[Kira-bugs! Got to catch ‘em all!]
This series is presented as childish, yet it packs so much philosophy and optical delight that you hardly believe kids will get half of it. The way I see it, it aims at sci-fi lovers, sophisticated adults or bright kids, who are not accustomed to really heavy series, such as Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain and yet want more than just some childish Digimon variant. It is DAMN good and even viewers who like brainless action like Bleach or storyless series like K-On can easily like the fine combination of a good story, easy-going action, wonderful artwork and not too bleak mystery. I for one am head over heels about it. The sad truth though is that most others DIDN’T like it for all the wrong reasons, which I will be constantly be mentioning as a sort of bitter truth.
[I don’t see anything. –Wear your glasses!]
Madhouse is the king of anime studios and once creates a stunning blur of the boundaries between reality and virtual reality. The kids in this show view the real world through virtual reality glasses, which is in fact overlapped with a virtual world, which is similar in appearance with the real one, only with a lot of glitches and virtual creatures that roam around. No one can see or interact with this world without wearing the glasses, so it was hilarious seeing a huge cyber-fish eating the virtual world, while a housewife nearby was doing her chores without noticing anything. Or an illegal being giving beards to little children that only those wearing glasses could see. Or pocket worlds named Obsolete Spaces that resemble ghost towns made of two-dimensional buildings. Every episode features lots of such details leaving you stunned with the originality and sheer inspiration the animators had while figuring them up.
The main cast of the series are all 10 year-olds kids that don’t look any special; and that is the main reason the show passed under the radar for most. The cyber-creatures on the other hand, oh boy, they are AWESOME! Try a cyber, cat-like pet, which takes photos of the target its owner sends him to spy and plays ROCK-SCISSORS-PAPER with its ears, with every other pet of its kind. Or a cyber scout, in the form of a naked grandpa. Or a cyber-cop, in the form of a huge smiling toy. Or a black dinosaur that can only move through shadowy places and the kids create black corridors with cyber spray, in order to help it move through light areas. The series is full of such amazing creatures. Of course none of them throw energy beams around or have 52 evolution stages each; so again this is the main reason very few kids liked the show. Aesthetics aside, the characters behave and act in such realistic and vivid ways, to the point you may think that they used motion capture or filmed real actors in order to get it THAT good. I wasn’t bored watching even the plotless parts just because the characters were moving realistically and making all sorts of lively grimaces.
The visual effects are also a treat. The virtual reality glasses provide the kids with a huge amount of weaponry, bought by a granny seller, using a virtual currency they need to harvest by looking around the city. Isn’t that an amazing way to motivate kids into taking quests in their own city? Also, the weapons are not really dangerous; they are harmless on a physical level yet devastating for their expensive glasses. Etheral machineguns, rockets, laser beams and hovering walls turned every confrontation into a bloodless warfield that had no effect in the real world and yet was very important for the kids who were testing their quick responses, typing speeds or hacking abilities. Virtual commands, such as ERROR, RESTORE and SCAN were used so often and with such a videogame-like way, that made every battle to resemble a combination of COUNTERSTRIKE and that funky hacking scene in Johnny Mnemonic. Even glitches in the system had the effect of making graphics to look like they are corrupted data. It’s that attention to detail that makes everything looks so brilliant. But again, there is no real destruction taking place and that can make the whole thing look silly and boring to those accustomed to Digimon or Pokemon.
Music themes are somewhat elegiac, adding a pinch of mystery and adventurous spirit to the show. They clearly let you know this is not another Pokemon variant… and this is why most found it boring and walked away in discontent. Sound effects were more than just explosions or zaps, as they included voice altering, static noise and eerie squeaks. So just like the visual effects, they are given a lot of attention and deserve two thumbs up. My only issue is with the voice acting, which despite being a marvelous job at colorizing the personalities of the characters, it was rather obvious to tell that they are in fact middle-aged women voicing 10 year-old boys. Not that it bothered me much; it was just something I was constantly noticing and was breaking some of the immersion.
[According to a rumor on the net, this series is in fact not just for kids.]
It starts as a silly scenario about kids playing with fake guns while hunted by a huge toy. As it goes on it gets brushed over with lots of serious overtones that are never taken to extremes yet help to give it a distinguished flavor. A usual coming-of-age gets boosted with a murder mystery, people falling into comas by a cyber ghost’s curse, an avenging youth out to uncover a cover-up by a mega-corporation, and several other stuff which put together form a most wonderful overall. It is quite close to the backdrop story of .hack//SIGN, only it is NOT boring or vague to the viewer and you don’t need external to the series explanations in order to get the full picture. Again, nothing of the aforementioned elements happens in a horror or action blockbuster-like fashion, so kids may find it boring and adults not exciting.
Although the story unfolds slowly and there are some filler episodes in between, there is always some new aspect about the characters that fleshes them out EVEN in filler episodes. Practically, there is no dead time in this series; recap episode included. Of course it does all that in a subtle and easy going way. It is intriguing, multi-layered, complicating and has a mostly satisfactory ending but it’s not yelling in your ear how awesome it is. And when it comes to anime fans, this is a major issue.
The story also goes to great lengths in order to provide a scientific explanation about every single one of the multiple terms and mysteries in the not-so-simple story. Nothing super complicated and excused though; it still couldn’t avoid some pitfalls, such as convenient outcomes. Many problems are resolved too easily and the kids seem to think way too mature for their age. Plus, adults seem to be oblivious of what the heck is going on, as parents and teachers are unaware that their precious youngsters perform hacking, wars and several other illegal acts under their very noses. I mean, in shows like Digimon or Pokemon kids pair up with huge monsters and blow up mountains on every episode, but at least the parents there treat that as part of the world. They know about it and just don’t give a damn. Over here, they don’t even know what the kids are doing with the very expensive glasses they bought for them. Feels kinda off.
[Miss Michico will get you!]
None of the characters looks special in any way, and that is the reason so few cared about them. Their body language and grimaces, though, are so vivid that attract your eye in a flash. Since they are mostly kids, they are generally cute, perky and definitely won’t remind you of an average cookie cutter anime cast. Everyone has his own personal demeanor, parents, relatives and a place in the story. It doesn’t feel like any one of them popped out of nowhere or was alien to the series. They all get fleshed out and even secondary characters have their screen-time during filler episodes. But it’s not something drastic; neither the main cast or the extras developed in extreme ways, so their personality in the end wasn’t that much different from the beginning. Many change their initial opinions for one another or became wiser about the world, but beyond that they pretty much remained the same. They still of course feel much more enriched as personalities as when they began.
[Cash in your rare Meta-bugs for powerful Meta-tags.]
From the various occations I mentioned how many didn’t care about it, you can easily tell why this is one of the most unappreciated anime of all times. You see, it didn’t aim at a specific audience; it is too mature and subtle when the target audience wants Attack on Titan, style over substance. On its own, it definitely stands out and easily becomes a point of reference of how a good series should be. But that becomes a realization only if you have watched a ton of mainstream shows and have gotten fed up with the repeating stereotypes. You need to care about its subtle overtones more than its action; a thing very hard for most, exactly because it is not full of clichés or aimed at a very specific audience. This is why the show had very poor airing rates, sales, and in general is considered an economic disaster all studios should learn from as means to never repeat this mistake. Don’t create more Dennou Coil, create more Accel World, a show about a fat-ass loser being good at videogames and winning all the bitches. Despite the raving reviews, such as this one, this is not a show most anime fans can appreciate.
There is another reason of why this show is so unknown to most even today. You see, it came out in an era where, unlike today, there were tons of interesting anime to choose from. At the very same year the audience was offered Tengen Toppa, Moribito, Clannad, Baccano, Sayonara Zetsubo and many others, which were aimed at specific demographics and tastes, had far more extreme presentation, and were never promoted as “for kids”. Thus poor Dennou Coil was thrown to the side and was neglected by most early on, something which unfortunately happened to many other great tiles of those years. It never managed to have high sales or a raving fanbase and the creator Isu Mitsuo almost regretted making it in the first place. This realization stands true even today. Something like Sword Art Online becomes one of the best-selling anime of all times for being fan service and otaku pandering despite its terrible script, while mature and innovating works like Shinsekai Yori are rotting away on their shelves. The majority of the anime fandom simply can’t appreciate good shows. Just like in every medium, most of them are casuals who like mediocre mainstream stuff.
Anyways, this doesn’t take away the fact this is a GREAT show, despite commiting the crime of going for quality and subtlety instead of superficial entertainment and easy money. One must not expect some flashy, over-the-top action or comedy if he wishes to fully enjoy this show. I did and VOILA I got myself a jewel.
Serial Experiments Lain
Ghost in the Shell