Reviewby Theron Martin,
Blu-Ray - Collection 2
Summer vacation progresses, as Yasako, Haraken, and Fumie continue to investigate the Illegals – or at least that's what Haraken makes the project out to be, since he's still fixated on investigating Kanna's death a year ago. Isako is also steadily pursuing her goal of finding a way to restore her comatose brother, and Sosuke is continuing his quest for vengeance against the company that wronged his father (and he's not picky about who might get hurt in the process). Meanwhile, Haraken's aunt Tamako is also trying to keep everyone – especially Haraken – from endangering themselves too much. As buried and forgotten truths start to resurface, the mysteries and schemes surrounding the Illegals, the Other Side, Imago children, 4423, and Michiko all coalesce into a dangerous path for the youngsters that could threaten not just their virtual pets and ability to use glasses, but their own safety as well.
The first half of Den-noh Coil thoroughly established a broad cast of characters, the setting and almost magical technology, and numerous potential story threads while the children goofed around and got into the kind of mischief expected of tech-savvy kids. The first episode of this half is mostly recap told from a secondary character's perspective (and it shouldn't be skipped because some of its original content comes up again in later episodes), but after that casual outing, playtime is over. The second half's plot presses forward with increasing urgency, which results in several characters getting sidelined as the story narrows its focus. Frankly, that's for the best, as the shift plays a crucial role in turning this good series into a great one.
Director and creator Mitsuo Iso is apparently on record as saying that a major theme of the series is the ever-present distance between the characters. This comes out much more strongly in the second half, as that distance defines all of the interpersonal issues that lay at the heart of the story. It's the reason why Isako rebukes Yasako's efforts to befriend her, and how her quest ultimately isolates her to a dangerous degree. It's present in Yasako's communication with a former friend in one desperate moment, and in the way Haraken doesn't fully confide in anyone about what he's really up to. The way that distance gradually grows plays a key role in many important plot threads, and the biggest crisis at the end of the series entirely comes down to this gulf of distance. Even the series' final scene is symptomatic of this idea, implying that even if you make strong connections, you can still never entirely erase the distance between people.
For all of that philosophy though, there's also a lot of plot to work through and mysteries to be unraveled. The truths behind everything are deep and complicated, and while none of the plot twists are outlandish, some of them will definitely cause a complete reevaluation of what has transpired so far. I found it particularly interesting that many of the mysteries might not have been so mysterious if adults in the know had actually filled the kids in on a few things. The fact that the adults do most of the misleading and backstabbing seems to be making a point about how adults perhaps needlessly mislead and manipulate children. Of course, as the climax of the series suggests, sometimes the most powerful deceptions are the ones we create to mislead ourselves.
The technological underpinnings of the story operate on a level of complexity that almost rivals Ghost in the Shell. The origin of the series' name comes up as it delves into how e-spaces might have been created specifically for research purposes, how there could be multiple layers to them, and how their creation might have tapped into a collective human subconscious. Though the rapid-fire technobabble can be hard to follow, it explains the origin and purpose of the Illegals in a somewhat comprehensible way. It also makes a convincing case for how seemingly supernatural phenomena might result. Some of these revelations serve as predecessors to what series like Sword Art Online would do a few years later.
All of this combines to create intense storytelling that rarely lulls into trivialities for long, although there are even a couple hints of potential romance along the way. Supporting this is a solid and consistent artistic effort which may not ever produce bright artwork but nonetheless makes its visual impact quite effectively. The series remains top shelf when it comes to integrating its CG effects, and the animation hides its shortcuts better than most. I felt that the musical score, while not bad, was definitely the weakest aspect of the first half, but it works a little better in the second half, enhancing the dramatic moments which dominate the last few episodes effectively. The opener and closer remain unchanged until the final episode.
The English dub maintains the steady course set in the first half, making it a strong effort overall. Kelly Manison, who only had a bit part in the first half as Yasuko's mother, has a more major part in this half and takes full advantage of it, giving exactly the kind of motherly lecture to Yasuko necessary to make that scene work. Even the bit parts in this half are performed with precision and care. Sentai Filmworks' Blu-Ray release does not offer much else though, only clean versions of the opener and closer for extras. It's also available separately on DVD.
If Den-noh Coil has a significant flaw, it's that some of its constructions surpass the limit of technological credibility, making it as much a supernatural caper as a sci fi one. Some extra leeway is fine in a case like this, because on the whole, this is an impressive finish to one of anime's most visionary works.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Strong character development, engaging mysteries, tense and thrilling action sequences
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