Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Denno Coil

Every once and awhile I find a gem of an anime that no one has really heard about stateside even though it's very high quality. This usually happens when licensing companies determine that a series wouldn't appeal to an western audience and it gets no promotion outside Japan. Series like this have to build up steam by word of mouth and fansubs before they get licensed. It's a shame since Denno Coil is one of the most intelligent and funny series I've come across. It manages to deal with cyberspace, hacking, and futuristic technology in a very reasonable and realistic manner. Other popular series in the cyberpunk genre like Ghost in the Shell and Serial Experiments Lain often depend too much on techno-bable and overly complex explanations to move their plot forward. Denno Coil on the other hand explores the same concepts, but from the viewpoint of elementary students

This keeps science fiction concepts more believable and easier to comprehend in my opinion. This doesn't mean it's dumbed down for the masses though. It's just when trying to describe a future technology like augmented reality it's better to put it in a familiar setting. I find it very believable that one of the first things corporations did after developing a virtual reality internet was to sell digital pets. It's just the kind of crass commercialism you expect to find in real life and the series pokes fun of this in several episodes. It's also a great setup for the plot which revolves around kids exploring the mystery behind illegal computer viruses that attack virtual pets and can affect the real world. Of course this is also the main reason while distributors haven't yet picked up the series. All the main characters are elementary students and yet the series deals with high end technology and science fiction concepts.

Ratings: 5 categories with 20 points each

Denno Coil has a nice overall plot through the series, but also manages to have several side stories which are hilarious. One in particular about a computer virus that grows on the faces of people it infects made me laugh so hard I almost fell out of my chair. The main story is bit more serious since the "illegals" do attack virtual pets and have been indirectly responsible for several deaths. The ending can't quit live up to the rest of the series, but only detracts a little from the overall story.

Animation and Artwork:18
One of the major things that might put people off of Denno Coil is that the animation seems a bit childish on purpose. This contrasts to most cyberpunk series which often go for an edgy and ultra realistic style like Ghost in the Shell or Ergo Proxy. All of the animation is well done though and it's mostly a matter of opinion. The hacking battles are animated in a very entertaining manner since characters often have to use a combination of gestures, symbols, and virtual keyboards to attack. The obsolete spaces are pretty creepy with their combination of mismatched buildings and white fog that represents data loss.

Characterization: 18
Most of the characters in Denno Coil are portrayed as children and their interests and stories reflect it. However, for the main plot to have a more serious feel to it some of the main characters are portrayed more like adults. Iasako and Haraken both lost loved ones and the series uses that as reasoning for them being more serious. Yasako on the other hand was involved in a bullying incident that caused her to have to change schools. Her character progression closely mirrors a classic coming of age story. Despite being the least powerful "hacker" she is clearly the main protagonist. Her kid sister provides much of the comic relief in the series and reminds me a lot of Fudge from the young adult novel "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing".

Sound and Voice: 17
Denno Coil isn't yet licensed so there are only fansubs available outside Japan at the moment. The original japanese dub is well done though and I didn't notice any one's voice not corresponding to their character or being particularly annoying. The opening theme song works well with the footage of the children exploring obsolete space though I didn't particular care for the song. The soundtrack works well with the series and is mostly compromised of electronic drum pieces for action scenes and soft sounding, dream like pieces for exploring cyberspace.

Originality: 20
Denno Coil wins a lot of originality points by applying the old cyberpunk genre to an elementary school setting. This allows the series to explore the relationship between new technology and younger generations. Adults in the series often don't understand the workings of cyberspace and apply heavy handed tactics like the Searchmaton anti-virus program. The program is powerful, but poorly written and the children are often able to trick or avoid it. The parallels between the world of Denno Coil and the Internet Age are very apparent.

Final Score: 92 Excellent