Dennou Coil is a near-future science fiction series which revolves around a group of children entrenched in the fad of their generation – special glasses which overlay a virtual reality onto the real world. This technology, of course, serves a purpose in the infrastructure of the adult world, but for the children – at first, at least – it is a source of high-tech entertainment. The havoc they cause is cleaned up by the authorities, who monitor the junk floating into the system through the use of automatons which detect and destroy it. The series follows Okonogi Yuuko, a newcomer to Daikoku City, who is familiar with the glasses but not nearly to the extent of the other children of Daikoku. Hence, she becomes our proxy as we try to understand and get a hold on this world. She is quickly recruited by an energetic classmate, Fumie, into the school’s hacker club, and discovers that several others in the school are investigating a certain phenomenon which seems to be connected somehow to her own past as well.
If the latter part of that plot description sounds very vague, it’s because the core plot element of Dennou Coil is very entrenched in the fantasy of its world and thus wouldn’t be easy to communicate outside of that context. It is a mystery series in the sense that the underlying plot revolves around a vague event of the past which is slowly unravelled throughout the course of the series with several twists and turns, misleading assumptions, and cliffhangers. The first half of Dennou Coil is primarily an exercise in world building, and the series dearly needs it – the show is drenched in jargon – for many, to the point of the being excessive. The use of invented terminology is a staple of all sci-fi series, of course, but it is the execution that sets apart the best, and Dennou Coil could have used some more work in that area. In particular, when the second half of the show arrives and plunges the characters into conspiracy and crisis, the jargon feels conspicuous – not necessarily because of its abundance, but more so due to the somewhat monotonous style of exposition that the series uses. Where the series shines, however, is the way that it eventually ties together all of its rule-heavy fantasy elements and conspiracy elements back to a core, identifiable human emotion of loss and regret. The way that the gradually expanding complexity of the plot eventually folds into this simple message and moral is, in my opinion, the most memorable aspect of the series.
The series does come up with an interesting mix of characters along with Yuuko herself – who is the archetype of the “everyman” character for the audience to relate with (though dealing with her own strange secrets). However, there is something of an imbalance in the way the characters are used and developed. The first half of the series makes heavy use of lighter characters such as Fumie and Daichi in the almost slice-of-life episodes, providing them with characterization through their various rivalries and subtle infatuations and endearing them to the audience. The second half switches gears considerably when it begins to focus on the core mystery – abandoning, or significantly reducing the impact of, the characters who are not directly involved in it. This causes the series to lack the resounding satisfaction you get from a series which develops a single core cast extremely well and then plunges them into a climax, as characters like Daichi and Fumie drop off at a certain point – or rather, become less relevant – despite playing a heavy role in the initial impression of the show.
The series has quite an excellent musical score (as well as a lovely ED, Sora no Kakera) and enjoyably realistic character designs. The latter point may be argued by some – the show is often berated for its relatively plain character designs by viewers who are used to colorful characters, but I appreciated it – it helped in painting the characters as convincing children in a modern Japanese city. What is true, though, is that the environments tend to be rather drab – the show doesn’t quite portray the urban world with the level of beauty that, say, Whisper of the Heart was able to, and the cyber world, naturally, is portrayed in a sterile manner.
As far as anime go, Dennou Coil is certainly a unique attempt which stands out among the releases of its year, making it a good candidate for those who are tired of the same formulas. At the same time, I think it is the type of series where your mileage will vary significantly depending on what sort of elements you are willing to forgive in order to experience its finer points. Those who have no stomach for jargon-laden exposition will find it hard to progress through the show, while those who require an emotional connection to the cast may find that certain characters are not developed enough before being thrust into the spotlight (in particular, Amasawa, arguably the second most important character, is a character I hadn’t truly grown to like even as she become the major player of the climax). The core mystery of the series, though, is well-conceived with a satisfying resolution, and if the aforementioned details don’t bother you, Dennou Coil can be a rewarding investment.
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