Part 2 of the 4-part watchalong of Den-noh Coil with Caitlin, Vrai, and Peter! They get existential over AI, groan over pigtail pulling, and shed a few tears over techno-dinos.
Date Recorded: 24th June 2018
Hosts: Caitlin, Peter, Vrai
0:01:03 General thoughts
0:05:30 Coil detective agency
0:14:23 Summer festival
0:19:58 Battle of the sexes
0:34:28 Kana’s diary
0:41:12 Daichi gets a pet fish
0:42:32 Everyone grows beards
0:50:09 The last plesiosaur
1:03:37 Final thoughts
CAITLIN: Hello, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Today is the second episode of our watchalong of the underappreciated gem, Den-noh Coil. My name is Caitlin, and I am a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as writing for The Daily Dot, and my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem. I’m joined today by Vrai and Peter.
VRAI: Hi, I’m Vrai. I’m an editor for Anime Feminist. I also freelance all over the internet. You can find me on Twitter, @writervrai, and if you check out my pinned tweet, it has a whole bunch of information about where you can read my stuff. You can also listen to my other podcast that I cohost, @trashpod.
PETER: And I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an Associate Features Editor at Crunchyroll, and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
CAITLIN: All right. So, today we are looking at episodes seven to 13, up to the halfway point. And I just wanted to first check in and see if you guys have any general thoughts so far about this segment of episodes.
VRAI: I think I’m old now? ‘Cause I know exactly how these kinds of series work, and I’m pretty sure I said it in the last episode that, when you have a two-cour series like this that clearly has a lot of emphasis on worldbuilding and mysteries that, probably, by the end of the first cour, it’ll introduce something really interesting and then spend most of the second cour interrogating that idea.
Which is exactly what this series of episodes did, and yet, at the same time, I know that if I weren’t watching this show for the podcast, I’d have dropped it within the first six episodes, because I’m old and tired and shows take a long time to watch.
CAITLIN: [laughs] It’s true.
VRAI: That being said, I did like… I liked the last two or three episodes of this run a lot.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. Those last two or three episodes are honestly some of my favorite episodes in anime ever made.
PETER: I did think it was a bit strange… Keeping with your kind of recipe for how these shows usually go—which I totally agree that’s how 24-episode series basically always play out—this one kind of introduced the thing with Kanna’s diary, and then just went back to the daily life of hacking kids for the next three episodes.
I’m not sure how I feel about that, ’cause it kind of introduced… that was the twist or the big moment, and then it went back to slice-of-life worldbuilding, as opposed to waiting a couple more episodes then transitioning to the second-half, which would mostly be plot-related stuff, I guess.
VRAI: I mean, it seems… I think I can see what they’re doing with it, because clearly there is some kind of stuff with death and loss and digital spaces as the ability to hold onto things in the same way that, sometimes, you come across a deceased person’s Facebook and it’s really creepy.
So, clearly there’s stuff going on with Kanna’s digital footprint, and Michiko, and Isako’s dead brother, and all of that stuff, but it’s not… That’s clearly all second-cour stuff, whereas this is… It’s probably all going to tie into the overarching theme of this idea–digital sentience–that most of the first cour spends its time thinking about. So, I think I get it.
CAITLIN: Right, and I think it’s kind of a slow burn.
VRAI: It is a very slow burn.
CAITLIN: I mean, it is. Not “kind of.” It is a slow burn, but they do drop, for example, the Test of Courage episode, talking about Miss Michiko. Miss Michiko is actually very important to the show.
VRAI: Yes, it’s been very confusing for me, ’cause I just came off of the Michiko and Hatchin watchalong.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Yes, that is that Michiko.
PETER: All the kids are big Sayo Yamamoto fans.
VRAI: I think they might be a little young for that.
CAITLIN: I think in a few years, Fumie would be really into Sayo Yamamoto.
CAITLIN: Isako. Isako, too.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Isako in six years would be a really good Sayo Yamamoto heroine, I think.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, I would watch that.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Oh God. Sayo Yamamoto Den-noh Coil.
VRAI: I… Of the many things Yamamoto is good at, she’s not very interested in writing about children. The kids in her show are always the least interesting part.
CAITLIN: That’s true.
PETER: So, Hatchin’s kind of a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
CAITLIN: But even the stuff that does not directly affect the plot has thematic resonance. I’ll be real here. There’s some foreshadowing going on.
VRAI: You don’t say.
PETER: Oh yeah?
CAITLIN: Yeah, no. Anyway, let’s talk about… This is a relatively episodic stretch, so it kind of makes sense to go through it episode by episode. So, the first episode we watched for this, episode seven, was The Coil Detective Agency, where Isako sets up an elaborate trap to try to get an illegal, and ends up trapped in a room with Yasako while Kyoko runs around not noticing that they need help.
CAITLIN: I know you don’t like Kyoko, Vrai. She’s a very real fictional six-year-old.
VRAI: I believe that entirely.
CAITLIN: And I think maybe the difference between you and me is that I like six-year-olds.
VRAI: Let’s not make it a part of canonical podcast law that I hate children. [laughs] I’m not very good with kids. They kind of wear me out.
VRAI: I do like Kyoko a lot—I find her a lot more endearing when she’s hanging around with Daichi and they have similar energy levels.
CAITLIN: They play off each other well.
VRAI: That’s much easier to watch.
CAITLIN: And plus there’s not that sisterly note with Yasako, where Yasako sees her as annoying. Whereas Daichi is just this weird little kid who is hanging around him but he doesn’t seem as irritated by her.
VRAI: Yeah, it is an excellent way of taking two characters I don’t like very much on their own and making them a lot more interesting.
CAITLIN: Yes, this was a really good stretch of episodes for Daichi and Kyoko. But yeah. The meat of this episode was Isako and Yasako being trapped together, especially since they don’t really interact very much for the next stretch of episodes.
VRAI: Yeah, Isako doesn’t show up very much, all-told, except for two or three important scenes. She’s kind of just hanging out.
CAITLIN: Just hanging out on the sidelines. Well, because everyone’s farting around and she doesn’t fart around. And they’re on summer vacation, so they’re not thrown together as much, and she’s not really the type to call them up and be like, “Hey, guys, let’s hang out and I’ll boss you around.” Right?
VRAI: Only because it’s too much effort.
CAITLIN: Yeah. That would involve initiating contact with other people. But I think Isako and Yasako have a very interesting dynamic, where Isako is… It’s a very obvious “two opposites” sort of thing, but Isako is really cynical and Yasako is very optimistic. And you’re getting a sense that they can both kind of see through each other. You know what I mean?
VRAI: Yeah, yeah. I enjoy… I like watching them play off of each other.
CAITLIN: And when they’re stuck together, they can sort of make it work.
PETER: Well, they didn’t kill each other, so…
CAITLIN: They did not kill each other. It’s true. And it was…[ laughs] Yasako trying to pose so that Isako could access the online and be just a human antenna…
VRAI: That scene was much more interesting to me than literally every other crush scene in this set of episodes, where I quietly died.
PETER: The Daichi stuff?
VRAI: [angrily whispers] Yes.
PETER: That’s a little annoying.
VRAI: I say “mostly,” because they had that goofy one-off that means exactly nothing where Isako is being practical and Yasako is being a 12-year-old with hormones who feels weird about strangers fussing with her arms and stuff. But, in reality, I do think it’s an interesting dynamic, because Isako is a very bossy person and Yasako is a very go-with-the-flow kind of person, but that isn’t the way… they don’t fall into the natural, expected dynamic. Where instead Yasako is a little more forthright and willing to be pushy.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and she’s just aggressively like, “Hey. Friends are good. Don’t you think friends are good?”
VRAI: It’s super cheesy but it’s sweet.
CAITLIN: “It’s not nice being all alone,” and Isako’s just like, “Hey. How about you shut the fuck up because I know that you’ve got some shit you’re trying to overcompensate for.”
VRAI: Yeah, that’s… I had almost forgotten about that. I assume that we’ll be coming back to that as well, since there’s a lot of big, heavy, foreshadow-y flashback stuff.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yep. Stuff behind the Torii gates.
VRAI: Probably safe to go ahead and call it. 4423 is also Isako’s dead brother.
CAITLIN: Interesting prediction.
VRAI: Just gonna throw that out there now because of conservation of narrative detail.
PETER: Yeah, they’re certainly not letting us forget it, so…
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, plus, Isako, she puts on a front of “Oh, I don’t care about anyone,” but she really stepped up when Kyoko was in danger, right?
VRAI: Oh, that was a good scene, and I liked it.
PETER: And she seemed sad when—what’s the kid’s name? Kanako.
PETER: Kyoko? Yeah. When she ran to her sister afterward.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think this show is really good about giving its characters some complexity without being really heavy-handed with it.
VRAI: And, I mean, she’s definitely that, “Oh, I really do wanna have friends but the plot and also my own hangups demand that I be an asshole.” But she’s not really loathsome about it. She’s not a Sasuke.
CAITLIN: No, she… She comes across as someone who is an emotionally damaged 11-year-old, ’cause 11-year-olds are not nice, right?
VRAI: Yeah, no, kids are terrible.
CAITLIN: Eleven is about when kids are kind of… is an age, one of many ages, where kids are kind of jerks. It is not an age where they tend to be super empathetic to each other.
PETER: Well, has the plot demanded that she work alone or not let other people help her? ‘Cause I think Yasako basically said, “It seems like we’re doing similar things. If you have a good reason for doing what you’re doing, I’d help you out.” And in fact they are pretty much… Well, we don’t really know what Isako’s doing yet, but it probably involves a dead brother, and they’re researching that guy’s dead friend—Haraken’s dead friend.
VRAI: I mean, in the basic sense that if Isako wasn’t so aggressively opposed to people helping her on things that require secrecy for the plot to move, then there would be no plot secrets, yes. But…
CAITLIN: It also seems to be who she is, right? It’s not just the plot demands it, but she is not a person who works with other people.
VRAI: Yeah, no. It doesn’t feel contrived.
CAITLIN: There’s no yelling at the screen, like, [strained] “If you would just. Work. Together. Then you could—!” It doesn’t feel that way. It feels organic and part of who she is. It’s very well-crafted that way.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah. There’s a whiff of some parental abandonment issues there too. She visits her uncle.
CAITLIN: Was that in this episode or is that a little bit further forward? That’s a little bit later I think.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s after Kanna’s diary, I think.
VRAI: Later, I think.
CAITLIN: Okay. All right. So let’s talk about the summer festival.
VRAI: It’s a good episode. It’s just a kind of plot that I hate. ‘Cause they’re kids and it’s fine and they’re trying and it doesn’t feel super contrived in the way a lot of romance school plots do, but also I’m just dying inside, because I don’t enjoy those kind of stories.
CAITLIN: Those het preteen crushes?
VRAI: Yeah, preteen stuff feels so… I understand why these narratives work, because your emotions are big and it feels big and so much of that is what works for the show, but with romance in particular, it is…
The way that it’s played as world-endingly huge, as if it actually is and all of these things are real and true and definitely these kids will end up together, usually with the implication that they’ll be together forever as opposed to this being a big, huge emotion ’cause you’re kids and emotions are big at that age, it… It tends to tire me out. Specifically that whole “and now you’ll be together forever because you’re childhood friends.”
PETER: Yeah, I haven’t particularly saw the charm in the whole “boy picks on the girl because he likes her” thing. I think a lot of people think that’s cute.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no. I mean, no. It’s not a good thing.
VRAI: I can see why you wouldn’t mind this, because I know that Fumie and Daichi have that kind of dynamic that you really enjoy, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: No, it’s not about that. [laughs]
VRAI: No, no, I… I’m saying. I know you, and I know you like those kinds of playfully-aggressive-matched-equals kinds of dynamics. And I will give it to it, that that moment where Daichi really wants to say that he likes her and he says something stupid instead, that felt really earned and real in a way that I think was well-written
CAITLIN: Well, and I… The thing that I think is really interesting and enjoyable about this is it’s not just that Daichi likes Fumie, but also I think he misses being friends with her, right? Those two…They’re so similar.
PETER: And at least he’s canonically emotionally constipated too. So it’s not like, “This is just how boys are.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. We saw his dad a couple episodes later, right? We start to get a sense of how he became who he is.
VRAI: Yeah, this tracks.
PETER: What’s up with dads walking around their houses naked in this show, by the way? Literally the second dad introduction… I think the first scene every dad gets is the kid being pissed off ’cause he’s just walking around naked.
CAITLIN: [laughs] I didn’t notice the pattern, but…
PETER: Let’s see if it holds for future parents.
CAITLIN: I didn’t think of that.
VRAI: And… With Yasako and Haraken, it’s very: [muted] “Mm, okay. Fine. Fine.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, that one’s just sort of like, “Yeah, okay.” The Yasako and Haraken one is not super interesting to me, but with Daichi and Fumie… And it’s not like this, “Oh, I ship it. Oh, this is my OTP.”
CAITLIN: They’re, like I’ve said before, at the age where there starts to be pressure for boys and girls to kind of separate socially, because they’re being socialized so differently. And we don’t know what Fumie’s family life is like, other than that she doesn’t get along very well with her brother, and it seems like she’s under a lot of pressure to study.
PETER: She also seems very driven, so I think the studying might just be her wanting to succeed too.
CAITLIN: That could be it, too. But… So, it’s not necessarily just a crush thing, but also that they’re starting to separate just ’cause that’s what’s expected of boys and girls at that age.
And Daichi is kind of an asshole and he feels probably like, “This is how I’m supposed to act towards a girl now,” and not necessarily initiated by him liking her but him realizing… seeing her as a girl and becoming interested in girls and it’s complicated.
And this is all stuff that I’ve thought about with the character and sort of built up and guessed at, because my sense in the episode wasn’t just that he liked her, but also that he missed getting along with her, and he missed being friends with her. Because they get along really well when he’s not being a brat.
PETER: When he’s not being himself.
VRAI: I mean, I think the roots of all that are there to pick up on and expand and headcanon on. I think that’s fair and I think, like I said, there are moments where the writing is really strong. I think it gets bogged down a little bit in the tropey-ness now and then, which is kind of where it stumbles. ‘Cause it feels like it has to play into the pigtail-pulling stuff.
CAITLIN: Right. No, that’s fair. That’s fair. And that sort of brings us over to the summer camp episode, also known as what I like to call “the battle of the sexes.”
VRAI: One of the less-obnoxious “battle of the sexes” episodes that I’ve seen.
PETER: Haraken’s on the girls’ team though, right?
CAITLIN: Right. I mean, it’s low-key “battle of the sexes,” right? That’s sort of the… ‘Cause Haraken did not get caught up in the whole—he’s not the kind of personality where he gets caught up in the whole “Oh, picking on girls” phase. “Girls are dumb.”
VRAI: What with the soul-crushing grief and all.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Yeah, no, that’s true. I have worked with children like Daichi, and they are… And I have been very empathetic to Daichi when discussing this episode, but as a teacher—as a teacher—they are the worst.
PETER: You mean the teacher that gets drunk and then goes along for the…
CAITLIN: Well, I mean, yes. From the perspective… I’ve had kids like Daichi in my class, where everything you say, they have some sort of smart, foul-mouth remark to respond with and there’s [frustrated] nothing you can do ’cause you can’t sink down to their level and there’s really only so much you can do if they don’t give a shit, right?
VRAI: Yeah. And they’re probably gonna turn out fine, hopefully, but right now, just, God, please stop.
CAITLIN: And they are usually, like Daichi, the product of an environment of “boys will be boys,” toxic masculinity. They’re actually often fairly troubled kids in their home life in some way, but they are still… Sometimes you just wanna strangle ’em. Ugh. [laughs] He is a very realistically written child, and I feel like we’re talking a lot about Daichi in these, but I feel like this stretch of episodes does spend a lot of time on him.
VRAI: Yeah, pretty much. And as far as the male characters go, I mean, Denpa is best boy.
CAITLIN: Ah, Denpa is such a good boy.
VRAI: He’s a good boy. And Haraken is the kind of character that I just know if I was the intended age for this show, I would have been super into.
VRAI: Hashtag Goals. To be completely scarred by tragedy and seem deep.
PETER: This is a big arc for Daichi because he loses control of his… He was the leader of the antagonists, but then Isako, I think she takes that from him after he fails, and then Kanna’s diary episode. And then after that it tries to—I mean, it does a little bit—the reason he failed was because you see a bit of his more human side and then it spends the next couple episodes trying to further humanize him so he can end up working with them later on in the series’ second half.
VRAI: Yeah, I mean, even in just these episodes, he’s working… He calms down a fair bit in this second half of this stretch. He has some shit, what with the goldfish and all.
PETER: Right. When it gets to a stronger personality, you see him fold. When the bigger villain in Isako arrives, he folds like a chair. And even—God, why do I keep forgetting her name? Kyoko. Even when she shows up and basically just calls him poop and won’t leave when he tells her to—
PETER: –he just doesn’t know what to do.
CAITLIN: He’s just not as tough as he wishes—as he thinks he is or wishes he were.
PETER: Yeah. That’s how he socializes, so he can’t deal with Kyoko because she’s better at what he does than he is.
CAITLIN: But yeah. This episode doesn’t really deal in sort of… Even though it is ostensibly [a] “boys versus girls” thing, Haraken is with the girls. He’s just sort of—he doesn’t care about all that rivalry shit. He just wants to figure out what happened to Kanna, right? He’s so… He’s not caught up in that bullshit, so he’s just sort of with them as the default.
VRAI: Yeah, and because his characterization right now is so incredibly tied to Kanna, he’s a little bit of a cipher right now. He’s sad and he’s driven and he hasn’t let Yasako and therefore the audience have much glimpse into any of his other personality traits. Which is, you know, fine, and there’s a reason to write it that way for narrative reasons, but it also doesn’t make him very interesting right now.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Although, I thought it was really funny when he was going over the quote-unquote “real story of Miss Michiko”—
VRAI: [crosstalk] That was—I felt—
CAITLIN: He’s like, “What? What’s so scary? That’s just how the story goes.”
VRAI: I felt for that boy so hard in that moment. Why does nobody want to listen to me detail the various horrible similarities between horror movies? This is very interesting. I felt for that boy.
CAITLIN: [laughs] And, you know, it’s not… It doesn’t have, “Oh the girls are getting scared while the boys tell the scary stories.” Everyone flips at the actual more terrifying one. It doesn’t fall into… And this is what I think is really interesting about Den-noh Coil from this perspective, is the gender dynamics and specifically the adolescent gender dynamics.
‘Cause that is sort of an interesting and evolving time for that to be happening as opposed to when you’re 16 or 20 or whatever. Things are changing when you’re an adolescent because hormones and all that shit. [laughs]
VRAI: And Daichi’s character in particular is interesting in a vacuum, because theoretically, you see him struggling against this idea that you can’t be this kind of stubborn, loudmouth childish jerk forever and eventually you have to grow up and actually communicate with other people. Of course, then when you put that in context with real life, it gets depressing really fast because a lot of men like that never, ever grow up, and continue to be horrible and expect the world, and particularly women, to accommodate them.
VRAI: But in a vacuum, it’s an interesting thing that I like what they’re doing with it.
CAITLIN: Poor Aiko is just there, trying to wingwoman for her friends. And I really like how the show uses urban legend, because, “Oh, it’s summer. Summer is the time to tell ghost stories. So we’re gonna tell these urban legends to each other.” But the urban legends are actually important ’cause they have to do with the shifting boundaries of reality that are sort of starting to come into play with the plot.
VRAI: Yeah. One of the things I felt really hard during this stretch of episodes that really came into its own is the idea of the digital space having no history… The conversation about how old e-spaces are disappearing and being written over and constantly updated for ideal interface, which is crowding out all of this history and these useful things, which is definitely applicable to how we use the internet now.
There are fandom things that I remember that were once really impactful in how things work now that just… there wasn’t a history of them because it wasn’t considered important. So that shit just is gone from the cultural consciousness.
CAITLIN: Right, like the review site where I met some people who are incredibly important people to me when I was in college—Anime Academy, not the Crunchyroll video series. Peter, you stole that name.
PETER: [mumbling] I didn’t help with the name at all…
CAITLIN: You didn’t pick the name?
PETER: I just wrote the episodes. I wouldn’t do you like that.
CAITLIN: You just wrote the episodes. Well, whoever named it stole that name.
CAITLIN: Stole that name. But it’s gone. It’s gone.
VRAI: Yeah, Angelfire and Geocities? Gone. So many.
PETER: Have you tried the Wayback Machine?
CAITLIN: I mean, yeah.
PETER: Shoutout to Evan Minto’s valiant efforts over at Internet Archive.
VRAI: Yeah, I mean, stuff like Regretsy that have been truly scrubbed are rare. But.
CAITLIN: Oh, Regretsy’s gone?
VRAI: Regretsy’s completely scrubbed. You cannot get it on The Wayback Machine.
CAITLIN: Wow. That’s crazy.
VRAI: Mm-hm. It sucks.
CAITLIN: [astonished] What?
VRAI: But yeah. Even with The Wayback Machine, you can’t, or it is very, very difficult to, do general searches. You have to know the specific webpage and time period you’re looking for.
PETER: Yeah. And with some stuff that’s introduced in the later episodes that we’re gonna be talking about today… that does have an element of maybe existential horror to it as well.
CAITLIN: Or the stuff that does stick around, it becomes illegals and illegals are just old corrupted code. Or metabugs and illegals are old, corrupted code; corrupted digital pets. So, the things that are not updated become corrupted. So, yeah. That’s really interesting.
VRAI: Yeah, it is. Especially with this focus on, you know, this is all augmented reality that the kids are going through, but it’s still a digital space, which is the primary means of forming community. So, you know, when stuff is gone, it creates this gap. Or even stuff as small as… God, why can I never remember her name? Haraken’s sister.
VRAI: Yeah. The fact that Kanna was originally part of the detective agency and—
CAITLIN: Kanna wasn’t his sister.
VRAI: Oh, no, I mean, his… His aunt.
PETER: His older sister? Yeah, “Obaa-chan.”
CAITLIN: Oh, his aunt.
PETER: What does he say? “-san.” I don’t remember what he calls her. It’s translated to “auntie.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. She’s his aunt.
VRAI: Yeah, but, the fact that she was part of the detective agency… I dunno, didn’t she… She aged out and is an adult now. She might as well have never had that history. Stuff like that is interesting and a little bit sad.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely. And it turns into urban legends. And I don’t know. Speaking of adults, let’s talk a little bit about Miss Maiko in this episode. I like Miss Maiko.
VRAI: She is doing her best.
CAITLIN: She’s got that one teacher who’s just like, “Oh, even though he wasn’t invited, he’s here.”
VRAI: I take it this is a not-unknown occurrence in the teaching profession?
CAITLIN: [laughs] Um… I mean, he’s just so obviously in love with her and pursuing her, unfortunately.
VRAI: [pained] Yeah. Yeah.
CAITLIN: And she… I can sympathize with her, ’cause when she’s like, “I don’t want their last memory of summer, of sixth grade, to be of them fighting, ’cause they are friends.” She has no patience for that “boys versus girls” bullshit.
VRAI: Her subplot did feel a little weird to me, because this series is otherwise pretty emotionally grounded. If this was Azumanga Daioh and it was Miss Yukari getting drunk around her students, that’s fine and expected, but it’s this show that takes place in a semi-real world where I could expect somebody to maybe call child-protective services.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I dunno if that is just a cultural thing, but…
VRAI: It’s such a harmless thing, but it just clashes with how the show has otherwise defined itself.
CAITLIN: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It is a weird thing to suspend disbelief over in a show that you generally have—you have to suspend disbelief about certain things, but the characters, you generally don’t have to. But still, I like that she’s just, “You guys are gonna be friends. You’re gonna hang out. You’re gonna be friends. You’re gonna like it.”
VRAI: “You’re not gonna regret stuff like I maybe did…” [laughs] She is doing her best.
CAITLIN: “Adolescence be damned! You guys are friends.”
VRAI: It is. It’s a nice breather, and it makes sense that it’s situated right before things begin to get not-quite-dark, but melancholy.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. And “melancholy”… Let’s move onto Kanna’s Diary, which is the most heavily plot-ish episode that we have in this stretch.
PETER: I thought the episode, more than anything… I’m kind of wondering… I got the feeling that Isako’s kind of a villain in that scene. Specifically, the scene where she finds Haraken passed out on the floor, and I guess he has a history of getting lightheaded and passing out, but she did not know that. So, he could have had a seizure or something, and she literally just steps over him to get this whatever-the-heck the Michiko thing is supposed to be.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, she’s not a nice girl.
PETER: Yeah. I mean, earlier on, it seems like she kind of wants to do her own thing, but in this one… She’s already used people, but in this… I think that scene, more than anything, shows how little regard she has for the wellbeing of other people, besides that one scene with Kyoko, which was kind of a stand-out moment.
CAITLIN: Kyoko’s a little kid.
PETER: Yeah, we didn’t really talk about… The whole duel thing was predicated on Daichi getting the girls’ glasses, I guess just so that they couldn’t do anything anymore? To possibly interfere with her plans, rather than just avoiding them or something like that.
But that in and of itself kind of seems cruel as well, considering how… Not being able to have glasses in this day and age is kind of like… I don’t know. It’s worse than taking somebody else’s cell phone. You can’t interact with other students on the same level anymore.
CAITLIN: Right. And, I mean, I think that’s a Daikoku City thing, ’cause I think the city is unique at the level of how it’s integrated.
PETER: Yeah. But the episode… The one where she saves Kyoko was trying to humanize her a bit, and then they walk it back with this one and show at least how upset she is at achieving whatever her goal is.
CAITLIN: So, do you think it’s inconsistent characterization? Or is it that the situation was different for her in that moment?
PETER: I dunno. They’re all kids, right? But I guess Kyoko’s especially a kid. And she seems to have sibling issues, so maybe something about Kyoko’s plight… I dunno. Maybe it was just the drama of the situation. If somebody’s about to fall, there’s obviously a thing there. Maybe she didn’t fully appreciate what sort of danger a passed-out person could possibly be in. But that seems like a very serious situation, right?
CAITLIN: People can be really insensitive about that. I had a friend who dislocated her knee at Anime Expo one year, and she wasn’t unconscious but she was lying on the floor in shock about what had just happened, and there were people stepping over her.
At Anime Expo, adults—and since she was in cosplay, Tifa, she was practicing a pose and hyperextended her knee and it popped out of the joint. A couple of people took a picture of her lying there on the floor, injured. While the EMTs were over her.
PETER: Oh, after the medical service has already arrived? Yeah, at that point, that’s pretty… Yeah. [laughs] No defense to that.
CAITLIN: People can… But I have no doubt that a lot of the people who did that insensitive shit would have helped a six-year-old who was about to fall to her death. You know, people can be really insensitive about things that look mundane.
VRAI: And also with Isako, it reads a little bit to me like “a kid’s a kid, and she hasn’t done anything,” but Haraken is quote-unquote “an adult,” i.e., also 11—[sarcastically] very mature—so, clearly, he can handle himself and she doesn’t need to worry about him.
PETER: The peak of human maturity, they’ve all achieved at the age of 11. Yeah.
VRAI: Mm-hm. The same way that you wouldn’t… In an action movie, you know, you might step over an adult on the ground in the way of the goal, because, fuck it, they’re mature. They’ll figure out their own shit. Which is not true, but…
CAITLIN: Which is kind of what she was doing, right? She had her eye on the goal. She was trying to get whatever the heck was going on there.
VRAI: Yeah, and, you know, it’s a 2007 anime where people were even less thoughtful, and also, 11-year-olds are even less thoughtful than that. So: “Ehh, he’s breathing. It’s fine.”
CAITLIN: “Someone else will come and help him.”
PETER: “Probably just asleep or something.”
CAITLIN: “I’ve gotta go get that illegal.”
VRAI: Not a great thing to do, but not actively malicious, I don’t think.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Morally grey.
PETER: There are laws in California against that now. If you’re the only person around, you have to help them.
CAITLIN: Oh, for ignoring…?
PETER: Yeah, yeah. You gotta help them out.
CAITLIN: So, in some places, you can’t help, because if they get hurt, you could be liable, but in California, now, you have to help. You are legally obligated to be a good Samaritan.
PETER: I think there’s… I think it’s a traffic law. Something about—not a traffic law. I feel like there’s some sort of situation where if somebody’s on the side of the road and they need help, and it’s one of those things where if the highway’s full and there’s other people, you’re not obligated, but if you’re the only person on the road, and you just pass them by and something happens to them, that could be considered you contributing toward the bad thing that happened to them.
CAITLIN: Right, like negligence.
PETER: Yeah. So they could sue you or their family could sue you if they die or something like that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. But, yeah, we sort of start to get a sense of what is going on with Isako. Kind of, sort of, not really.
VRAI: And then she kind of vanishes for most of the rest of the episodes, except for visiting her uncle.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, yeah. What about… How about “Sunken Daikoku City,” a.k.a. “Daichi gets a catfish.”
VRAI: I love monster pet episodes. It reminded me a little bit of the style of episode you would get with Pet Shop of Horrors or something like Gremlins. I’m kind of about that kind of stuff. So, I thought that one was fun. It did a lot of really interesting things visually.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s a fun episode, but I don’t know. I feel like of all the episodes of the show, if I had to cut an episode… That one has the least bearing on the narrative.
VRAI: I mean, it sets precedent for “The Last Plesiosaur,” narratively. But, yeah. It’s not…
CAITLIN: Sort of illegals as pets.
PETER: Yeah. I think the only thing you learn from that that maybe is relevant later is that Haraken’s aunt knows the old lady. Ah, man. What’s her name?
PETER: Yeah, Megabaa. They have a past. ‘Cause she makes her apologize before she fixes the situation. But yeah. Past that… I mean, cool animation. A cool concept for an episode, but nothing really important happening past Daichi getting owned.
CAITLIN: [amused] Yeah. Which is always good. Then the next one after that is one of my favorite episodes: Daichi Grows A Beard.
VRAI: “Den-noh Coil does that one episode of Futurama.”
CAITLIN: [laughs] I know! Pretty much, I was thinking about that while I watched it. Where Yasako, [sarcastically] much like Bender, a character she is very similar to—
CAITLIN: —grows a beard. And it’s all very heavy-handed adolescence metaphor. But the sight gags are amazing.
VRAI: And the whole, “attempting to beneficently play god with a tiny, tiny civilization,” it’s so not subtle at all, but I’m about it.
CAITLIN: [through laughter] Just the shitty mustaches that the boys grow. The girls just get stubble, but the boys get these shitty, wispy mustaches.
PETER: Poor Denpa got the mouth corners. Is that called anything, even?
CAITLIN: [laughs] I don’t know.
PETER: I think that’s a comedy bit. It’s either Chinese or Japanese, I don’t remember what. There’s a famous comedy character that just has the mustache on either side of it.
No, no, it’s Mexican, I think. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a famous comedy character that’s just got a bit of mustache on either corner of his mouth. Yeah. So, I was thinking maybe they were trying to bring out that image.
CAITLIN: There was also a Parks and Recreation joke with that. Have you watched Parks and Recreation? Ron gets back together with his ex-wife.
PETER: Oh, yeah. When he goes insane.
CAITLIN: “Oh, you shaved your mustache.” “It wore off.”
PETER: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: [laughs] I’ve been watching a lot of that show recently. As a way of avoiding work. It’s very good.
PETER: But the whole scenario kind of… I don’t know. I guess that means that there can be… ‘Cause they never gave you any indication that all the microcivilization on their faces seemed to have sentient life. And so I dunno if they established that they’ve created any sentient AI yet in the series. I haven’t heard anybody talk about it at all. I mean, they have pets and stuff, but that’s not necessarily… That’s pretty easy to fake, right?
VRAI: I mean, if you wanna get really pretentious and up your own butt, you could argue to a point of philosophy where at one point is just following set patterns indistinguishable from humanity? At what point is humanity just going through the motions of a similar routine?
CAITLIN: Illegals are corrupted programs, corrupted software. That could be what they were originally created as. Some sort of simulation game.
PETER: Sims game.
VRAI: Oh my god. Matrix theory. Fuck.
CAITLIN: And I actually… I like how Den-noh Coil handles the question of Artificial Intelligence.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s not super—because its characters are kids, it has the upper hand of not having to have a character who sits and ruminates about the philosophy and ethics of artificial intelligence, which is a bad, bad trap that a lot of sci-fi anime falls into.
PETER: [dryly] I love Detroit: Become Human by the excellent David Cage.
CAITLIN: [faux angry] I was going to say that! You beat me to it! How dare you? Both of you stealing jokes from me. Podcast is over!
VRAI: [laughs] If it makes you feel any better, I was thinking of Ergo Proxy.
PETER: Oh, I mean…
CAITLIN: The bad android buddy-cop show from a couple years ago. Beyond Human, or whatever it was, which also made parallels between androids and black people, I’m pretty sure.
PETER: Definitely was not as bad as Detroit: Become Human, ’cause I’m not sure if that’s possible.
VRAI: [snorts; sarcastically] But how? It has so many pixels and, therefore, many emotions.
CAITLIN: Can you press F to pay respects?
PETER: [sarcastically] You can press X to “I have a dream.”
CAITLIN: [through laughter] Goddammit.
VRAI: Yeah, this is better written than that. Less is more, because these stories have been told so often for literal decades.
VRAI: And I think this show knows that.
CAITLIN: Right, and then you think about your—think about playing The Sims when you were 11. Think about your fuckin’ NanoPets when you were 11. I was 11… Tamagotchi was the big thing. I remember—my parents would never get me one, but—wanting to play with my friends’ when I was in 6th grade. Even as an adult, I get invested in my Sims, on the rare occasions I have time to play The Sims. I’m on the fifth generation of this family now, ’cause I’ve been playing.
But they’re 11. They don’t… I play The Sims and I get bummed out when one that I’ve been playing for a long time dies, but, you know, I know that they are just little bits of data, right? But when I was 11, when NanoPets were this big thing… You don’t care. You don’t question it. You’re attached.
VRAI: I laughed really hard at the Nietzsche illegal, super fucking hard. One of them is saying “I’m dead.”
VRAI: That’s a good joke! And the fact that the visuals scale up to absurdity but not too much. Like it’s not enough to undermine the emotional effect they’re going for, but also: flying digital warheads.
CAITLIN: Yeah. [laughs] Yeah. When the one blasts off from her face, and they’re just like, “Whoa,” and then it just turns around. [mimics an explosion] That shows so many… That is… This show in general has a lot of really great, clever visuals, but that episode is just so… Y’all were talking about the fish, but visually, the beard episode is one of my favorites.
PETER: [cracking up] A triumph.
CAITLIN: A triumph. That was honestly… Seeing people posting about it on Twitter was what got me to watch Den-noh Coil the first time. Just, “This show looks incredible.”
VRAI: It’s a very good episode.
CAITLIN: Speaking of good episodes… I’m really good at doing really well with these segues, guys.
VRAI: We’re very proud of you.
CAITLIN: [cracking up] I’m doing really well with the segues. “The Last Plesiosaur.”
VRAI: This nice boy did not deserve any of this.
CAITLIN: Oh, my God.
VRAI: He’s a good boy.
CAITLIN: I did cry actual tears at this one.
VRAI: I may have teared up a little.
CAITLIN: Denpa… I was wiping my eyes. Denpa helping this poor illegal that’s all alone and is about to lose its home, trying to find its space. I really like Denpa!
VRAI: He’s a good, nice boy. And, you know, he… He is the sort of “gentle giant” archetype, but I also appreciate, in a show that doesn’t shy away from how kids can be shitty, there’s not a lot of fat jokes at his expense, either from the characters or narratively. That sucks.
CAITLIN: Right. And it makes sense that the reason that he’s friends with Daichi and the other boys in the Daikoku Heikei Club or whatever—they’re not really hanging out during summer break, but Denpa seems to be really attached to Daichi because Daichi defended him from some bullies. And it makes sense, ’cause Denpa’s the gentle giant. Daichi is tiny and shitty.
VRAI: And at the same time, he’s down for most things, but you also don’t get the sense that he’s kind of the whiny tagalong that nobody likes.
CAITLIN: No, that’s Akira, Fumie’s little brother.
VRAI: [laughs] Yeah. It’s just nice, because normally he is the sort of character who would fulfill that role. The one who’s kind of a pushover is also—
CAITLIN: The Futoshi.
CAITLIN: The Futoshi. Oh, FRANXX. Yeah. Futoshi is a worse version of Denpa.
PETER: I wanna say he’s worse ’cause people are worse to him. He’s… The character. The world around that character has made that character a joke.
CAITLIN: He is the worst-written. Right. But Denpa… There’s no fat jokes at his expense. There’s a sense that he is bullied partially, probably, because he is fat, and also because he’s really soft spoken, he’s kind of weird, he has this special relationship with electronics. So it makes sense that he would attract bullies because of all of those reasons, not just his size.
VRAI: He’s just trying to be a good and helpful boy!
CAITLIN: He’s so sweet and so empathetic. And he’s genuinely empathetic. You know? Isako has called out Yasako. Yes, Yasako’s very nice, but there’s a little bit of a false note to her empathy, whereas Denpa is just so sweet.
VRAI: Honestly, all the mysteries on the show are of varying degree of interest to me, but the one I’m genuinely really curious about is the fact that he can hear metabugs. I find that really interesting.
CAITLIN: Right. I mean, I think it’s… The characters who are good with electronics are sort of an archetype. He’s definitely not the only character that I’ve seen… I’ve never really seen explained. Just “some people are good with electronics. Some people are bad with electronics.” It’s like Hana from Fruits Basket. She can control electric waves and it’s not really explained. That’s just sort of…
VRAI: Well, and in Denpa’s case it’s kind of mixed with the personality of the “squirrel whisperer” kind of character. There’s a little bit of Kronk there.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, absolutely. But he’s so sweet. And that is sort of… That is what gives this episode a lot of its power.
VRAI: And just the… Something about the relentlessness of it is very… It’s very much about “preservation in the face of progress” tied to this idea of… It reminds me of the “Something Eternal” episode of Utena, honestly. In a very good way.
I will say it’s a little bit contrived that they happened to start on street construction at right this moment, but it’s fine. I’m fine with it. It works.
CAITLIN: Sometimes you have to be a little contrived to make things happen.
VRAI: Yeah, but in general, this idea that when you’re… A lot of the series so far has used the digital space to play into that childhood idea of “If you’re smart or daring enough, you can do just about anything.” And, no. Sometimes you can’t.
CAITLIN: Right. They could not figure out a way around the way the Plesiosaur was programmed. He was a glitch. He was a bundle of messy, messy code, probably, that just happened to manifest in a way that at least appears to be—and, like I said, the show does not question whether or not it’s actually intelligent or if it’s just the appearance of intelligence—but that had this appearance of intelligence and self-awareness.
But it would have been such a mess trying to go in and figure out just exactly… Pull out the bits of code that would fix the glitch, or make it so that it could go over light spaces. There was just… Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.
VRAI: There’s a very agonizing undercurrent of this idea that we’re doing—we’re causing this creature incredible pain for this theoretical greater good that we couldn’t even deliver.
CAITLIN: Right. Like it was all for nothing. And it was just… Ugh.
VRAI: It’s very sad.
CAITLIN: Right! Yeah, no, you know, that episode definitely… It’s a really great example of creating emotional investment in this thing that has only been in one episode, but…
VRAI: And to an extent we care about it because we care about Denpa, but even still.
VRAI: It’s a good episode.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Just absolutely… Yeah. And, no, that… That is largely considered to be one of the best episodes of the show. Not that it’s all downhill or anything, but just that the story told within that episode alone was so powerful.
VRAI: Right. Yeah. It’s kind of a unique feature of this storytelling is that you know you have the overall narrative stuff, but you kind of have that sweet spot between the early episodic stuff and the later, more narrative-heavy stuff where you can coast on these isolated stories that also have the emotional resonance that you spent this all this time building up.
CAITLIN: Right. And, I mean, the worldbuilding is… You don’t have to waste time on the worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is all set up. And the characters are set up just so you can get right to this one really beautifully-crafted story about this poor illegal that is about to go extinct.
VRAI: And the idea of whether that’s better or worse to… Is existence better or worse if you are all alone? Without anyone who can understand you? That’s heavy shit for a middle-schooler show.
CAITLIN: Yeah. “This is a children’s show!”
VRAI: The fucking visual trick with the smokestacks is just borderline cheap, but—
VRAI: –damn you, it’s effective.
CAITLIN: Yeah. For some reason, there’s so many things in this episode that, with lesser storytelling, it would have been cheap or cloying. It would have been Violet Evergarden. Throwing in some hot takes this episode. Comin’ in hot!
PETER: Parks and Rec, Violet Evergarden, Detroit: Become Human. We’ve got everything.
CAITLIN: But, you know, it could have been very cloying, but the way that the story is told has just enough humanity to it that it’s just heartbreaking. But, yeah. I dunno. Peter, you’ve been quiet. What do you feel about this episode?
PETER: I thought it was pretty good. I guess I’m kind of the type who would wanna dwell on stuff like… I guess I’m looking at these situations and wondering what exactly they’re trying to say about illegals and artificial intelligence and this world that’s being created.
Because, with me, the beard episode was just… It turns out there’s all this stuff that they’re just playing around with as children could actually be sentient life. Perhaps even entire communities of sentient life that are just being erased.
When they’re… They sort of established that the illegals try to eat pets because it is some code that they can latch onto, which is kind of a survival instinct, right? And then the Plesiosaur… I dunno quite where they were going with that one, because it was kind of—did it have some memories, or were there more plesiosaurs before? Did it get all this from the corrupted code of an old National Geographic episode or something? Kind of hard to say.
But I feel like… I don’t know if it’s trying to tell us that all this stuff is human and the way that we’re just treating it like it’s “just data” might be due to blindnesses to the stuff that we’re actually working with. I guess that’s kind of how I took that episode.
CAITLIN: Yeah, that’s definitely not… I never really thought about it that way. But, yeah, just ’cause the show deals a lot with pets… So there’s… People’s e-pets getting lost or dying and there’s just a lot of resonance there. I never really thought about it like…
VRAI: Yeah, this…
CAITLIN: Playing with the idea of intelligence.
VRAI: This show strikes me as an idea that’s not… As a show that’s not necessarily disinterested in big ideas, but it’s only interested in them so far as they affect the lives of the characters that it’s following, which… It’s the kind of narrative I prefer.
I find that shows like Psycho-Pass leave me a little bit cold. But that’s… It’s just a different kind of storytelling, where the… You’re only going to touch at the edges of the big, philosophical ideas. I don’t… Yeah.
PETER: We can talk about how Psycho-Pass is awful at worldbuilding and had a really terrible story, in turn, as well. That would be another episode.
VRAI: But it is like the recent series of “Here are our characters, who are basically ciphers designed to exposit worldviews.”
CAITLIN: Ah, so it’s a Gen Urobuchi anime.
VRAI: Sure is!
CAITLIN: [laughs] No! I said that!
VRAI: And that’s where the comments are coming from.
CAITLIN: [imitates the Vaudeville seven-note fanfare]
VRAI: [through laughter] I think we better wrap it up now, because no one is listening anymore. They’re all too busy typing angrily.
CAITLIN: No! I actually like Gen Urobuchi.
PETER: I do too.
VRAI: I sure mostly like Madoka.
PETER: I think Urobuchi’s good. Psycho-Pass is… I don’t think he was a primary on Psycho-Pass.
CAITLIN: I haven’t seen Psycho-Pass.
PETER: It’s honestly… You can skip it. It’s super skippable. It’s not good.
CAITLIN: All right. But this is a good place to kind of wrap up the episode. So. Any predictions for what’s up to come? Anything that we didn’t really touch on in this episode so far that we skipped over that you guys wanna talk about and bring up?
VRAI: I’m hoping that, by next time, we’ve mostly moved away from episodic episodes.
CAITLIN: Yes. I will tell you that right now. The plot definitely starts kicking in in a big way in the upcoming parts.
VRAI: Yeah, ’cause the show has definitely reached that point where one-offs are going to have diminishing returns. So, that’s nice to hear. And I like these characters. I want to see where they’re going. Looking forward to… I’m guessing that we still probably won’t see too much of Isako. That feels like a last-arc thing.
PETER: Yeah. She’s kind of got her thing, and I assume she’s building up towards something that the other characters won’t see until it’s nearly too late, right?
PETER: Something like that. Did I get it?
CAITLIN: Hmmmmmmm. No, I actually make… You guys are lucky I have a terrible poker face. But I’m very good at making “hmmm” noises that mean absolutely nothing.
PETER: Okay. Perfect. Well, I don’t really know what to expect. I mean, we hit the turn, but there hasn’t really been very much that would indicate to me as to where the series could go next. So I don’t really have too many expectations.
I’d like for Yasako to maybe tell Fumie that Daichi has a crush on her, so that they could resolve that plot point. ‘Cause I feel like her not telling her is just gonna make those two continue to circle around each other awkwardly. So if it does that, maybe the next six episodes, successful. But I trust the rest will be good.
CAITLIN: Yeah. All right. So, [sighs] it’s all about adolescence, man.
VRAI: It’s like a metaphor and stuff.
CAITLIN: Yes, but in a more subtle way that I’m excited to talk about in upcoming episodes. Anyway, I think that wraps us up.
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