What makes a compelling story is never the quality of a single stream of events. When we engage with stories, we pick up little bits and pieces to relate to. We love the main character, sure, but we also find intrigue in their friends. We look at the background, hear the music, and indulge in scene composition. Each interrelated bit comes together. In aggregate, those small pieces form something much larger and much more compelling than their mere parts. ODDTAXI exemplifies this formula.
Within ODDTAXI, taxi driver Odokawa lives a mundane, interesting life. The raucous heartbeat of the city around him slows to a steady drone as he closes the door to his cab and turns on the radio. Rather than the sounds of a bustling metropolis, we hear soft AM radio and the nothing-conversation of its hosts. Odokawa looks dutifully ahead at the road until he catches a fare. From there, he is greeted with a little piece of someone else’s life. A student trying to go viral requests the radio be turned off. A woman asks Odokawa questions about his family. A young otaku talks about an idol. And all the while, a girl has gone missing and her complex crime is somehow linked to this simple man’s simple life.
ODDTAXI, unlike a lot of other anime, is powerful in its simplicity. Each scene composition is purposeful, every bit of exposition is organic, and the characters shine in every second of their brief appearances. There is no need for flashy fights or throwaway dialogue. If anything, some moments in ODDTAXI are more powerful via their silence. All of this comes together via a seemingly mundane protagonist with a lot of depth. Like the core of a strong story, he is, quite literally, the vehicle bringing everything together.
Odokawa is a 41-year old walrus. This might seem odd, but the world of ODDTAXI is composed mostly of anthropomorphic animals. Within the story, animals’ species don’t play too much of an active role. Unlike other anthropomorphic anime like Beastars, species interaction on the basis of predator-prey relationships isn’t the emphasis. At times, characters might make jokes about their animal, but it doesn’t go beyond that. In Odokawa’s case, his most defining characteristics are far and away the most human of scores of anime characters I’ve seen.
Odokawa is a loner. He struggles with sleep, even saying he’s forgotten how to sleep properly. He has no family, few friends, and doesn’t speak much. But, this isn’t simply a matter of him not having much to say. In fact, his infrequent dialogue tells the audience the exact opposite. When pressed for his opinion by an impatient passenger, Odokawa remarks that he typically considers 5 responses in his head before speaking. He chastises others for not giving thoughts to their words. Even in interacting with people who have relatively shallow desires and needs, Odokawa casts stoic eyes at them. The careful cuts between his environment and his eyes tells the viewer that while he may not speak much, he is always watching.
And when he does talk, we receive bits and pieces about his life, but not much more. We know he lost most of his family. He speaks of an accident he could’ve died in but lived through. We know that some other group of people raised him. In these rare moments of dialogue, his face shows emotion. Often, that emotion is pain. It creates a degree of emotional tension in the cab, especially when his oblivious passengers don’t see his face — but we, the audience, see nothing beyond it.
Part of the reason ODDTAXI manages this is by making use of a shallow depth of field. Normally, real life directors accomplish this technique with wide aperture camera lenses. These lenses are able to create a single focused area of the shot and adjust where the focus is, guiding our eyes. In this anime, this same technique mixes with soft dialogue to give us looks at various parts of the cab. In moments where the outside of the cab is visible, we clearly see the city, but nothing distinct. The focus stays on and within the cab and its passengers.
On top of that, the anime’s music is soft and never too obtrusive. This lends a lot of interesting effects to the show. For one, it really makes viewers listen to every word and hang on it. Dialogue is incredibly important and incredibly emphasized. The lack of heavy detail or burden on the senses gives that dialogue room to shine. As a result, exposition comes naturally and never feels too forced. We learn more details about each character via their conversations. Time isn’t spent purposelessly moving between scenes when the cab itself is one of those scenes.
But secondly, that soft background music makes for great contrast with non-soft moments. The loud music of a popular idol is something we notice when everything else on Odokawa’s radio is a talk show, for example. It’s present enough that a scene changes when it fades, but not so much that every scene requires it.
I won’t spoil the latter episodes of the show’s mystery, but the description of how it flows in the show is plenty. Throughout the early episodes of ODDTAXI, we learn that a girl has gone missing. Peppered throughout Odokawa’s many taxi drives, occasional doctors visits, or errands, he interacts with police. Like when he speaks with the passengers of his cab, these conversations contribute to exposition by exposing small hints about what happened.
Like a civilian, we only explicitly hear those details when the police characters reveal them. But these details are an entirely different wavelength from the rest of the show. Just as with ODDTAXI’s music, the impact here is from contrast. ODDTAXI makes even a small mystery incredibly tantalizing when it’s held beside of countless mundane conversations.
On top of that, like any good thriller, a lot of the biggest clues are hidden in plain sight. Something as simple as someone in the background might be incredibly important an episode later. As you start to notice where to look, this layered anime gets even deeper.
This is an anime I want to enthusiastically recommend because I’m certain it’ll slip under the radar. With mainstream action anime maintaining constant dominance, it’s hard for shows like this to get props. Anime with these sorts of small settings and close casts of characters tend to be cheap comedies. Very rarely do they put this much effort into scene composition, sound, and character. This all goes to show that ODDTAXI is an amazing story that is only elevated in an animated format.
This is a series that is slow for good reason and strong via its relationships. Shallow interactions have depth and brief conversations set the tone for hours of others. ODDTAXI is, well, odd. But very much in a good way.
This may end up being the absolute best anime you never even hear about.
Images via Crunchyroll
©P.I.C.S. / 小戸川交通パートナーズ