Despite my professed love of Japanese animation, I am sorry to say that I have been somewhat blase regarding the television programs airing these past few seasons. Some, such as a fantasy re imagining of Romeo and Juliet, I eagerly anticipated only to have my interest flag a few episodes in. It has nothing to do with the production quality, nor that the concepts are carried off poorly; they just lack the right level of originality, the imaginative nature that sparks my interest. The reason I was drawn to anime in the first place was due to the rare show that lets you feel like you’ve seen something new, or perhaps, even better, like you’ve seen something you’ve been hoping to see all along in some little corner of your mind. Instead of disappointment due to a cliche, It’s something that makes you say to yourself “Wow…that’s a neat idea. Wish I’d though of that.” Dennou Coil was the first show in a long time that prompted such a reaction.
The premise is a relatively simple Sci-Fi concept which hearkens back to the cyberpunk novels of the past few decades. In the near future, wireless electronic glasses have taken the place of cellphones, allowing the user to experience a 3D virtual reality simulation of the internet in tandem with the real world. Every lamp post and concrete wall has a VR counterpart with which your virtual self can interact; you see creatures though the glasses that aren’t really there, things that you can view but not touch. People care for beloved pets that exist only within the virtual realm, and summon animated underlings to do their bidding. That alone is an interesting enough concept, but the fact that the main characters are elementary school children lends a magical quality to the show, and infuses what might be cliched Sci Fi with elements of mystery and danger. The show’s main strength comes not from its premise, but from its characters, whom the writers manage imbue with the right degree of quirk and individuality. Though the main focus is on the two young protagonists (Both girls named Yuko, nicknamed Isako and Yasako respectively), the show brings to life a large cast of oddball characters ranging from the tech savvy grandmother to the foul mouthed, bratty little sister. The children play and bicker, throwing hacker hexes at each other, exploring the augmented neighborhood that exists inside their headsets. The way VR is portrayed makes it seem similar to having magical powers, except that every supernatural or fantastical occurence is caused and explained by the technology, and none of it, at least theoretically, can affect the physical world. As the plot progresses, the show begins to delve into darker territory, focusing on the central mystery of Miss Michiko, a digital being that the urban legends say spirits away children’s souls. At a point two thirds of the way through the series, the comedy fades to make way for a narrative that resembles a cyberpunk ghost story, leading to quite a few genuinely chilling moments. Nice.
All and all, I recommend this series. The animation is high quality for television, and the plot manages to wrap the viewer’s questions up quite neatly by the end of the 26 episodes. If you’re not a fan of Science Fiction or anime, you might find yourself slightly disinterested in the fanciful internet world that the show sets up, but the comedy and drama hold up well enough to make it appealing even outside the target fan demographic. If you’re new to anime, this might not be the best show to start with, but if speculative fiction is your thing, definitely check this out.