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Thankfully the quality stays at the same high level in this episode. Toshiyuki Inoue and Takeshi Honda yet again head the animators. These two have done an incredible amount to maintain the quality of the show so far. In tow are many of the usual names we've seen in past episodes, such as Ei Inoue and Kazutaka Ozaki and Hajime Shimomura - many of whom I've often seen working as animation directors on films prior to this. The animation director is Yoshimi(?) Itatsu, a name I'm not familiar with. He seems to be a relatively new face, having been involved in two previous Madhouse productions - Paranoia Agent and Beck - as an animator. This appears to be his first episode as AD.
The storyboard is by Shinsaku Sasaki, whom I remember for having animated the famous bit of action with the Tatarigami at the beginning of Mononoke Hime, where it's covered with all those snakelike things that look like CG but amazingly are in fact hand drawn (aside from a few close-ups). He's been very active as a storyboarder for hire in recent years since leaving Ghibli, having done work on shows like Master Keaton, Arjuna and Welcome to the NHK. The director was the same guy who directed eps 1 and 2, Masashi Yasukawa. I noticed in this episode that two students named Yasukawa and Honda were assigned the "daily chores" on the blackboard. Daily chores indeed! An amusing metaphor for all the work these guys have been doing for the show.
This episode focused on bringing to life the interplay between the protagonists at the school. I find that the various characters stand well on their own as characters, each with their own unique personalities. Daichi is fun as the bratty gang leader, and we started to learn more about Isako's personality and denno skills. I found her to be a satisfyingly layered character, like her counterpart Yasako, in that she behaves rudely in a way that makes her hard to like, but at the same time I could empathize with her behavior, as when she comments - "It's always like this. I never do anything, and they always come after me." I remember feeling that way in school growing up.
New clues were dropped here and there about the various threads lurking in the background, the biggest being the identity of Michiko. As always, the various denno devices and the way they were presented and integrated into the story were a sheer delight. The second half was an exciting virtual war between the factions featuring some more cool denno tools (not being used as they were intended) that gradually built up to a tremendously exciting and impressive bang where directing, animation and digital effects combined to great effect. It's this sort of deft balance of all the elements that most impresses me about this series. Superb talent working on every facet make for these kind of results. Again, I get the distinct impression that Iso's digital effects work in particular goes a tremendous way to giving the visuals their impact.
I got to thinking that I appreciate this series because it's the kind of sci-fi I prefer - the kind that is based in the reality that I know, with a few not too implausible fantastic embellishments to spice things up. Kind of the way I thought the first Digimon movie was a good sci-fi because of the way it kind of rethought the genre. Instead of going way overboard with the sci-fi stuff, he creates a plausible situation with real kids we can believe in, and adds a little touch of sci-fi. Seeing how the kids react to the situation is what made for fascinating viewing.
The idea of the 'imago' in this episode was interesting too - the idea of a function that the manufacturer of the device has deliberately chosen to disable and prevent users from using. Some may recall that a very similar situation occurred in real life not long ago, when cell phone manufacturers like mine, Telus, chose to deliberately disable Bluetooth functionality in Bluetooth-capable phones, and to not tell the users about this, under whatever pretext it was that they came up with. I doubt they're related, but I thought it was a good example of how plausible the little denno concepts in this series are because they're not too far-fetched and ring kind of close to home. By sheer coincidence, it even ties up to our own virtual world - Imago-Image is the name of Iso's home page.
It brought back memories of Tweeny Witches to hear Houko Kuwashima and Sachiko Kojima's voices on screen together again - Arusu and Sheila reunited. Just for reference, here's a list of some recent storyboards drawn by Shinsaku Sasaki.
Final Fantasy Unlimited 10, 15, 22
Overman King Gainer 11
Keroro Gunso 97, 100, 107
Astraea Testament 2
Full Metal Alchemist 5, 12, 18, 24
Cluster Edge 4
Shonen Onmyoji 6
Welcome to the NHK 16, 23
Death Note 18, 29
Master Keaton 5 (+director)
Angelic Layer 2, 10, 18, 25 (+director)
This last two episodes really got me hooked to the series. The first two were very interesting and exciting but they lacked in astonishment. They came with a lot a delight but didn’t manage to sweep me away.
Episode 3 and 4 managed to do that, however. In both episodes, I was hooked from the start. The story, the visuals and the characters blend together in a vortex that didn’t let my mind wander for a single moment.
The world is very fascinating and every episode holds many little suprises as to how things work in this world. The close connection to the present makes it relatable to and prevents it from becoming far-fetched and arbitrary. This is supported by the gorgeous effects and animation that make the series a pleasure to watch by themselves.
What I also like about the series is that it doesn’t believe it’s necessary to explain everything to the viewer. The cyber battle in the second half of the fourth episode could have well been one of those over-explained techno-talk battles but it unfolded mainly on the visual level. This is very interesting and allows for much better flow of the action.
This also extends to the story and characters. It doesn’t explain everything to the viewer and actually lets him discover it by himself. I liked how we learned a lot about Yasako’s past in the short conversation with Isako. It tells more much better than any flashback could manage in the same time.
Finally, what also got my attention are the adults in the series. Denno Coil is about a children’s world but unlike other series which just blank out all adults, Denno Coil very gently places them in the world while the children still roam free. I noticed, for example, how many adults don’t wear glasses and are thus completely exempt from the world we see in the series. Or how the teacher notices the commotion in the class but decides to let it pass. I was also quite suprised how they managed to tackle bullying in a serious and humerous way at the same time.
Thanks for the good comment! It’s interesting to hear that 3&4 did it for you much more than 1&2. I agree that there is clearly a difference, and as far as I can tell it’s a reflection of the different storyboarders at work. That ‘board by Akitoshi Yokoyama in 3 was pure excellence, and 4 was superb too. Makes all the difference in the world. Not that I thought 1&2 were bad, but they were far more ‘loose’ so to speak, so I can see where you’re coming from.
Very much agree about the visual aspect - I like that this series talks not with words but with images, for the most part. And interesting comment about the adults. I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right, it’s nice how the focus is on the children but the adults are there on the margins, not as these otherworldly beings but like they are in kids lives, at the center but on the fringes, at the same time.
The thing I’m most liking about this series is just seeing how much it inspires people to write about it… Most of the comments I’ve read have all been very interesting and well-observed and gave me some new understanding about different ways to view the series… it gains a sort of completeness through all this conversation.