The first episode of our Den-noh Coil watchalong with Caitlin, Vrai, and Peter! Let’s dive into the world of augmented reality, well-written kid protagonists, and good techno-pups.
Date Recorded: 9th June 2018
Hosts: Caitlin, Peter, Vrai
0:02:54 First impressions
0:13:51 Daichi’s hair pulling
0:17:08 Isako and bullying
0:20:38 Megabaa and tech savy adults
0:25:30 Autonomous vehicles
0:30:21 Treating the virtual as real
0:34:55 Good adults
0:39:34 Localization and popularity
0:45:08 Emerging technology
CAITLIN: Hello, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Today we’re starting our watchalong of the underappreciated gem, Den-noh Coil. My name’s Caitlin and I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as writer for The Daily Dot, and my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem. I’m joined today by Vrai and Peter. Why don’t you two introduce yourselves?
VRAI: Hey, everyone. I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor at Anime Feminist. I freelance all over the web and write fiction sometimes, too. If you go to my Twitter, @writervrai, and look at my pinned post, you can find a list of everything I do everywhere, and if you wanna listen to the other podcast I cohost, you can find it on Twitter, @trashpod.
PETER: And I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an Associates Features Editor and Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
CAITLIN: Let’s start off with a little bit of background. Den-noh Coil came out in 2007 and was the directorial debut of the animator Mitsuo Iso, who, unfortunately, has not directed anything since, although he does have a new anime coming out sometime next year, which: it’s about time, because this show is amazing.
When it first came out, it was considered to be pioneering in the world of achievable science fiction. The reviewers were predicting that technology would emulate it. It takes place in the near future when augmented reality is becoming the norm in day-to-day life. The heroine, Yuko, also known as “Yasako,” moves to Daikoku City, an experimental town fully integrating the cyber world and the real world, with her family, and falls in with a group of preteen hackers.
At the same time, another Yuko, who they nickname “Isako,” transfers into their class as well, and displays hacking abilities way beyond anything they know or are capable of.
So, I have watched the series already. I watched it a couple years ago before it was licensed. And I was pretty much blown away by it. It is probably just one of the best anime series I’ve ever seen on multiple levels. But you guys are watching it for the first time. So what are your first impressions of these first six episodes?
VRAI: Yeah, sure, I’ll go first. This is a weird experience for me. It’s been a while… I think this is the first time that I’ve been on a watchalong where I didn’t know at least a little bit or had watched a little bit of the show we were doing. And I am coming into this one completely blind, ’cause there were a lot of shows in the mid-to-late 2000s that, because it was before streaming, just kind of fell through the cracks because they were too weird or small to get picked up. So it’s interesting to be watching this completely blind for a change, and deliberately so.
Watching this made me realize that it’s been a long time since I watched a series that was specifically about younger children, which is… Not in a bad way, just it’s an interesting shift. It ended up reminding me a lot of Digimon for these first couple episodes, particularly the movie that was later remade into Summer Wars, which… I like Digimon. ’02 kids are Best Kids, fight me.
And, you know, it’s one of those shows that I don’t know if I’d keep watching it if we weren’t doing a watchalong, because I like it, but it hasn’t really intensely grabbed me yet. I like a lot of the characters. I like the ideas. I’m not super into shows that throw a lot of technobabble at you, although this one, I will admit, is better at it than most. It, for the most part, is fairly naturalistic in weaving in its exposition and worldbuilding, which I really respect.
Also, Isako is clearly terrible and trash and therefore is my child. I have adopted her.
CAITLIN: [laughs] There’s a lot of trash children in this show, but in a realistic way. ‘Cause they’re 12, and 12-year-olds are terrible.
VRAI: I really hate Daichi and Kyoko a lot.
PETER: Kyoko’s the…?
VRAI: The little sister.
PETER: Oh, the one who calls everything “poop?”
VRAI: I know that that is realistic. I have been around children that age, but it’s not fun to watch.
PETER: Yeah, it’s just genuinely annoying. So in that way it’s very accurate. I mean, it’s cute, but I imagine myself in Yasako’s place and I’d probably punch her across the room or something.
VRAI: I mean, Caitlin, you willingly care for children day in and day out. Your perspectives are slightly different.
CAITLIN: I mean, the children I take care of are a little young for that behavior, ’cause they’re two or almost two. So when they say “poop” it generally means that they have to poop. They haven’t found the inherent hilarity of bodily functions.
PETER: That sounds even less appealing to me, to be honest. Yeah, on that note though, especially after you mention it, it’s very William Gibson-esque in the way it portrays technology. In fact, I was getting a flashback to all the hackers and talking about ice and stuff in Count Zero.
CAITLIN: Who is William Gibson?
PETER: He’s this really popular Western sci-fi author. Kind of credited with predicting internet and hacking. I don’t know if I should go that far. A lot of the terms he used in his books ended up being what the actual things were called, just because people had read his books and then invented that same thing. So he had “ice” which is basically kind of like a firewall but more firewalls were created. And that became one of the terms for “firewall,” just because the people who ended up making that concept post-Gibson coming up with it first had read his books and just started calling it things that he’d call it.
So, he’s credited with prognosticating a lot of the technological developments, maybe ten years before they come out, in his books. Really great author. Johnny Mnemonic was one of his books. I don’t know if he’s gotten too many movie adaptations. I liked Johnny Mnemonic, although it’s got pretty mixed reviews.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] All right, yeah.
PETER: William Gibson’s good, is what I was saying. This is a lot cuter than a lot of his stuff. I think I’m pretty much on Vrai right now, where I’m kind of interested and it’s throwing some cool ideas at me, but I can tell they’re slow-burning it and they’re trying to head into something, but they need to lay a lot of groundwork and relationships first. So I’m not super engaged, but I’m kind of interested as to where the series will go.
VRAI: Yeah, as it turns out, I don’t watch a lot of two-cour shows anymore, either, so that’s also a shift in, “Oh, yeah. I remember how these are paced. Okay, okay.”
CAITLIN: I actually prefer the two-cour pacing, because I’m old. [laughs]
VRAI: [jokingly] No! No, you gotta feed it to me right now. All your information and visual symbolism all at once. That worked really well for Yurikuma Arashi.
PETER: Just wanna mainline it.
CAITLIN: Oh god, yeah, right? Yurikuma Arashi, which I couldn’t finish despite loving Ikuhara.
VRAI: I do like that show, but holy God, is it a mess that needed two cours. Anyway! Den-noh Coil.
CAITLIN: So, yeah. I do think they sort of throw a lot at you in these first few episodes, but in a very table-setting way. They want you to get a sense of the world and a sense of the characters and their history, which I really liked about it.
I like that there is… These characters did not just sort of appear into the world at the point where the series starts. The relationships between them is very believable for the age. And just… I mean, the first time I watched it, there were times when I had some trouble keeping up because they do throw a lot of terminology at you, most of which without explaining it, and they kind of expect you to keep up.
VRAI: I do love that kind of context-clue worldbuilding. That’s my shit.
CAITLIN: No, that’s true. I think it is…I think it’s better than super-clumsy exposition. And when they did have exposition in this, it was at points where it felt natural, like, “Okay, Yuko wouldn’t know this. The other characters wouldn’t know this.”
But there are times when it… You know, with the attention deficit disorder it gets a little hard to sometimes fully keep up, because it’s like a, “Oh I spaced out for a little bit too long, and they introduced this concept and I don’t really know what they’re talking about anymore.”
PETER: Yeah, I genuinely prefer them not even bothering to explain over having ten minutes where they explain the specific mechanics in a very—where they just data-dump you. It’s just not fun. It’s not interesting. And you understand it, but why did they do that?
VRAI: You mean that thing that cheap sci-fi anime does, where a character monologues for a really long time while we pan over still shots of scenery?
VRAI: And it all sounds very dramatic and important and really, really boring?
PETER: Yeah, actually, you just described one of the hallmarks of Mamoru Oshii, except that’s usually just “why capitalism is bad.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I mean in Den-noh Coil, it’s all pretty grounded in real-life tech. So most of it is spoofing and firewalls and stuff. It’s not totally unfamiliar concepts.
PETER: I do have a question for you. These rocks that they’re trying to get. The metabugs. Are metabugs blockchain?
VRAI: How dare you.
PETER: I mean, they’re valuable data, right? And you can’t just figure…
VRAI: They do literally mine them at one point.
CAITLIN: I wish… This is the disadvantage to recording without using video, ’cause I just gave my monitor the most withering stare when you said that, Peter.
CAITLIN: It’s interesting, ‘cause it taps into that sense of childhood in a realistic way. Metabugs are functionally useless. They’re just sort of packets of buggy data that are just junk code. But they’re pretty and the children have set a value on them. So they have value in their 12-year-old world. The florist lady, she probably doesn’t give two shits about metabugs. But they’re a system of bartering for them. It’s like Pokemon cards are just little slips of paper, unless you play the game. But most people I knew who collected Pokemon cards didn’t play.
PETER: Literally shiny river rocks or something.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Like gum. They’re these things that are pretty much worthless in the adult world, but in the world of a preteen, they’re a really huge deal.
VRAI: There is something kind of nice about the fact that these kids are… they’re cute, but they’re not “pwecious,” which I don’t see as often as I’d like.
CAITLIN: Yeah. They’re cute but they’re not, like you said, super precious. And they’re not… they’re sort of… They look like 12-year-olds. They move like 12-year-olds. They’re not…
VRAI: Loli fodder?
CAITLIN: [sighs] God, no. Definitely not.
PETER: Definitely didn’t get any of that Made In Abyss-type leery-eye stuff.
VRAI: Yeah. I got to watch this show without being completely terrified that shit was gonna go bad at any second. It was exciting.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, it’s a show about 12-year-olds with absolutely no fanservice whatsoever.
VRAI: The only moment that did make me kind of want to quietly die is when they dip into the pigtail-pulling shit.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah.
PETER: Yeah, with Daichi’s crush?
PETER: Yeah, yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and Yasako’s like, “Oh, you’re very dense, aren’t you, Fumie?” And it’s just like… I like the way the show handles gender relations and so when we were talking about who was going to be on this episode, I was like, “I want someone who was once a 12-year-old boy.”
PETER: [laughs] All right.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Which, Peter, I believe you fit that bill.
PETER: Maybe I’m just unusual. Never pulled a girls’ pigtails. Never.
CAITLIN: No, I mean, I’m not saying you did, but there’s that sort of sense of when they were little kids they were friends, but they hit a point around the start of adolescence where the boys and girls started to pull apart and separate a little bit. Which is, you know, I’m not saying that’s how it has to be, but that is normal for Japanese culture and for our culture as well.
PETER: Oh, yeah. And a lot of the kind of… What do I want to call it? This really toxic groupthink they have where certain ones of them are braver… It’s like you’re constantly having to prove yourself and show a strong face. That was very elementary school. So I think that felt really true-to-life.
CAITLIN: I do think that there was a bit of a sense when Fumie was talking about how Daichi used to be annoying, there was a little bit of a sense of, “Well, boys will be boys!” Which was really annoying.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a shame, ’cause I like Fumie and I really like her friendship with Yasako. I think that’s really nice. And I enjoyed watching them hang out and be dorks together in that way that kids can do when they have a shared interest and that’s all that they need. That’s… I enjoy watching that.
I kind of hope there’s no romance at all in this series even of the awkward preteen kind. I probably won’t get my wish. I never do. But the friendship relationships are so nice, even between the girls and Haraken, who is distinctly marked out as older-looking, and he’s mature because he knows about death and shit.
CAITLIN: I don’t know if I would say he’s mature. I think he’s…
PETER: Sad boy.
CAITLIN: Sad boy. I think he’s depressed.
VRAI: He is deeply… Well, just in that sense that he’s clearly got visual markers of… He looks a little bit taller than the other boys, just acting the same age. He’s got this sad expression and he doesn’t talk much.
PETER: Yeah, it’s the same with Isako as well. They’re both taller and they are more quiet and she’s a bit meaner. But…
VRAI: She’s trash and I love her.
CAITLIN: Isako’s not a nice girl. And I did want to talk a little bit about Isako, specifically. Because I think the show does some really interesting things with her, even starting with these episodes.
When she first transfers into the class, she’s not friendly when the boys approach her. When Daichi approaches her. And their response is to bully her, ’cause how dare this stuck-up girl not want to join their little club? And Yasako’s first impulse is to go, “If you tried being nicer to people,” and she’s like, “Fuck off! I didn’t do anything.”
Which I thought was really interesting for the show to specifically confront, ’cause I think these sorts of bullying situations that you see in anime tend to be more girl-on-girl, so it was good to see a show recognize that, no, boys can be just as vicious and underhanded bullies as girls can be. ‘Cause I feel like in anime, boys always come off better that way.
CAITLIN: It’s always like, “Oh, well, girls can be so cruel.”
VRAI: Not boys though.
CAITLIN: Not boys! And I think that’s sort of a common notion as well in the US, too, that girls are these underhanded, vicious monsters at that age, where boys just sort of wanna… I don’t know what boys want to do at that age.
VRAI: [sarcastically] Well, you know, women do be competing. It’s a known quantity.
CAITLIN: Yeah, she’s not nice, but she also doesn’t just put up with it. She doesn’t try to make up with them. She kinda…
PETER: Destroys them?
CAITLIN: Destroys them. [cracking up] Yeah, she destroys them and then takes them over.
VRAI: Yeah, it does feel like a little bit of an “out” for the show, that basically the way it resolves that plot is she has to be 50 times cooler and better and more competent than everybody else to make the bullying stop. But, also, I appreciate the attempt.
CAITLIN: Yeah, you know, and it’s one of those cases where if each girl was in isolation—if she were the only girl in the series or the only prominent female character—it probably wouldn’t come off as well. But since there are three female characters as the leads, and they all have very different personalities, the variety makes it feel a lot more natural and a lot more acceptable, and they do have fairly naturalistic personalities overall.
VRAI: Yeah, I was thinking about that with Kana, the dead girl, where that would be shitty fridging in just about any anime, but it’s one of those… because there is this wide variety of female characters, it softens the blow a lot.
CAITLIN: You’ve got three generations of female characters. You’ve got Yasako, Isako, Fumie. You’ve got Haraken’s aunt, and you’ve got Megabaa, who’s amazing.
VRAI: She’s very good. I’m about it.
CAITLIN: [laughs] This crazy old hacker woman. Oh my gosh.
VRAI: It’s good.
CAITLIN: She’s like if a Gundam professor were a woman and insane. Well, I guess most Gundam professors are insane.
PETER: She’s pretty notable, too, because it shows that a lot of adults aren’t really tech-savvy. Barely any of them even wear the goggles. And here’s this old lady who’s basically got a side hustle selling hacking tools to children.
CAITLIN: Right, because the technology to them is toys. For adults, it’s kind of utility. It’s something that they’ve been introduced into as an adult, as older… It’s something that they use when they need to. But for kids it’s like an integral part of their lives.
VRAI: Yeah, the scene where they deactivate their glasses is very cute. It’s a very typical scene that manages to be not very “you kids today,” because it’s so well-established that this is integral and part of everyday life, and it’s not a fad that they need to go outside and stop using. Although, I’ll admit I laughed more than once when this whole anime from 2007 is predicated on “In the future, we will all have Google Glass.”
CAITLIN: But at the same time, if Google Glass were better…
VRAI: Not used exclusively by douchebros?
CAITLIN: Yeah. Maybe it wouldn’t have been wrong. And maybe Google Glass was too early, because I could see augmented reality becoming more and more of a thing.
VRAI: I will say: What happens to the people in this world who need corrective eyewear? Are they just out of luck? Is it built into the glasses?
CAITLIN: I would guess so. [laughs]
CAITLIN: I was thinking about that. You know, maybe it’s like Barnaby in Tiger and Bunny where—
VRAI: [laughing] He just squints.
CAITLIN: His suit corrects his vision.
PETER: I got the feeling… Hers actually look like glasses, right? So I dunno if she was given those as a kid. It seems like she actually got them kind of early, she just didn’t make good use of them. Whereas I guess the other kids were in an environment where you get really good at hacking really quickly, whereas she was kind of isolated and didn’t have any reason to figure that kind of stuff out.
VRAI: Well, her scene specifically connected to Densuke, to begin with. Who is a good puppy.
CAITLIN: He’s a good boy. You were very upset, Vrai, when you thought Densuke was not going to make it.
VRAI: [passionately] This entire first episode is about putting a dog in peril! There need to be warnings for that!
CAITLIN: He was… I loved the part where he jumped out and attacked the illegal, ’cause it’s like, “Hell yeah!” You thought this goofy looking dog was just going to be a mascot character, but he’s just fucking up this weird thing that is wrong and seems threatening.
VRAI: It’s amazing. It’s like if that annoying little dog from Kill la Kill was instead awesome and great.
PETER: I did notice that when… I guess that was her grandpa’s pet before, but he seemed afraid of her at first. Kind of in a… I’m wondering if there’s anything more to that. More than just a “this is a stranger” kind of way.
CAITLIN: Yeah. ‘Cause you would think that since he’s virtual, he’s not a real dog, he would be programmed to…
PETER: Be friendly?
CAITLIN: To be friendly.
PETER: Wouldn’t really have anything to be afraid of, barring weird glitches that corrupt his programming.
CAITLIN: Unless they want to give the owner the feeling of, “Oh, I won this dog over!”
PETER: [crosstalk; laughing] “Oh, I saved this dog!” Okay. That would be some next-level stuff but okay.
CAITLIN: Some people like projects.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. Some people like saving people. All right. On that subject actually, I did think it was interesting… We were talking about Haraken’s friend, Kana. She was killed by a vehicle that was on autopilot, which, I was just like, “Wow, that’s super topical watching it today.”
‘Cause I think just a couple weeks ago somebody was hit by… I dunno if it was Google or Uber autonomous car, which has gotten [us] into this debate about how the cars—whether they’re programmed to save the pedestrian or the driver, and just by virtue of the fact that they’re a product that people would wanna buy for themselves, they would have to be designed to prioritize the driver’s life if put into that situation, because who’s gonna buy a car that would prioritize somebody else’s life when you’re inside it?
So I’m sure there’s something else to… All these glitches are gonna have negative effects, which is the whole reason why they have Searchies, so maybe there was some sort of responsibility among all these hacker kids everywhere that might have driven their car off course, or government conspiracy or something, maybe.
VRAI: It’s usually a government conspiracy.
PETER: Yeah, it is a very, I think, on-the-nose concern about handing that much agency over to technology, giving it the ability to control several-ton, fast-moving vehicles that… It’s an impressive look forward at future danger, ’cause, I mean, that’s what’s happening now, right? I don’t think any kids have been hit or anything, but that’s some really good prediction.
VRAI: I mean, that’s always the struggle with sci-fi stories about the dangers of technology is: Can they stick that landing between “technology is a double-edged sword that is also integral to our lives” or “I dunno, we should all just probably go back to living on farms in Smallville. Just not worry about it.”
CAITLIN: Oh, Arjuna. [laughs] We should do an episode about Arjuna. That would be wild.
VRAI: I’ll get mad on air for an hour.
CAITLIN: Anyway. One of the things I like about the show is that it’s not really a dystopia or a utopia. It’s just different. Technology changes the way that the characters interact with the world, and it’s not really for or against anything, and it’s not saying, “Oh, kids these days don’t know how to go out and enjoy themselves because internet.” It’s like they’re just doing things differently.
They still play. They just play with these crazy toys and their play feels… things feel so life-and-death for them, but if you look at it from an adult perspective, it’s not, and I think the show really balances that sort of sense really well.
PETER: It’s very Pokemon GO.
VRAI: Yeah, I was about to say, it’s interesting that the worldbuilding here goes with what looks like a complete virtual overlay of everything, even if it’s exactly the same, rather than doing a Pokemon GO style thing where it’s just the object you’re interacting with against the natural background.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and that sort of… The show doesn’t really do a good job of establishing it, but that sort of… Daikoku City is an experiment with doing that. So, it’s not commonplace everywhere. It’s why Yasako is not immersed in everything when she gets there. It seems to be unique to that city.
And Searchy is so perfect, ’cause Searchy is just a debugging software, right? It’s just city-wide antivirus, and most people don’t think twice about Searchy. Searchy’s a cop, basically. But since the kids have all of these slightly illegal toys, then Searchy is terrifying.
VRAI: Right. It’s like the AR equivalent of, “Oh, shit. I got Napster. They’re gonna find my Limewire.”
PETER: That’s one of the things—I don’t know whether this was intentional or not, but they don’t really… The kids are always scared of Searchy, even though… All of these things, like them firing missiles at each other and stuff ’cause they act like it’s something that could hurt them, but it’s just—it doesn’t exist, right? It’s in this virtual overlay of the city that actually doesn’t interact with the physical world, at least not yet.
So there’s no reason to be afraid of Searchy, because he’s not really there. He can’t touch them or anything. And I think they even establish if they turn their glasses off then it kind of removes their avatar, so Searchy won’t come after them if their glasses are off because none of their stuff’s active, I guess is the idea.
Which means anytime they’re encountered by Searchy they can just remove their glasses, turn them off, and then they’re safe. They can’t see Searchy. Searchy can’t see them. And I don’t know if it’s kind of supposed to be a childlike thing of “they don’t really think that way”… ‘Cause it was kind of a revelation to them when they first tried that when they went in the forest, right? They’re like, “Why don’t we do this? I never even thought of that.”
‘Cause when they were in the bus yard, the whole place… it wasn’t really on fire, but it looked like it was on fire and their avatars were gonna be destroyed. Literally no kid just said, “Why don’t I just turn my glasses off and then I’m safe?”
So, I don’t know how legitimate a strategy that is at all times, or if it’s just they’re kids so they buy into this alternative reality and they don’t really consider it to be separate from their own or not. What is that line actually like?
CAITLIN: Right. Right. Yeah, no. I do think part of it is just that the glasses are so integral for them that the idea of just turning it off is unconscionable to them. You know? I mean, a lot of people will not even leave the room without their phones. The idea of just putting down your phone…
CAITLIN: …and just walking away. Unplugging for like an hour, is just like, “What?” So, yeah. It makes sense to me. And they’re all carrying hacked things that Megabaa made for them.
VRAI: It kind of reminds me of the old Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, except much better introduced, where that whole… a good chunk of that series runs on people looking like they’re in extreme pain every time they take a hit in the children’s card game. Which is kind of what’s going on here.
There’s no real stakes, except that there are, because that’s a lot of money when you’re a kid. And then you’re out of your entire friend group and your parents are probably gonna get mad at you and they might ground you.
So it’s surprisingly good at building up its own internal logic of what the stakes are to make them feel life-or-death without it having to go into this grimdark feeling of “and then these children might die.” Which, you know, you gotta escalate up to that, I presume.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I love that Megabaa sells everything out of the Dagashi shop—which, for context, in case anyone listening doesn’t know, is sort of a cheap kids’ candy store. Where everything is a couple hundred yen.
VRAI: So, a penny-candy store, basically.
CAITLIN: Yeah, a penny-candy store. So it really creates a sense that these things are toys. They’re things for kids to play with. That’s just a different world than what the adults live in. And I just think it’s really cool how they build up that sense of it.
VRAI: It is… I wanna… It stuck out to me because it hadn’t been happening and then it happens once near the end of the run of episodes we watched, where, normally in shows about kids, adults just aren’t there and teenagers are super old. And for the most part, this show just has actual children and actual adults, and then there’s the working woman 17-year-old I guess?
CAITLIN: Did they say how old she’s supposed to be?
VRAI: I thought it said seventeen, because she yells it at Haraken for calling her “obaa-chan.”
PETER: Yeah, she definitely doesn’t like the implication that she’s older, but I mean, that’s pretty anime. What is her name?
VRAI: Yeah, I could have sworn it said she was still a teenager, but…
CAITLIN: Yeah, you know, I think I do… Later on, they show her at school. So, yeah. But they still have their teacher who remains a… Oh, Haraken is Romi Park.
VRAI: Oh, that explains why I instinctively like him.
CAITLIN: [laughs] But anyway, I was saying… Shit, what was I saying?
VRAI: Adults. Adults who are good.
CAITLIN: Yeah, oh yeah. There are adults who are involved. Their teacher is not an incidental character. She sticks around. Daichi’s a little shit to her.
VRAI: I’m sure he will become useful and grow as a person, and right now, God, I want him to die. I hate that character type.
CAITLIN: Yeah. He is… he ties in with the realism, which is unfortunate.
VRAI: Yeah, ’cause all his friends are nice. They’re brattier in a way that’s like, “You’re 12, whatever. That’s a terrible age. But also I don’t hate you.”
CAITLIN: Right. We see a little bit of his family. Everyone makes sense as a character, and it’s not an excuse, but it makes sense. Everything feels very grounded throughout the series.
VRAI: I will admit I’m looking forward to discovering why you picked this show for the podcast beyond the fact that it’s good and it has a lot of interesting female characters.
CAITLIN: I think that was the main part of it.
CAITLIN: No, I mean, and also I don’t think it’s appreciated enough. It doesn’t really have anything major to say about femininity, but I thought it was really cool that there’s this show that has a gender-balanced cast with female main characters and preteen characters who are realistic and not shown in this very fanservice-y way. And there are themes that are applicable to Anime Feminist, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s “feminist” or “not-feminist” themed.
VRAI: [intensely] But is it feminist, Caitlin? What does the checkbox say?
PETER: Yeah, I hadn’t really heard of Den-noh Coil too much, except for I think Natasha mentioned it… Where were we? It was just after the Welcome to the Ballroom panel at AX last year. I think it was because somebody from Den-noh Coil was working on Welcome to the Ballroom. And past that I hadn’t heard too much of it. But just watching it, I kind of getting vague Serial Experiments Lain vibes, except this show is much, much more approachable, so it kind of wants to tackle—
VRAI: [unintelligible due to audio cutting out]
PETER: —the same themes. I think it would probably be a better show to watch if you’re wanting to recommend that kind of thing, because Lain is a really difficult watch unless you’re super into that kind of stuff. It’s kind of… It’s not friendly.
VRAI: “Deliberately obtuse?”
PETER: Yes. That’s a good one.
VRAI: Yes. It certainly is. Oh, it can’t be easy on the show that it’s really hard to find. Because if you google it, the spelling is “Dennou” Coil. But on Hi-Dive, which is where it’s legally streaming right now, you can only find it if you search “Den-noh Coil.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. I don’t know why they decided to romanize it that way, because the cult fandom—it’s definitely not a cult hit, but it has a cult following, and it has always been spelled “Dennou.”
VRAI: Yeah, that’s how its Wikipedia page is currently.
CAITLIN: With the dash. So I dunno why they made that choice. It seemed poorly thought out. But that is what it is.
PETER: What does “Dennou” mean in this case? “Den” is electric-something.
CAITLIN: And “nou” is brain.
PETER: Oh, so it’s “electric brain.” And they always say that in the eyecatches that “coil” means “a group of children” or something. So, “electric brain children group,” or something. So, I feel like it would be one word if that’s the case. So it would be “Denno” or “Dennou.” But instead it’s got this weird dash. I don’t know why.
VRAI: Is this the first time it’s been licensed? Just now?
VRAI: Okay. ‘Cause there’s definitely an interesting thing going on with the subtitles where I thought, “Oh these must be old subtitles. That’s why I’m getting horrifically uncomfortable every time they talk about the glitches called “illegals.””
PETER: Well, it’s been licensed…
CAITLIN: I mean…
PETER: It was kind of in this weird… Maybe it just had a physical release or something. ‘Cause it wasn’t available to stream for a long time.
CAITLIN: It’s licensed by Made in Japan, which is a relatively new licensing studio.
VRAI: The subs are trying so hard to find a balance between using relatable chat-speak that they think will be around for a while, but also to convey these hacker terms while not getting too deep into dating themselves. I admire that effort.
CAITLIN: I don’t… They called Isako a “cryptologist,” but the fansubs—I am not saying fansubs are generally better or more accurate, but sometimes it’s “six of one, half-dozen of the other,” and people tend to prefer the first thing they saw—and the fansubs called her a “coder,” which makes more… I feel like is a more natural translation for the context, but…
VRAI: I suppose it doesn’t sound as mystical, which might be what they were going for, but it certainly conveys intent better.
CAITLIN: About the “illegal” thing. The Japanese is literally just “irigaru [イリガル].”
VRAI: Ah, so it’s just an unfortunate relic of 2007.
CAITLIN: Pretty much. I mean, it is a different context, right? But yeah.
PETER: Oh, I’m looking at Made in Japan. It looks like it’s another Section-23 Sentai holding. Just one of those divisions that has some of the former ADV titles. That’s where Hi-Dive probably got Patlabor, Dominion Tank Police, that kind of thing.
CAITLIN: Yeah. ‘Cause I think with Den-noh Coil, the reason that it never really got a US release before now is in 2007… 2007 was very unfortunate timing for anime to be coming out, ’cause it was just as the bubble was bursting, but it was before streaming.
VRAI: Yeah, that was a rough couple of years. 2007 to 2012 was rough for anime.
CAITLIN: Well, streaming became a thing in 2011, I think?
PETER: Crunchyroll was founded in 2006. So…
VRAI: I know what I said.
CAITLIN: Well, yeah, but it was a fansub site for a while.
PETER: Yeah, it was founded as a legitimate company with licensing. So, I mean, there is a gap in time between when a company starts and when it takes off. I dunno… I joined way later so I dunno what the viewership numbers looked like during that period. So even if there were legitimate streaming options available, and there definitely were in 2006, it might not have become a recognized way of getting access to anime at that point.
CAITLIN: Right. Well, okay, so here’s my metric. I lived in Japan from October 2010 to May 2012. And it is somewhere in that period where the streaming revolution really started to pick up, because, when I left, fansubs were the norm. When I came back, everything was streaming. Well, not everything. But it was when streaming was sort of becoming expected for the new series coming out.
VRAI: And it was still… It must have been 2011, because I remember Tiger and Bunny streamed on one-week delay.
CAITLIN: Right, on Hulu. Which I think was a relatively new idea. I think that was a really early simulcast.
VRAI: Yes, it was, and it gave me feelings. Really painful feelings. Anyway!
CAITLIN: Someday we’ll do that Tiger and Bunny episode.
VRAI: [whispering] Someday, my children!
But, yes, I mean, I do think all that talk is relevant. This is so much a series about technology and the conveyance thereof and communication and whatnot, and how the changing norms, like you mentioned, between generations… You know, it’s a remarkable thing when the florist has a pair of glasses, as if it’s this huge gulf that defacto isolates our protagonists, despite the fact that there are adult support structures around them. They’re not really in heinous danger, but they are, still, in that fantasy way, in their own world.
PETER: You do get a big… I think one of the things that I noticed most about the series is it really sold this sense of cultural transition. Because they even establish that Daikoku City is kind of a testing ground for this new technology, right?
And then the Searchies are… They said it’s under the jurisdiction of the postal service, I guess, which is why they can’t go into shrines or schools or, I mean, obviously, private homes. But that means there’s still a lot of bureaucratic mechanisms that are getting in the way of the system being efficiently run.
And then there’s the adults who haven’t quite, or will maybe never, accept this new technology, and there’s all these glitches and problems with the system that they’re sort of bringing in, that they serve plot purposes but you can also see how they are problems with the system that probably never were predicted, and they’re still being ironed out.
So, you get the sense that this really is a beta ground for something that might be used everywhere one day, and there’s a still a lot of issues they’re trying to iron out, and try to figure out how all the different government mechanisms can work together and agree upon this, so Searchies could make sure that school systems aren’t broken or anything like that. So I think that it… You do feel like they’re on the precipice of this big change in the way the world works, and this is kind of the very messy beginnings of this kind of technology.
CAITLIN: My one quibble with the realism that they create a sense of in the show is: why are all the colors so muted?
PETER: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: Everything has this kind of tan-ish filter, and you would think in a children’s series about children playing with basically these technologically advanced toys, feeling like everything is larger-than-life and life-or-death, you’d think the colors would be so much brighter.
VRAI: Yeah, I’ll be honest. The… I mean, I like the writing so far. The designs are fine. They’re functional. And some of them are neat, which I assume we’ll see more of later. But as far as the actual direction, shot composition, and chosen color scheme, it’s fine. The only scene that felt exceptionally lively and like it really took advantage of the possibilities was the missile scene, where Isako is being chased.
CAITLIN: Right. And I believe as we get more into everything, things will start becoming more alive and more visually dynamic. But yeah. You would think things would look more vibrant, ’cause real life is colorful.
PETER: Yeah. It’s very World War II kind of grey color palette. And, yeah, after watching Summer Wars, I was expecting stuff to be hyper-psychedelically colored, especially when it’s all these hacky programs made by kids who have no aesthetic taste built up yet. Everything would probably look garish. But it’s all very mundane-looking and sticking with the real-life, very bled-out color palette that they’re using.
VRAI: Yeah, and I mean, there are definitely some nascent themes going on here about reality and technology interacting. In that scene where Isako is really worried about a glitch breaking down in “real space,” or that scene where Kyoko puts her plate on top of Densuke’s head and it stays there. I’m sure they’re going to build out on that later, but for now…
CAITLIN: It might have been virtual play-doh.
VRAI: We just don’t know. We just don’t know.
PETER: [cracking up] Was the play-doh real? That’s the big question we’re hoping to answer by the end.
VRAI: Did the play-doh fall over?
PETER: Did it fall right through him onto the floor, but she thought it was on his head? Big questions.
CAITLIN: There’s just one thing that I’ve been wanting to point out and I never managed to segue into it. Just that I’m so happy about the lack of fanservice, the lack of sexualization of these children.
VRAI: It’s great. A low bar.
PETER: What a great low bar to clear.
CAITLIN: [laughs] At this age, the way they’re drawn is realistic. There’s this sense that these girls are at the very, very cusp of starting puberty. They’re bigger than the boys. They’re not like, “Hi, I’m 12 and I have a perfectly hourglass figure.” I mean, there are girls who get boobs early, but, you know, not like in anime they do. Right?
VRAI: Right. But they’re also not like Kanna in Dragon Maid where I need the camera to stop focusing on her thighs every time she sits down.
CAITLIN: Right. There’s no Absolute Territory going on. They’re not wearing thigh-high stockings.
PETER: Yep. It’s also not putting them in positions where they’re compromised like that. I think Made in Abyss is actually a really good comparison, because I wouldn’t say Made in Abyss has sexualized character designs. They both have very built-out, deliberate worlds they’re trying to create. But Made in Abyss just consistently puts its characters into situations…
VRAI: Yeah, I’m not waiting to hear that the author of Den-noh Coil has been arrested in a couple years.
CAITLIN: No one wets their pants!
PETER: Yeah, that’s great.
CAITLIN: God. Oh, Made in Abyss. Anyway, there’s one shot where Isako is supposed to look alluring and that is strictly from Daichi’s point of view.
PETER: Just drinking a soda.
CAITLIN: Yeah, she’s drinking a soda. The boys seem to regard the girls with this mix of scorn and terror, which I am told is very real for boys that age. Peter, how do you feel about that?
PETER: Scorn and terror. [laughs] I dunno if that’s my personal experience, but I guess I wouldn’t be surprised, based on some of my elementary school interactions that I remember.
CAITLIN: I mean, I definitely felt a lot of scorn for boys at that age. [laughs] So, is there anything else that you really liked or disliked about the show that you wanna go into?
VRAI: I’m excited to see where it goes from here. This is the kind of show where I’m usually just hanging out, waiting for the second cour where it’s done establishing its relevant themes and it can play with them. So, interesting to see what they choose as the episode 13 mini-climax.
CAITLIN: Oh, you know, episode 13 is… You’ll get there when you get there.
PETER: Beach episode.
VRAI: [sarcastically] Oh, that’s a good sign. That’s a… Thank you for that.
CAITLIN: No, episode 13 is considered one of the show’s best episodes. I’ll leave you with that. Do you guys have any predictions for what’s coming up?
PETER: Predictions? Is this just something we can lord up later if we were totally right?
PETER: Okay. I’m gonna say… My prediction, just so I can lord it up if I’m right, is that they’re all actually in a virtual world. Let’s go with that one.
VRAI: What a twist.
PETER: As far as what I’m really hoping for, I think I’m pretty much with Vrai on this one. With a 24-episode series, you know you’re gonna hit… It’s gonna be a lot of establishing the setting, kind of some lazier episodes, and then the big turn going into the second cour where the show gets serious about what it’s doing. So I’m curious… The show’s done a really good job of building up a very convincing world, and I kind of want to just know what its plans are. Which I hope we get to.
VRAI: I’m hoping… I mean, I know I’ve been spoiled by Satoshi Kon, but I’m kinda hoping the second half gets a little trippy. Also, while we’re just throwing out guesses, Isako is working for Haraken’s sister. That’s who she was talking to on the phone.
PETER: Hmm. Oh, okay, you mean his aunt?
VRAI: Aunt, yeah, there we go.
PETER: That motorcycle girl. Tamako.
CAITLIN: All right. Just real quick. Real quick. I wanna go over the mysteries that have been brought up in these six episodes. There is Isako’s hacking ability. There is Kanna. There is 4423.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. I wrote that down.
CAITLIN: [sighs] What else is there?
PETER: Isako is the Edward Elric of hacking, isn’t she?
VRAI: I mean, she has a weird, bleeding eye, so… It’s not actually bleeding, but…
PETER: No hands.
CAITLIN: Will Miss Maiko ever get married?
PETER: Oh, God.
VRAI: Okay, let’s… What if we dropped that and never spoke about it again? That would be amazing.
CAITLIN: No, it’s really just Daichi being shitty. I’ll tell you that one, by the way.
CAITLIN: It’s just Daichi being a shitty teenage boy. Being like, “Oh, well, why aren’t you married yet?” And repeating this macho, “Oh, if a woman of Miss Maiko’s age is working and not married then that must be what she’s after.”
What else? Are there any other mysteries? They set up a lot.
VRAI: Why illegals are jumping into pets?
CAITLIN: Ah, yes, and the whole “illegal” thing, i.e. one of the major plot points.
PETER: Yeah. Isako, specifically, seems to be after some weird, illegal code for unknown reason.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Isako’s whole thing… Her whole thing is a mystery. What the fuck is her deal? ‘Cause she’s got a deal, for sure.
So, I think that wraps up the episode.
VRAI: Think so. So, next time, we’re watching seven to thirteen, right?
CAITLIN: Yep, next time we’ll be watching episodes seven to thirteen, which will take us halfway through the series.
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VRAI: And remember to spay and neuter your digital pets, everyone.