Sometimes you stumble across an anime that makes you realize that if more people had watched it the genre it’s a part of could have become tremendously different. Den-noh Coil is one of those anime series. If this show had gotten a better release when it came out, if it had gotten better exposure, this could have been a show that redefined the perception of the cyberpunk genre the same way that Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira did. Sadly, because of the issues with its original release, it hasn’t really hit an option for mainstream visibility until now. Hopefully the authors who need to see it will get a chance to, and will be equally inspired.
Den-noh Coil is an anime series that mixes cyberpunk with the sort of Kids On Bikes adventure story that you associate with Stephen Spielberg or (as a later example) Tales from the Loop. What makes it different is rather than using a setting with the trappings of the ‘80s like those other works, or laying down a sense of Heavy Cyberpunk like the anime series and films I mentioned earlier, it’s a show that uses a sense of light futurism – putting the world visibily just a little bit beyond the world we live in now, in terms of general design and clothing, but with a technological advance that goes well beyond what we have.
The advancement in question is a new form of augmented reality glasses that basically put all the functionality that we have on our computers and cell phones and in virtual reality in the glasses, and a bunch more. For example, people have augmented reality pets that look and act like real pets do, but without them barfing on the actual carpet. With this has risen a new flavor of hacker culture, based around exploring the capabilities of these glasses and how they can interact with the world – whether though writing software for the glasses, or by drawing patterns in the world to bring about certain effects.
The show follows Yuko “Yasane” Okonogi, a young girl who recently moved to Daikoku City with her parents and younger sister Kyoko as part of her father’s new job, where they’ll be living with her Grandmother. This isn’t her first time there – she’d visited in Daikoku several years earlier, where she got her first pair of Augmented Reality glasses, along with a virtual pet dog, Densuke. She quickly makes friend with one of her classmates, Fumie Hashimoto, who something of a hacker. Yasane also learns that her grandmother, Sanae, is something of a supplier to the array of hacker kids in town, and is nicknamed Megabā – (basically “Glasses Granny”).
However, there’s something odd going on with some of the physical spaces in town, and how they interact with the tech of the glasses – something the company who is control of the Glasses servers in town – Megamass – and the government are trying to cover up.
The writing in this show is incredibly smart, with some really clever thoughts about how kid hackers would interact with this technology – both in the sense of “how would kids want to use this?”, and “how would a bunch of imaginative people with massive amounts of time on their hands want to use this?”
It really gets the more pure side of the hacker mindset, with also a willingness to get tremendously weird in multiple senses. Some of this is a more weirdly traditional SF sense, like an episode where the town gets hit with a computer virus that causes everyone to get computer virus beards that gain sentience and different people start developing different civilizations on their faces. Some of this gets a little into the realm of the fantastical, with the question of whether you can contact the spirits of dead people through these “obsolete spaces” through your Den-noh glasses coming up over the course of several episodes.
While the show’s cast is predominantly elementary school kids, it really gets the sense of the ways that kids can be differently smart from adults. They don’t have the life experience of adults, and they’ve yet to develop some of the degrees of book smart that adults have, but they can end up developing intellectual knowledge and practical wisdom in different directions and from different means that adults do. This is different from what some other shows do when trying to write kids – where they write them as just smaller, less educated adults. Pulling what Den-noh Coil does is tremendously hard, and I’m glad it managed to pull it off.
Ultimately, Den-Noh Coil is a show that, deep down in my guts, I want to put in front of anyone writing near-future science fiction and get them to watch it. It feels like the kind of thing where if the right writers finally saw it, it would be a game changer. And, now that the show’s on Netflix, we just might get that.
In addition to being available for streaming on Netflix, as of this recording the show still has physical copies available through RightStuf and Amazon.com. Buying anything through those links helps to support the site.