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Denno Coil ended about a week ago, so I thought I would post my thoughts on how the series progressed since the last episode I blogged, episode 12. I try to avoid discussing anything remotely specific about the plot when I blog something, for one because it would be a spoiler, but more importantly because I find there to be no point. So I wind up trying to analyze what's being done with the directing or what is interesting stylistically.
There was enough going on stylistically and in terms of the directing in the first season to make blogging each episode rewarding. With the second season the nature of the show began to change. It was like the expository portion was over, and we were now moving into the main body, where we would finally get serious and explore the theme that Iso had hinted at in the beginning as being the driving force - namely, the theme of the interconnectedness of people. I found that I could probably not productively blog each episode anymore, since most of what was happening was happening mostly on the level of the plot and the character interrelations. It's best for everyone to make up their own minds about the story. It's boring reading about that sort of thing anyway. Best to just watch it. So I stopped blogging it.
The first 14 episodes had been entirely written by Mitsuo Iso. Starting with episode 15, the credit was shared. My guess is that Iso maybe provided the rough draft and someone else fleshed it out. All of the work must have caught up with him, preventing him from writing the rest, which is a shame. Much of the catchy quality of the show came from his writing, so losing that made a difference. The tone of the show seemed to change a bit. Suddenly the focus was quite clear, without the silliness and imaginative touches of the early episodes. That was an appealing part to me. Things also became a little repetitive. It seemed like we were going nowhere for a long time, stalling for time, and there was nothing really new being presented in terms of the cyber world or in terms of plot. I got the impression that things were being drawn out to fill in the space, when this climactic portion might better have been fit within a few episodes.
The quality of the show nonetheless remained at the same level, which in itself is a remarkable achievement. It may have gone down ever so slightly, but they put up a really strong fight throughout - the regulars like Toshiyuki Inoue, Kumiko Kawana, Kazutaka Ozaki, Yoshimi Itatsu, et al. Hiroyuki Aoyama even re-appeared a few times, as did Ayako Hata, Takashi Mukoda and Masashi Ando. At the very least, Denno Coil achieved an unusually high average level of quality for a TV anime. Real quality, as in interesting and nuanced movement by good animators, not just frame count or pretty drawings. The last episode unsurprisingly featured an impressive array of big-name animators, and I was happy to see young Shin-Ei animator Ryotaro Makihara (who I mentioned before) in ep 25. Tetsuro Karai appeared several times, so perhaps he pulled Makihara in. I was surprised that character designer Takeshi Honda never reappeared as an animator after episode 1, but I'm guessing there's a lot of tug-of-war going on among the big directors for someone of his caliber.
I quite enjoyed the second, more focused half for what it was trying to do, but it wasn't as captivating to me as the first half, where each episode was fresh and full of new ideas. My main problem was that the plot suddenly seemed to get stuck in third gear, rather than gradually ratcheting up. Also, the concept driving the plot became somewhat murky near the end as the explanations behind the cyber self seemed to push plausibility and border on philosophy. I really like how Iso used the concept to discuss issues of identity and mortality, but by the time the climax arrived, the balance felt out of whack and the climax came across as kind of forced and sudden, with lots of explanations suddenly falling from the sky. Perhaps the padding had drawn things out for too long. Dropping lots of mysteries at the beginning only to answer them all right at the end is a style of plotting that has never done much for me. I don't think the climax should have relied on sudden revelations, at least not so much. The characters' motivations should have been enough. Maybe things would have been different if Iso had written every episode, or if they could have done it all in 18 episodes or 20 episodes instead of having to adhere to these fixed numbers - 13, 26. Who knows.
In any case, Denno Coil was a rare instance when someone set out with an interesting, original idea for a TV show and got it made with solid backing from a bevy of the best animators in the industry. Mitsuo Iso the animator shone through in the digital wizardry of the scenes involving the cyber-gadgets and apparitions. These scenes achieved an unusual level of depth that went beyond the flat confines of the conventional 2D look of anime. It was these scenes that made the cyber world of Denno Coil come alive and feel real and immediate. Despite any shortcomings the story might have, the concept was very stimulating and convincingly fleshed out. The characters were fun and engaging, and they developed in a fairly convincing way over the course of the show in response to the events. The show addressed some serious questions without taking itself too seriously. The animation was consistently top-notch throughout while never stooping to being an end unto itself. The animation served the material and emphasized nuanced observation and craft over eye-candy flashiness. More than anything, it was a rare instance of a TV show that succeeded in creating its own self-contained world with its own unique rules and aesthetic. It was a real success on many levels.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Dennou Coil, I’ve been curious about it for some time now. I think I generally agree with you on all the points and I’m tired so I won’t say much, except - I don’t know if I’m being overcritical especially for a show of this calibre, but was I the only one who felt that the animation was slightly less interesting in the second half of the show?
Perhaps it might have had to do with the schedule or the layouts but I felt like it lost some of its nuances. Running scenes and so on were well animated, but it didn’t register in my memory as well as the animation in the earlier episodes, such as the scene of Yasako carrying those things on her back and following Kyoko, or the scenes of Daichi running to catch the cat or running into the empty science room. Perhaps it’s just a matter of preference of episodes.
I’m also saddened that Takeshi Honda didn’t really show up after some time - I heard he was busy working on the Eva film or something. I wonder why Inoue stayed on until the end, though.
Sorry for the delay in getting around to writing this. I did notice some doubling-up in the storyboarding/animation directing in the second half, so schedule probably did have something to do with that slight plateauing of overall quality. There were plenty of standout scenes in the second half, one of my favorites being the scene of Isako crying (I’m guessing by Masashi Ando)… but I do see what you mean. The overall level of nuance seems a bit lower especially compared to that first episode by Honda. I think Inoue did a lot to fill out the nuance in the second half, and the show really benefited from his work, but his style isn’t quite as flamboyant and idiosyncratic as Honda’s.
Inoue was trained doing TV work like this, and I remember him saying in the interview that in the end, all he’s interested in is putting out as many shots of good animation as possible, rather than working to no end on a single shot for a film or what not, so I can sort of see why he decided to hang around on Denno Coil. A good opportunity to do a lot of work under an animator he respects. Now that I think about it, I’m more surprised to see that he was credited as animation director a number of times…
I’m a longtime reader and fan of your unparalleled site. You provide us all with an invaluable resource!
Having read your commentary on Dennou Coil I’m now tempted to give it a serious look.
I’m curious whether you have seen the work of Hiroshi Hamasaki (director of Texhnolyze and the recent Shigurui). I find him to be one of the greatest directors around, even beyond the world of animation.
If you haven’t seen Texhnolyze in full, get past the slow beginnings and give it a look. For me, it is possibly the greatest allegory of all time. It’s incredibly dense and metaphorically layered, with myriad shades of Dante’s Inferno, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Nietzche, Freud and Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, even (my personal favorites) Gregory Bateson and J. J. Gibson- all of whom are directly alluded to in a very nuanced and natural way.
Texhnolyze asks whether human nature can change, and how technology factors into the equation. Human evolution and the human mind is explored through the lens of an enormous metaphor that can be read on many levels.
No surprise, perhaps, coming from Chiaki Konaka. I’m a big fan of his intense and cerebral writing style, but I feel Hamazaki is the first director who has succeeded in realizing on screen the true potential of Konaka’s insane genius.
I consider Texhnolyze to be Konaka’s masterwork, and Hamazaki’s lyrical, noh-like directing style to be among the best and most original out there. His live action sensibility and sense of timing really stand out for me.
The all-star team of up-and-coming co-writers need a special mention as well, helping to flesh out Konaka’s obscure style. It is worth mentioning though, that the english subtitled DVD release is pure garbage- the translation is so poor as to lose the entire meaning and subtext of the series! The romanizations are all wrong too (e.g. Lukuss for Lux, Racan for Lacan, Organo for Organ) To be watched in Japanese only. The fansubs available are hardly better. However, the Japanese DVDs have extensive liner notes and were recently re-released at lower cost.
Shigurui is a whole other discussion for another post, but no less intriguing…
Interested to know what your thoughts are!
Very strange that you bring up Texhnolyze. I just happened to be watching the first episode yet again today. One of the all-time best series openers. I completely agree that the direction is amazing. Strangely, I’ve rewatched that episode four times now, and have yet to even get through the second episode– partly because the sensory onslaught of ep 1 is so absorbing in itself, that I thought the series could only go downhill. Also, I just don’t have time to watch 22 episodes these days. But knowing you found the trip worthwhile, I will now make the effort. Thanks for the review.
Too often I start a series that starts out well, but I soon lose interest. (Which brings to mind Dennou Coil…)
The last series I got through without it feeling like a slog was Gankutsuou.
Glad my review inspired you to watch further!
I like the first four episodes more and more as I rewatch them (watch the seperate versions of 3&4, not the on-air cut version). The visual montages are mesmerizing, especially the beginnings of 3&4. The final part of episode 2 is heartbreaking too; the music, color and timing work together so well.
A few more directorial highlights off the top of my head, from the first arc alone:
- sewer sequence in ep5
- fight sequence at end of ep6
- prison sequence at start of ep7
- introduction of sakimura in ep7
- riot sequence in ep 8
- getaway sequence in ep 9
- ohnishi’s home sequences in ep 9
- action sequences in ep 10
- hospital sequences in ep 11
- touyama’s sequences in ep 11
So many great moments stand out in my mind from later in the series, but I’m interested to see what you think when you get there.
Thanks for the impassioned writeup about Texhnolyze. Like Peter, I’ve long been a fan of the first episode, which I really tremendously enjoyed, but found that I quickly lost interest after the second episode for some reason. Far from considering the first episode slow, I found it to be among the best (near-)silent episodes that I’ve seen. I greatly appreciate the talent for atmosphere and visual storytelling Hamasaki displayed in that episode.
I think part of what turned me off had nothing to do with Hamasaki or Konaka Chiaki but to the fact that the animation suffered a great blow starting in episode 2 due to the more staid look of the subcontracted animation. The animation is passable by a wide margin and not bad by any means, but I guess I saw the show at a time when I was feeling the need for the animation to be speaking something to me for me to be interested, and that wasn’t happening in Texhnolyze, as interesting as the story seemed to be and as much as I wanted to watch. Hamasaki seems to be one of the few intellectual anime directors with real talent and who is capable of cooking together these complex philosophical ideas into a cohesive whole, so I totally respect where you’re coming from. His work is not easy watching by any means, but I’m sure it must be quite rewarding if you are willing to dig through its layers.
I confess that I attempted to watch Shigurui but found its pacing and tone to be a bit of a challenge, and I had a hard time getting into it. I’d be happy to hear how you appraise the show.
I hear you. If you’re looking for real animation (i.e. movement, kinetic life) then you will probably be disappointed by Texhnolyze. It would be a great shame not to look past that though, and there are still several episodes with very good animation nevertheless. As a work of cinema, it ranks up there as an all-time favorite.
Whether or not the animation takes a hit, however, I think it stays at a much more constant level than most others. More importantly, the framing, timing and directing never falters. Far from it, the whole show is overflowing with great storyboards from beginning to end.
The sound design and voice acting are also distinctive standouts.
Perhaps give it another shot and engage with the story/dramaturgy rather than the technical constraints. There are some exquisite moments in there that should not be missed, moments where the whole enterprise comes together. I’d be very interested to know how what you think of it as a complete piece of cinema- Texhnolyze is one of the few shows I can think of that actually succeeds fully as a whole.
Shigurui on the other hand is a huge challenge, and takes far greater production hits here and there, but I think it too can be very rewarding. Hamasaki’s stylized directing is here distilled to absinthe-like potency and surely every bit as pungent. The subject matter is indeed horribly twisted, but is presented with an eye for strange beauty. The high points are ecstatic, if massively disturbing, and quite worthwhile.
More than anything, it makes me eager to see Hamasaki’s future projects. I hope he works with Konaka again- I feel like they bring out the best in each other.
Another thing is that I’m kind of impatient these days and find it hard to watch almost any series through to the end unless it really grips me something serious, but after hearing someone with an interesting viewpoint and passion for a show like you have for Hamasaki and Texhnolyze, I’m quite curious to give it another go. I’ll try to revisit it one of these days and write about it if I have any revelations.
I’m curious to revisit it also because I’m eager to find a show that feels like a whole, with a unique tone and self-contained world with its own unique logical underpinning, because I’ve found that to be the most satisfying. Haibane Renmei is about the only show off the top of my head in recent years that felt like it lived up to its full potential and created that sort of perfectly rounded, unforgettable, unique experience. I’ve been dying to see another show that equals Haibane Renmei for years. I’d love to further investigate any show that might have that potential.
Texhnolyze is regarded also as the staff of Serial Experiments Lain’s 5-year reunion.
It needs to be watched more than once and is intellectually demanding, just like the series Paranoia Agent.
I too marvelled at the direction of most of the episodes but watching that sort of series is not for me, though I appreciate that there are also series for mature viewers.
Not a coincidence that the most enjoyable similar series I watched was the rather simpler to grasp Boogiepop Phantom
As for Haibane Renmei which I liked a lot, except Niea_7 I too couldnt find a similar series in quality.
In the imdb forum the movie Whisper of the Heart is mentioned as equivalent (I agree to some extent) and also the films of Yasujiro Ozu, of which I’ve seen “Tokyo Story” only and I also agree to some extent.
I’m actually a big fan of Boogiepop Phantom. However, I’d say it is a lot harder to grasp than Texhnolyze- with English subtitles or dubbing, that is.
Boogiepop received a decent translation, whereas the localization of Texhnolyze was a disaster. It’s also harder to translate because the dialogue constantly relies on context and inflection.
I find it interesting to note that most of the thoughtful discussion about Texhnoyze online is either in Japanese or in English written by people who are not native speakers- I assume they watched more proficient subtitles in other languages.
Sadly, I’m not aware of any decent English fansubs either.
That’s quite sad to hear, about the translation problems for Texhnolyze. That can really cripple appreciation of a show. And sometimes it’s not even necessarily the fault of a bad translation. Some shows just lose a tremendous amount in translation. One of my favorite movies, Night on the Galactic Railroad, which is based on a story by a Japanese poet, and consequently is beautifully written with much of the pleasure and meaning of the book coming through the very odd and unique writing style of the original Japanese text… well, that book/movie would be very hard to translate well under any circumstances, and the lackluster translation that accompanies the US release of the movie wasn’t even close to doing it justice. I do find that it’s rare for a show to have such a finely tuned literary sensibility that this issue should pose any problems (cultural translation problem issues aside), but there are definitely instances. I think if you take on that sort of text you have to be up to the task. Of course, everyone is at different stages in their development, I’ve made my share of blunder-filled translations, and you have to challenge yourself, so translations will inevitably be the reflection of where the translator is at now and how much she or he is striving to improve… things I’ve come to recognize after having worked in the field for a few years. But if you’re getting paid for your work, I do think it requires a certain confidence that you are doing the material justice.
I totally agree. I also like Night on the Galactic Railroad and I see where you are coming from.
Texhnolyze actually does have quite a finely-tuned literary sensibility that makes it hard to translate. Most of the conversations function as a collection of ‘metalogues’ that feed in to the wider symbolism of the show, and refer back to one another in context. Without a sensitivity for the wider patterns, the dialogue no longer fits together as it should once translated into English.
I’m glad to have drummed up some enthusiasm for the show, and most of all I’m interested to hear what people here have to say. Story-wise, it does take a while to gather steam (though unkind, this is thematically very deliberate), but by episode 7-8 it heats up a bit, and 9-10 round out the first arc in preparation for what lies in store. It really is a fully-drawn and unique world that needs this kind of languid prologue.
Episode 13 is the start of the second arc, which I would say consitutes the drama of the show proper. The first arc is more like an extended introduction to the style and metaphors of the series, that is drawn to its conclusion in the second arc. In the recent Japanese re-release, the two arcs were actually released as a pair of seperate boxes that go together. I’d recommend picking it up, particularly for the intriguing and extensive analytical liner notes. Everything you could ask for is in there, from staff interviews to thematic essays.
About Night on the Galactic Railroad translation issue, despite the huge difficulties I think the English translation by Sarah Strong is decent and provides detailed info about the text and the author. I know that the film would have an immense difficulty transferring the novel’s atmosphere.
I felt the same when I read the Little Prince translated and then re-read it in French. I felt the emotional impact in the original text much more.
I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who made an honest effort to translate a wickedly difficult text, although from what I recall of the movie subtitles (which is what I was referring to) the translation was not one of the best efforts I’ve seen. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me.
Really I’m speaking philosophically when I talk about all this. I’ve been translating for over a decade now and still don’t know if I’d be up to translating Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru. (and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for that long) After working as a translator for many years, I gradually came to see how difficult it was to truly capture every nuance of a great text in another language, particularly so when dealing with languages as different in every possible way as Japanese and English. It’s really a dilemma - there is a passage that you like in Japanese because it has an amazingly delicate and subtle turn of phrase that is rich in multilayered nuance and simply has a sound about it that makes it delightful to savor. Translating what makes that passage so great to you is virtually impossible without completely changing it. The question eventually becomes whether you might not be better off writing the whole thing yourself, because a literal translation would be a travesty, and a re-interpretation would be getting very far from the original. So I kind of became disillusioned with the whole idea of literary translation in Japanese, stopped reading the stuff, and abandoned a lot of my ambitions to do literary translation. Of course, there are obviously some great Japanese literary translations out there that have rightfully garnered great acclaim. Some texts seem better suited to translation, and are lucky enough to get great translators doing the translation. But there are extreme cases, particularly poetry, where you practically have to be up to the level of the original author in creativity and in re-imagining the text to do it justice, and Ginga just seems to be one of those cases based on the translations I’ve read. (it was mostly an attempt to translate Toshio Shimao’s writing that really got me thinking about this issue)
Don’t mind me. I think too much about this stuff.
As for the movie, the fact that they had to use racially neutral cats instead of real people as in the novel, already indicated the cultural identity problem among the Japanese viewers.
Miyazawa was influenced by the book “Cuore” from Edmondo de Amicis, hence the European/Italian background. So the issue was a problem for Miyazawa already how to make a European setting comprehensible to Japanese readers.If except the text translation issue you have also the visual (which was intrinsic in the movie)then this movie is impossible to transfer the novels atmosphere both to Japanese and even more so to foreign viewers. Only if the original author was alive perhaps. It isnt just a subtitles issue but has to do with semiotics alltogether.
I agree with the poetry translation issue. You really need to be a poet yourself. There are even huge issues translating German and French poems into English and vice versa, languages and countries that had intercultural exchanges for centuries. An even more immense difficulty with the more distant Japanese.
I feel the movie did a good job of transferring the genius of the original novel in a translation sense, particularly so the idea of using cats for the characters. My theory has for long been that the movie effectively used cats to re-create the cultural distanciation effect Miyazawa was striving to achieve in the novel by using foreign names for all of the protagonists, only to have the passengers on the Titanic given more familiar Japanese names. The movie approximates this by using cat characters for all of the main actors, and using human beings for the passengers of the Titanic. I think that was a clever way of working around and transferring into visuals an element of the original story that did not have a particularly obvious solution but was visually, linguistically and thematically important to the story.
Miyazawa’s own poetry such as Spring and Chaos is by far a more extreme example of the impossibility of translation between Japanese and English. It is possible (and has been done), but one really has to be a poet in the case of this virtually untranslatable stream of scientific concepts and diffuse verbal images - one who just happens to have a perfect understanding of both languages, as well as the mind of the author.
I too think that the film was a very good effort for the great difficulty it posed, despite that the novel remained unfinished and it was not clear as to whether this was the actual order of the final story. In such kind of adaptations I think animation offers a lot more options than live-action films.
I too preferred animated adaptations of authors like Kafka (best of which is that of Caroline Leaf) or the Little Prince instead of live-action films. In the latter case it would require a tremendous effort from the director.
That is why many viewers miss a lot by treating animation as kid’s fare.
Denno Coil is undoubtedly one of the best anime of the season, if not one of the best ever. I hadn’t realised that there had been changes behind-the-scenes from episode 15, but the anime did take a turn towards (what I would call) the dark side. At moments, it was petrifying imho. I’ve yet to come across anyone who has not liked the series (it seems to span across almost all anime fans) even if there are some shortfalls (to nitpick - parts of the last episode was incredibly and unnecessarily cheesy) but those are such minor points when one looks at the anime as a whole. Denno Coil is definitely the rare breed of anime series that *hasn’t* run out of steam at some point, and has consistently captured my interest throughout and left me wanting more after each episode.
Although (unlike other readers) I didn’t find out about the anime from your blog, thank you for reviewing the series with such critical attention. I would definitely agree (now armed with that post-episode-15 knowledge) that it might all have been a little different (and possibly better?) had the original author continued with the storyline. Nevertheless, Denno Coil is a one-of-a-kind anime (one of the most under-rated!) and I really hope that more people will pick up on it soon!
I recently rewatched the Blueray version in all its glory. What a difference with the low quality HD TV rip! Characters seem much more vivid than ever, same with music and sfx.
I remember first time I watched the series I thought it was good but nothing special. Like a kiddy version of Serial Experiments Lain, combining it with Digimon. I preferred the series Mononoke at that time.
But now, after watching the Blueray version I totally changed my mind, this series should be considered a classic for decades to come.
Interesting, I didn’t expect it would make such a difference. I will have to try to see the Blu ray version if possible.