Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 26
Genre: Sci-Fi / Slice of Life
Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 13 Feb 2017
What if Studio Ghibli made a series like Lain?
It’s the year 2026. The world has two layers: the physical and an augmented cyber layer, which can be seen and interacted with by wearing special glasses. Soon after moving to a new town, sixth-grader Yuko loses her Pet dog, which is not a real dog, but an AI which lives in the cyber layer. As she tries to find her lost Pet, she meets Fumie, another sixth-grader. Fumie offers to help Yuko find her Pet, but at a cost. Yuko doesn’t understand how Fumie wants to be paid as it’s some sort of cyber currency, but she agrees anyway. Fumie is searching for an Illegal AI, and these Illegals seem to be related to a string of recent Pet disappearances. As Yuko joins Fumie on her mission, so too begins her journey into the augmented cyber world and all of its dangers.
It took Dennou Coil a mere four episodes to take its position amongst my all-time favorite anime series. Not bad for a series I knew very little about but had been anticipating for at least five years, if not more. Dennou Coil isn’t quite cyberpunk, but it’s about as close as you can get without the dystopia. Science fiction in a plausible real-world setting is usually a fair bet for me, and Dennou Coil certainly lived up to my expectations.
There are a few other things which made Dennou Coil a series I took to very quickly. Yuko is voiced by Fumiko Orikasa, who is one of my favorite seiyuu. Speaking of characters, I also like the character designs quite a bit. Taking Yuko as an example again, she has a very unremarkable appearance (quite a “normal” looking girl), but it is her simplicity which only adds to her charm. In what seems to be a recurring theme, this is at least the third series I’ve become quite a fan of which has the combination of elementary school children in a slice-of-life series with science-fiction elements – Figure 17 and Noein being two other notables.
I mention Studio Ghibli in the opening to this review, and by that I refer to the “feel” of the series. That said, there were some parts of the series early on which reminded me of My Neighbor Totoro, of all things! The main character Yuko has a four-year-old sister named Kyoko, and their dynamic reminds me of Totoro‘s Satsuki and Mei. There were also small creatures which reminded me of the sootballs. Back to Kyoko for a moment, she is a clever little thing, but still very much a toddler. She goes around calling everything unchi, which will become your new favorite Japanese word, and that will be weird. Look it up, if you dare. Anyway, the comparison to Ghibli also works on a technical level, since Dennou Coil is animated by none other than Madhouse.
Most series of this length go through a change about midway through, as the larger story becomes the focus once the character building is complete. Dennou Coil is no exception, but the way it handles the transition is much more subtle. Often, the transition point is fairly easy to detect with a major event changing the course of the story. Dennou Coil’s change in course is much less obvious. The story does take the expected turn, but it happens so gradually that only once it has made progress in the larger arc do you realize that the laying of the groundwork was finished a while ago. Maybe I’ll see it more on a rewatch, but for my first viewing, it had happened before I realized it. There is also a great thing that the narrative does towards the end of the series which I don’t see too often. Early scenes become familiar in a new context, to give a cryptic clue. There is also an episode which is remarkable at hiding its true purpose until it gets revealed in a most surprising way. The storytelling in Dennou Coil is expertly crafted.
It has been a while since a series pulled me in the way Dennou Coil did. I think A Certain Scientific Railgun was the most recent one to take me completely by surprise like this, until now. While watching Dennou Coil, it felt like I was back in my early days of discovering anime watching Serial Experiments Lain for the first time. Dennou Coil touches on some of the same themes that Lain did nearly ten years earlier, but in a different way.
For as long as I’ve been a fan of anime and with as much as I have seen over the years, I am sometimes unsure if that sense of wonder is still out there in something I haven’t seen yet, waiting for me to find it. With Dennou Coil, I have found it once more, and then some. This is a series which has joined the company of some of my all-time favorites, including Revolutionary Girl Utena, Figure 17, Serial Experiments Lain, and Haibane-Renmei. If you want a perfect blend of science fiction and slice-of-life, Dennou Coil will show you how it’s done.