Two weekends ago, I spent way too much time not studying and watching Dennou Coil, an anime I had sitting in my hard drive for years. I never began Dennou Coil since each episode I had skimmed looked pretty average, with no standout elements that caught my eye. Having finally completed the series, however, I quickly realized that Dennou Coil did not need any of the flashy peripherals to prove its worth.
On average, anime that causes the type of addiction where you marathon 26 episodes in 2 days are the ones with plot twists, cliff hangers, or eccentric action scenes, which happens to be some qualities kept in mind by anime producers who want to create instant-popular series. Dennou Coil, on the other hand, is completely different. It is neither bombastic, nor boring, but always takes itself seriously and deliberately balances every aspect of its story, art, and music with great expertise. It’s a series that is easy to under-appreciate despite the numerous things that Dennou Coil does right, and overcomes its very few faults by delivering the most solid series I have ever scene to date.
To qualify what I said, Dennou Coil is not the emotional drama that you would expect from a series such as CLANNAD: After Story or Bokurano. The series never attempts to be in your face, telling you that you what to feel with how the character’s react on screen how what music is playing through the background. Dennou Coil takes a more conservative approach and lays everything at the viewer’s feet, but never holds your hand if you want to understand what’s going on. Dennou Coil is set in the near future where augmented reality exists by the means of eyeglasses and visors.
The story follows a circle of children as they realize that the glasses they view as toys begin to change their perceptions of what is important in reality. I’d hate to reveal what’s so wonderful about this series by offering specific examples from the anime, but it is difficult to explain what makes Dennou Coil so great otherwise. I shall mention one for now. Mitsuo Iso, creator of Dennou Coil, manages to throw in an astounding number of classic anime elements, such as an unspoken childhood romance (which, is so deftly navigated that it will most definitely pull on your heartstrings), a future cyberpunk world (centered around children, no less), and shounen-like battles without going overboard to make the series feel like Naruto or Bleach. But Iso seamlessly blends all these elements and more in and out of each other, and sometimes in the space of a single episode.
A particular example that comes to mind is one which I like to call “the beard” episode. Here, the main character Yasako finds herself not only growing a beard, but one that’s housing a tiny cyber-civilization who worship her as a god. She thinks this is great fun for a while, until she starts to feel the responsibility of leadership and her little citizens begin warring with neighboring beards on the other children’s faces, through means of “space” travel and nuclear warfare. Though the initial premise is quite silly, the overall issues involved gradually became a very serious and thoughtful meditation on the nature of God, the temptation of power, and the horrors of war. However, it does so without an evident preachy tone, nor does it get so heavy that we begin to feel like we’re watching a call-to-action documentary about global warming. And many of Dennou Coil‘s best episodes are like this — they ebb and flow with both serious and whimsical purpose, constantly maintaining an effective mix of both, rather than ever feeling schizophrenic.
Dennou Coil is graphical-wise a superb anime. Created, animated and directed by Mitsuo Iso, the world of Dennou Coil feels lively and believable. As expected from the key-animator of FLCL, the dynamical way of animating is prominently present. People move in a credible fashion; it’s all supported by little details, like manually drawing blurry movements, to the hair that moves in a very natural way. It all adds up to the credibility of a fleshed out character.
The plot and characters in this are incredibly well-constructed as well. Characters are slowly developed through various interactions and their relationships to others in episodes, and even though characters may not take a prominent role for a few episodes, they’re always there in the background. Given the construct of the anime, we are given adequate time to meet, wonder, and learn about each member of the cast, and each sub-arc about individual characters are like mini-series of their own, with expositions, climaxes, and conclusions.
On the larger scale, the main plot itself is also intricately woven; the smallest details from the earliest episodes, which seem like throwaways, come back to play in full force in the last half of the show. It’s commonly criticized that the first few episodes of Dennou Coil are slow and boring, but given the intricacy of Dennou Coil’s setting and characters, it’s essential that we are given time to fit into the world Iso wants us to inhabit intellectually and emotionally. Besides, the first episode already has enough action and humor to make up for the “lackluster” beginning.
The first third of the show establishes the basics of the world and characters, then comes a brief filler arc that slowly brings things to the fore, and then the last third of the show takes everything that’s come before and takes it into far darker places than everything up until this point would have you believe was possible. The final episodes of the show are probably some of the darkest I’ve seen in a show aimed towards a younger audience to date, but, regardless, resolve amazingly well.
Dennou Coil was a series that took me by surprise (which, I must admit, due to my limited knowledge of valuable anime and production studios, occurs most frequently). Watching Dennou Coil is definitely one of the most meticulous and solid anime I have watched in recent memory. The series conducts itself in a very mature and controlled fashion, which will definitely lead it to not being the most well known or popular series, but will forever remain a very strong and recommendable series, and possibly a classic among anime shows. The final messages are powerful but not overdone to sound cliché, and Dennou Coil‘s closing moments are both most satisfying and consistent with the rest of the series.