Part 3 of the 4-part watchalong of Den-noh Coil with Caitlin, Vrai, and Peter! They talk about the trouble with getting into two-cour shows, how digital footprints make it hard to let go of the dead, and the series’ awesome multi-generational women.
Date Recorded: 2nd July 2018
Hosts: Caitlin, Peter, Vrai
0:01:05 The plot thickens and the two cour problem
0:04:01 Ghosts in the digital space
0:08:46 Fumie’s disappearing role
0:14:12 Between digital space and reality
0:18:35 Digital death
0:20:11 Getting the dead back or letting them go?
0:27:13 The romantic subplot
0:29:17 Who is Yasako anyway?
0:35:58 True selves
0:39:41 Romance again
0:41:26 Multigenerational women
0:46:42 The female cast
CAITLIN: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Today’s the third episode of our watchalong of the underappreciated gem Den-noh Coil, covering episodes 14 to 20. My name’s Caitlin, and I’m 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: I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. I’m also a freelancer all over the web. If you go to my Twitter @WriterVrai and look at my pinned post, you can find a list of things that I do in that thread. And if you want to check out the other podcast I cohost, it’s @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, we have gone past the midpoint of Den-noh Coil, and the plot has kicked into high gear, from 0 to 40 pretty much.
VRAI: This is what’s always so frustrating to me about two-cour shows, because I know that this almost always happens. It’s how anime works, but it’s such a tall barrier to entry. That’s so many hours, if it’s not initially really your jam, even in that episodic format.
CAITLIN: I know, but 13 episodes would have been so compressed.
VRAI: Uh-huh. Oh, no, yeah. It’s not the anime’s fault. I’m just old, and there’s so much anime.
PETER: I don’t know. Plenty of Trigger… Most of their stuff is two-cour and I’m into it. I like Trigger shows. I’m sorry.
CAITLIN: How dare you.
PETER: I apologize. I’m into it, but then I know that in the second half is where the actual plot’s going to be revealed, so even if I’m enjoying myself, I question the utility of everything I’m watching. I’m always wondering, “Is this gonna be relevant? Are they just feeding me red herrings? Are some of these characters that I’m meeting that I like just gonna end up becoming sidelined in the second half?” So, I get what you’re saying.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s kinda what I’m saying is that I think when anime fans rec longer shows, they’re coming from the place where they’re looking at it from the whole thing, but when you recommend it to a prospective viewer, they’re seeing it from the other side of “I have to go through X and Y to get to this meatier stuff,” and if X and Y wasn’t your jam and that’s what kept you from checking out the show in the first place, it doesn’t really help to be told, “But it gets good later!”
CAITLIN: I mean, I like two-cour shows. It might be partially because I did start watching anime when that was the norm. But also, I like it when a narrative has time to breathe and when it has time to do some episodic stuff that’s not 100% plot-necessary but it builds the world and it builds the characters, which I think is one of the strengths of some of those episodes of Den-noh Coil. Could you have Den-noh Coil without the beard episode?
VRAI: No. And in the best-case scenario, I think it does work something out like this show. And in the worst-case scenario, it’s Gundam 00, which just farts around for its entire first half.
CAITLIN: Wasn’t Gundam 00 four cours?
VRAI: [deadpan] No, it was only two. And it had a tragic ending.
CAITLIN: I mean, also, two cours is the difference between Yurikuma Arashi—
VRAI: Yeah, which we mentioned last time.
CAITLIN: —and Penguindrum, which I think was a stronger story, taken at face value.
PETER: I do think some of my thoughts regarding the beard episode were validated in the second half, though, because it appears there’s much more to this digital space than first met the eye, with all this ghost stuff happening now. So, I was thinking at the end that it was treated in a very lighthearted manner.
We discussed this a little bit, how they essentially had discovered sentient life that was very small and entirely digital, but since they’re kids, they don’t really appreciate that, I guess. And now that we know maybe there are ghosts in the digital world, that takes on a new meaning. I don’t know if it would have been better served being after those episodes—like if they’d threaded in the plot-relevant with the fluff—if you could even do that, but it definitely changes it in retrospect.
VRAI: The beard episode is interesting in hindsight. I really liked that episode. It’s my preferred mood of episodic stories that have darker thematic underpinnings going on or sadder ones. But now that this section we watched for this episode is a little bit more… It hasn’t abandoned those themes; that’s not fair. It’s still working with them, but the mode of how it’s telling its story for this stretch of episodes is very much—
CAITLIN: It’s very different.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a ghost story with technological trappings, as opposed to a meditation on AI and that kind of stuff that was more directly in episodes 11 to 13.
CAITLIN: Right. It starts dealing with urban legend and the idea of liminal spaces. We’ll get into that in a little bit.
VRAI: I’m not mad at it. It’s just very interesting to me when shows that have ideas that they want to tell, they’re not really so self-reliant that they push forward into some entirely new thing so they put them over a completely different genre of storytelling type in terms of form and function—like, the episodes that are ghost stories or escape-the-monster stories in this one—but with the technology and the previous things that have been established in the series applied to that. I don’t think it’s bad. I just think it’s really interesting to watch how the pieces move and come together and sometimes jar against each other.
CAITLIN: Right. And it was hinted at before when they were doing the school camping episode—when they were talking about urban legends and Miss Michiko; Michiko-san. So, it’s not totally out of nowhere, but it definitely was a very rapid shift from kids playing around with technology to this crazy imagery and souls being separated from bodies and that sort of stuff.
VRAI: [chuckles] It escalated quickly.
VRAI: I will say that the moments that this show goes into horror are some of my favorite. I think its muted color palette makes really interesting use of greens and sickly blues in a way that I find really visually appealing and well done.
CAITLIN: Yeah, you sound more enthused about this part of the show now, Vrai.
VRAI: [chuckles] I’m sorry. Like I said, I knew that it was going to get good, but that first half is just not the kind of thing I usually watch.
CAITLIN: And I think it’s interesting how in this second half right now, the Hacker Club has kinda disappeared. Like, I don’t know if Daichi was even in these episodes.
VRAI: I don’t…
PETER: I know I saw him, but he didn’t do anything of any significance, I don’t believe.
CAITLIN: After all that time that we spent talking about him!
VRAI: He’s in the recap episode, which is the first one from this batch. But otherwise, nope.
CAITLIN: How did you guys feel about that recap episode?
VRAI: I know that it’s a thing, and I respect that the whole “gotcha” with shows that are half-recap, half-really-important-plot thing is at least as old as Utena if not older, but—
CAITLIN: When I first watched Utena, I skipped the recap episode, and that was very important!
VRAI: Yes, that episode is quite important! And this one pretty much pulls the same thing. And I respect that they’re trying. They’re doing about the best thing you can do with a recap episode, is give it to a minor character and have them make color commentary. So, they’re doing the best they can, but it’s still a recap episode and it’s kind of boring.
CAITLIN: I mean, it was kind of interesting seeing how Fumie is at home.
PETER: Yeah, Fumie hasn’t gotten to do much either. I was surprised how much she was sidelined along with… I mean, the Hacker Club disappearing is no surprise to me. They seemed to me like Little Rascals, and when things got serious, they were probably gonna fade out. Daichi is a bit more of a surprise, but if he’s just trying to set the age tone, that makes sense as his character. But Fumie seemed a lot more important, and she didn’t do much in all this.
CAITLIN: Well, she’s sort of cut from the same cloth as the Hacker Club, though, right? I mean, she’s Yasako’s friend and so she’s been there during the times of crisis and she’s been important in that way, but she treats the technology as toys. She’s not in the mentality of it being toys, but she’s a kid and play is important for kids.
Whereas for Haraken and Isako, this is not play; this is something that has to do with the lives of people that they love. So, it makes sense that Fumie is there but she’s not a key player.
VRAI: Yeah. She feels like a smart choice to keep a bridge to that lighter tone and have somebody to break up the more intense moments, but she’s not quite so overtly comedic as the Hacker Club.
CAITLIN: She’s also a skeptic, right? This does not make any sense to her, that the consequences of certain things going wrong with the glasses could be so dire. She’s talking about the Plesiosaur like “It was just a random corrupted program, right? Why are we so emotional about it?” even though she also cried.
VRAI: Normally, I find the “cardboard strawman skeptic” character to be a little exhausting, but with Fumie, it’s tied in well enough to these aspects of childishness to her character, that I think it sells it better than most.
CAITLIN: No, I think so. She is not built up as a childish skeptic from the start. Just her relationship with the technology is very different.
VRAI: Yeah, honestly the scene where she’s advocating taking off the glasses is really well-done and tense. I was impressed by that scene a lot.
CAITLIN: Right, and I think… [chuckles] I’m gonna make a blazing-hot take here. Have you guys watched Gatchaman Crowds?
PETER: The first season.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I haven’t seen the second season. I watched the first season, and I didn’t really care for it. And one of the things that bothered me about it was the mentality of “Oh, just turn it off. If it’s getting to be too much, just turn it off and walk away,” while these real-life things are happening and while people are posting their personal information online.
And I thought that was a very naive approach in this time where just turning it off has been proven not to work. And so, I think there’s a parallel there that Fumie says, “Just turn it off,” but just turning it off is not an option and just turning it off can be dangerous.
VRAI: The augmented reality stuff is interesting, and it’s a neat concept as far as the technology ingrained into mundane, everyday stuff. But what I’m really impressed with, getting into these later episodes, is how well the show predicts the emotional reality of ever-present social media.
Like you said with the whole “Just turn it off” thing: “Turn off Twitter and go outside” is a not-unpopular refrain. And sometimes you do need a break from the internet, but also, it’s just not something you can live your life divorced from nowadays.
CAITLIN: Right. And there’s a couple of different levels. “Turn off Twitter and go outside” is something that I can do something through, but a lot of my livelihood has come to me through Twitter. I wouldn’t be here talking to you guys without Twitter. I wouldn’t be writing for The Daily Dot. I wouldn’t be making the freelance money that is financing my wedding in a year without Twitter.
And then there’s the people who have run afoul of certain parts of Twitter, like Zoë Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, who you tell them “Just turn it off” and it’s like, “No, it follows me. Just turning it off doesn’t do anything.” So, I can think of an interpretation of the Illegals that are invading Yasako’s home as randos. [laughs]
VRAI: [chuckles] I’m not sure it’s quite that developed to be a solid sell, but I feel ya.
CAITLIN: It’s not a reading that I’ve put a lot of… It literally just occurred to me, but they’re coming into her home and threatening things that she holds dear and the usual barriers are not working. I think I could make it work if I had enough time to—
VRAI: You can fan-wank this theory into plausibility. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, not a theory. It’s just an interesting parallel. It’s a possible reading, even though Twitter barely existed when Den-noh Coil came out. Social media as we know it barely existed.
VRAI: I mean, certainly the ghosts are very strongly now reminiscent of that feeling of posthumous social media presences.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely. Like you guys were talking about the last episode, about how e-space has no history, but now it’s getting into the ramifications of how e-space and real space interact. Like the part where Yasako’s running up the steps to the shrine and she almost gets seriously injured because the stairs are broken in real life, but in the e-space, stairs are intact. And then, if she takes off her glasses while she’s in that old e-space, she is putting herself at risk.
VRAI: Yeah. It’s not safely confined. It’s not history in the way that is recognized and controlled and understood. It’s pieced-together remnants that nobody understands, which give rise to urban legends, which are dangerous because they’re half-truths and half-forgotten things that people are poking around at when they don’t understand them.
CAITLIN: Right. There’s the old-fashioned urban legends, which are basically ghost stories, and then there’s urban legends that are the sort of stuff that Snopes disproves that have morphed into the terrifying force that is fake news.
But yeah, I think Den-noh Coil definitely plays with that concept of liminal spaces and the spaces between things and portals. Urban legends are between the truth and falsehood. The torii gates that are such a major visual motif in the show are basically gateways between the human world and the spirit world. Adolescence is a liminal space, right? You’re between childhood and adulthood.
VRAI: Hitting very hard on that “last summer” thing.
CAITLIN: Yeah, that last summer of elementary school. Den-noh Coil definitely works a lot in that space.
VRAI: Do junior high and high schools have full summer terms off?
CAITLIN: No. So, the Japanese school year is different from the school year in the US. Their school year starts in April. And I’m not sure exactly what a normal school schedule would look like, but it’s a break between terms as opposed to being off for the season.
VRAI: So, it is, in effect, the last summer vacation for reals, not just as children.
CAITLIN: Because I think it is: you get days off, and if you need to do summer classes, you can do summer classes, because it’s really hot in the summer in Japan. And they have a summer school, which is a fun sort of thing in elementary school, like a summer camp sort of thing. But I’m not totally sure exactly how it is.
VRAI: Either way, point stands that this is still a cusp of major change in expectations of them, as far as their school life.
PETER: It seems like they start working earlier, because—I always forget the aunt’s name, but she’s a high schooler—
PETER: —and basically has a full-time job on top of that.
CAITLIN: I mean, I don’t think that’s a realistic thing.
VRAI: She’s an anime teenager with a full-time job who probably lives on her own.
PETER: High schooler-slash-digital FBI agent.
CAITLIN: I looked it up. Summer break is a month, late July to late August, so the hottest part of the Japanese summer.
Do you guys have any thoughts about the whole concept of the motifs and the liminal spaces and that sort of stuff, so that I’m not just rambling on about it because I’ve had four years to think about this show?
VRAI: No, no, that’s why you’re here. That’s your role. To have too many feelings.
VRAI: Somebody always has to have too many feeling.
CAITLIN: Too many feelings and also thought-out commentary articles that they’ve been wanting to write for a long time and just never got around to it.
PETER: Well, I hope it’s doing something with the whole digital afterlife idea besides just presenting it as something that exists. They haven’t really gone into too much of the history as to how the whole thing was developed in the first place. I guess they’re kids and they’ve grown up with it so it’s something they’ve accepted.
I am guessing this goes into something to do with… Well, you know, everybody has a digital profile, so maybe when people pass away, their digital profiles, especially if they’re not in areas that are overwritten, just aren’t deleted and then that’s how they end up as ghosts.
CAITLIN: Just kind of a digital imprint of who they are.
PETER: Yeah, I’m guessing. So, I am wondering how they’re planning to tie this all into the stairway with the markets that lead into, I guess, heaven.
CAITLIN: It’s very Spirited Away-like imagery, isn’t it?
PETER: Yeah. I was definitely thinking of that. And so, I didn’t want her to eat that apple because usually that means you’re stuck there. That’s kind of a Greek thing, too.
VRAI: Yeah. Don’t eat the fae food. Don’t do it.
PETER: Don’t eat the pomegranate. Yeah. I’m just wondering whether there’s any sort of underlying structure or thought behind this idea or if they magically wanted the digital world to have its own afterlife.
CAITLIN: Oh, no, I’m not sure. I don’t remember that clearly. Like, I don’t remember a lot of the finer details.
VRAI: Yeah, I am curious as to, with Isako and her brother, whether this is— Because this is a show for younger audiences and in some ways you want to be more gentle and more hopeful because it’s good to give children hope before they head into the hellscape that is adulthood. [chuckles]
But part of me is wondering if her arc is headed in the same direction as A Place Further Than the Universe, where you have this character who is dead but preserved in some liminal space and part of the ultimate journey for the active character isn’t “Get this other person back.” It’s “Accept and let them go.”
CAITLIN: Right. Because that’s kind of what we’re seeing with Haraken, right?
VRAI: Yeah. With him, for sure.
CAITLIN: Yeah, thank you for segueing so beautifully into my next listed discussion point, Vrai.
VRAI: Thank you, thank you. I’m very subtle.
CAITLIN: Thank you for not leaving that to me—and then I, of course, proceed to ruin the illusion of organic discussion by pointing it out. [chuckling] But there were a lot of parallels between Isako and Haraken in this episode in what their goals are.
VRAI: It’s kind of interesting how much this stretch of episodes transforms the series into this meditation on being young and grieving.
I ended up thinking a lot, while watching these, [about] when I was about their age, in seventh grade or so. There was a girl who was very suddenly and tragically killed. Being around that weird space where you are maybe on the outsides of watching people who were close to this accident and dealing with the fact that you’re young and don’t really know how to process the idea of death yet and what a weird thing that is. And so it—
CAITLIN: Man, I still think death is a weird thing.
VRAI: Well, yeah, but… [chuckles]
VRAI: Yes, it is a weird and terrible thing. We can’t go down that existential road. Just that idea of how I have observed people about this age processing grief, it feels like the show understands that surprisingly well.
PETER: I know what you’re talking about. Actually, I was just watching… To Be Heroine’s kind of doing something with that, too, where it’s not the girl’s parents—the heroine—but it’s her friend’s parents. I guess there’s some sort of social unrest and rioting, and his dad is killed and his mom’s hit in the head and she’s not really present mentally after that.
And just watching the way it affects him and the way he tries to bury those feelings and still act positive affects her own optimism, because she wonders if life is a downhill slide from when you’re happy [as] a kid and you don’t know about this kind of stuff. I think even if it doesn’t affect you directly, when you can see how those events radiate out through social groups or people that you know, and you don’t really know how to interact with it or if you should be doing anything or what it means for you.
VRAI: Honestly, Haraken is interesting in this batch of episodes, but he still feels the most like an anime character, if that makes sense. In the series with the fantastic, hyperactive and competent techno grandma, Haraken is the one who feels somehow the most distant from the more grounded emotions of the show sometimes.
Because sometimes there are those really sad vulnerable moments, like when Tamako takes his glasses, but also sometimes he’s a sad anime boy who refuses to communicate in ways that don’t feel like “I am a child dealing poorly with grief” and feel more like “Well, the plot needs this to happen now.”
CAITLIN: I thought it was interesting how… So, he and Isako have very similar goals. They are both pursuing this person who they lost to the other side. Even if Isako’s person is ostensibly alive, he’s basically in a vegetative [state]. Haraken—Kanna’s physical body is killed, but he’s so obsessed with finding her and finding answers for what exactly happened at that Crossroads.
And Crossroads is another liminal space. There’s a lot of crosswalk imagery around it. You saw the Illegal leading Kyoko across a crosswalk. They’re both searching for answers, for these loved ones who are very similar and very different.
And another thing that’s very similar and very different is their social lives. Isako’s very blatantly like “I don’t need friends. I don’t want friends.” In the episode where she was stuck in the room with Yasako, she’s like, “I don’t want friends. Friends… You have to be part of the group and you all have to agree on everything, and I’d rather be by myself to pursue my own goals.”
And Haraken ostensibly has friends. He has Fumie and he has Yasako, but he does not put his trust in them to help him and to stand with him during this time. He even lies, right? He’s like, “I’m over Kanna. I don’t care anymore.” And then he goes and he seeks out Isako to help him go to the other side to pursue Yasako.
VRAI: Yeah, he’s going through the motions of socialization, but in effect he’s really isolating himself just as effectively as Isako is.
CAITLIN: But since he’s going through the motions, it doesn’t ping anyone else’s radar that he’s not really connecting to people, that he is basically depressed.
VRAI: Very depressed!
CAITLIN: Not dealing with his grief well.
VRAI: And it is interesting and kind of nice that they gendered it that way, that Isako is the one who’s overtly rejected friendship and socialization, where Haraken is still going along to get along while suffering. That feels like a very feminine-gendered set of behaviors.
CAITLIN: Right, like women are the ones who turn to each other even if it’s just superficially. And Isako hangs out mostly with the boys, and Haraken hangs out with the girls. There’s definitely some interesting gender dynamics lurking, not as a way of making a statement, but it almost feels someone was writing the script and was like, “What if we reversed these expectations?”
VRAI: Which is nice sometimes. I like a good overtly-making-a-statement series, but this kind of thing is good, too, where it’s just quietly attempting to set a new status quo.
Also, speaking tangentially about Haraken, the end of episode—was it episode 20?—was certainly… I’m happy for Yasako… And the whole crush subplot, I have reached a stage of “I don’t care. You’re 12,” but I’m happy that Yasako has reached a state where she feels confident in herself and is at peace with her emotions, and she’s so brave and I believe in her.
CAITLIN: She’s a very good girl.
VRAI: She is!
CAITLIN: Even if Isako thinks that she’s not totally sincere.
VRAI: I’m surprised that didn’t come back at all. I mean, there’s still time. There’s still six episodes left, but especially since there’s so much about the 4423, Isako’s brother, that hasn’t been explored yet. But…
CAITLIN: You know what, I’ll tell you. It does come back. Den-noh Coil is a very solidly crafted show. It doesn’t really leave loose plot threads like that.
PETER: Not like rA9 in Detroit: Become Human.
VRAI: [chuckles] I approve of it becoming a thing throughout this watchalong that we take a little bit of time to dunk on David Cage. I’m always here to dunk on David Cage.
CAITLIN: He seems like he sucks.
PETER: Oh, he definitely does. Yeah. No question.
CAITLIN: I’m sad Hussie didn’t get enough retweets to challenge David Cage to a cage match.
PETER: Oh, did Cage actually say he’d fight people?
VRAI: [crosstalk] No, you’re thinking of Uwe Boll.
CAITLIN: No, but Hussie said that if he got a certain number…
VRAI: But I also—
CAITLIN: Which is, you know… That could be the title of the show: “Oh, Internet.” Den-noh Coil: Oh, Internet.
VRAI: Really depressing kind of way. This episode is about how social media makes it really easy to obsess over the dead and not move on with your life.
CAITLIN: I mean, yeah. Dead people have Facebook profiles still. No one’s going through and deleting dead people’s Twitters. The dead do not die on the internet.
PETER: I do think it was interesting that the whole Yasako coming in and having to learn all about all of this stuff that’s going on in the city. She’s totally unfamiliar with all these concepts, but then she’s probably one of the people most strongly involved in the plot because of her weird amnesia interaction with 4423, who is probably Isako’s brother.
VRAI: I can’t believe that I didn’t notice that pun. The secret pun! That wasn’t actually a secret.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] It wasn’t a secret. You just didn’t notice.
PETER: So, I’m wondering where that all… I think that’s the biggest… I’m not sure whether or how it’s necessary yet, unless they try to do some sort of huge shark jump like Yasako is like a digital reincarnation of Kanna or something like that.
VRAI: No, but they might be related.
PETER: Yeah, but her subliminal involvement in the story before she even showed up, I kind of wondered where they’re going with that since I don’t really feel like it’s yet become necessary to any of these interactions. Plus, the fact that she can talk to ghosts.
CAITLIN: I mean, everybody knows everybody else on the internet, right?
PETER: I guess so.
CAITLIN: You never know who’s gonna know who, like finding out that a guy who I used to hang out with on IRC suddenly has 10,000 Twitter followers, many of whom I know. You never know whose past is gonna tangle with whose past when it’s not constrained by geography.
PETER: That’s true.
VRAI: Or that a Gundam Wing fanfic writer my wife used to read turned out to grow up to be an author who was passing herself off falsely as a bisexual single father.
PETER: Interesting choice.
CAITLIN: That’s fun!
VRAI: The romance author world is wild, y’all.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it seems like Book Twitter is even wilder than AniTwitter.
PETER: I played League of Legends for a long time with a guy who turned out to be the person who made the “Cooking by the Book” Lil Jon remix.
PETER: So I was playing with a celebrity the whole time. I had no idea. One of the greatest YouTube videos of all time.
VRAI: Something I should have seen coming, I’ll say—and I can’t believe I didn’t, but also I’m very surprised it’s in here—is the Imago thing, because this did not strike me as the kind of story that had “special by birth” storytelling to it. It’s been up till now very much a story about how anybody… Very meritorious, almost. Anybody can learn to do this. Anybody who is sufficiently curious can figure this stuff out.
But now there’s this element of Yasako being a special—and probably Isako, as well, because we’ve seen her use her eye. We’re leading up to that. So, that’s an interesting direction to choose to go with the show. I am awaiting judgment until I see what they do with it.
CAITLIN: Well, you know, Denpa has a special ability of being able to hear metabugs.
VRAI: [crosstalk] That’s true.
PETER: [crosstalk] Similar to Yasako. Yeah.
CAITLIN: I’m not sure if I buy the idea that some people have different electric fields, but I have known people who… electronics around them just fuck up if someone gets too close to a computer and that computer crashes. I don’t know. I don’t know, man. Technology’s weird and the human body is weird.
VRAI: It’s just such an interesting type of story to choose when also telling a story about technology.
PETER: How did you tie that to the Imago thing exactly? Because Imago’s the whole ideal form, the whole shadows-on-the-wall thing, right?
VRAI: Because there’s that very ominous phone conversation that I think Tamako’s coworker has. Or, no, the little kid that helps Yasako find the train station mentions her being an Imago child, possibly. Or that is a phrase that gets dropped during this run of episodes.
PETER: Hm, like an Indigo Child?
VRAI: God. ‘90s.
PETER: So, have they established their own terminology in that case? Because I just know imago. I think it’s a philosophical concept of an idealized mental image. Are they using it in a different term to mean an idealized cyber mental construct?
CAITLIN: Well, it could be a pun on “ko.” Like, Imago is referring to this specific, already established term, but “ko” can become “go” like “tamago.”
VRAI: The concept is— I can’t remember if it originated with Demian, but it was really heavily used in Demian, the same text that inspired Utena, so…
CAITLIN: I don’t know that terminology from before this show, so I don’t know.
VRAI: But I think, just speaking relevantly to this show, if it’s an idea of images and mirror images, then I’m increasingly wondering if the two Yukos are somehow related. Obviously, they’re connected through Isako’s brother, but the fact that they have similar names, the fact that their nicknames are plays on “ko,” the fact that they are both specials in some way… There’s some kind of something going on with that. And the fact that—
PETER: Oh! It’s Jungian psychology, of course, is imago.
CAITLIN: Of course. Anime loves Jungian psychology.
PETER: But it is really weird that… The entire use of that term within the anime kinda threw me for a loop because they seemed to really be trying… A lot of anime will really get into philosophical or scientific concepts like that, with varying amounts of success, and they tie it into the story somehow and they maybe are trying to explore that idea or they just use that idea so that people can more easily relate to whatever weird concept they’re trying to show off in the story.
But this one had been, like, child-level intelligence. I don’t know. Just throwing in a Jungian term when they’d pretty much been trying to avoid any sort of really analytical language to describe any of these digital concepts, it’s kind of out of place, right?
VRAI: I mean, they’ve certainly set up a side of the name thing. As characters, Isako and Yasako are already pretty clearly foils, because you’ve got Isako, who is this very brusque, overtly prickly character but she’s devoted to her brother and she saved Kyoko, and then you have Yasako, who goes along to get along and is this very gentle, caring person but has these hints that maybe she was a bully at her old school.
So, they’re very much mirror images of each other in that way with their inner-versus-outer personalities and how they interact with the world, which is interesting and well seeded. I can see all the roots that they’ve done with this, and I’m really interested to see where those two characters’ relationship go. That was the wrong tenses for everything. I don’t care. It’s late.
PETER: All right. I guess we do get a double-face thing. If the recap episode—at least the recap portion of the recap episode—was good for one thing, it showed that… I mean, we knew Fumie was not exactly the Yasako type, to not try to avoid conflict, but she did come across as kind of cruel to her younger brother.
CAITLIN: I mean, she’s not an unusual sort of older sister.
VRAI: Yeah, she seems pretty standard older sibling, honestly.
CAITLIN: Do either of you have siblings?
VRAI: I do, but not this kind of relationship. They moved out when I was really little, so more like uncles.
PETER: [crosstalk] I had an older sister, so I definitely know, for sure.
CAITLIN: You had an older what?
PETER: I have an older sister, yeah.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Was she like Fumie?
PETER: I have a scar on my forehead, so… [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Oh, so yes.
CAITLIN: [laughs] So, did that relationship resonate with you?
PETER: I mean, not to that degree, but I definitely… I mean, I didn’t even really think she was… And not that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary for me. It just contrasted against… Yasako argues with her younger sister a lot, but she doesn’t pick on her or anything. She just gets annoyed with her and calls her out and doesn’t always treat her nicely.
But with Fumie, it was like something she takes pleasure in. I don’t think it’s unusual, but when contrasted with it and the fact that we hadn’t seen Fumie portrayed to that degree, it definitely stood out. It changed your perception of her.
VRAI: Well, there’s also a way smaller gap between Fumie and her younger brother, and Yasako and Kyoko. Whereas Yasako is basically a de facto caretaker for her little sister as opposed to being, “I have authority over you, but also you are in the sphere of my emotional state, as well, enough to fight back.” So, it’s a totally different kind of sibling dynamic.
PETER: True. Kyoko does do things that specifically annoy Yasako, though, like following her around and repeatedly calling things poop, but I think Fumie’s younger brother stays out of her business mostly, and she comes to him.
CAITLIN: Well, he does team up with her archenemies.
PETER: I mean, he’s in the group, yeah. But he never seems to have taken any sort of direct actions against her, besides planning to one day sue her.
VRAI: I don’t trust him and the version of events that he told us. [chuckles]
PETER: Yeah. I mean, he was pretty honest, I think, at least in regards to… [chuckles] What did he say? “This is unrelated, but I like girls like that” to pretty much every single girl he introduced?
VRAI: [sighs] Every time this show deals with the attraction elements of puberty, I just wanna die.
PETER: Doesn’t strike true.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s obviously an important part of puberty for a lot of kids. It just feels so vestigial to the story being told here, and it’s not very seamlessly integrated, so it always stands out really loudly and like a weird note whenever it comes up.
PETER: The only real plot-relevant one has been Yasako, and that one kinda came out of nowhere for me, personally.
VRAI: I’m very proud of her emotional arc, and I don’t care about the actual relationship at all. [chuckles]
PETER: Ah, okay. Just that she made it.
VRAI: She did it!
PETER: Even if they don’t… Yeah.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I’m so proud of her. That’s so hard to say when you’re that age!
VRAI: She’s a good girl.
PETER: But what did he say?
VRAI: [sternly] Something.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I don’t actually remember what he said, because by the time I finished was when the sleep deprivation was starting to kick in
PETER: His mouth moves, but you don’t hear anything because he’s being pulled back to his real body.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. Okay. But yeah, that’s right.
PETER: He’s being converted into light.
VRAI: And she has to run back on her own. That was a real good episode. When this show is able to get away from the mundane settings, it’s really beautiful.
CAITLIN: It is. It’s unfortunate that it is the only show that Mitsuo Iso has ever directed. I know he has another one coming.
VRAI: Oh. That’s exciting. Soon?
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. It was just announced recently, and it involves space.
VRAI: Oh. Hm. [unintelligible due to crosstalk]
PETER: [crosstalk] I like space.
CAITLIN: So, I am going to take the discussion and not even bother trying to do a smooth segue because I’m hitting my mental limit, we’re getting close to the hour mark, and there is definitely still something that I want to talk about—
VRAI: Go on.
CAITLIN: —which is the multi-generational women aspect that this show does. You tend to get the multi-generational thing with female characters more, because you have the threefold archetype—the mother, the maiden, the crone—which I don’t think the show specifically went out of its way to do, but it’s still an image that’s very resonant across a lot of different media and stories and mythologies and cultures, blah blah blah, et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that the way Den-noh Coil uses it—once again, intentionally or not—but the way the imagery comes up is kind of interesting, because you have Mega-Baa, who’s like the crone, obviously. But Yasako’s mother isn’t really involved. I would say Tamako is closer to the mother figure in this, right?
VRAI: Very much, for this stretch especially.
CAITLIN: She’s still high school age, but she has had experiences. She has fucked up in similar ways to how they’re fucking up with trying to open the gate and accidently unleashing these horrible things. And then you have Yasako and Isako and Fumie, and they’re the maidens. They’re young, they’re experiencing things for the first time, they’re fumbling around trying to figure things out. I think Mega-Baa is a really interesting character.
VRAI: Obviously, she has to be sidelined for a lot of this story, just because of how coming-of-age narratives work, but I feel like the glimpses we get to see of her being serious and helpful without messing with the kids are genuinely interesting.
CAITLIN: Yeah! She appears to offer her wisdom when it’s needed. That’s who she is, and that’s the archetypal figure. And she’s a trickster, but she understands how these things work at a fundamental level. She understands the technology. She doesn’t just know how to apply it; she knows the building blocks of it. So, while she cannot always directly interfere, she can give them the knowledge that they need to handle it.
VRAI: Right. There’s a sense of secrecy without it being deliberately obtuse in that annoying way that sometimes mentor figures are, which is really obnoxious.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And Tamako, she’s kind of an antagonistic figure, but she is like the mother. She was interacting with the technology when it was first becoming accessible in its present form. And also, she’s associated with the Sacchis and the Kyuu-chans. She has the sort of nurturing figure associated with these semi-alive-seeming things.
Plus, she really, really cares about Haraken. She really loves him and you can tell. Even though she’s not that much older than him—she’s like five years older than him—she was probably, when he was born, she’s like, “This is my nephew. This is my nephew and I’m going to take care of him.”
VRAI: It remains a weird thing to me that they chose to make her a high school student and not in her 20s, which is so clearly what the character seems like it should be.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Like a college student.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I don’t know. I think it has to do with the age of the technology, and that way she drives a motorcycle instead of a car, because you can get a motorcycle license at 16. But you can’t get a driver’s license in Japan until you’re 18.
VRAI: And I’m sure part of it… Contributing to that idea, you have Mega-Baa, but other than that, there’s just this wasteland as far as people who are over 18 don’t exist after a certain point.
CAITLIN: I mean, there’s the dads. The dads are there.
CAITLIN: There’s the florist lady. She had glasses.
VRAI: Well, there are adults around, but they’re not important or helpful so much.
CAITLIN: Their teachers.
VRAI: That’s true. That’s true.
CAITLIN: Miss Maiko, who seems like she is a young teacher and she really wants to be a good teacher who cares about her students and is involved.
VRAI: I hope she got over that hangover.
CAITLIN: But she is not really active in these episodes anyway.
VRAI: I do think that’s an active part of what made these episodes so good, is that it just dialed in on its female characters, who are all really good and interesting and have interesting and varied dynamics. I don’t hate Daichi and I really kinda like Denpa, and Haraken exists to be a damsel and it’s whatever. But the female characters are where it’s at.
CAITLIN: No, they’re really… This is why I wanted to do this show, because it’s got such a great female cast. And even if we’re not talking about framing it within gender relations, it’s still us talking about a story about women doing things, and that’s really cool. But yeah, I really thought the multi-generational aspect is really important to this show.
VRAI: Especially in a story about technology, where women have been so formative in the history of technology from typewriters and hand-coding all the way through the invention of video games. But their contributions to that history tend to be overlooked. Sierra was partially founded by a woman, helped create graphical interfaces from text adventures. You plebs!
CAITLIN: I always really enjoyed that. And their different ages have them interacting with the technology differently and affects their relationships with the technology.
All right. So, next episode is the finale. Do we have any predictions?
VRAI: There will probably be feelings.
CAITLIN: Hm. Hm…
PETER: I’m gonna shoot for the moon here and say there is no real world; it’s all digital, and that’s why their digital profiles can be interacted with by these ghosts. It’s all just a recording of people that used to exist but don’t exist anymore.
CAITLIN: Whenever you talk about the digital world, Peter, I get the Digimon theme song stuck in my head.
PETER: [crosstalk] If you can come up with something for me to call it…
CAITLIN: Like the bad American one.
VRAI: [hesitantly] Ah…
PETER: What do you…? Did you just say, “bad American one”?
CAITLIN: Yes, it’s terrible!
PETER: That opening was awesome. That and the One Piece rap are some of the greatest music ever written by man.
CAITLIN: Oh, my God.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Go sit down.
CAITLIN: All right, Peter, you’re banned. You’re blocked.
VRAI: That’s why I’m so hard on Haraken. It’s because he’s like a watered-down Ken Ichijouji, who I love with all my heart.
CAITLIN: I think, actually, talking about this show in relation to Digimon could have been interesting, but that is not my—
PETER: Illegals are Digimon.
VRAI: [chuckles] Yeah, I think it’s time to wrap this one up.
CAITLIN: That is not my discussion to have, because I have actually watched very little Digimon. [sighs]
PETER: The ghosts of Digimon.
CAITLIN: I had Pokémon brand loyalty. All right. Do you guys have any stray thoughts? Anything that you wanted to bring up that didn’t really come up?
PETER: I think that’s all I got. I think I’ll probably have a lot to say about whichever way they develop this story into when they do their big reveals. But for now, color me interested.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Okay. Vrai, anything?
VRAI: I think I got out most of my predictions here and there through the episode, so I’m just interested to see how they wrap up the emotional arcs, mostly.
CAITLIN: Okay. All right. So, that’s our episode. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this, please check out our website at AnimeFeminist.com, and if you really like us, you can become a patron on Patreon. Even $1 a month adds up, and it really, really does help.
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VRAI: And remember: Go outside, but take Twitter with you. We all do it.