Dennou Coil

Dennou Coil


Watched via fansubs



PLOT: Out of all of the series I’ve seen during my “anime club years”, Dennou Coil has to be in the top three of my favorites. This series, while hard to pin down, thrives in its own unique way. To start with, I am not quite certain what genre or audience this series aims to engage with. If I had to make a guess, I would suppose this is a “children’s series”, though its darker themes on technology and artificial intelligence would suggest not. Either way, this series explores a world in which individuals can live amongst cyber technology.

Starting off the series two young girls move to a new town, Daikoku, which is known for its advanced use of immersive augmented reality technology. Here individuals wear special glasses which allow for them to visually interface with the world around them while it intersects with the cyber world. After losing their dog in a closed-off cyber space, the two girls find themselves relying on the help of an investigation agency to bring him back. It turns out that this agency happens to be run by their estranged grandmother. Before long they end up joining their grandmother and other children their age to explore mysteries that surround the newly designed cyber world around them.

PLOT: Dennou Coil is surprising by being exactly what most anime are not: a realistic, imaginative look at where our world might go and problems it might encounter. Most anime that dare go down the speculative sci-fi road tend to get waylaid with over-the-top drama or excessive fanservice (or both), but Dennou Coil keeps its head, delivering a satisfyingly down-to-earth sci-fi experience.

The show begins with two girls moving to Daikoku, a town that’s on the cutting edge when it comes to using augmented reality (AR) throughout the town. People use special glasses to interact with AR, and it works pretty much like a higher-tech version of today’s smartphones. As the two kids explore Daikoku, they begin to notice glitches in the AR that affect their virtual dog, leading them to join a group that works against those glitches. This group, the Coil Cyber Detective Agency, is mainly composed on children and led by the girls’ grandmother.

While the girls look into glitches, the elder girl, Yasako, learns more about Daikoku and the effects of AR on the town. This storyline is closely related to that of Isako, a cold girl who’s an outcast in the school. Naturally, the two girls get to know each other throughout the show, developing a bond as they unravel the truths behind AR and Daikoku. Though this storyline may look cliché at first glance, I really appreciated it and enjoyed getting to know more about Isako as the story progressed. Dennou Coil’s events move at a slow enough pace that it’s never overwhelming, but I was always eager to watch the next episode and see how events would unfold.

SETTING: The most exciting aspect of Dennou Coil is the use of alternative uses of technology as they pertain to world building. When the Okonogi sisters move to Daikoku, they are suddenly exposed to a new world of cyberspace and hacking they had never seen before. While the girls are familiar with using their glasses to interact with virtual reality to make phone calls or display maps (think smart phone), they are shocked to find a world with errors, bugs, viruses, and hacking. Daikoku is like no other town, here technology is advancing quicker than anywhere else, and so too are viruses. There are computer units that police the streets, designed to “correct” any coding that is not as expected. However, these units, known as Searchmatons, are not immune to mistake. With limited programming they often target animals and the children as they attempt to hack into these illegal spaces to right the wrongs of the virtual world.

With all of these illegals running around it is not uncommon for a pet or child to become tainted by a virus and drawn into the virtual world. Through the series a problem known as “dennou coil” becomes more prominent. This rumored phenomenon, surrounding a ghostly individual known as Michiko, will put a person into a comatose state where they are left sealed within the cyber world.

Dennou Coil really does an excellent job of incorporating the technology the children use into their world seamlessly. A lot of thought has been put into this world, making the show much more engrossing and believable because it has such a strong logical foundation.

SETTING: What I consider to be the best part of Dennou Coil is how realistic the setting is. AR is part of the future, no doubt about it—there are already smartphone apps that allow you to tag parts of the world so others can see information, so AR glasses are the next logical step from that. Furthermore, Dennou Coil treats AR like it’s nothing too special, just an extension of the Internet, and the world incorporates it in realistic ways. To me, watching Dennou Coil feels like glimpsing the future and seeing that it’s nicely recognizable and lived-in, unlike so many sci-fi shows that focus on the cold inhumanity of the future.

And of course, with AR being so prominent in Daikoku, there are glitches that affect cyber-information, like the virtual dog Densuke. The system does its best to fix these problems, but any solution will present new problems, and these often affect the children, who are the earliest adopters of AR. On top of this, early experiments with AR led to negative consequences for the humans who used the technology, and these effects were actively covered up by the company behind current AR equipment. Though the way these effects manifest may seem a little far-fetched, the entire idea of corporate corruption and laziness is completely believable, adding to the sense that Dennou Coil could reflect the near future.

Well said. Dennou Coil does an excellent job at showing how there will always be flaws in technology and things that don’t quite mesh with the world that presently exists. I really enjoyed how much people have grown to rely on the technology in this world. For example, when the children get out of range of their signals they freak out, or it takes them a while to even consider taking off their glasses to go undetected by the Searchmatons.

CHARACTERS: Perhaps I didn’t notice it at the time, or I didn’t bother to remember, but looking back now on the main cast of Dennou Coil, I can see how various characters strongly fall into the standard archetypes of children’s animation. For starters there are the two sisters, Yuko “Yasako” and Kyoko Okonogi. These two derive heavily from the archetype of young sisters created by Hayao Miyazaki in his widely popular film, My Neighbor Totoro. Yuko, the elder of the two, is an empathetically shy and anxious girl. Throughout the series she learns to become more independent and self-sufficient. With her hyper sensitive AR skills, she is quite the natural at working within the virtual reality.

Her pigtailed younger sister is quite like Mei from My Neighbor Totoro. She is inquisitive and always seems to run into illegals and faults in the virtual world. While less helpful than her older friends, she compliments the group quite well.

As part of the investigation team, there is Fumie Hashimoto, another young girl about the age of Yuko. She acts as a guide and mentor to Yuko as she gets acclimated to her new surroundings. She is a no-nonsense type who is constantly seeking new ways to get meta-bugs and hack into the virtual world. She’s a shining example of how children born into technology adapt and live alongside of it in ways that adults are unable to imagine.

Even though the two main sisters seem to pull a lot from Miyazaki’s archetypes, I think they stand well on their own and have a chance to grow throughout the series. To me, this is an instance of paying homage to another film instead of lazily relying on old stereotypes without expanding on them.

CHARACTERS: As Whitney says, the main characters of Dennou Coil all fit within specific character types, though they expand beyond those basic types in interesting, believable ways. For one thing, the two main sisters, Yasako and Kyoko, initially seem to be very like the main characters from My Neighbor Totoro, but there’s more to them than that. For one things, Yasako receives more development than Satsuki ever did, and she’s interested in different areas and has a gentler personality. Kyoko also differs from Mei through greater immaturity, though I think it works for her within this story.

Another major character, Isako, also fits into a ready-made type, the cold, quiet, angry classmate. Predictably, her backstory presents many reasons for her harsh exterior, but I didn’t feel like her development was unnatural or cliché. It may be what you expect from the moment she appears (that or for her to be the antagonist), but the show uses a natural approach to telling her story that makes for a more rewarding viewing experience than in other shows.

Yasako’s classmates form the rest of the main cast, with loud-mouthed and annoying kids appearing as they are wont to when you’re eleven. The children all tend to act like real children, even when they’re hacking into AR or looking into corporate secrets, which is refreshing in anime. None of them stand out in my mind as much as Yasako and Isako, but it’s still a solid supporting cast.

I didn’t really have enough space to go into Isako’s character, but I thought the studio did a great job in designing her. She is cold and reserved due to personal issues. Additionally she is manipulative and conniving. This happens to be how she relates to people best, and I think it demonstrates how people go about their own ways of warming up to each other and working together.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The art style for Dennou Coil is a nice shift from the norm. Features and outlines are simplified, and the color palette is muted. Perhaps this is because the series is about or made for children, but in a lot of ways it breaks the regular mold of modern animation. For instance, characters are not hyper sexualized and glistening with blush marks. You could almost say that the designs are reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s designs, but I would only argue that in the sense that they both refused to adopt to the new moe standards.

Despite the extremely slow pacing and simple designs of characters and backgrounds, the animation for this series is quite complex. Contrasting with the real world is the virtual one, full of live spatial hacking. When users receive emails, they open right in front of their faces. The same can be said for interacting with virtual space while hacking. In the first episode when Yuko loses her dog, he is too far away to reach. In order to get closer to him within the digital world, she moves the portal (made on a physical piece of scrap metal) to a new real location, to alter the virtual world location. I found this kind of virtual realization to be fascinating and profound. The animators really made the most of this world when developing it visually.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Dennou Coil is quietly gorgeous in the way that it presents AR as a natural extension of the world. Other anime would make AR flashy and bright, like Summer Wars, but Dennou Coil imagines the best way to combine cyberspace and reality without it being visually jarring. AR in this show sometimes looks like the special effects of most anime, like laser beams, but just as often it looks real, like a fishing pole. The most ridiculous design within AR belongs to the Searchmaton, which was clearly designed by a committee (within the show) that was trying too hard to have it look “friendly.” This appearance works perfectly for the Searchmaton, making it creepy as well as silly.

The character designs are simple in a Ghibli-like manner, which I suspect is because the director has animated several Ghibli movies. The designs are simple and focus on normal differentiating characteristics, like hair, clothing, and body language. This design aesthetic does look strange on adults, especially a woman who wears skin-tight leather and is supposed to be sexy. I’ve never been a fan of round, undefined faces for adults, but they work well with the children, who are the majority of characters, anyway.

Actually, the aunt “leather wearing” character is 17, so that might explain her child like appearance. (I only know this because I rewatched a couple episodes.)

What?! But she’s so egregiously dressed to be sexy in that leather! D:

OVERALL: Dennou Coil is an incredibly illuminating sci-fi series that explores the junction of virtual reality with the real world. This series explores the distances between individuals as internet connectivity begins to take over real space. Not only that, but it shows how different emerging generations are adapting to existing technology in ways that older users are unable to and how it alters their development and the ways in which they see the world. This series brings to light many interesting questions on the implementation of technology while sharing a heartwarming story of childhood and growing up.

Probably the largest downside to this series is its lack of mainstream appeal. There are no shining colors or sexy girls to bring in the typical fans. The story line also takes a while to play out, and there isn’t necessarily any key points of immediate gratification. In that regard this series is probably best for that typical slice-of-life fan. If you are a sci-fi fan, who loves action, all I can say is, try to look beyond the subdued nature of this series and give it a shot as it really is an interesting query that I believe everyone can relate to in some fashion.

OVERALL: Back when I first watched Dennou Coil, I expected it to be a cute, family-friendly sci-fi show about children and augmented reality. Little did I know that Dennou Coil would be a solid show to the core, with great worldbuilding and realistic characters on top of an interesting premise. Tonally, it’s a slow-paced, coming-of-age counterpart to Serial Experiments Lain that warns against potential problems in the future. You might cry out with the Lain comparison, especially since Dennou Coil isn’t as dark or as visually striking, but I think it’s the best comparison to make. Dennou Coil has a lot to say about responsible use of technology and the impact it can have on our humanity, and its view of AR is just as natural an extension of current-day smartphones as Lain’s Wired is of the Internet. I think everyone could get something out of this show, even if it features children and is rather slow-paced, since it reflects a probable vision of the future. I also wish more people would watch it so it would have a big enough fanbase to get licensed! Of the unlicensed anime out there, few are as big of gems as Dennou Coil.


One thought on “Dennou Coil

  1. Prendergast doesn’t chase alternative statements, he wants to make people laugh, and Kabluey is one of the more inventive, invigorating productions to come out of the industry’s lonely right field.

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