Spectacle-lar Children; Dennou Coil Episodes 1-8

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know, know, a review on eight episodes isn’t entirely fair. But there’s a lot to glean from this slow, but entertaining introduction to the world of Dennou Coil. Put on your digital glasses – it’s going to be one heck of a ride!

I think the greatest strength of Dennou Coil lies in the fact that it knows how to expose the nerves of its story while seamlessly crafting a capable and enthusiastic cast of characters, and at the same time, building a very fascinating but realistic world. In other words, I haven’t seen such consistently strong writing in a while (which may be the reason as to how I marathoned eight episodes of this show in two days.)

For starters, our cast is made up of children. The last time I cared this deeply for kids at this age was when I was a kid myself! From the mature but rather quiet Yuko Okonogi, to the rather cruel and serious Yuko Amasawa, there’s a decently sized amount of characters for the audience to connect with. And whereas most shows usually have difficulty portraying children as children (not only do they have to act their age, but they still have to appeal to the audience’s needs – or in other words, be limitedly annoying or immature so as not to become aggravating to watch all the time), Dennou Coil makes sure that it has the fundamentals down. Each character, while young, acts appropriately enough for you to be aware that these are kids, but also be in awe at how talented they really are so that you can form a bond with them.

And that’s the main key of what makes Dennou Coil so fascinating! We have preteen hackers, middle school encoders, and child romance. We have duels in the small alleys of the school, and kids who use chalk to write code, or point at something to say, “Poo!” One way or another, the show makes certain there’s a memory behind the wall of this medium that we all, as children once, shared. How many of you guys drew notes in the sand, or created secret clubs with your friends? I sure did, and Dennou Coil in that way, really hits home sometimes.

Even that pose is familiar.

I’m sure we’ve all dressed up like that, at one point in our childhood.

But these scenes are never displayed in an obnoxious or pretentious manner; you could suggest that Coil even has an air of slice of life behind it, as there’s a certain innocence and energy imbued into the writing when our characters bounce off each other, creating sparks of life. Not only are the hacking duels between Amasawa and Daichi hilarious and endlessly refreshing (a nice contrast to the typical brawn-over-brain battles we see in anime), but they also provide some excellent insight into what makes these characters who they are. Fumie’s enthusiastic nature, paired with Okonogi’s good heart, makes them a great team of detectives who are just as curious as they are kind. While Amasawa may seem distant and cold toward others – especially Okonogi – there are moments during the fight when she considers the words of others and takes them for granted. Even Daichi, while hot-tempered and can’t stand not being a leader, has periods where he’s much more than just another annoying brat. With that in mind, it’s also great to see  how the show takes care to look at nearly all of the characters equally; almost every episode so far has included the entire main cast, and it’s wonderful to see that there’s special attention given to these kids rather than just shoving the side characters away to flesh out the main ones.

While I’m sure we’ve gotten to the rough basics of what the meat of the story is going to be about, none of the details seem contrived, boring, or unnecessary. In fact, Dennou Coil does exposition dumping very subtly, and pairs it with the characterization so we don’t feel like we’re being overloaded with information. Metabugs, metatags, digital glasses, Illegals, unstable Space – all of these concepts are gradually explained and developed at a set pace so that it’s easy to follow up on. It’s important that Dennou Coil gets this right, because it’s building an offset of our own world (similar to it, but not exactly like it) and thus we need constant proof that the world Yuko lives in is rooted in realism rather than the highly unnatural. Which it exactly does. Not only do we feel like we’re in a regular Japanese town with shrines and office buildings, but we also have a peek into Okonogi’s lifestyle, which for the most part, is conventionally original and regular. She has to deal with the pains of being an older sister! Or the fact that there are hacker bullies at her school! Her father even accidentally undresses naked in front of her! I’ve gone through some of these experiences myself, so once again, Dennou Coil sits right at home – right in the living room of my own childhood, it seems.

Of course, we haven’t gotten to the actual story of the show yet,  so we’re still focusing on the part of character development and exploring the world of the digital, but there’s no doubt that these terms will prove to be useful and important soon. The show also mixes in verbal discussion of this vocabulary with the “show don’t tell” format; many useful things can be gained just by attentively watching what’s going on. It’s a fun way of trying to figure out the mystery of the show, while having a hand to help you out once in a while.

I really enjoy how each episode starts off with an “internet rumor” which is highly reminiscent of the life of a middle schooler. But it’s also a very clever way of introducing certain ideas that might prove essential to understanding Dennou Coil’s larger mysteries and context.

The show has yet to grasp at central themes, but I still can’t help but feel like things like identity and individuality. Coil is said to be a spiritual successor to Serial Experiments Lain, a particular favorite of mine, so I can imagine that we’ll be looking into  the effects and consequences of augmented reality on the human psyche. So far, we’re still dealing with the mysteries of what an Illegal is, but in the back of my mind, I know that something is happening on a greater and more serious scale, and that eventually, we’ll be exposed to that mystery as well. But for now, I’ll take what I can get: Dennou Coil is an imaginative, ambitious, but kind introduction to a world full of wonders, and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Lastly, the animation has been on par for eight consistent episodes, a rare feat in anime nowadays. Whether this may have to do with the fact that Dennou Coil was in the works for more than a decade, or maybe Mitsuo Iso just knows how to plan out his budget, is unknown, but it’s something worth appreciating. The detail that goes into the setting and characters – especially their expressions (which are enough to watch for, as they are all classic and hilarious) really shows that this is a series that’s been carefully put together by a team that knows what they’re doing and are perhaps, as enthusiastic and passionate about the subject matter as the kids themselves are.

Two details I really enjoy: how the animation leans toward the cartoonish style, and how the digital glasses/goggles seem like a natural part of the childrens’ faces. They don’t stand out (on the contrary, if they take them off, then they do stand out).

*Note: For the sake of talking, I’m just going to refer to Okonogi as “Yasako” and Amasawa as “Isako” as it’s confusing referring to both of them by their first (or last) names. Also – I promise my blogging for this show will be a lot more well-paced next time! Dennou Coil has proven to be an addicting show so far, so hopefully I’ll be able to control myself and take it easy. :)

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