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.
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.