Be Mindful of Your Surroundings: Dennou Coil

In 2007, Dennou Coil hit the anime scene and blew everyone (who watched it) away. Touting one of the most impressive production staffs in recent history, Dennou Coil went on to win numerous awards, even one that was not exclusive to anime. If you want a very basic idea of Dennou Coil and its level of quality, keep in mind that it won some of these awards alongside Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. Dennou Coil however is nothing like Gurren-Lagann, general excellence aside.

In the world of Dennou Coil, the latest craze among kids are these special glasses which let them see a nearly both the real world and cyberspace mapped 1:1. This isn’t a Digital World that whisks you far, far away, this is simply a digital world. If there’s a garbage can in the real world, there will be on in the cyber world exactly where the real one would be, though for the safety of everyone it doesn’t work the other way around. “Dennou” literally means “Electric Brain,” and is one way of saying “computer” in Japanese.

The story focuses on two girls both named Yuuko, who each get nicknames based on the spelling of their names in Japanese and their basic personalities. Okonogi Yuuko, nicknamed Yasako for her gentle personality, is an elementary school girl who inherited her cyber-glasses from her grandfather, a man who was central to the development of the glasses. At the start of Dennou Coil, she has just recently moved from her home town to Daikoku City where her grandmother lives. Amasawa Yuuko, nicknamed Isako for her confidence and bravery, is a girl the same age as Yasako. In an environment where mischievous kids with a little bit of know-how in manipulating the virtual landscape call themselves hackers, Isako is known as a “programmer,” someone with intimate knowledge of the cyber world far exceeding the norm.

Daikoku City is a playground of sorts for those who wear the glasses, as kids compete with each other to find shiny, crude digital stones known as metabugs, which translate directly into currency in the virtual world, which translate into tool such as laser beam attacks and steel walls with which kids can participate in general shenanigans. Keeping them on their toes is a very robust and merciless anti-virus program named “Satchii” that will attack anything that doesn’t belong, which includes the illegal add-ons most kids are equipped with in Daikoku City.

Dennou Coil was produced by Madhouse, one of the oldest Japanese animation studios and responsible for an incredible range of works such as Ace o Nerae!, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Kaiba. The project is headed by Iso Mitsuo, a key animator for Giant Robo OVA and FLCL who is the head writer, director, and original creator of Dennou Coil. Animators include Honda Takeshi and Inoue Toshiyuki, both of whom have worked on Kon Satoshi’s movies such as Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue.

To say the least, Dennou Coil is a very impressive show.  The show’s themes and general feel are always changing, always keeping you on your toes. Sometimes it’s about kids having fun in a world meant for kids. Sometimes it’s about exploring the mysteries of the virtual world and outrunning Satchii. At one point, Dennou Coil turns into survival horror. And the amazing thing is, it all makes sense given the world of Dennou Coil. It is consistent without being predictable, and varied without losing focus. As I watched Dennou Coil from start to finish, I had one thought sitting strong in my head. “Ah, so this is what it’s like to have a show planned out from start to finish.”

You have shows which are described as “a little bit of everything,” but Dennou Coil, to paraphrase Chef  Boyardee, Jr., is “a lot of bit of everything.” It evokes a sense of discovery and wonder in the little things in life that I really enjoy in shows. The world of Dennou Coil is deep and robust, and the more academic anime fan could probably write multiple theses on some of the ideas present in Dennou Coil. The show’s major plot lines get stronger and stronger as the series progresses, and does so in a way where you can notice that they’ve been building up to the climax. Single-episode stories are also present, and they range from the silly to the heart-felt. Even the recap episode is entertaining as it takes place from the perspective of a character who normally doesn’t get to speak much. The storytelling is subtle without being excessively obtuse. Vital information is explained only as far as you need to know. The animation is amazing, with quality that is almost unheard of for a television series, especially in recent years. A great number of the staff members have extensive experience as animators and it shows, from the way characters interact with the environment to the way they express themselves to the world of Dennou Coil itself runs on a day-to-day basis. And the characters in Dennou Coil are among the best I’ve ever seen.  In terms of visual design and personality, the characters are distinct without being shallow, and the character  development in this show is on another level entirely. They learn and grow, they laugh and cry, the emotions that run through them all feel incredibly genuine, a “realistic virtual world” in a very different sense.

I have not re-watched Dennou Coil since finishing it, but I definitely know that it’s the kind of show that can be viewed repeatedly. Dennou Coil has a lot of depth from its animation quality to its writing, from its world to its characters, but that depth and sophistication has no high entry barriers. You can enjoy the show at any level, as it will reward you no matter what.

12 thoughts on “Be Mindful of Your Surroundings: Dennou Coil

  1. IIRC Iso Mitsuo is more famous for doing an episode of Evangelion (either the nanovirus one or the volcano, I forgot which) and some Tachikoma animation in GITS.

    I didn’t watch Denno Coil since nothing exploded, but I guess I should get around to it in 2010 or so.

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  2. [naysaying]
    Honestly, this show lacks emotional impact because the substantive content is on par with your typical Ghibli works (if that), just much less emotionally gripping. With exception of Densuke.

    I felt a little bit insulted after everything’s said and done, I guess.
    [/naysaying]

    Rest of the show is great, exceptional, pretty, intriguing, etc.

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  3. What omo said. Despite everything else that Dennou Coil has going for it, it didn’t create an emotional connection with me, and that’s the most important thing that a show can do for me. Well, that and the info dumps really felt like info dumps when things started coming to a head. It’s an excellent show, regardless. :P

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  4. I feel Dennou Coil is destined to be one of those series that people continue to throw on their I can’t believe you haven’t seen it lists for years to come. Good enough that most people who see it really enjoy it but not quite good enough to be the show everyone raves on about. Which is a shame becuase despite the fact that the series has distinct flaws it has a interesting world and a good story. I for one also like most of the characters.

    I have always thought it was a show Narutaki would like if he sat down and watched it. But Natrutaki watches the shows Narutaki watches.

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  5. I remember watching the first episode of Dennou Coil at my college’s anime club back in August. It didn’t click with a lot of people, so it got dropped. I’ll watch it again when I get the time.

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  6. still on my first run of Dennou Coil
    I expect to be finished this weekend
    Love it to no end. Got me to finally pick up AR seriously this year

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  7. omo: what do you mean by “substantive content”? Surely all the content is substantive in an anime show, otherwise, well, it wouldn’t be here!

    Dennou Coil did make an emotional connection with me, although it was one that wasn’t necessarily very well sustained. As much as I loved the way the plot went in the second half (which denies the show a lot of “cred” with intellectual anime fans as the show goes into mainstream plot twists rather than fannying around on conceptual exploration), it does seem to come a bit out of nowhere after the nano-beard and cyber-piranha shenanigans, and information such as Yasako’s “past” should really come earlier in the series. It’s definitely one of those things that’s a very personal reaction, though.

    Regardless of Coil’s quality, it’s the kind of show that probably would have been popular with fandom if it had come out in the early 90s rather than the past couple of years. Internet fandom’s tastes have moved away from the more “childish” adventure stories like Nadia, for better or for worse, and something like Dennou Coil just isn’t going to catch on now.

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