sundays on Crunchyroll.