Dennou Coil (final thoughts) ~ people are connected through narrow paths

March 19, 2012

Interesting color palette, striking use of framing elements ... Dennou Coil often exhibits an incredible sense of visual style.

There’s a rumor on the ‘Net about an anime called Dennou Coil (AKA Coil — A Circle of Children). In it children fight against cyber-lifeforms using the power of augmented reality glasses, metatags, and “codes”. Dennou Coil, which originally aired in 2007, can fairly be classified in the branch of Science Fiction called Cyberpunk. A common theme of Cyberpunk is the connection between computer technology (including networking) and what we call consciousness. Sometimes this can lead to a fusion of Science Fiction with Horror, after all, a common term for a disembodied consciousness is “ghost”. Dennou Coil follows this theme in Cyberpunk, and the horror aspects are specifically hinted at in the show’s OP, most obviously in the beginning.

Watch out or Mega-Baa will get ya!

The vast majority of the characters in Dennou Coil are children, one notable counter-example is the formidable Mega-Baa. Anime often focusses on child-aged characters, but Dennou Coil does a particularly good job of presenting a world of children in a credible way. The children are not mecha pilots or wandering the globe in search of adventure. They interact mostly with other kids, and those adults who do enter their world are usually parents or other relatives, or teachers at school. But I think there is also a social critique involved; the children in this show are very similar to the younger generations growing up now, who are being left to explore the cyber world on their own. Particularly since the mass popularization of the World Wide Web, adults have commented that their children understand computers better than they do. Dennou Coil, I believe is speaking to the fear that children, who are eager to explore the new technologies that become available, will be the ones hurt by the inevitable downside that these new technologies will bring.

Dennou glasses, though advanced beyond current capabilities, are modeled on technology that is commercially available today.

The technology of Dennou Coil leans heavily on two key ideas that are practical today, augmented reality, and wearable computers, especially the so-called Heads Up Display (HUD). Augmented reality is the idea of creating an additional layer (a cyber-layer) on top of the reality we already know to exist. The device that actually kicked this technology into high gear was the iPhone (introduced in 2007 — the same year that Dennou Coil was broadcast). Essentially what is needed for augmented reality is a way of adding sensory data on top of what we receive from the real environment; smart phones, such as the iPhone, handed that capability to tens of millions of users. In addition to supplying additional information about objects in the real environment, the capability exists right now to interact with virtual objects that are superimposed on the real environment. The Dennou glasses of the show are an improvement over smartphone-based augmented reality, because they are hands-free, and they incorporate speakers for virtually augmenting the auditory sense. A commercial product similar to the Dennou glasses is expected in late 2012 from Google (often called “Google Glasses”).

Densuke (a cyber-pet) and Kyoko.

Another technology that is prevalent in Dennou Coil is the “cyber-pet”. Many different types of cyber-pets are shown to exist. One episode specifically revolves around a missing cyber-hamster. Whereas virtual pets do exist today, the cyber-pets in Dennou Coil are much more advanced, because they have an independent existence in the layer that augments reality. Today’s virtual pets are local to some device, but the cyber-pets of Dennou Coil can roam the augmentation layer and thus become separated from their owners. Also seeing (or otherwise interacting with) someone else’s cyber-pet doesn’t require accessing their device, it merely requires being in the corresponding spot in reality, and wearing the Dennou glasses, as they are a part of the augmented reality layer. Cyber-pets, then, are our first step towards beings that have an existence “beyond our natural reality”; they can, in a sense, already be called “super natural”.

Tomoko Harakawa and Haraken.

It is tempting to go through the various characters in Dennou Coil, because there were so many that were well developed and quite entertaining. The fact is, however, that dynamic characters, like those in this show, can only be experienced first-hand.

From left to right: Yuuko (Yasako) Okonogi, Mega-Baa, and Fumie Hashimoto.

One last point: The production values are great. Honestly I wasn’t surprised at this because the show’s creator, director, and screenplay writer was Mitsuo Iso. Iso is justifiably famous for his work on “The Children’s Night” (episode 15 of RahXephon). He was the key animator for several famous action scenes in works such as Porco Rosso and End of Evangelion.

Final judgement

The characters are compelling, the Science Fiction is thought provoking, and the production values are excellent. If you can watch this show, I recommend that you do so.

14 Responses to “Dennou Coil (final thoughts) ~ people are connected through narrow paths”

  1. David A. Young Says:

    Sounds interesting! I’ll look for it.

  2. Dave Baranyi Says:

    I’m not sure why you describe the series as a “rumour”… those of us who watched it during its original broadcast all posted tons of positive comments about it everywhere.

    One unique thing about the DVD release was that they published the complete story boards for every episode as books that came with each DVD.

    In any event, a great series. NHK has yet to top it in the subsequent years.

    • Joojoobees Says:

      I’m not sure why you describe the series as a “rumor”…

      Every episode opens with some variation of “There is a rumor on the ‘Net about…” (e.g. “According to rumors told by kids …”, and etc.).

  3. John Samuel Says:

    It is available subtitled on DVD in Region 4 from Siren Visual.

  4. Cratex Says:

    My father wanted nothing to do with computers. My son, who is just shy of 12, has been exposed to them since he could sit up in my lap. As for me, I wrote my first computer program in 1979, and I’ve been doing that ever since – it’s what I do for a living. I am watching the development of holograms, augmented reality, and cyber technology with great interest – I’m probably one of those rare older adults that both understands the technology and looks forward to it. When I saw Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, I was thinking “We may be able to do much of this in 25 years.”

    • Joojoobees Says:

      Depending upon what you were referencing, you might have been early by a couple of years. The question of being able extract a human consciousness and give it a new artificial body is still quite controversial, as is the question mark over emergent personalities in artificial intelligences, but certainly some of the physical augmentations are already being deployed (especially to those who have lost limbs in combat zones), and autonomous robotic creatures are certainly being field tested by the military, so some parts have already happened.

      You probably are aware of Ray Kurzweil’s theory of exponential development of technology and the Singularity. I personally don’t know what to make of that, but it is a powerful argument.

      • Cratex Says:

        I’m passingly familiar with Mr. Kurzweil’s stuff, but I don’t share his optimism on being able to digitize the human brain (so, that’s one of the things I exclude from Ghost in the Shell being possible in the near term).

      • Joojoobees Says:

        “being able to digitize the human brain”

        It is a bit difficult to believe, but certainly applicable to the topic of Dennou Coil, and Cyberpunk in general. In my own reading I would say there are a number of fictional variants:

        1. Brain in a Vat
        2. Digitized Brain
        3. Digital Brain Supplements
        4. Artificial Brain

        The Brain in a Vat assumes some human tissue that is able to control mechanical devices for I/O and, possibly mobility. This is already close to reality. The question of whether the brain can survive on it’s own is a separate matter, but the technology to directly send and receive signals with the brain has been demonstrated many times. Some people have directly wired (literally wired) devices to a living human brain. So-called non-invasive neural interfaces are now becoming commercially available (see video of guy driving with his mind).

        The “Digitized Brain” says, hey those neural interfaces all work by sensing electric activity in the brain, so we should be able to marshal everything as digital information, store it someplace else, then unmarshal it, thus creating a functioning copy of the original (consciousness?). I don’t think it is clear that this will ever be possible.

        The Digital Brain Supplement concept is almost cheating, because humans have been offloading information to external devices since the invention of cuneiform. It is difficult to come up with a definition of this that isn’t already satisfied today.

        And of course, the Artificial Brain, covers the notion that we can somehow create “consciousness” in computational code. Even if we can’t extract and store consciousness from a human being, we might be able to create something that is so indistinguishable from our concept of consciousness that we come to accept an artificially created being as having “life”, it’s own sense of self, and so forth. Personally this is easier to believe than that we can digitally extract human consciousness.

  5. Cratex Says:

    Yea, I’m pretty excited about the developments in artificial limbs being controlled via the wearer’s nerves. I think the woman I read a detailed study about was ‘hard-wired’ to control her hand using nerves from her shoulder, but she apparently had a lot of fine motor control as a result. Still, the problem of invasive wiring would be an obstacle for most.

    We might be able to create something that, if not real, at least mimics a real consciousness, but I don’t see that happening in my lifetime. I think there are to many obstacles in components/materials and processing speed to overcome in the short term. Regardless, if one is created that isn’t real but for all purposes you can’t tell the difference, then does it make a difference? 😉

    • Joojoobees Says:

      “artificial limbs”: Yes, my father was paralyzed after taking a bad fall, so I have thought about the potential in these technologies.

      “in my lifetime”: It is hard to say. Assuming it is possible at all, we could be taken by surprise. This is where the exponential rate of technological advancement that Ray Kurzweil talks about comes in to play. At first the advances seem meagre, but as the sequence progresses, the jumps get quite large quickly. One day nothing, the next day people are asking Siri to marry them. John McCarthy once said, “As soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore.”

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