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Den-noh Coil Collection 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

Den-noh Coil Blu-ray Front CoverIt’s a new layer of reality – and threats!

What They Say:
In Den-noh Coil, Yuko “Yasako” Okonogi and her little sister Kyoko can’t remember a time when they weren’t looking at the world through their digitally augmented glasses. After all, e-space, a series of world-wide overlays of images and information, is where their virtual dog Densuke lives, and like many kids, the girls rarely take their glasses off.

But when their family moves to Daikoku City, the e-space suddenly seems different. Yasako’s new classmates are involved in hacking, and the urban legends about dangerous entities hidden in the programming become much more believable when she learns that one of their friends may have died chasing one.

Scariest of all, Yasako has missing memories from the last time she was in Daikoku City. 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 DEN-NOH COIL!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language as well as a new English language dub, which is still a surprise to see produced for it. The show is one that works the forward soundstage well because of the usual of the technology side and some of their noises and movements, but a lot of it is mostly a dialogue based piece that’s fairly straightforward as well as some good scenes where the quiet and smaller sounds definitely work well to enhance the mood. The show has a few bigger action moments and some decent pieces along the way with the effects, such as the beams, but it’s fairly straightforward for the most part. What it does, it does well, but it doesn’t go above and beyond, which results in a solid effort that comes across cleanly and without problems with both language tracks.

Video:
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes of this set are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by Madhouse, the show has a solidly distinctive look that adheres to some of the usual norms of anime but skews just enough to the side to stand out as something not the norm, mostly in the character designs with the shape of their faces and the overall color design. The murkier tone of the colors here adds a distinctive feeling but it avoids getting problematic with the colors as there isn’t any breakup or noise that shouldn’t be there for the most part. The encoding has a lot of extra work to handle the digital noise of the actual show itself with the animation effects and that comes across really well, making it a treat to see it play out here.

Packaging:
The packaging design for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover has a look at some of the main characters from the ensemble that the show is and it’s decent while not really saying all that much about it in the end. It is the kind of art choice that makes you wonder how little must have been available to choose from though as it’s not a great representation of the show or its designs, making it feel a little on the cheap side. The back cover works a couple of different angles for the various pieces, something that actually fits for the show rather than being awkward or problematic in its design. The artwork choices are a bit more action oriented but still feel a little off like the front cover while the shots from the show are decent. The premise is covered well with the summary paragraph while the rest is given over to the usual production credits and the clean and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is pretty decent with a nice neo-futuristic theme to it with the navigation on the right as it uses soft blue/green with purple highlights for the selector. It breaks out the show with the usual format of the episodes by title and number with submenus for languages and extras where appropriate. What I like is that there’s a fun “defrag” kind of layer behind it of blacks and greys with some of the blue-green mixing in that moves toward the left to reveal the main piece of artwork. This dominates the menu to be sure, with the first menu bringing together a cute image of the girls running from a Searchie while the second disc lets Isako get some time to shine in a somewhat darker visual. The layout is smooth and easy to work with both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu with no problems to be had in either forms.

Extras:
The only extras included are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Known as Dennou Coil in its original form, Den-noh Coil has been a series sought after for quite a few years, supposedly licensed at one time or another but never exercised until it finally ended up in Maiden Japan’s hands. The series is an original work that landed in the spring season of 2007 on NHK-E and ran until the end of the year with Mitsuo Iso directing it at Madhouse. This was Iso’s first full on directorial work after doing some episode direction on Rahxephon five years prior and he never returned to that position again, instead sticking to key animation in a range of projects. Here, he served in a big way as the original creator, writing the scripts, working on the digital effects, doing key animation and more. It’s definitely a passion project for him and that does show through.

The series is one that definitely has some interesting ideas to it that in some ways also feels like time has, temporarily, passed it by. The premise is that it’s a near future world where augmented reality has become woven into the fabric of things as almost everybody wears the clear glasses. We even get a point where the kids take them off and disconnect completely for just a few minutes and aren’t sure they know how to survive without it, just to reinforce how much of a given it is that they’re so embedded. We get a few nods toward how they’re used for work and education, but most of it is focused elsewhere. What’s striking about this is that I know the whole augmented reality thing will be a thing at some point in a big way, but after the reaction society seems to have had at large over Google Glass, I’m hard pressed to think it’ll be as smooth or quick as it seems to have happened in this world. And that takes me out of the show a bit.

The series is very much an ensemble piece that initially revolves around the arrival of Yuko and her family to Daikoku where they’ve come to live with her grandmother. Yuko and her little sister Kyoko – a child that runs around pointing at everything and saying “poop!.” are fairly standard types but ones that aren’t quite aware of just how different the Denno is here, that augmented reality that exists. Daikoku has elements she hasn’t seen before with giant goofy looking Searchmatrons called Searchies that roam around trying to help but mostly cause trouble as well as Q-chans, little ball droids that fly to and fro and repair bad e-space that exists so that users have a clean world experience in this regard. Since anything and everything can decay, it makes sense to have autonomous repair droids. But mixed into this is a problem that cropped up recently with an almost dark spiritual vibe with things called Illegals, digital apparitions almost that infect and degrade the virtual pets that are huge for a lot of kids. There’s deeper meaning in this in how they’re like post-life entities of some sort, but a lot of what we get from this is seeing how the Illegals impact and degrades the pets which one suspects will play larger later in the series.

Yuko’s arrival is one that has her meeting Fumie, a girl that’s part of the kids detective group that actually operates out of the “candy” shop that Yuko’s grandmother run which supplies all sorts of tools of the trade of handling the augmented world and all its problems. Through this we learn about the various types of hacks and cryptographers and more that exist, which for Yuko is like being introduced to a whole other work as Daikoku seems to operate differently than other cities. Fumie provides our guide into this world and while they throw a lot of things at you it does get eased into over the course of the set as it deals with other kids that come into it, such as Daichi, a rival hacker to Fumi with his own split off gang, and another Yuko that takes on the nickname Isako that’s a highly skilled cryptopgrapher that almost comes across as a wizard in how she’s trying to track down the Illegals and figure out what’s going on with it.

As you can expect, the first set is largely about introducing all of these themes, how the world works, and building the group that slowly comes together from different configurations. Establishing the design of this world is critical and they do some really neat stuff here, though as we said as technology progresses in the real world, things look a little awkward at times here. Since this was produced ten years ago there are moments where it does show its age. There are a lot of good themes to work with here when it comes to the technology and how embedded it gets, again with the nod toward how people in the real world reacted to Google Glass, and seeing the kinds of tricks and twists that come into it. I love the concept of it and the potential of it all, but at the same time one has to imagine that there would be a massive amount of hacks and variations brought out into the world just because of how so many people are with devices like these. What takes me out of the show are some of the more comical elements, such as the Searchies, but that’s still fairly standard kind of stuff you get in Japan in trying to make things cute and friendly with a non-threatening vibe to them.

While I’ll admit that a decent chunk of the show didn’t engage me much in terms of story or character, once it moved more firmly into the second half things started to pick up, and particularly during the final two episodes. One of the themes that I liked is that it deals with Haraken, a classmate whose best friend and almost first-love ended up getting killed by an autopilot vehicle, something that shouldn’t happen and was seemingly redirected toward it being her fault. Yasako’s arrival and involvement with him and others opens that to exploration again and it digs into these ideas decently, from a kids perspective, while also adding something to the “ghost stories” element of how they would perceive death in this kind of world. Haraken’s story is good and I like the discovery of the diary and trying to figure it out, but there’s such a subdued personality with Haraken himself that it’s hard to get too engaged with it.

One episode that really won me over was a pretty great little bottle episode in which the infection of illegals impacts the kids and we see it first through Daichi as he ends up with beard stubble. When it turns out that they’re actually the Illegals, it turns him and the other infected kids into “worlds” where these tiny civilizations bloom and end up at war within themselves before “interplanetary” war thereafter with the other kids. It’s a familiar story that’s just executed so beautifully. Similarly, we get a late episode that involves one of the kids that’s been feeding and taking care of an Illegal that’s essentially turning it into a giant Nessie kind of monster that they’re all trying to find a safe home for it before the Q-chans discover it. It’s a humanizing moment for the Illegal and is pretty nicely done even if some of the tricks and gimmicks used to get it where it needs to be feel a bit forced overall.

In Summary:
With this series being sought after for so many years now, it’s great to finally have it released and given a solid presentation and an English language dub, not something that you really get often for a show that’s about a decade old getting a first-time release. There are a lot of neat things about the concept that’s used here and it’s teasing a larger story that it doesn’t quite sink its teeth into enough for me to engage with, but I was also a little but disconnected from it because of how technology has changed in the real world and seeing how people reacted to what we essentially get here. I definitely became a lot more interested in the later episodes here and have higher hopes for the back half of it as it feels like things are starting to gel, but the first half is somewhat uneven and struggles to find a strong central point of engagement outside of the weirdness/coolness of the virtual space that dominates here.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: June 28th, 2016
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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