Sunday, May 3, 2009

Profiles in Awesome: Dennou Coil

Yes, that's right, two posts in one day! In one hour, no less! It's extreme, I know, but sometimes it just has to be done. The circumstances are this: today I finished watching one of the best anime series I have seen, a show called Dennou Coil. My first impression of it was something along the lines of "Miyazaki does cyberpunk": an elementary-school girl and her little sister arrive in a new city, are left to their own devices, follow their strange pet, and end up having mysterious adventures. In other words, My Neighbor Totoro, except that the pet is a (adorably ugly) virtual dog that only exists in cyberspace, which they perceive by means of Shadowrun-style image-link glasses. (Note: while the show merits extensive comparisons to the great Miyazaki Hayao, it's not actually by him, and as far as I know he had no involvement in it.)

On further inspection, if one of its parents is Totoro, the other is the cult classic Serial Experiments Lain. As in Lain, the focus is less on the wonders of modern technology than on its effect on everyday life. Don't let the comparison scare you, though; it's much more accessible and considerably less creepy. And there are no little gray aliens, I promise. (On a side note, Serial Experiments Lain is also an awesome show, ranking up there with Evangelion in emotional impact, brilliant writing, and incomprehensible weirdness.)

The virtual worlds here and the creatures that inhabit them are fully as imaginative and charming as any of Miyazaki's work. As the children adapt to their new home, they various mysterious incidents related to the glasses and cyberspace. Interspersed are occasional self-contained episodes surrounding the fuzzy black animal-like entities called Illegals (which, again, bring to mind soot balls and dust bunnies). The asthetic isn't as smooth and perfectly proportioned as most anime, and is that much better for it, taking full advantage of the cuteness of ugly things. The storyline is compelling, the character design charming, the characterization spot-on, and the rare interludes that don't contribute to the main arc are wonderful in their own right. The basic premise of the glasses is a bit pseudoscience-y, but the writers keep the awkward non-explanations to a minimum, and it makes for such a good story that I had no problem forgiving them. It combines the sense of wonder and adventure of the best kids' movies with a fascinating fully realized near-future world, and neither the cuteness nor the technobabble ever become grating.

Megane-moe aside (sorry, couldn't resist), Dennou Coil is quite simply an amazing show. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either; my research indicates that last year it won the Japanese equivalents of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards (the biggest awards for science fiction writing in the country, in other words). If Lain showed the power of anime to depict abstract, amorphous concepts like cyberspace, Dennou Coil shows its power to connect them to (semi-)ordinary human lives, and tells a great story in the process.


  1. Ah yes, I saw the first episode a while back and thought it looked promising, but never got around to the rest of it. Maybe I should.

  2. Is Dennou Coil related to your two previous post? =P Anywayz, it seems I will have to finish watching it as well as Lain.

    Oh, and Evangelion has to be one of my fav. anime series!