OddTaxi

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

If you’ve followed this column long enough, you might have noticed that many of the anime shows I cover seem to be about and for teenagers. Whether they’re slice-of-life, fantasy, or sci-fi, most popular anime shows deal with mostly teenage problems. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but sometimes you want a show that is not set in a high school and mentions problems other than exams and homework. That is just one of the reasons why OddTaxi feels like such a refreshing experience.

Odokawa is a 40-something misanthropic taxi driver with no family, who spends most of his time having mundane conversations with his customers. On the surface, the show is mostly about these small problems and conversations — Odokawa’s friends and customers care about unsuccessful careers, going viral, getting enough money to pay back student debts.

Except Odokawa also happens to be a walrus in a world of anthropomorphic animals. He also seems to be the prime suspect in the disappearance and potential kidnapping of a teenage girl. And he may be tied to a rivalry between two mobsters, an idol group that may be involved in a scamming scheme, and there’s also the would-be shooter obsessed with getting revenge on Odokawa.

Despite the cutesy animal aesthetic, OddTaxi hides a darkness that feels more at home with the works of Satoshi Kon, Twin Peaks, or even a Martin Scorsese movie. With the show currently entering its endgame, it felt like a good time to explore why this under-seen anime could end up being one of the best shows of the year.

What Makes It Great

Right from the bat, OddTaxi grabs your attention with some excellent and snappy observational humor. The script’s humorous dialogue comes out of small, quiet scenes where characters just talk about mundane things, usually extending the conversation just past the point of absurdity in order to drive out the humor. Odokawa is often being threatened by violent individuals, but he still finds the time to just chit-chat with them. The best example is arguably in the first episode during an extended sequence where Odokawa argues with his doctor about Bruce Springsteen’s role in “We Are The World” and how fun it is to say the name, Bruce Springsteen.

This banter-driven script is very refreshing when seen in the context of the more visual-focused anime that fill the seasonal line-up. That a show is just able to take its sweet time to show a walrus and a gorilla talking about The Boss is already a huge positive, especially when the dialogue is this snappy and fast-paced. Characters frequently interrupt and talk over each other, with the voice acting oftentimes feeling like it was ad-lib — it’s unlikely this was the case, given the arduous anime production schedules, but an interview with the show’s director revealed that they do employ professional comedians for the show, and the dialogue was recorded before the animation was done, giving it an added sense of reality.

Really, what other show would have a cast that includes a porcupine hitman who speaks only in rap rhymes? Just when you think OddTaxi is settling into a routine, it introduces a whole lot of new characters, putting the previous plot threads on pause while masterfully building its world one relatable character at a time.

And yet, that rapid-fire dialogue is there to contrast the story’s increasingly tense mystery, which starts with a missing girl and quickly explodes to include scamming idols and bank robbery. There’s even the mystery of the anthropomorphic animals themselves, which OddTaxi very early on alludes to being just a figment of Odakawa’s imagination. This blend of comedy with a creeping sense of doom feels very much at home with the works of the Coen Brothers, with OddTaxi sharing their passion for tragic and dumb criminals, desperate people struggling with nihilism in an increasingly absurd modern society, and of course, their signature black comedy. Add a bunch of references to Martin Scorsese’s body of work — specifically King of Comedy and Taxi Driver — and you’ve got yourself one of the most unique anime in recent years.

What It Brings to the Conversation

Though many of the conversations in OddTaxi are about mundane things — like Springsteen, or random YouTube videos — the show does often and very casually throw in a very poignant topic, which is where the more adult themes come into play. In the first scene of the first episode, Odokawa picks up a college student obsessed with going viral, who later goes on to build a vigilante persona around a very fast and accidental encounter with a wanted felon, despite being an absolute coward.

Indeed, OddTaxi is interested in exploring the relationship with fame and the internet age, as well as the boundaries (or lack thereof) of parasocial relationships. Nearly every character in OddTaxi is way in over their head, diving deep into problems they can’t escape due to their reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms to forget their lack of control in their adult lives. This includes our own walrus protagonist, who clearly has his own share of problems to deal with, and is so far ignoring them in favor of playing hard-boiled detective. This is a show about a taxi-driving walrus that also offers arguably the best and biggest criticism of the gacha gaming industry, and it does so seamlessly and effectively.

OddTaxi walks a fine line between the mundane and the absurd. When it deals with relatable problems, it’s painfully accurate. But when the show starts aiming higher and perhaps a bit more abstract, it becomes the best spiritual sequel to Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent, as well as the best remake of Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy you’ve ever seen (and all without the need to disguise the remake as a Joker origin story). The show has been giving us a masterclass in its exploration and criticism of fanaticism in the internet era, as well as in how to blur the distinction between reality and fiction while building up to a surely violent and explosive finale.

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

If you can get past the anthropomorphic animals part of the show — which does play a big role in the show’s plot anyway — this show can offer something few other anime can. This is a painfully relatable (and surprisingly funny) look at modern adult life and all its problems, filtered through a rapid-fire dialogue-driven black comedy, and with a phenomenal mystery at the center of it. We are halfway through the year, and it will be hard not to imagine OddTaxi securing a spot as one of the best anime of the year come December.

Watch This If You Like: Paranoia Agent, King of Comedy, Fargo.

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OddTaxi is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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