Not a Circle, but a Sphere of ’Em: The Orbital Children

I’m not the kind of anime fan who thinks having specific names on a project is the be-all, end-all. That said, as soon as I saw that there was a new anime by the director of Dennou Coil, Iso Mitsuo—with character designs by Yoshida Ken’ichi (Eureka Seven, Gundam Reconguista in G), no less—I knew I had to watch it. The Orbital Children (also known as Extraterrestrial Boys & Girls) is in many ways a spiritual successor to Dennou Coil, but rather than elementary school kids’ experiences in a world where augmented reality is commonplace, it’s about young teens in a world where humanity has to grapple with the consequences of “rogue” artificial intelligence and failed space colonization.

Orbital Children is set in 2045 aboard a space station and follows five kids ages 12–14. Three of them are from Earth, having won a promotional trip to the station, while the other two are the last surviving members of an attempt to bear and raise children on the moon. When an asteroid hits, the emergency forces them into a fight for their lives, but also into a confrontation with how they view the world, humanity, and themselves. Underlying all of this is the fact that the failure to create and sustain life in space is the result of a defunct artificial intelligence known as “Seven,” which was the most powerful ever before being shut down for going out of control.

Advertisements for The Orbital Children do not shy away from making associations with Dennou Coil. In comparing the two, I prefer Dennou Coil, but this has largely to do with format differences. Whereas the latter is a 26-episode TV series given time to both meander and slow-build its narrative, The Orbital Children is only six episodes and originally released in Japanese theaters as two 3-episode “movies” before becoming available on Netflix. I also am a bigger fan of the character conflicts and the eerie quality of AR as experienced by kids, but I also really appreciate the earnest confrontation with science and technology through the lens that The Orbital Children provides. In many ways, it feels like a spiritual successor to Dennou Coil precisely because it better conveys the concerns of children who are older but while still grounding it in this science fictional setting. 

Ultimately, the series asks the audience whether we’re too afraid of how things might turn out to be that we shield the young and try to keep them from learning more about the world in the ways that make sense to them. Rather than forcing them to go one direction while trying to hide all the bad stuff out there, isn’t readier access to more information and faith in their intelligence and reasoning the better way to go? When I think about this, I can feel my own fear influencing my beliefs, but there’s an element of realization that has hit every generation: Try as you might, you can’t truly control how kids think, so it’s better to foster learning.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights September 2021

Much of Kio’s tweeting this month has had to do with the fact that Hashikko Ensemble Volume 7 went on sale on the 22nd, and Spotted Flower Volume 5 is out on the 30th…on top of Chapter 44 of Hashikko! There are lots of inevitable scheduling woes, but he’s actually also been responding to and retweeting readers in a concerted fashion for the first time.

Even I got a retweet!

Hashikko Ensemble and Spotted Flower Releases

Hashikko Ensemble Volume 7 cover check. Kio seems fine with it.

All Spotted Flower volumes have a plastic cover jacket with characters in clothes that obscures a second paper cover jacket with the characters in underwear. Kio gives a sneak peek here.

Kio mentions that there are store-exclusive extras for Spotted Flower.

Kurotaki Mai in a bunny outfit, as a late celebration of Bunny Day, but also to promote the new release.

The next chapter of Hashikko Ensemble has a ridiculous amount of lyrics and musical effects, but while the work seemed to never end, it’s finally almost over.

With the work on both upcoming volume releases more or less over, Kio decides to do some cleaning.

Kio discusses with 18+ manga artist Ikuhana Niro (who also publishes in Rakuen: Le Paradis) about ways to abbreviate Hashikko Ensemble and Spotted Flower in Japanese. Ikuhana uses HashiAn and SupoHana, while Kio originally uses Hashikko and SupoFura, but also Spotted in hiragana or katakana. Supote is brought up, with the idea that it sounds like Ponite (ponytail).

The Rakuen: Le Paradis Twitter account chimes in that Supote is one sale 9/30.

Kio responds with thanks to those who tweeted about supporting the release of Hashikko Ensemble, Volume 7. He doesn’t quote tweet readers all that much, so it feels special. 

A fan mentions that they’ve always liked Genshiken and stuff, but only recently got into Hashikko Ensemble and wish they did so sooner. Kio tells them to enjoy it at their own pace.

Kio mentions that there are store-exclusive bonuses for Volume 5 of Spotted Flower. (I’ll be getting the Ogino-sensei ones from Melonbooks and Animate.)

A drawing used for promotional store displays for Volume 5.

Kio talks about how intense the Basso Masters from Hashikko Ensemble are.

Kio talks about how he couldn’t find any footage of a three-girl group singing “Zenryoku Shounen.”

Showing his drawing of the Chorus Appreciation Society performing “Etupirka” versus an actual performance.

Other Works

In response to a TSUTAYA bookstore showing its display bookshelf for manga artist panpanya, Kio responds that it’s sandwiched in one hell of a place, given the shelves on each side (Blue Lock, Demon Slayer).

Kio up until recently still was not a fan of Kurita Kan’ichi as the voice of Lupin III ever since he took over the role in the 1990s. However, he’s noticed that rather than sounding like an imitation, Kurita’s performances now have a weight and seriousness that has allowed Kio to finally accept his Lupin.

Fanart of Isako from Dennou Coil. (WATCH DENNOU COIL!)

Kio sees Five Star Stories models and reminisces about when he built his first resin-kit Akatsuki from that series.

Kio retweets an article talking about a journey with toy soldiers that began from a panpanya manga.


Kio talks about the good work an “Akio-san” did on photos. What it means is still unclear.

Looking Ahead

This was a pretty tweet-heavy month for all the reasons above. I get the feeling we’ll be seeing less for October, but you never know.
I also posted these highlights right before the 9/30 release date of Spotted Flower Volume 5, so I’m sure I’ll be covering a lot just from that!

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.