There is a lot that could be said about the sheer brilliance of Denno Coil’s setting. The series makes heavy use of “augmented reality” and presents a world where the line between the cyber-world and reality is blurred to the point of being indistinguishable. Anyone who has seen Serial Experiments Lain can tell you that this is far from new, but by having its characters use cyber-glasses for almost the entire show, Dennou Coil presents its world in a way that Lain (who had its characters plug in to a computer) could not. Dennou Coil’s “hackers” aren’t content to merely sit at a computer and type furiously; they literally throw their code at people, and dive for cover when they're attacked themselves. For the first few episodes, at least, the idea feels fresh and new.
Sadly, Dennou Coil is far from perfect. Its biggest flaw, bar none, is an unhealthy fascination with the world it has created. In the episodes leading up to the ending, this is especially apparent. Characters drone on and on about their metatags and their obsolete spaces and their kirabugs and their cyberspace equipment and it's like something out of a Xerox manual. Annoyingly, the story is one of the biggest violations of the "show, don't tell" rule that I can think of in recent memory. Usually anime shows are guilty of not explaining enough, but here they explain and explain and explain until you wish they'd just shut up and talk about baseball or something.
The standalone episodes that occur midway through the show are another annoying fault. After the writers set up the initial storyline and pique your interest, the show makes the bizarre choice of putting the main storyline on hold for about ten episodes. The standalone episodes aren't blatant filler, but the break in the narrative almost ruins the show by itself.
As the novelty of Dennou’s world slowly wears off, ignoring the shallow characters, the uneven narrative and the overload of jargon becomes more and more difficult. By the time I hit episode 20, my interest had flagged to the point where I continued watching more to finish it than for actual entertainment. Despite being wonderfully creative and innovative at the beginning, Dennou Coil becomes downright tedious.
The character designs are all fairly unremarkable, and the down-to-earth backgrounds, while technically excellent in detail, don’t really stand out. Rather, the “virtual” parts added on by the cybernetic glasses are what make the animation shine. While they’re not exactly eye-candy, they’re innovative and cool enough to still make the animation a major strength of the show.
A perfect example can be described as nothing other than what happens when a corrupt divx file starts artifacting (the first time, I literally thought something was wrong with my episode). The effect is used to show that something in the cyber world is glitching, and works wonderfully to remind us that the more fantastic visuals are actually images created by the glasses that the characters are wearing.
Little touches like this make the cybernetic world feel like an immersive and cohesive mini-universe.
There are a lot of children in the series, and consequently some of the voice actors suffer noticeably from Whiny Brat Syndrome. No one seiyuu is excessively obnoxious, but the voice-acting is bad enough to bring down the quality of the work as a whole. Music is unmemorable, but works fine at setting the mood for the show.
Unfortunately, the anime focuses far too much on its setting and far too little on its characters. In essence, for a large majority of the show the characters are nothing more than tools used to talk about and interact with the anime's setting. Because of this, all of the characters (especially the mild-mannered protagonist) feel extremely shallow. While this problem is somewhat rectified by the ending, for the majority of the show you're forced to spend time with characters that you don't really know or like.
As a result, Dennou Coil painfully illustrates an important point: world building, while nice, is no replacement for characterization. You can play chess on a pretty sparse board, but if you can't tell a pawn from a rook then you're out of luck.
In spite of Dennou Coil’s numerous flaws, it's hard to completely dismiss the excellent premise. The beginning episodes (when the world is still fresh and hasn't been explained to death) are excellent, and while the standalone episodes do interrupt the flow of the story, some of them are clever enough to be entertaining in their own right. Throw in the nice ending and I might actually end up recommending the show to fans of cyberpunk. Still, this definitely isn't a show for everyone, and to me, at least, the flaws outweighed the strengths.
The problem with Denno Coil is that a handful of its episodes are great while the rest are dull as dishwater. Generally, I started an episode filled with dread about which it would be. Would it crawl through the meaningless misadventures of a side character in its blended world of virtual and objective reality, or would it deliver a brilliantly unnerving cyber battle full of disturbing imagery and heartrending loss?
Its world is an admirably rich one full of eccentric detail and inventive plays on today’s world (look how they hold their hands to their ears like telephones as they communicate). But the show only ends up immersing itself in its quirkiness while leaving the viewer far behind. All the computer jargon feels appropriate but ultimately also hollow when I struggle to relate it to anything or understand why it matters - by the middle, I was pushing myself hard to complete the series and felt mainly relief when it was over. Denno Coil is thus all wonderful concept but uneven development and will mainly appeal to fans primarily in need of an immersive feeling rather than a thrilling plot.
[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
I didn't really expect to enjoy this show as much as I did, and while there were a few things about it wasn't overly impressed with the story was entertaining, compelling and satisfying. It was also quite unique and nearly believable in it's realistic portrayal of possible technology bridging the spiritual and real worlds accidentally. The fact that we aren't too far away from the technology represented in those glasses adds a healthy dose of reality to the show's theme.
At first I wasn't sure if I really liked the characters designs too much, but soon it grew on me and I ended up loving them for their originality and uniqueness. The rest of the show was visually stunning and had a lot of detail to it that I've come to demand of newer shows. This would be what I'd call the measuring stick for 07, it was just that good. It also reminded me many times of Studio Glibi's work.
Rarely do sounds ever wow me but this one's did, and many times over. The sound track and OP/ED were worth spending that extra attention to and for that extra bit I rated it that highly.
Just about everything you could ask for in a character range and development pace. Lots grew beyond their childish limitations, others went even further beyond their traumas and unrealistic expectations of others. There was really only one character that kind of got on my nerves regularly but he was mostly minor and he got a lot of instant karma for it too. I also found it hard to believe that there would be a 17 y/o high school girl working security for a high tech firm as an operative but... it is an anime :P (note this wasn't the main character, most of them are in middle school iirc)
Unique is the word for this show, I'd be hard pressed to really liken this show to another without stretching some thin lines. Which is both sad and amazing at the same time, the show was so very much worth every minute I spent watching it that it seems a pity that there aren't more out there like it, but then that would also detract from what makes it what it is. In any case, I'd be surprised if someone flat out disliked this show since to me this was worth every minute spent on it.
First of all: please don't dismiss this anime purely because it has the tag 'family friendly' applied to it! That would be a real shame, because it's a beautiful story that anybody can enjoy regardless of age.
In the futuristic world of Denno Coil, the internet has become ingrained in reality itself (AKA augmented reality) and can be directly, physically interacted with by using special glasses. These glasses have become a way of life for many people, kids in particular. It's through this technology that the characters of Denno Coil discover friendship, adventure, mystery and even love.
The use of the glasses and this mysterious world that the characters explore is what makes Denno Coil such an engaging anime, as it really does seem possible that similar technology could be implemented in the real world in the near future. But Denno Coil is fortunately much more than an interesting, sci-fi concept; the characters, story and animation are all superb and serve to create a truly unforgettable series.
Without giving too much away, the series is at its heart a coming-of-age tale with a sci-fi twist. A key theme is coming to terms with the death of a loved one, but it's not handled in a silly, syrupy way as is common in loads of anime. Rather, it manages to be both poignant and thought-provoking; quite a feat considering this is billed as a children's anime!
Anyway, I can't be bothered to ramble on but I absolutely loved this series. A wonderfully unique experience and one of the few anime series that I can see myself watching again. Give it a try, you won't regret it.