Originally published on The Fandom Post
The future of augmented reality
What They Say:
When Yuko “Yasako” Okonogi wears her digitally-augmented glasses to view e-space, she sees an amazing series of images, information and programs laid on top of the “real” world around her. But when her family moves to Daikoku City, Yasako discovers that the e-space has a dark side as well. Her new classmates are involved in e-hacking, and the urban legends about dangerous entities hidden in the programming become much more believable when she learns that one of their friends might have died chasing one. Scariest of all, Yasako soon realizes that she has missing memories! Did something happen to her? And did it happen in our world or one that shouldn’t even exist? To find out, she’ll have to take a journey through the digital looking glass and learn the shocking secrets of the DEN-NOH COIL!
Den-Noh Coil’s soundtrack is more on the subdued side, favoring quite atmospheric pieces over anything especially flashy. That’s not to say it’s bad—it fits the tone of the show quite well—it’s just not the sort you’ll find yourself revisiting later. The opening is more memorable, a haunting ballad that emphasizes the show’s mysterious side and foreshadows the second half’s darker tone. As for the dub, it’s one of Sentai’s better works, well-acted across the board and full of veteran voice actors like Luci Christian and Monica Rial. Hilary Haag’s Yasako starts out a bit rough, but smooths out as the show progresses. All things considered, it’s a solid work that dub fans won’t find much to complain about.
Even though it’s over a decade old, Den-Noh Coil’s animation has aged quite well. It maintains a consistent quality across the entire series, remaining smooth without being too amazing. Even though this is Mitsuo Iso’s first (and currently only) director role, he clearly knows how to manage a production. As an animator, he did work on the likes of Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, FLCL, and RahXephon, and his experience shows here. Between his skill and a talented team at Madhouse, Den-Noh Coil holds up quite well on the animation side. The only real issue is some noise in the video, but that’s to be expected of a blu-ray release of a show from 2007. It’s not bad enough to distract from the story, so it isn’t much of an issue all things considered.
Like most of Sentai’s standard editions, this release comes in a regular plastic case with three discs inside. It’s not especially sturdy, particularly the hinges on the inside for the flap that holds discs one and two, but functional enough for just storing the discs.
Like the packaging, this release’s menus are as bare-bones as they come. There’s not even a separate page for episode selection, just a main menu with a list of episodes and a secondary menu for selecting the audio.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The most striking thing about Den-Noh Coil’s premise at first glance is when it initially came out. Den-Noh Coil first aired in Japan in 2007, and yet some of its predictions about augmented reality are disturbingly spot-on. Seven years before Google Glass and nine years before Pokémon Go, Den-Noh Coil featured people using special glasses to interact with manifestations of programs and digital entities. It’s taken further than in reality—this is sci-fi, after all—but it’s almost scary how accurately it predicted some of today’s technological developments. Of course, clever ideas still require the right execution to actually work as a story, and Den-Noh Coil has that in spades.
Den-Noh Coil’s first half is largely a series of stand-alone episodes, usually revolving around Yasako and her friends encountering various rogue programs known as illegals. These stories run the gamut from lighthearted and goofy to thoughtful and melancholy, with hints of something more ominous going on behind the scenes. Even though they’re usually low stakes (the biggest risk is the kids’ glasses getting fried and costing them two years of birthday money), these stories do an excellent job of drawing you into the kids’ world and building investment. We know nothing too serious is going to happen, but the kid’s urgency is infectious. It’s the same feeling as little kids playing pretend; no matter how frivolous it seems, it’s life or death to the kids playing it. Of course, Den-Noh Coil makes it clear that the virtual world can sometimes be just as real as the “real” world. Science fiction has explored these sorts of themes for decades, but that doesn’t make the idea any less interesting. By building investment in what goes on in the virtual world and having most of the series mix reality and the internet, Den-Noh Coil blurs the line between the two, which pays dividends in the second half.
As the story progresses, more and more questions develop about what’s really going on. Questions about the illegals, something Yasako can’t quite remember from her past, and a girl who died in what seemed to be a traffic accident all begin to come to the forefront of the story, gradually overshadowing the lighthearted adventures of the first half. As the story grows more series, the atmosphere leans into the ominous side that was always present in the background. Daikoku City takes on a creepier tone as the kids start to explore more of the old e-spaces, areas of augmented reality from older versions of the software that have begun to behave strangely. Even though they’re in the middle of a city, the quiet atmosphere and fog coming from the old e-spaces makes it feel like they’ve fallen into another world without ever realizing. This feeling compounds as the danger escalates and the technology leans more and more into the fantastical. The glyphs Isako uses to manipulate the e-spaces begin to seem almost like magic, and the real world starts seeming much farther away.
As the story leans more into its heavier aspects, comic relief characters like Fumie and Daichi are given less and less attention in favor of Yasako and Isako. It’s a little jarring to see characters that had been part of the main cast given so little to do, but the show more than makes up for it. By the time things begin to pick up, Den-Noh Coil’s mysteries have been so well established that they draw you into its world, tempting you with answers that sometimes only lead to more questions. Even with the story becoming less realistic, the characters keep it grounded enough that the more fantastical elements feel like a natural outgrowth of the existing ingredients rather than a complete departure. Though Den-Noh Coil is obviously sci-fi, it very often feels more like fantasy, the type that hints at something amazing just around the corner or in the shadows, similar to Ghibli movies like Spirited Away. Den-Noh Coil does an excellent job of pulling you into its world with the same thrill of discovery, of finding something extraordinary beneath the mundane.
It’s a shame Den-Noh Coil is so rarely discussed anymore. It strikes a great balance between charm and atmosphere and uses both to buttress a compelling story that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s virtual. Plenty of other stories have explored this idea, true, but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing, particularly when there’s such an engaging story behind it. Den-Noh Coil is the kind of story that hooks you early and keeps you eager for more until the very end, leaving just enough breadcrumbs to keep things moving without tipping its hand too early. It’s well-written enough for adults to enjoy it, while remaining whimsical and fun enough to also work as a kids’ show. It has a little something for everyone, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you have the chance, Den-Noh Coil is well worth checking out.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B