ODDTAXI is a Perfect Ensemble Noir About Funny Animals

It’s a tough world out there for furry anime. Sure, there will never be a shortage of shows where basically human teens sport tails and ears to frequently horny ends, but instances of fully anthropomorphized animals are generally expected to be intrinsically Saying Something with their use of animal-people. Given that recent mega-hits Beastars and BNA have already covered “adolescent sexuality” and “slightly tenuous social inequality metaphors” respectively, that doesn’t leave a lot of big topics for future titles. Which is why it was so smart of the recently completed ODDTAXI to ask a more restrained question: what if we just wrote a really great noir?

ODDTAXI is an ensemble cast story set in modern Tokyo and starts with the news of a high school girl’s disappearance. The last known footage of her was on the dash cam of taxi driver Odokawa, who finds himself caught between the interests of crooked cops, self-interested yakuza, and a suspicious idol manager all trying to get their hands on his tape. Odokawa himself carries emotional scars that have left him a distant observer of those around him, and the mystery of his past becomes just as important to the story as the missing girl.

It’s got all the best hallmarks of the noir genre: there’s a troubled man who hasn’t been the same since The Incident, finding himself a pawn in a game of larger powers; there’s a dame who’s gotten in too deep despite her good heart; there’s a creeping sense that we can’t quite trust our protagonist’s perspective, a grim distrust of systemic power (though the writing does ultimately lean back somewhat on the “bad actor” excuse for its cops), and a hair-raisingly memorable ending.  But it also sidesteps the sometimes nihilistic bleakness that can drive viewers away from the genre, and it offers sympathy and shades of grey to its female characters beyond the simple stereotype of the femme fatale. It’s also damn funny. The dialogue on the whole leans naturalistic, which is crucial considering long stretches of early episodes consist of conversations in Odokawa’s taxi, but then the show will throw in a curveball like a yakuza enforcer who raps all his dialogue — all of which is elevated by an absolutely stellar localization.

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It’s been a while since seasonal anime has seen a straightforward mystery show, let alone one as tightly-plotted and artistically sharp as this one. The world feels real despite being populated by anthropomorphic animals, and while comparisons have been drawn (quite fairly) to the Coen Brothers, it also evokes the late, great Satoshi Kon with its musings on human relationships to technology and downright suffocatingly sharp depiction of mental health spirals. It’s also the kind of series that rewards both sharp viewing and rewatch, as the crew clearly delighted in placing background clues as part of the audio drama that went up every week alongside new episodes—which, like all good ancillary content, adds additional context to the story but isn’t at all necessary to enjoying the show on its own. Summer is looking to be a fairly thin season for new shows, so if you missed ODDTAXI, there’s no better time to jump in.