Yurei Deco premieres on July 3, 2022, on Crunchyroll.
Science SARU’s latest anime, Yurei Deco, is a vibrant and colorful take on augmented reality, as well as a poignant loose adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Still, clumsy tech talk and thin characters hold back the show’s otherwise solid promise in its initial three episodes.
The latest show by the studio behind Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, The Heike Story, and Devilman Crybaby takes place on Tom Sawyer Island, an augmented reality world where characters go to school from their rooms and sit on a virtual video call with their peers — you know, the distant future. Meanwhile, they have a little device on their eyes that allows them to decorate the surrounding world (from billboards, to shop signs, to facades on buildings and houses) however they see fit.
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Of course, they need to pay in order to do that, with “love” serving as the local currency, earned by doing things others approve of and assign value to. With no crime, no hate, no unhappiness, everything seems perfect on Tom Sawyer Island, except where the mysterious Phantom Zero strikes, draining all the love in their surroundings.
The plot follows an average girl named Berry who, thanks to her broken deco device, is able to see an otherwise invisible girl named Hack and the two stumble across one of Phantom Zero’s attacks. When Hack gets the blame for the attack, the two unravel a web of lies at the heart of their entire society.
Translating a piece of literature so deeply connected to Americana as the works of Mark Twain to an entirely different culture is no small task, but it’s not surprising that writer Dai Satō, who worked on Cowboy Bebop, Stand Alone Complex, and Wolf’s Rain, manages to find universal themes in the novel and bring it to a futuristic setting. Sure, there are more obvious references, like splitting the name Huckleberry Finn among the main characters, but where the show shines is in its exploration of societal hypocrisy. Berry may live in an utopia where no one is ever unhappy, but that’s because there’s extreme censorship where everything “undesirable” is quickly eliminated in secret – where anything that goes against the norm or the mainstream is unseen.
This is why it’s so poignant that — just like in Twain’s novel — it is the Yurei (literally “ghosts” in Japanese), those who are socially dead or invisible, who are the only ones who can actually see what is going on. How this plot thread resolves remains to be seen, but it makes for a promising start to the show.
Unsurprisingly, given this is a Science SARU anime, Yurei Deco is vibrant, colorful, and visually imaginative. To make the possibilities of augmented and virtual reality come to life, the show changes its art style and aesthetic depending on whose point of view we are experiencing, as deco allows one to change their surroundings virtually. A bland and boring building will look 3D and elaborate in one scene, or minimalistic and 2D the next. Even more than Belle or Summer Wars, Yurei Deco shows how malleable a virtual world can be for the user.
Where Yurei Deco falters is when it comes to actually making its technology clear. For a show all about how technology blends into our daily lives, with a story all about a system that is not what it seems at first, the distinction between the fully virtual world and the augmented reality deco system, as well as how the deco even functions, is not clear enough. It could be better explained as the story continues, but out of the gate it leaves something to be desired. Likewise, in its first three episodes, the characters of Berry and Huck are quite thin and under-defined beyond just “the weirdo with the funny speech pattern” and the “normal one.”
Masaaki Yuasa, who created the original concept of Yurei Deco with Dai Satō, may have retired, but his influence can still clearly be seen here. Despite some concerns, the show has a lot of promise and is already a visually distinct and narratively weird show deserving of more attention this summer.