Den-noh Coil, by Mitsuo Iso, is another one of those series that I wanted to watch for a very long time. By looking up the synopsis of the show and its many concepts involved with it, it felt like a show that was automatically up my alley. Ok, a lot of shows are by this point in my life but I miss shows that have interesting grasps of technology and the supernatural. As a person who doesn’t pirate anime, that meant hoping for it to appear one day. Well it did. Right before The Orbital Children was introduced on Netflix, Den-noh Coil appeared on their service. Netflix mentioned binging it the day before. As good as this show is, I don’t think I could do that.
Mitsuo Iso feels like another one of those people, alongside Satoshi Kon (you know who he is), Chiaka Konaka (Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze, etc), and Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, Etc) who had a complete grasp on future tech and its effects on people. With Den-noh Coil produced in 2007, Mitsuo Iso predicted a lot of the tech that would become so used across the world in the smartphone. In this series, kids and some adults wear Den-Noh glasses to see computer interfaces and call people on them using their hands in a phone-like position. Not to mention the alternate reality they see while searching wearing the glasses which could be like using web browsers and apps on a smartphone. Just kids seeing screens.
With that concept of tech in mind, Den-noh Coil to me is like what if Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Studio Ghibli fused together. Instead of adults fighting cybercrime, it’s elementary school kids, a grandma, and some young adults, searching the streets of Kanazawa City for illegals or mystery beings that could be only seen by those wearing Den-noh glasses. Plus, Den-noh pets exist like the best dog boy, Densuke. This is the world that Yuko Okonogi, or Yasako, meets when she returns to this city with her grandfather’s Den-Noh glasses. She has to learn the ropes of this augmented reality by her new friend Fumie who is a part of the Den-noh Detective Agency run by Yasako’s grandmother.
While the real plot of Den-noh Coil takes to make itself known with the introduction of another yuko with the last name Amasawa, or we could call her Isako, the first half of this series revolves around our kids being kids. They form their own teams to search for kira-bugs (part of the illegals that are like computer bugs) for money, go to festivals, have haunted house scenarios, and just generally have a fun time. The main idea of why Isako keeps to herself or why the soft boy Haraken (or Kenichi) keeps to herself. We also meet the cool motorcycle problem solver, Tamako who is a part of the post office and leads the Searchy systems that clears out the errors/areas where kira-bugs could exist.
So there is a natural tension here that leads to a lot of fun and eventually sad episodic adventures throughout the show. The best part is that you can believe that each of these kids are in elementary school. They are written in very self aware and realistic ways. For instance, the relationship between Daichi (the former head of the hacker club) and Fumie clearly shows they have a crush on each other, but are very antagonistic in such a fun war towards each other. So is the fun “gang wars” between Fumie and Yasako, Isako, and the hacker club that slowly just becomes Fumie and Yasako vs Isako and her hacker club.
The nature of the show changes from its more light hearted and episodic formula of Den-noh Coil goes away as the nature of what the illegals really are come into focus. Or the concept of the other side of the augmented reality our kids see becomes larger as there are literally alternative spaces, or Den-noh spaces, that are alternative pieces of reality. That concept was introduced in the first episode, but it is not focused on until later. These illegals we meet are more than small creatures that kids can collect for money, but can be anything from their own living creatures to well…a picture of a kid’s trauma they can’t let go of.
So that change of focus does come with a lot more techno jargon to make it believable into the world, but the emotions are real and the thoughts are real. There are two kids and one young adult that had their friends disappear into the ether for accidents they think they caused. Those two kids being Haraken and Isako and Tamako trying to stop them. Our point of view from Yasako is her trying her best to help each of them by going much further than any friend could to save them because she is special. I wish the show would have just allowed these concepts to just exist with minimal terminology, but this is a grounded world where everything needs to be explained.
There is also what the second half leaves behind. While Fumie, Daichi, and the other side characters are still around and exist, there is a point where Fumie isn’t important anymore. She just doesn’t get involved in the story at all or her crush on Daichi and vice versa isn’t as focused on anymore. Which is a shame because Fumie is very skilled and just a fun character to have around. There is a very definitive part half way through the show where she is just left out and it’s so sad even if the focus is on other characters’ trauma and she doesn’t have any as far as we know. I guess our cool and innocent kids must stay that way or it could be because the loners are the ones who have a trauma they can’t get over. Either way, it’s sad.
This show really does look amazing though. I know that there are some Studio Ghibli animators in this show and it was produced by Madhouse who were still in their prime in 2007. The character designs are very simple and yet some grounded in the reality they are in. They are that efficient looking cool designs that are distinctive and yet very well intended for animation purposes there too. A lot of running, a lot of alternative worlds and people going in and out of phase, a lot of cool looking creatures and environments, and just a lot of fun there too. Its just a very cool visual feast on a lot of levels that are just amazing. Such an underrated show.
So yeah, Den-noh Coil is an automatic solid rating for me. It is far from flawless in its second half compared to its much more fine tuned and focused first half, but the concepts and ideas presented in that part make up for everything there. Especially since the writing and feelings behind the second half are just as realistically written as the first half. I also laugh at the attempt of parents to take away the Den-noh Glasses from their kids. It’s a lot like seeing adults being upset over kids using smartphones and tablets. It’s a good series that should be watched when in a more positive mindset. Thanks for reading.