Dennou Coil and the Lotus-Eaters: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
This post contains spoilers for Dennou Coil, right up to its ending. If you haven’t seen Dennou Coil, stop reading and go watch it. It’s okay, I’ll wait. There are also spoilers for Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Then some one said, “We will return no more”;
And all at once they sang, “Our island home
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.”1
What if you could have everything you ever wanted? What if there existed a world where you had everything you ever wanted, but you knew it wasn’t real? Would you stay in the fantasy, or return to reality?
This is exactly the choice Yuuko “Isako” Amasawa faces in the finale of Dennou Coil. Her actions in searching for her deceased brother on the Other Side drive the whole series’ plot, and her cyber body eventually manages to find him there. But all is not as it seems. Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi ventures into the Other Side to save Isako, where she finds a world created by the dangerous Illegal being Michiko. Here, Isako appears as her younger self, being cared for by her big brother. For years she has never given up on the belief that he was still alive, but she falls into a deep despair when she is definitively told that he had died. This drives her to succumb to the siren song; she regresses mentally (and physically, in the case of her cyber body) to her younger self.
The lotus-eaters were a mythical race of people living on a Mediterranean island, told of in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus and his men are blown off course in their journey to Ithaca. He sends out some of his crew to find the natives. The lotus-eaters provide them with fruit from the lotus “which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home”2. They fall into an altered state of consciousness, and are only saved when Odysseus forces them to fast.
The themes displayed in Odyssey are prevalent enough in media to have their own entry on TV Tropes, and anime is especially fond of utilising it in all manner of series, from Pokémon to darker shows like Ergo Proxy and Paranoia Agent. But perhaps the best known example is the original ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion – the infamous high school alternate universe. As the Human Instrumentality Project begins, Shinji struggles with his existence, and is then shown a world where he is just a normal high-schooler. From his perspective, all he had managed to do in his time piloting EVA-01 was hurt his friends, and with the commencement of the HIP his efforts in defeating the Angels are all in vain. He faces up to his insecurities, and finally finds peace. “I am me. I want to be myself. I want to continue existing in this world! My life is worth living here!”3
Bringing up Evangelion was no accident. Dennou Coil’s director, Mitsuo Iso, worked as an animator for many years before his directorial debut, and lent his animation skills to both NGE and End of Evangelion (he also cut his writing teeth on an episode of NGE). I don’t think it’s too pertinent to claim that his experiences at Gainax influenced Dennou Coil’s story in some way.
“The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection … is what alone gives meaning to our life.”4 So wrote Logan Pearsall Smith in an essay on human nature. I would contend that coming to terms with the realities of one’s desires. Realising that the unattainable is exactly that – unattainable – is an essential part of growing up. And in the end, that’s exactly what Dennou Coil is about – coming of age and coming to terms.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1832, The Lotos-Eaters
- Homer, 8th C., Odyssey (book IX), translation by Samuel Butler
- Neon Genesis Evangelion, episode 26 (A.D. Vision dub)
- Smith, L.P., 1931, Afterthoughts