The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Odd Taxi ?
What is this?
Kotogawa is an eccentric, reticent 41-year-old taxi driver who has no relatives and does not have much to do with others. He does have conversations with his customers, including a college student who wants to go viral, a nurse hiding a secret, an unsuccessful comedian, a street rough, and an up-and-coming idol. These conversations lead him to a girl who has disappeared.
How was the first episode?
“Odd” is the perfect word to describe this anime. From start to finish, it's hard to tell what kind of show it is. On one hand, it's big on social commentary—in the most literal sense. Vast swaths of the first episode's runtime is spent watching the characters discussing the social issues of the day. One time it's about a person's worth being related to their popularity on social media. Another time it's about the culture generation gap and whether or not it is used as an excuse for too many things. Hell, there's even a prolonged talk about how much money matters in being viewed as a potential romantic partner.
On the other hand, there's a creepy crime drama feel to the whole thing. As Odokawa goes about his work, the news reports a missing girl—a girl picked up by a taxi that may or may not be his. In his home, he talks to a closed door, explaining to the person inside that he/she is not a prisoner and can leave at any time. A police officer strong-arms him and illegally confiscates his cab's stored recordings as evidence. Yet, the prime suspect isn't Odokawa, but the friend of the police officer harassing Odokawa.
Then there's the animal aspect of the whole thing. When you see anthropomorphized animals as characters, the big question you should ask yourself is “why”? What does the characters being animals add to the story? Is it merely for aesthetics? Are the characters being animals somehow vital to the plot or message?
For this anime, I question if it is even set in a world of animals. I think we are seeing the normal human world through the eyes of someone who is mentally unwell—someone who sees himself as a “different kind of animal” to all those around him. His middle-aged hulking doctor looks like a gorilla in his eyes. The nurse, young, slim, and tall—appears as an alpaca. The dirty cops who hassle him? Raccoons. The overweight kid more concerned with Twitter than real life? A hippo. If this is the case, it is both subtle and meaningful. We all feel like outsiders sometimes, though not many of us concoct five potential answers to every single question and pick the one least likely to piss people off like Odokawa does.
Whether this interpretation is correct or not... well, we'll just have to keep watching to find out.
I'm gonna be real original and say that yeah, ODD TAXI is indeed rather odd. While there's been a noticeable uptick in crime dramas starring anthropomorphic animals the last couple of years, even in that nascent subgenre this show feels like an odd duck. Or an odd walrus, I guess.
Where BEASTARS featured simmering drama and BNA sported high-flying action, ODD TAXI goes for a supremely sedate atmosphere, following Odokawa the taxi-driving walrus as he cruises the city streets late at night. He drives a younger passenger across town and gets his photo turned into a semi-viral tweet. He gets hassled by a pushy police officer at a roadstop. He visits his doctor and gets into an argument about Bruce Springsteen's part in (in)famous charity single “We Are the World” for some reason. It's a sedate, mundane story that, save for being populated by characters straight out of Animal Crossing, could feel at home on any line-up of US TV crime dramas.
But it's in that mundane routine that we start to notice odd details. Why does Odokawa seem so familiar with the cop that's giving him the business? Why is this old guy, who seemingly hates young folks and their instachats, listening to peppy idol songs on the radio? And what's all this news coverage about a missing schoolgirl got to do with all this? Then Odokawa starts talking to his closet as if it houses said missing girl, and it becomes apparent that the quiet and simple facade of this opening is simply wallpapering over a much darker story. We learn that Odokawa isn't sleeping, and is resorting to stronger and stronger medicine to deal with it. The police aren't just giving him grief, they're actively investigating him in relation to the missing girl. His doctor's assistant is stealing drugs from the office and who happens to pick up her up in his taxi? By the final minutes it's even suspect if this world really is made of animals, or if even that is simply the filtered perception of our main character.
This is all expressed in implications, with almost nothing really confirmed, but it's the kind of psychological drama that takes a lot of skill to execute well. So far, ODD TAXI is definitely doing that, since I was 100% hooked by the end of the episode. It's a strange mix of cinematic storytelling and cutesy characters that likely won't work for everyone, but something this idiosyncratic is exactly what I come to anime for.
When the Twitter-obsessed hippo in the back of Odokawa's taxi mentions tweets about “foreigners talking about gender in Japan,” I couldn't help but wonder if I, or at least one of my mutuals, was being called out. It's just so specific, you know?
The fact that a line could actually make me think that says a lot about Odd Taxi. Much of the episode is taken up by little conversations that don't actually drive the plot – a passenger talking about going viral on social media, Odokawa going off on a tangent about Bruce Springsteen in the song “We are the World” with his doctor, or his drinking buddy proposing to the bar's proprietress – performed by veteran voice actors like Natsuki Hanae and Kappei Yamaguchi. The dialogue is naturalistic, shifting easily from exchanges that push the narrative forward. Although they didn't advance the plot, I never felt impatient or like my time was being wasted; rather, they felt grounding, which is important when your entire cast is made up of anthropomorphic animals.
Or are they? There's a lot going on in Odd Taxi, bubbling just beneath the surface, and I don't feel like I can take anything for granted. For all the time spent on tangential little side conversations, the episode is thick with mysteries. There's a missing girl who might or might not be hiding out in Odokawa's apartment, a mysterious gun-toting simian working with a dirty cop who has it out for our not-so-intrepid hero, and missing pills. Odokawa suffers from some sort of insomnia that makes him an extremely unreliable narrator. Some offhand comments made me wonder if the characters really are animals, or if they're human and Odokawa is hallucinating.
There's a ton going on, but the script never felt rushed or crammed. Strong visual direction keeps things fresh as well. There's a lot of care put into the character acting for the animal-people, as their body language and mannerisms communicate just as much about them as the dialogue does. There are advantages to simple, cartoony styles like the one seen here, as caricatured designs are more flexible and expressive. The softly-blurred background art, like the world as seen through a rainy window, also throws the characters into sharp focus, making it easy to focus in on the most important visual information in each scene.
Odd Taxi is, well, odd, but in a good way. I came away from the episode intrigued, wanting to know more while unsure of whether the information I already have is reliable.
Man, I was expecting a lot of things from Odd Taxi, but I certainly wasn't prepared to end up comparing its premiere to the 2004 psychological thriller The Machinist. Or perhaps a better comparison would be Memento? Here's a pull quote for the back of the DVD Box: “It's kind of like if Zootopia got remade by Haruki Murakami, with a splash of influence from the mid-80s Dario Argento Giallo thriller thrown in for good measure!”
The point is, I was expecting a quirky mystery story that takes place in a world populated by adorably drawn anthropomorphic animals, and while that's exactly what Odd Taxi is, it's also nothing like what I imagined. Our hero, Odokawa, is an odd and occasionally off-putting walrus who isn't afraid to tell you about exactly what makes people and society completely insufferable one moment, only to switch to indulging in weirdly specific breakdowns of Bruce Springsteen's contributions to the hit 1985 charity single, “We Are the World" in the next. He's a bit misanthropic (misanthropomorphic?), and perhaps a bit too willing to throw his takes back into the faces of folks just trying to make small talk, but he doesn't seem dangerous or anything. That is, until we learn that Odokawa is a figure in the ongoing investigation of a missing persons case…and we get the positively eerie scene of him speaking to the unseen figure that lives in his spare room, who he says “can run away whenever [they] want.”
Is he mentally ill, an actual kidnapper, or merely the unfortunate victim of a sketchy cop's attempt to frame him? What's the deal with the creepy baboon who keeps showing up wherever Odokawa and his taxi go? Odd Taxi didn't just manage to take me completely by surprise; it got me asking questions, and that's a surefire sign that your mystery is off to a good start. OLM, INC's production isn't exactly amazing me so far, and I'm worried that the show won't be able to keep up this high-wire act of mood and mystery for a whole season, but you can be damn sure I'm willing to drop a few more bucks on Odd Taxi's fare to see where this wild ride is headed.
I feel like I'm throwing out fives left and right.
I was intrigued by Odd Taxi when it was first announced. In a world of BEASTARS and Aggretsuko, what new directions are there for "our world but animals"? Its staff was equally mysterious; the series is fronted by animator Baku Kinoshita, one of the creative staff at P.I.C.S., itself a creative production company helmed by producers and directors. Kinoshita has not directed an anime before and his credits include a commercial for suntan lotion. P.I.C.S. doesn't actually list him as a director, but as a character designer.
The scriptwriter is a bit less of a mystery. Kazuya Konomoto is a mangaka whose eight-volume comedic work Setoutsumi was adapted into a live-action film in 2016. The series followed two Kansai-area schoolboys as they goofed around and talk. Odd Taxi reflects some of this; its brightest spot is its script but the artistry is nothing to scoff at either. It's very unlike anime and that's either going to turn fans off or make it all the more intriguing.
The story stars a 40-something Walrus cabbie named Odokawa. He's a bit of misanthrope (if that word still applies to sentient walruses) and suffering from sleep deprivation, according to his doctor. While most of the episode focuses on his encounter with a young hippo who wants to go viral and their discussion of what it means to be "honest," there's also an underlying mystery involving a schoolgirl that went missing. Odokawa might be involved, but the series is also intentionally playing with the viewer's perspective. We don't know what might be real when it comes to Odokawa and what could be the result of his sleeping problems; is there really someone in his closet or is this a manifestation of his nightmares? The police are just as shady, after all.
It's possible viewers will find Odd Taxi too obtuse. Its script feels more like a prestige drama than an anime. If you've ever thought, "I want to watch True Detective only Matthew McConaughey is a cartoon walrus" then this is the show for you.
I suppose I ought to have paid more attention to the title of this one – it is, in fact, odd. That's not because it's set in a Tokyo where everyone is an animal, although at this point there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason for that. It's more that there's a sense of deliberate disconnect to the story and characters, a sense that this is an episode that wants to keep you guessing as to what's really going on and only partially succeeding. Whether my idea of its partial success is due to the fact that I read way too many mystery novels or this just being a little too bizarre for me is up for debate. In either case, I walked away from this episode with decidedly middle-of-the-road feelings.
The story, as promised, follows a taxi driver and his passengers. Odokawa (a walrus) has an as-yet- undisclosed medical issue (we actually learn his name from the prescription medicine he keeps in his glove box) and parses out his words with apparent carefulness before he speaks. He gives the appearance of being the guy who tells the kids to get off his damn lawn, but he also may be harboring a teenage runaway, possibly because she feels safer hiding in his house than anywhere else. Why? That's a good question, but I'm almost positive it has something to do with the alpaca nurse and not the gun- toting baboon (?), Dobu.
Elements of this play out very much like a classic mystery story, with the repeated radio and news stories about the missing teenager, the use of social media as a means of finding clues dropped by the unaware who are just trying desperately to find fame online, and the snippets of information overheard or casually placed in the characters' conversations. For example, when Kabusawa, the hippo Odokawa is driving, is asked what makes a post go viral, one of his answers is “foreigners talking about gender in Japan.” At first that just seems like a comment about some of the pop criticism that goes around online, but when later the alpaca gets in Odokawa's cab and remarks on the fact that he remembers her, he says that she's the only, or one of the only, alpaca around, marking her out as someone “foreign,” even if not in the same sense that Kabusawa used the word. That could be either a clue or a red herring, and it's likely not the only tidbit of potential information that we were fed during the episode.
While I don't love the art and animation for this (which is strictly a matter of personal taste; there's nothing really wrong with it), mostly I didn't relish the alternating feelings of being intrigued and being bored. Since I got the impression that Odd Taxi was cultivating this air, I don't think it's going to be the show for me, but if you're interested in something off the beaten anime path, it's worth giving a try.
discuss this in the forum (342 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history