Why Dennou Coil just might be the best anime ever

In the near future, advances in technology have made it possible to create a virtual overlay of the real world, visible to anyone wearing special ‘dennou’ glasses. Unsurprisingly, the glasses are a big hit with children, but for the youth of Daikoku city, the glasses are about more than just sending email and raising virtual pets- they’re more interested in hacking, exploiting bugs and generally testing the limits of the system. But for Yuuko ‘Yasako’ Okonogi and her friends, allies and rivals, tinkering with cyberspace may reveal more than they ever bargained to find.

Everyone has their list of favourite anime, series so memorable that they made it into the gold or platinum tiers, and for the most part, that list is pretty resistant to change- after all, how often does excellence come along? Nonetheless, for all the mediocrity that was to be found elsewhere, 2007 was to have something very special to offer in the form of Dennou Coil- a series that was not aiming to just score a place amongst the favourites, but seemed determined to top them. And with that in mind, anyone who chooses to read on must expect praise and raving all around as we delve into just what makes Dennou Coil so great.

The ever-blurring line between reality and the virtual world had already been explored in the likes of .hack, Lain and GITS, but for all that these series offered tantalising amounts of food for thought, they never really satisfied the appetite. More was needed, and Dennou Coil, a series some ten years in the making, was about to fill that gap. The idea of being able to play around with a virtual overlay of the world sounded like a lot of fun from the outset, and indeed, in the early episodes, it proved to be just that. Swept along by the enthusiasm of our youthful leads, who couldn’t help but enjoy their antics as they tried to out-hack each other, search for patches of Old Space (older versions of the VR world with unique glitches and properties) or investigate the purported computer viruses known as Illegals? Every TV childhood should be filled with adventures and escapades, but here the possibilities were only limited by the imagination.

Enjoyable as it would have been to spend the entire time in the light and happy world of youthful adventures, right from the start it was clear that Dennou Coil had more to offer. Beneath its entertaining veneer of fun and games lurked something more substantial, a darker storyline that promised much right from the start. The blurring of the real and the virtual left viewers with many questions- just how closely linked had the two become? If someone was to lose their virtual body- or perhaps even their real one- what would happen to the part that was left? Just what kind of secrets and mysteries actually lurked in all the discarded and unattended data of Old Space? What exactly were the hidden functions of the glasses popularised by urban legend? Where other series would be content to just raise these questions and leave the viewer to draw their own conclusions, Dennou Coil went that one step further in actually exploring them- and never once did it disappoint with a cop out “and by the way, we’re running out of time so here’s a quick explanation” style answer.

Amidst all of this, one thing was assured- whatever mood it wanted to convey, Dennou Coil was able to succeed in creating the right atmosphere, thanks in no small part to the series’ incredible attention to detail. From the upbeat and whimsical to suspenseful moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film, every aspect of the series was always so distinctive and well presented that it impressed itself indelibly on the mind where other series tend to fade from memory with time. You don’t just watch the characters from a detached, objective viewpoint, you’re there with them, willing them to escape from whatever may be chasing them, or shedding tears with them over the fate of a virtual pet.

No matter how good the story, no series can attain the platinum level of excellence without strong characters, and happily Dennou Coil is well equipped in this area. Where it could so easily have relied on standard character types such as the pure-hearted lead and the sullen anti-heroine, Dennou Coil actually makes some effort to invest its characters with depth and complexity. As the series progresses, further facets of their personalities are revealed- for example, Isako goes from being a cold loner who antagonises others to a far more sympathetic personality with believable reasons for doing what she does. Even though their development is not as great, the other characters are similarly fleshed out- even minor supporting roles get their chance to shine at various points in the series. The overall effect is that of a coming-of-age story, of learning to move on and leave some things behind whilst reaching out to accept new relationships in their place.

On first glance, Dennou Coil does not appear to be the most visually striking series- in fact, in one of my earliest reviews, I went so far as to call the style rather bland, something which I would now like to retract. There may not be the usual run of bright colours that we’ve come to expect from anime, but on close inspection, Dennou Coil is a series packed with technically accomplished visuals, from subdued yet oddly attractive character designs to imaginative special effects that are well presented without ever seeming fake, jarring or out of place. Of especial note are the special ‘encodes’- computer programs that manifest as circular patterns in cyberspace. The complexity of the encode symbols have a style and beauty all their own, far beyond the magical symbols and transmutation symbols that we’ve seen in certain other series.

Dennou Coil also scores highly in the audio department, with an excellent soundtrack that stands out from the crowd by excelling at a number of different styles. From classical style violin pieces to more lightweight themes, the music of Dennou Coil is always effective in setting the mood of a piece, and although I’ve yet to locate a soundtrack, it seems likely that it would also stand well on its own.

Final Thoughts
Dennou Coil is a series that went from strength to strength throughout its run, never disappointing and somehow even making a recap episode worth watching. Abandon your schedules and all your other anime viewing plans, and move it to the top of the list immediately.
Tier: Platinum

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8 Responses to Why Dennou Coil just might be the best anime ever

  1. Hanners says:

    Absolutely no arguments here – While it might not be the ‘best anime ever’, damn is it close. I had a horrible feeling I was going to be left disappointed by the ending (as so often happens with otherwise quality series), but I was very, very wrong. Dennou Coil was a true work of beautifully imagined genius from beginning to end, and it’s one of those shows you can easily watch again and again.

  2. Hige says:

    I’m only ten episodes in and already I can appreciate how fantastic/memorable/everything a-best-of-all-time needs to be. I’m glad it only gets better, too. There’s nothing worse than having built up expectations quashed by tepid, lacklustre conclusions.

  3. Kasumi says:

    This series has some of the best world-building and atmosphere I’ve ever seen in an anime. That said, I was a bit let down by the “emotional development” in the last few episodes, and there was also too much last minute exposition. I think the characters work wonderfully as a group, but are not so strong when examined individually. Still, an excellent series and a definite must watch. It makes my top 30 or so list.

  4. Haruchin says:

    Dennou Coil is definitely up there among my personal favourites. It doesn’t quite manage to knock Haibane Renmei off the top spot, but it makes a damn good try for it.

    I’ve read in a couple of places that people were less pleased with the end of the series than they were with the beginning. I’m not sure I understand this, but have to put it down to personal taste. For my money I like something with a powerful plot and emotional character development, which we got in spades towards the end of the 26 episode run. Perhaps others find it a tad linear? Not a problem as far as I’m concerned – I like things to have a definite point. 🙂

    Liked the depth; the message; the fact that the production team refused to pander to the audience’s desires even at the very end, preferring to stay true to the characters as drawn…

    What are the chances of Dennou Coil getting licensed, do we think? The buzz has been pretty subdued across the internet apart from certain pockets of adoration. It was pretty well emphasised in Japan – when I was lucky enough to be at the World Science Fiction con in Yokohama in August this year, there was an hour panel devoted to it, in the main hall, with all of the production crew including writer, producer and director, and the hall was FULL. This is one I really want to be licensed, if only to get the DVD quality the series deserves, and a professional translation. I still can’t help but feel that I’m missing out on something…

  5. shiNIN says:

    great anime 🙂 I like the art style, the atmosphere, the story, everything. I’m fond of Densuke and the mojos… it was an anime I was able to watch without sub, because I was so interested. I didn’t understand, ofcoz, but it means something…
    I didn’t finished it yet, 1-2 episodes are left (I’ve seen ep25 in raw only). I feel I must rewatch it. it will be different, knowing the full story, the truth about Densuke…etc.

  6. w says:

    Dennou Coil went that one step further in actually exploring them- and never once did it disappoint with a cop out “and by the way, we’re running out of time so here’s a quick explanation” style answer.

    Mmm, speaking as a rabid fan who’s been glued to news about the show since it was announced as being in production, I have to beg to differ – I think one of the biggest flaws of the show was precisely the last-minute explanations. It probably can’t be helped with the episode count and the way it’s set up but I felt that Nekome and Yasako’s dad were doing exactly what you described there…

    But it certainly could have been much, much worse…

  7. Karura says:

    Haruchin: it’s hard to call what is and isn’t going to be licensed these days, what with all “the industry is dying! dying!” panic and some odd decisions from companies (were the likes of Gokujou Seitokai ever going to sell well?). Nonetheless, I absolutely must have Dennou Coil on DVD, so hopefully it will happen.

    w: I do see your point, but for me those elements were introduced early enough to escape the last minute revelation curse. Maybe I’ve just been worn down by series that have an episode 25 that’s nothing to do with the main plot, and then everything magically wrapped up in the last episode.

  8. Martin says:

    The best ever? I’m not sure. It depends on what I’m in the mood to watch at the time really. In terms of what’s best out of the new shows this year I’d say it wins hands-down though.

    The presentation and thought that’s gone on behind it all is outstanding – it’s very sophisticated and meticulously done but not in an obvious way so the myriad of details is probably lost on a lot of viewers at first glance. I can only agree on how it excels at creating a whole new reality…that I think will be the one thing that it’ll be remembered for in the long run, which is no bad thing really.

    The most rewarding thing for me was the characterisation – I was initially sceptical of their young age but their feelings and behaviour have a straightforward and more ‘pure’ quality – teen angst doesn’t quite come into it, but the importance of family and friends is emphasised very well indeed.

    My only criticism was the lack of attention to the supporting characters but that’s rather relative – they all had some screen time and exploration. I guess I appreciated it as much as you did, and am eagerly waiting on a rewatch with the arrival of the western licence and DVD release.

    Above all, not a single scene felt boring or unecessary – I was entertained by every frame, which is a surprisingly rare occurance these days.

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