The fourth and final part of our multi-part watchalong of Den-noh Coil with Caitlin, Vrai, and Peter! The trio looks back on the series’ strong emotional arcs and sometimes underwhelming antagonists, praises the best dog, and bids goodbye to these good kids.
Date Recorded: 5th August 2018
Hosts: Caitlin, Peter, Vrai
0:04:10 The ending
0:06:47 The “other side”
0:12:00 Romantic subplots
0:16:24 Fumie and Daichi
0:17:22 Afterlife or digital space?
0:23:15 The villain
0:26:14 Convenient amnesia
0:41:13 Supernatural or not?
0:43:00 Anything you’d change?
CAITLIN: Hello, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Today we’re finishing our watchalong of the underappreciated gem, Den-noh Coil. My name’s Caitlin, and I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as writer for The Daily Dot and my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem. I’m joined today by fellow staff members Vrai and Peter.
VRAI: Hey! I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor to Anime Feminist. I write all over the internet, but if you go to my Twitter, @writervrai, and read the pinned thread, you can see all kinds of stuff that I do. Or you can check out the other podcast I cohost, @trashpod.
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an Associates Features Editor at Crunchyroll, and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
CAITLIN: I love how just very concise and to-the-point you are, Peter.
CAITLIN: [laughs quietly] All right. So, unfortunately, because of life happening, we had to delay this recording for quite a while. So, the events of the episodes may not be quite as fresh in our minds as would be ideal.
VRAI: Oh, I remember one thing, Caitlin. [pointedly] You lied about the dog.
PETER: [laughs] That’s true.
CAITLIN: I never lied about him!
VRAI: [hurt] You said he was fine. You said he was a good boy.
CAITLIN: I said he was fine at that point.
PETER: That’s misleading.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I didn’t say he would stay fine.
VRAI: I don’t think that’s what you said.
PETER: That’s malfeasance.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Well, you were worried about him at that point, and I said he was fine.
PETER: Densuke just caught the shit the entire anime. He’s always suffering.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Densuke’s a good boy who will do anything for his people. For his humans.
VRAI: He’s a good dog. You know how I know? He’s a dog!
CAITLIN: He’s a good dog. It’s true.
PETER: He’s like the Chad of Den-noh Coil. That was a Bleach reference, so maybe not the best one to make.
CAITLIN: That was a what?
PETER: Bleach reference.
VRAI: [whispers] Who even are you?
CAITLIN: I hear “Chad” now, unfortunately, and I think of incels.
CAITLIN: But Chad is a good boy. I actually stopped reading Bleach when I realized Chad was just gonna get shit on.
PETER: Gonna get super-punched to show how strong each of the villains was? Yeah.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Over and over and over again. I was like, “No more.”
VRAI: Oh, so he’s the Team Rocket. Okay.
PETER: He’s the Wharf. Yeah, or Team Rocket. It’s a well-worn trope. The one who takes the punch so that you know how bad the situation is.
CAITLIN: And then he doesn’t do anything for the rest of the arc.
VRAI: Wow, usually that’s a female character in shounen anime.
CAITLIN: Oh, there are those, too.
PETER: Yeah. Bleach has got everything.
CAITLIN: Bleach has got a lot of issues.
PETER: All that, yeah. Anyway, welcome to our Bleach watchalong.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Oh God. Oh God.
VRAI: Oh God, no. No thank you.
CAITLIN: Oh, Jesus.
VRAI: Too old to watch Shonen JUMP battle anime. I’ll die in the middle of them.
CAITLIN: My Hero Academia is good.
VRAI: It seems nice.
PETER: And One Piece and Naruto.
PETER: Yes, they’re very good.
CAITLIN: Listen, my issues with One Piece are well-documented.
PETER: I mean, I have issues with both of them. I still like them.
CAITLIN: Naruto is just sort of garden-variety, “I’m kind of tired of this and I’m not gonna read it anymore.” One Piece, I started having issues with how he drew the women.
CAITLIN: And he was very disrespectful to mothers, and I was just like, “You know what? Screw this.” And so I stopped reading it.
PETER: One Piece fans deserve a Bardock-style flashback movie except it’s about Bell-mere.
CAITLIN: But anyway.
CAITLIN: We’re not here to talk about Shonen JUMP anime. We’re going on tangents before we’ve even started.
VRAI: [laughing] It’s been three minutes.
CAITLIN: So! So…The Den-noh Coil conclusion. How did you guys feel about it?
VRAI: I had a feeling. [sadly] I had a feeling. [In] my heart-meat.
CAITLIN: [laughs] That’s good.
PETER: [laughs] All right.
CAITLIN: It gave Vrai a feeling. Did it give you a lot of feelings? You had an emotion, Vrai?
VRAI: I did. I had an emotion.
CAITLIN: [laughs] So, Vrai had an emotion. Peter, did you have an emotion?
PETER: I thought the central conclusion with Yasako and Isako was pretty good. But I remember I was taking some notes about all the different plot threads and I realized in service of that, I felt like a lot of other people were really underserved. Some plots were not wrapped up, wrapped up messily, or the character just didn’t get to do anything at all, like Fumie.
CAITLIN: I definitely agree. I think… Good on you for taking notes—
CAITLIN: —because, honestly, it gets pretty hard to follow there in the last few episodes. Even having watched it twice, I was just like, “What? Wait. Okay, hold on. Okay. Wait. They’re throwing a lot of terms really fast at me. I can’t keep up.”
So, keeping notes was actually a really smart idea and I just cannot do that because it just turns into doodling.
VRAI: I will say that, not long after I finished watching it, I was kind of describing it to my wife, what the series was about and why I was having an emotion, and her response to summing up the whole “digital ghosts” and holding onto dead people by way of technology, with, “Oh, so it’s like Baby’s First Strange Days,” and now I can’t stop thinking about how it’s like that Kathryn Bigelow film.
CAITLIN: I haven’t seen Strange Days.
PETER: I’ve never even heard of that.
VRAI: It’s like a film about VR and VR as a narcotic, and a lot of the same things about how people use memories and these perfectly-recorded clips to linger in the past and remember things that are no longer there rather than move on with their lives in a healthy way, except Den-noh Coil has the advantage of not being “well-meaning but extremely out of its lane.” ‘Cause Strange Days is also [disappointedly] about racial politics, as directed by a white woman.
CAITLIN: [sarcastically sing-song] Oh, fun! Oh. Really great. Thank you, Kathryn Bigelow.
VRAI: Yeah. It means well, but…There’s some yikes. [whispering] There’s some yikes.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. We’ll get into this more later, but the concept of “the other side” I think works really well with… the idea of a connected, but separate, cyber-world really works well with Shinto, as we saw in the show.
PETER: Yeah. “Walking through the gates to get to the other side” thing.
CAITLIN: Yeah, exactly. The… It’s very significant that “the other side” is usually marked by Torii Gates. And I think I went into this in the last episode, or a couple episodes ago, but the fact that shrines… shrines going through Torii Gates are safe from the Sacchis in the earlier episodes, and then once the Sacchis start being able to go into those, it’s such a violation.
VRAI: Yeah, I think I mentioned this last time we got together, is that the technology is essentially dressing over a basically supernatural plot, which is an interesting mish-mash.
CAITLIN: It is. And it’s interesting how it takes the ideas… It starts off feeling relatively plausible, right? It’s basically more advanced augmented reality, Google Glass sort of thing, right? And it takes those concepts and it kind of extends them into sort of a more supernatural plot, but in a way that never feels, “Wait a second. We’re getting kind of out-there.” It’s all logically extended from the technology and from the setup, but it’s…
PETER: Didn’t it kind of walk that back, though?
CAITLIN: Like how?
PETER: ‘Cause it was establishing… They were sort of building up this supernatural element to the plot, and saying, “Oh, it either is in touch with or acting as an afterlife since it’s got all these recorded memories of things that used to exist that haven’t been properly deleted.” But then it turned out that those were just sort of an error built out of… The central ghost was not Haraken’s sister—or was it his sister?
VRAI: His friend.
PETER: It was Isako… Isako, right? The taller one.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. It was Isako’s cyber profile from that really weird therapeutic program that guy made. So that was one thing that I wasn’t quite clear on. I guess they were just saying, “Oh, none of that actual-life stuff actually happened. It was just the result of this really bad, janky-as-hell program this guy made and didn’t get to properly close out because he died before he could finish the therapy.” And that was where all that supposedly supernatural stuff was coming from.
VRAI: Yeah. A lot of the supernatural plot, as I gather—because, like you said, Peter, it certainly starts to spiral out toward the end—is that the… Michiko and the other “ghosts,” quote-unquote, have basically realized that they are the dream in the child’s snowglobe, and so their goal is to not get her to wake up because then they’ll all go away. Which is fucked up in a way that the show doesn’t quite touch on since it’s focused on Isako getting closure with her brother, specifically.
CAITLIN: Right. It’s sort of like there are almost… It almost feels like the messiness of the human consciousness doesn’t interface very well with the… The inherent messiness of the human consciousness kind of creates glitches when it interacts with computer programming? With computer programs. No matter how advanced the computer program is.
Because the way it may respond to certain human mental processes or certain feelings or certain emotions, because the brain is so unpredictable and complicated and not… I say “computers are completely logical” when I know that a lot of them are very… They have glitches, but, you know. The brain is more advanced and more black-box than the most advanced computer program.
CAITLIN: And, so, the brain… The program encounters something that the programmers couldn’t account for in the incredibly complex possibilities of the brain, and so it tries to make up for that with something weird and unpredictable, by creating a separate semi-consciousness like Michiko as a manifestation of Isako’s negative feelings and jealousy when she sees Yasako interacting with the program of her brother.
VRAI: [slow exhale]
CAITLIN: That’s a long, shuddering sigh.
VRAI: [laughs] I just… I think it works out in the… I get the impetus towards… I think it works out on the child logic level that, “Oh no, someone’s going to take my brother away.” That feeling is very real. Except this is not another girl his own age. This is not even… It’s just, “She showed up once.” [tiredly] Women. Competin’ be.
It’s one of those things where it’s a real emotion, but also the way that it’s seeded into the plot so that it can be a reveal later is so clumsy.
PETER: I don’t… Yeah, a lot of stuff was like that, too. ‘Cause remember, Yasako admitted that she had a crush on Haraken, and that was essentially the end of his place in the narrative, almost. ‘Cause after that, he’s in a coma for a long time.
I think he does one thing to help her get into the virtual space where Isako got her therapy, but I don’t even think he was part of the conclusion after that. You’re not sure where they leave things off. In fact, his whole plot [cracking up] kind of got bookended. I think his dad was just like…
VRAI: He kind of got closure at the end of the last set.
PETER: I guess there was a line. They’re just like, “Yeah, actually, your sister’s death was just an accident. No malfeasance or anything going on there. But I’m gonna make sure it gets reported correctly, Haruken.”
CAITLIN: Well, because they… The whole thing is that they covered it up, saying she was at fault. And he was like, “No, she wasn’t at fault.” And so it wasn’t something that ended up being connected to urban legends like he thought it might be.
But it wasn’t her fault. It was a glitch. And they’re going to account for that glitch now, so that it doesn’t happen again. Which I thought is not the most emotional way to wrap up his plotline, but he gets some vindication. He gets some recognition that, “No, we did mess up here.”
VRAI: Yeah. It wasn’t all for nothing. Closure is possible.
VRAI: I wasn’t super-mad at Haraken essentially playing the “love interest” role, which is basically how his character works.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Yeah, I agree.
VRAI: I do find their relationship a little bit underdeveloped. Especially compared to Isako and Yasako’s relationship, who I… ‘Cause I really shipped them by the end.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Oh my God. It super felt like a romance at the end.
VRAI: My heart, and the hospital scene, and I’m dying, and they’re good.
CAITLIN: And the music is playing while they’re looking at each other on the stairs.
VRAI: And Isako talks about [how] she was afraid to let people into her heart, but now, because of Yasako, she can… [voice breaking] and I had a feeling.
PETER: She even said she wouldn’t describe them as “friends,” either, so you can interpret that how you like.
VRAI: [cracking up] They’re a much better relationship. Haraken is fine, but also, he’s pretty milquetoast.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Haraken is a perfectly good boy.
VRAI: He’s a nice boy.
CAITLIN: He’s really boring. He’s really boring. He’s just… I’m not… You can have good boys that are not boring, but he is just… He is. He’s very boring. And I dunno. I wasn’t… You know when I see two characters that seem to be going down that road… two nice characters going down that road, I’m like, “Yeah!”
VRAI: Nice people communicating! Yay!
CAITLIN: Kiss! Kiss each other! Now kiss! Or maybe not ’cause you’re twelve.
VRAI: Hold hands awkwardly in the hallway.
CAITLIN: Hold hands awkwardly! But at the end when Haraken and Yasako are like, “Oh, maybe first love,” and they look away from each other, blushing. I’m like, [noncommittally] “Eh. That’s nice.”
VRAI: That is definitely the kind of first-crush relationship, and it lasts a year, and then you part amicably as friends.
CAITLIN: Wow. A whole year, you think?
VRAI: I’m giving it a generous guess.
CAITLIN: I remember the 7th grade relationships that I saw, most of them lasted two weeks.
VRAI: Yeah… but, Haraken at least had an arc. He got closure for his arc even if he dropped out afterwards. Fumie, I was a lot more disappointed that she’s just… Why doesn’t she offer to help? Why?
PETER: Yeah. They call in Daichi instead of Fumie, so he gets a bigger part in the final chase.
CAITLIN: I mean, him running down the street screaming that he has to pee, trying to get in people’s houses is pretty great.
PETER: Saving the dog.
CAITLIN: Pretty great.
VRAI: I laughed.
PETER: They even show Fumie sitting on her balcony, just watching the final events of the series happen, just going, “Oh, that looks exciting.” [laughs] Daichi’s running around saving the dog’s life.
VRAI: Probably, they had to pare it down so that the final conflict feels tighter for emotional reasons. But it’s just weird that she doesn’t even show interest and they find another way to say that she can’t help.
PETER: Yeah. Yeah, I felt like they could have gotten rid of some episodes in the middle, maybe, and really kind of padded out the side characters.
CAITLIN: But there aren’t really any episodes in there that I would have wanted to get rid of. The standalone episodes are all so strong.
CAITLIN: I can’t think of anything that I would have wanted to get rid of.
PETER: The beard episode.
VRAI: Nah, the beard episode was good.
PETER: Too many questions. Sentient life, created by AI?
VRAI: No, that’s when the show finally started to hit its stride. If I were gonna cut some, it would probably be in the first six.
PETER: Okay. The beard episode and the whole them having their spirits taken out of their body, but, oh it turns out that I guess that’s possible, but the afterlife does not exist. So, for some reason…
CAITLIN: Well, it’s sort of…
PETER: For some reason, your brain can literally be removed from your body by just digital space, but there’s nothing supernatural going on, because it’s actually—
CAITLIN: Right, well, it’s like… It’s not supernatural, but it’s still dealing with the separation… the consciousness… Separating the consciousness from the physical space, and putting it into this virtual space. The “other side.”
Basically going from… Once again, working with the Shinto imagery that the show has so much of, is going from the physical realm to the spiritual realm. And there is a lot of imagery to support that, especially in the last few episodes.
There’s a lot of stuff where I look at it, I’m like, “I know this is a thing, but I’m not quite sure what that thing is.” Like the grandfather wearing the bell on his wrist. The sound of bells is very connected to that somehow in a way that I cannot quite remember, but I know that the sound of the bells is really important there.
VRAI: There’s definitely a lot of Shinto underpinnings here that I wasn’t… I didn’t quite have the cultural context for. It reminds me of the last time I watched Wolf’s Rain and felt completely locked out of it.
CAITLIN: Well, users, if any of you are better educated on Shinto and folklore, please give us a comment, ’cause we love this kind of shit.
CAITLIN: And we love it when readers and listeners help fill holes in our own knowledge. So, please, I would love to hear about it.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I remembered what I was going to say earlier. I’ve been trying to remember it for the past five minutes now. But I think with the afterlife stuff… There’s an interesting shift as it gets into the reveal that all of this is the product of Isako’s mind, where the first maybe even two-thirds of the series talks about the other side and all of this as a collective unconscious thing, whether or not this is “the real afterlife” or not, or just something that we have created, like a created space by humanity… Does that or doesn’t it make it real?
And it’s kind of dealing with all these heavy questions in an unspoken way, but that doesn’t really work when you lock it into being the product of one person, which it decides it has to do for this character arc to come to a close.
CAITLIN: Right, well, it’s… It’s almost… The way I think of it is it’s not just a supernatural space. It’s not a product of Yasako’s mind, but it was created for her. Right
VRAI: Mm. Isasko.
CAITLIN: But it’s—the imagery when—it wasn’t created for Yasako. It was created for Isako. They’ve made it clear that Isako could… Bleh.
VRAI: Isako is in a coma. Yasako is…
CAITLIN: Gotta get the names straight. Yasako could access it because she had her grandfather’s goggles and because she had Densuke. And Densuke plays a really important role as the guide. But it almost looked like a debug space when Yasako was in it and looking for Isako, with all the textures and everything. So I wonder if somehow someone stumbled on it. It’s definitely not clear how these things sort of morphed from this computer program made for this specific little girl to this subject of urban legend.
VRAI: I guess it ties into this series’ thing about old e-spaces and what happens to—and the last plesiosaur and what happens to things created and then left alone? So, the thematic connection is there, but I feel like… I can almost see the writers in the background who have got all these nice, interesting ideas and these neat characters and then they realize that they’ve got six episodes and they’re like: “Fuuuuck!”
CAITLIN: This show could’ve used… I think if they had even another cour. Another 13 episodes. If they made some one-offs that were as solid in quality as the ones that they had, and then used—and then also had that to really sum up the series better, I feel like it would have been a stronger thing.
It’s also Iso’s… His first series that he directed in full. So, it does make sense that it has some pacing issues.
VRAI: It happens. Yeah.
CAITLIN: It’s a freshman effort. And it’s a really good freshman effort.
VRAI: And I don’t even know what another cour would look like, because the personal narratives all wrap up. It’s just that the themes are bigger than the personal conflicts have room for. And then at the end, you have this whole thing with the brothers that’s kind of tacked on, like, “All right, I guess that’s your deal.”
PETER: Oh, yeah, the villain? Yeah, that felt so, “Oh, we need a villain.” [laughs] “So let’s make this weird…” It’s that glasses guy, right? “Let’s make him really hate the company, and he’s willing to literally kill a child to get them in trouble.”
CAITLIN: Oh, that dude is so fuckin’ shady.
PETER: Yeah. “And then we’ll make that little guy his brother to betray—” I mean, I liked that moment where his brother betrayed him and shut off his glasses and everything, but he felt pretty… His whole explanation was very rushed and kind of cardboard.
VRAI: Yeah. He’s been spooky and mysterious the whole time, but once the turn happens, it’s like, “All right, this wasn’t really planted well.”
CAITLIN: “As you know, little brother, our parents were killed by—“
VRAI: [crosstalk; laughs] Right.
PETER: [crosstalk] Oh yeah, yeah. That little [unintelligible] scene! “Yes, as you know, our plan, being that I hate the company, is to get Isako to literally die and then they’ll get in big trouble and it’ll reveal all the stuff they’ve been hiding.”
I don’t even remember any… His parents got in trouble or something, right?
VRAI: His father didn’t get any credit for the legacy of things he created, which is… That’s a fine—
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, it is.
VRAI: —that’s a fine motivation, but there’s not a sense of what that meant for their lives other than just a very petty….
CAITLIN: Right. Their mom is sick or something, and he said the only way to cure her is to get revenge for this or something.
PETER: “My mom’s got that ‘doesn’t have revenge’ disease.”
VRAI: [almost in tears from laughing so hard] I’m okay… I’m okay… I just…
PETER: “I just need some closure and then I can walk again.”
VRAI: God. It’s one of those things that, on paper, you’re like, “All right, this makes sense for a character and why this character would be doing this,” but if you’re going to ramp up to “is kind of a dick in a mysterious way and spies on people” to “would literally kill a child,” I’m gonna need some backstory, bro.
PETER: Yeah. It also seemed like he could have done the same thing just by… He had access to the files—or like, he knew about all their dirty laundry, right? He could have just handed that to the press, or something. But instead, he wanted to literally kill a child. That was his plan. That’s the scandal he wanted rather than just releasing all the shit that they’d already covered up. And it… Yeah. That was kind of… [unintelligible due to crosstalk].
VRAI: [crosstalk] “Look. We need a ticking clock for Isako, and we have no other way to do this.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, that was definitely one of the weaker parts of the series. And his little brother whose name I can’t remember.
CAITLIN: That’s right! His name is Takeru. Same as TK’s name in Digimon.
CAITLIN: And that’s why I know that.
VRAI: Takeru is a nice boy. I liked him okay.
PETER: Part and parcel [of] all that too is just the very convenient amnesia both Yasako and Isako had. I think by the end, Yasako literally remembered everything except for the important parts. And I remember she said she remembered talking to somebody, but somehow forgot it was her dead grandfather that she met in a walkway, and they had a big conversation, but she… I don’t quite… She just remembered it was a person, right?
CAITLIN: Well, what happens on The Other Side is kind of dreamlike, right? Their memories… Everyone’s memories of what happened over there are fuzzy.
VRAI: Like on the one hand, yeah, child memories are weird and you fabricate a lot to fill in the blanks and you forget something that’s important maybe. On the other hand, [whispers insistently] it was very convenient.
PETER: Yeah. You didn’t think she would have gone home and go, “Oh, I was out for a walk and I got lost and I met grandpa,” or something, and her mom wouldn’t remember that. And maybe tease her about it or something like that.
CAITLIN: Well, her mom did talk about the times she got lost.
PETER: But nothing… I feel like if you’re a kid and you meet your dead grandparent, you’re probably gonna go home and they’re like, “Oh, did you get lost?” You’re like, “Yeah, but Grandpa showed me the way home,” and they’re like, “Uh, honey.” [laughs]
VRAI: “Honey, you’re not dealing well with grief!”
PETER: Yeah, yeah.
CAITLIN: Well, and maybe that did happen. Maybe she did go home and say [that] and [them] be like, “Oh, yeah. I guess she misses her grandfather.”
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah. I’m just saying they—
CAITLIN: “And she was making stuff up.” Mom’s not hooked in.
VRAI: Yeah. I will say I really liked the… You have to do it to do that thing where you go into the third act and all of a sudden the stakes are raised and you have the “all is lost” moment, but also just from a pure content perspective, I really liked the parents stepping in in a believable parent-y way.
CAITLIN: Yeah. “Okay, these glasses are dangerous. We’re taking them away.” And they’re like, “No, you don’t understand!” And the parent’s like, “No, seriously.”
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah. It feels like–
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] “Bad shit is happening.”
VRAI: It doesn’t feel like, “Oh, the parents have to be obstructive now because Plot Says So.” No. A child is in the hospital!
CAITLIN: Yeah. Bad stuff is happening. If I had a kid that, I don’t know… I’m trying to think of a more concrete example.
VRAI: Was Pokemon GO-ing into abandoned construction centers at night?
CAITLIN: Or they were… A 16-year-old playing Pokemon Go while they’re driving and they kill someone. If I read a news article about that, I would be like, “Yeah, I might delete Pokemon Go off your phone, ’cause teens do stupid stuff and you can’t always be sure and sometimes risks are too big to take.” And the parents aren’t… They’re generally not as into the glasses technology.
PETER: Wouldn’t that be like the scandal that guy was looking for, though? Literally parents were too afraid to let their kids wear glasses, which was the foundation of this digital space technology, and he’s like, “No, that’s not enough.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. I feel like Nekoya is not the most stable guy.
VRAI: But why? What have you been doing? We have information… [groans]
CAITLIN: But, going back… The scene with Yasako and her mom was really sweet.
VRAI: Yeah. It was nice. That was a really… This show does quiet scenes super well.
CAITLIN: It does. And just being like, “Hey, I know you’re sad about your dog and you’re upset about losing your glasses, but there’s so much cool stuff in the real world. The real world is warm.” And talking about how she lost—trying to relate to her, talking about how she lost her pet when she died. I really… Yasako has really good parents.
VRAI: Even though her dad is conveniently absent for most of the plot.
CAITLIN: Yeah, but then he comes through.
PETER: Well, that’s just being a Japanese dad.
CAITLIN: Yeah. He’s just working all kinds of hours. He was probably working a lot while this scandal was happening. But of course he’s the number one member of the hacker club.
VRAI: That’s so cute. That’s such a cute scene.
CAITLIN: [laughs] No, I really, really liked Yasako’s parents. All of the family relationships—and I think I talked about this before—are really interesting in the show. You see Daichi’s sort of macho dad and his relationship with his own masculinity/being a nerdy shrimp shithead. And Isako’s family relationship is really badly damaged.
PETER: Yeah, I never… I wish there was more time with her parents, because a lot of her plot was that she…
CAITLIN: Well, she was with her aunt.
PETER: Yeah. And it sounds like they were aware of the whole “digital therapy” thing. But I guess she just wasn’t convinced by them when they said he’d died straightaway. I guess she just thought that they were lying to her?
PETER: Even though they had pretty much all the information they needed, right? So… They were just introduced in the last—what?—three or four episodes?
CAITLIN: You got a brief glimpse of them earlier, but, you know, Isako’s not really… She’s clearly not really communicating with them, probably because she thinks they abandoned her brother, but her brother is actually dead ’cause Neko’s been implanting false shit in her head for so long. And her aunt does seem to care about her. Plus, she was abused as a child.
CAITLIN: Her mom hit her when she was very young.
VRAI: That was some heavy shit to just drop in there at the end.
VRAI: Like, fuck.
CAITLIN: And I don’t think you get as messed up as Isako is with a healthy family situation.
VRAI: Yeah. I mean, I know that in Japan there’s very much a silence around child abuse. There’s a lot of stuff in the news about that right now, with the poverty issues for single mothers and how that’s relating into increased cases of child abuse, but also, narratively, [surprised] all right, that came in at the end. And it’s not exactly treated… It’s not treated insensitively or lightly, but it is also…
CAITLIN: They just kinda drop it.
CAITLIN: They just kind of drop it in there. It’s like, “Wait, what. Wait, what?! Hold up.”
VRAI: “Wait. Wh—Stop. Hmm?”
Yeah, I will say… Putting aside Nekoya, there’s… I think the way we’re talking about this show versus when I was watching this show… Aside of Nekoya, a lot of the stuff is… If you pick at it a little bit, it starts to fall apart, but emotionally, it holds together really well while you’re watching.
CAITLIN: I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair, and I think the emotional journey of Yasako… I do think having a little bit more time to work with, and a little bit better pacing, could have resolved some of those issues.
Because in the end, it’s a series about being on the edge. Right? In the very end, if the emotional beats work, then the series is working because… Again, I do think a lot of the sci-fi elements are—even though they are the plot, a lot of them are sort of metaphorical for—they’re on the edge of puberty. They’re about to graduate elementary school and move on to middle school. They are sort of… Just everything about their lives are sort of in that in-between space, and they’re looking at the other side, and it’s terrifying but also exciting. Does that make sense?
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah. And, again, the show is very good at zeroing in on those quiet, melancholy adolescent moments. I got cranky when Densuke died because I don’t like dead dogs, but anime and media in general like to kill pets for shock value, but I rarely see ones that are so adept at actually conveying the sense of loss that is a child losing their pet. Those scenes were really affecting. It was a lot.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and he was a good dog.
VRAI: He was a good dog! He was a good boy.
CAITLIN: And he played his role as the guide figure. You know? He guided Yasako back when she was on the other side. He guided Kyoko back when she wandered over to the other side. Maybe that’s what was going on, is it was just… There was just a glitch in the program that it couldn’t find whatever was making it so that it could access Isako’s unconscious mind… It could find a young sleeping child with glasses on. “This is what our program is. We’re supposed to take her over.” Maybe that was what was going on. [mumbling] Or maybe I’m just trying to make sense of something that doesn’t completely make sense. I dunno! I’m okay with it either way.
VRAI: I mean, I think that’s plausible. I don’t think the show really gives any meat to support it. It is an early program, so the parameters are probably not as specific, which could lead to screw-ups like that. But I don’t feel like the show really… You’re meeting it three-quarters of the way. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, that’s fair. And I’m okay with that.
VRAI: This is why headcanons. It’s good. It’s fine. It’s… And I’m not… You know, we talked about, weeks ago, that this a story… this is the kind of sci-fi story where the themes serve the characters as opposed to the characters being stand-ins to explain the themes, and this is something that can be an outcome of that: is that sometimes the more interesting thematic stuff kind of gets set aside so that the characters arcs can shake out. And I’m okay with that on the whole.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I dunno. Maybe I am just trying to make up… ‘Cause I was also thinking about Fumie not being present, and, well, Fumie’s not really the kind of person who would tap into this sort of stuff, right? Fumie is pragmatic. Fumie believes in what makes logical sense in her world, and she’s not always the most open to things that do not sort of act in accordance with that.
I can’t remember what it was exactly, but she was just like… She dismissed something, where she was like, “That doesn’t make sense.”
VRAI: She was there for the invasion of the shadow creatures at Yasako’s house. The spooky horror episode.
CAITLIN: Oh, right. And she’s like, “This doesn’t make sense. This should not be possible.” And she was trying to figure out… When Yasako was talking about it before, she was like… [sighs] God, I really wish that we had been able to record sooner after we watched it.
VRAI: It’s okay. Yeah, I feel what you’re saying. That the final scenes between Yasako and Isako are very extremely-’90s-anime, where [passionately] “No, damn logic, you’re going to reach out with your heart!” It’s like, [deadpan] “Okay.” [laughing] But that’s not like a Fumie thing.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah. “The heart feels where she is!” But, you know, I mean, in the end, it doesn’t totally work, but it works. It worked for me.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s… This is a good show. I definitely would not have stuck with it if I hadn’t had to do it for the podcast, but I liked the second half a lot. I feel once it really dug into those… I see why the early episodic stuff is there and important for setting a tone and some early plot elements, and the beard episode and The Last Plesiosaur are really good at balancing those two spaces.
But the second cour was really where it was at for me, ’cause then it had these lighter moments, but also, it was fully entrenched into telling a sequential narrative and exploring what this world meant. And I liked that a lot.
And I think it is very good at handling these ideas of digital spaces and grief and memory and, you know, it also… It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but I appreciate that it’s trying to find a balance between those… being a show that’s like, “Technology can be dangerous!” but also not “Technology Bad.”
CAITLIN: Right. Yeah. It definitely does try to walk that line. ‘Cause I feel like things tend to be very much one or the other. But Den-noh Coil‘s like, “Yeah, there are risks to being so embroiled in the digital world, and, the real worlds, they’re really nice, guys!”
CAITLIN: But at the same time it’s like… It values the possibility. The potential of the technology.
VRAI: Yeah. There are definitely parts of this show where I can feel like: “What if a warmer, human version of Lain?”
CAITLIN: I never watched Lain.
PETER: I’ve heard watch Haibane if you actually want… that’s the good stuff, and Lain‘s the not-so-good stuff.
CAITLIN: I liked Haibane.
VRAI: [quietly] I still need to watch it. It’s been on my watchlist for a decade…
PETER: Yeah, me too. [laughs]
VRAI: [cracking up] I own the DVDs and it’s still on my watchlist.
CAITLIN: Well, Haibane would be a very good… not watchalong, ’cause it’s only 13, but it would be a good retrospective.
VRAI: Eh, yeah, it probably would.
PETER: That would get me to watch it for sure. I just need to take my entire watchlist and turn them all into retrospectives. That’s how I’ll get through this anime backlog.
VRAI: God, there’s so much. All the time, there is so much.
I’m glad that they didn’t fall into one category or the other in regards to if technology is good or bad, but I wish they had done that in terms of whether the series was trying to be supernatural or not. ‘Cause I feel like they kind of waffled, and didn’t… It wasn’t even just trying to be ambiguous. It was just like, maybe they were undecided or couldn’t figure out how to enforce it one way or the other.
I wish they’d sort of taken a stance. Written things out to the end, and then asked themselves how everything could be explained, either from a supernatural or from a not-supernatural perspective, and kind of maybe had things be misinterpreted so that it does have that ambiguity leading in toward the end. But maybe give us kind of a cleaner feeling after the fact where we can realize, in actuality, how things went, or just have that greater question. One of the two.
VRAI: Yeah, I feel what you’re saying, Peter, and I’ve enjoyed shows like that. I feel like that kind of balance is super fucking hard to maintain in a show this long. This isn’t even a long show. But, Paranoia Agent did it.
CAITLIN: Yeah, but Paranoia Agent was Satoshi Kon, who’s a genius.
VRAI: Right, well, and also, it’s only 13 episodes. It had a really high-level, experienced director and it had a shorter timeframe so that it could more tightly control its thematic presence and a smaller cast and all these other factors, so…
I would’ve liked a little bit more fine-tuning, but also, this is a first project and a lot of other factors… [stumbles over words] I-I… It’s okay. I’m fine.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Is there anything else that you guys would change about the show, other than just changing the pacing, making it shorter, or longer, just so that the ending was just a little bit more coherent, and had a little bit more time to breathe?
VRAI: It’s a small… I liked him okay by the end. I thought him helping out with the final sort of race to the finish was very sweet, but Daichi is such an ancillary character by the time the second half starts and the plot gets going, and they spend so much of the first half focusing on him.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I do think the first and second half could be better connected, ’cause the first half is a fun kind of ensemble sci-fi comedy, and the second half is very… kicks up very fast, and all the extraneous plot that’s not totally necessary to resolving the thing with Isako and Yasako—I feel like all of that drops away very quickly.
VRAI: I see why you need a character like Daichi, and he had some good scenes. He’s gonna turn out okay as kids go. But just… there’s a lot of him.
PETER: Imagine if Fumie had shoulder-checked those guys and judo-throat the bullies. That would’ve been… I mean, I was actually thinking that was gonna be Daichi’s big moment, but then he got the whole thing in the end with the chase too, which I felt was too much. But as a final moment for Daichi, I thought that would have been a good one. But they could have given… Instead, he got two and Fumie got zero, which felt bad.
VRAI: Oh, yeah. There was that… I forgot about the judo moment where I was torn between, “Ah, he had a nice moment and they friends and this is about physical versus digital reality,” et cetera, et cetera. But then part of me was like, “Oh, it’s ’cause Boy Strong.”
PETER: Fortunately, in Planet With, the girls do all the Judo throwing.
CAITLIN: That’s true. Hey, guys. Planet With is good. You should watch it.
PETER: Yeah. True. If you’re not watching it, you should watch it.
VRAI: You sold me hard with the Judo girls, I’ll admit it.
CAITLIN: I feel like everyone in the AniFem team right now loves Planet With.
PETER: Well that’s ’cause it’s probably one of the best anime of the season. Easily top three.
CAITLIN: Yes, but I’m saying it’s got the AniFem Seal of Approval.
PETER: Yeah. Definitely.
VRAI: At time of recording.
PETER: I think.. I know you two really like the middle episodes. The one-offs. I think this series needed to be two-cour, but what I probably would have done is just cut out all of that in the middle.
Maybe gotten rid of Daichi and his gang entirely, ’cause I don’t feel like they were plot important, and then spent all that extra time that I’ve just given myself on padding out narratives for Haraken, the villain, and Fumie, to give them all—to make them, I don’t know, have better-explained—give them more satisfying endings, and just kind of give a greater sense of continuity to all the characters rather than just kind of spending all this time on Daichi and his friends and then having absolutely nothing to show at the end for it.
CAITLIN: Right. It would just tighten it up, pretty much?
PETER: Yeah. I think… I mean, the early episode stuff is fun and I think it sells a lot of the kid stuff, but I think you could have done that while also introducing a lot of the late-game second-half characters earlier, and maybe making them feel more grounded in the conflict rather than taped on to provide explanations for why things get out of control.
VRAI: Yeah, it feels like Takeru could have come in a lot earlier.
CAITLIN: He could have. I think so too. Yeah, I… You are not wrong.
VRAI: But also this show gives you a heart feeling.
CAITLIN: Yeah. You’re not wrong, but I feel like a lot of that first-half stuff is what makes the show special to me. And I don’t think I would love it as much if it had… I’m not saying it wouldn’t be good without it, but I don’t think I would have connected to it as strongly.
VRAI: Well, that’s where a lot of just the “kids being kids” stuff that you like is, and that is—
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I really appreciate how the show’s… how it shows the messy ridiculousness of adolescence.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s the stuff that feels the most grounded. Which isn’t a thing that speaks to me as much, but I can see why it’s valuable.
CAITLIN: I mean, I just also really like well-written children in anime, and it’s always really gratifying to see. And also, I dunno… I feel like we talk about Daichi so much in this podcast, but I do think the show really does give a good sense that he’s shitty now, but there’s hope for him to become [cracking up] a human in the future.
VRAI: Yeah, I know kids like that who turned into okay adults.
CAITLIN: Someday he’ll be a real boy. He’ll be a real boy someday.
VRAI: Yes, no, as a well-written, realistic child: A+. As a narrative device: less pleased.
PETER: Yeah. Also… I dunno, there were a lot of characters that could have done the things they did that… I just think Haraken and Fumie, if they had been given all that time, could have gotten a lot further. It would have been more satisfying to have them accomplish those things and feel like stronger presences in the story rather than Daichi, who we’re supposed to not like in the beginning.
I mean, I like a bully’s redemption. I really loved A Silent Voice. But if that’s happening on the sidelines to all this other stuff—and arguably, Fumie’s the one that literally pulls Yasako into all this and then Haraken is the one that gets them in on the mystery… They seem way more important, as both characters and narratively.
VRAI: I guess the toxic masculinity stuff with Daichi doesn’t really go anywhere, does it? ‘Cause he’s clearly the way he is partly because of his family. And, like we’ve said, he’s probably gonna turn out okay. But the result for his character is “It is good to protect people” but also in this— [pained chuckle; struggling to find words]
PETER: [crosstalk; laughing] Full stop.
Yeah, I mean I think it’s good to show… I definitely think his story is good. It’s good to show both that little, shitty kids aren’t beyond redemption and showing that you can sort of give that kind of stuff up, or maybe… I don’t know. Him kind of realizing that what he was doing wasn’t getting him anything at the end of the day, it was just making him miserable, ’cause he actually liked Fumie and all he was doing was basically making her hate him, right?
And none of his friends were really friends because it was… The whole dynamic for their social group was just a male power game. That’s how they drove Haraken out of the club, because the other guy just bullied him out, and Haraken wasn’t interested in playing that game, so he just said, “I’ll leave.”
So, I think it’s good that showing somebody kind of caught up in that can sort of let it go. Although, I don’t know if I would even really say he let it go. He just kind of maybe changed his priorities. He still seemed to be following back on those same kinds of behaviors, just in a constructive rather than destructive way, which might still not be that great. Better, but maybe not that great still.
What am I saying? Yeah, basically, what happened with Daichi, but I don’t know if the story had that much time for all that, or if it really drove home the… It had a place in the larger narrative as well.
VRAI: Like a lot of things in this show, the intent behind his character and arc is good, but the execution is messy.
CAITLIN: Right. No, that’s fair. [whispers] I just really love this show.
VRAI: You know who’s very good? Megabaa.
PETER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitely good.
CAITLIN: She is! More Megabaa. That’s what I would change.
PETER: That would have been good. I kind of didn’t like… I was really… A lot of this convenient stuff, like where she had the key locked in the attic the whole time, and her husband never told her about all this cool stuff, all this priceless digital workshop that was in her attic the whole time and that she didn’t find… But, yeah. I liked everything she did in the story. It was cool.
VRAI: She’s very good as cool, trickster mentors go.
PETER: Yeah, especially in a story which is about emergent technology and showing that it’s not just gonna leave the old generation behind. I mean, certainly, a lot of them will have trouble catching up, most likely, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be part of the new movement that comes out of these new technologies.
VRAI: Also imagining her and her husband meeting because they’re both tech geeks is good and cute.
PETER: Yeah. That’s the flashback I want.
CAITLIN: That is cute.
PETER: How their grandparents met. That would have been cool. Megabaa never waxed poetic about her past or anything.
PETER: That’s the one-off episode.
VRAI: This is a good show that I liked, and I would recommend it to people and say that if they’re not feeling the first couple episodes, you can… I dunno that you can really skip a bunch of stuff, but you could try out the beard episode and see if that strikes you better, ’cause that’s an indicator of what the show turns into.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, I agree. I agree. The beard episode, or the…
VRAI: You really can’t start with Last Plesiosaur, is the problem.
CAITLIN: No, you can’t. Because it’s sad and it actually does draw on a lot of concepts in the show. Start with the beard episode if you’re not sure.
VRAI: Right, and then try the early episodes again knowing it leads to that, I guess.
CAITLIN: Yeah. All right. Are we done? Are we good?
VRAI: [crosstalk] I think we did The Thing.
CAITLIN: Should I lead us out?
CAITLIN: All right. So, that’s our episode. Thanks for listening! If you enjoyed this, you can check out our website at animefeminist.com. And if you really like us, you can consider becoming a patron on our Patreon, patreon.com/animefeminist. Even a dollar a month helps… I think half our donors give about a dollar a month, and it adds up super fast, and it’s a huge, important help.
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So, thanks for listening. Hope you enjoyed our watchalong of Den-noh Coil, and hopefully some of you decided to watch a show that you wouldn’t have normally because of it. So, thanks, AniFam!
VRAI: Pet your dog.
CAITLIN: Pet your dog.
PETER: Even if they’re digital.
CAITLIN: Pet your digital pets. Get out that Tamagotchi.
VRAI: I was gonna say “Neopets,” but…
PETER: Please don’t start that again.
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