The Observation Deck: Odd Taxi
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I will be honest, after reading Goodbye, Eri earlier this year, there was little doubt in my mind that it would remain the most compelling thing I consumed in 2022. Little did I know, however, that a certain show about an anthropomorphic walrus taxi driver would come into my life and give it a serious run for its money.
Last year’s critical darling Odd Taxi tells the story of Hiroshi Odokawa, a seemingly normal middle-aged taxi driver who spends his days listening to manzai comedy on the radio. Yet, for as much as he likely wishes to live out the rest of his boring days in peace, all of that is swiftly interrupted by his connection to the case of a missing 18-year girl. He soon becomes caught up in a web of crime that involves friends, foes, and passengers alike.
A Story Like No Other
Odd Taxi is the sort of once-in-a-decade show where everything about it lines up perfectly or near-so. It is a story that starts and ends around its central premise: a dude driving a Taxi, but what it does with that time in between is so mind-blowingly brilliant that dissecting it all in full could easily take up a two-hour YouTube essay. Unfortunately, I am not looking to make said video, so I will try my best in a more condensed context.
For starters, Odokawa. Not only is he the conduit through which all of the characters are introduced, but each and every interaction that he has with them is also relevant in some way to the overall plot. This leaves the story and dialogue oozing with attention to detail. A conversation that happened in episode two likely has some bearing on how a person views episode seven, for example.
One might assume then since the focus is often the people he drives around in his taxi that Odokawa’s character suffers because of it, but this is not true. In fact, despite the passive nature of his job, Odokawa often challenges the ideas of his passengers, both as a way of calling out the dumb things that they say, but also as a way of understanding the world around him.
Then, there is everyone else. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is almost irresponsible of me to talk about any individual side character for too long because nearly all of them contribute to the plot in some equally important way.
Among some of the more important ones though are Goriko and Shirakawa, Odokawa’s doctor and nurse respectively, and Dobu, one of the criminals who force Odokawa to help him over the course of the show. The three of them tend to show up most often, especially in the later episodes, and often dictate events in a way that is most relevant to Odokawa himself.
As far as the actual quality of the characters themselves, there is not much to say other than that they are fantastically written. Apart from their functionality in the story, despite being presented as animals, everyone in the story feels like uniquely real, often morally flawed human beings. Furthermore, it is often these flaws that generate conflict, both internally and externally and make each scene that much more compelling.
Two Words: Good Pacing
It is one thing to have a set of compelling and unique characters whose stories have intertwined in a way that makes sense. It is another thing entirely to be able to tell that story in a window of time which makes it feel not too convoluted but also not too slow and neverending. Odd Taxi again pulls off an incredible feat by finding the perfect slight left-of-center pacing.
One example of how it pulls this off is by using its often dense dialogue. I mentioned before how important a two-minute conversation can be in the grand scheme of things, and I was not joking. However, none of this ever feels like it is being pulled out of nowhere. The speed at which plot points move is certainly above average, but not so much so that some of the bigger reveals towards the later third are nonsensical.
There is also a lot of visual delivery when it comes to major elements of the story. Now, that might sound incredibly stupid since I am talking about an anime, but let me explain. Odd Taxi likes to use a good amount of switching between scenes, even when a conversation is ongoing, as a way of making sure to check if the audience is paying attention. Important details are often delivered in the final moments of an episode, making it necessary to watch the screen at all times. Now, for those who are not as accustomed to reading subtitles quickly (i.e. newer anime fans or people who do not watch with subtitles as much) this can create a small barrier to entry, but it is nothing that would ruin the experience entirely.
Simple is Good Sometimes
Those who have seen any trailers for the series may have noticed something about the show’s animation: it is decidedly less complex than a lot of other series. This is not to say that the animation is bad, far from it. There are a ton of stand-out moments where the animation picks up as needed.
What I mean to say, rather, is that a lot of Odd Taxi ‘s worldview is reflected in the way it draws its characters. Sure, they are all anthropomorphic humans, but even in their designs, there is a lot of personality. Without going into spoiler territory, Odokawa is again a useful example. Yes, he is most certainly a Walrus, there is no denying that. The plainness of his eyes, the heaviness around his nose and mouth which almost look like a five-o-clock shadow, and his tendency for simple button-ups portray a lot more about his personality than a crazy sakuga moment ever will.
Now, someone could just respond and say “that’s called character design,” and based on what I have said they would be one-hundred percent correct. Still, this simplicity does not just exist within its characters, as it extends to the show’s backgrounds as well. There is significantly less stylization when it comes to the color schemes and much more gritty reality. Pretty much all of this has to do with Odokawa himself, but again, that would be spoiler territory, and this show is still relatively new.
It was honestly harder to find negative things to say about this series than positive ones. If I were really nitpicking, I would say that the comedy duo could have been involved in the main plot more, or that Yano’s whole rap shtick got kinda old by the end. Really, though, that would just be delaying the fact that this is the best thing I have watched this year, and finding more competition is going to be hard, to say the least. It goes without saying, though I will say it anyway just to be sure, that those who have not watched Odd Taxi should absolutely watch it.
How do you feel about Odd Taxi? Let me know down in the comments.
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Originally published at http://animatedobservations.com on July 15, 2022.