[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be taking a look at the surreal and… well, odd, Odd Taxi! Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is Odd Taxi worth analyzing, or is it a waste of your time?]
You need to watch Odd Taxi.
It’s not every day that an anime comes along and makes you think that it is going to immediately become one of your favorite titles of all time. The last time that happened with me was way back in 2017 when Made in Abyss made me a true believer. Anime has never been better than it is now but we’re seeing a stark decline of anime that are being labeled as truly classic. It’s hard to fully articulate why this is the case, but it has to do with the sheer amount of quality anime being produced. There are so many good shows that they’re drowning each other out, fighting for your attention.
The spring of 2021 in particular was probably one of the best seasons of anime ever, with dozens of excellent shows from a variety of properties. Some of them were sequels to popular shows like Zombieland Saga Revenge. Some were original properties like Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song or Shadow’s House. And then you have new adaptations from critically acclaimed manga like To Your Eternity. There were so many titles that released this season of such noteworthy praise that I just simply didn’t have the time to watch everything I wanted to see. Then when the summer season starts next month, it’ll be back to square one with all of those highly regarded titles being put on the dread backlog, most likely to never be seen again.
But even among a class of stellar shows, Odd Taxi stands out from the pack by not standing out. It feels like an inside secret, one that only the most hardcore of anime fans are even aware of. There are no famous names attached to the project. It’s not done by a notable studio. The director is a newcomer, and the majority of the cast are not actors by trade. And yet, it is, by far, the most mesmerizing and captivating show I’ve seen all year and a frontrunner to be my anime of the year. And I’m saying that without having seen the finale.
The word “niche” is mostly used to describe things that appeal to ultra-specific and focused subgroups. Anime itself is a niche subgenre in the world of animation since most Americans are familiar with more Western styles of animation. Over time anime influences have crept in, but there’s still a distinct Western touch to it. RWBY, Teen Titans, and Avatar: The Last Airbender have achieved widespread critical acclaim with an anime aesthetic, but fans still look at them not as anime but as Western cartoons. No matter how popular the anime community is and/or becomes, it will still be considered a niche market in the West. However, even within a niche, Odd Taxi is even more niche. A niche within a niche. A nicheption if you will.
There’s rarely any action in the show. It can be very mundane at times. The characters are not your typical anime characters as the majority of them are middle-aged and have understated jobs like janitors, waiters, or of course, taxi drivers. There’s a dark edge to the show that isn’t afraid to hold a light at some really dark parts of society. The pacing can be painfully slow as well. And yet all of that just endears the show to me even more since it’s an atypical structure within the industry.
But what exactly is Odd Taxi even about? The series follows a taxi driver named Odokawa, who drives around and night and just picks up passengers like a student, a nurse, or the manager of a band. Or at least, that’s what the first episode would lead you to believe. In truth, a young girl was murdered and the series is focused on unraveling the mystery of what happened to her. How was she murdered and why does this affect the over a dozen characters in the plot? Odokawa was the last person to see her alive and multiple parties, be it the police or the yakuza, are interested in getting his dashcam footage to find out what the truth really is, but even then it’s murky, to say the least.
There’s a lot more going on besides just that main plot, however. Odd Taxi weaves a complex web of stories involving 16 characters vying for the spotlight alongside a gaggle of supporting ones. Sure, Odokawa may be our central character, but everyone else is essential to the plot. Goriki is Odokawa’s doctor, but his clinic is having its medicine stolen by one of the nurses, who may be working for the yakuza. Then that nurse may or may not be in a relationship with a gangster, one whom a fame-obsessed college student may be trying to capture to gain adoration online. That’s just a sampling of the countless plot threads and interconnections between our rather large cast.
There’s so much going on under the hood of this show that it can be hard to keep track of things at once. Moments that feel meaningless, like how a character got into an online auction for an eraser cap, can have massive ramifications later on down the road. The plot is impeccably structured where you not only want to see how everyone connects in Odd Taxi’s grander narrative, but also just how these characters live their lives. Sometimes we see only mere snippets of a character in an episode while the very next one we could spend the entire episode learning about their backstory and what brought them into this complicated murder mystery.
But that’s not entirely unique to Odd Taxi. Many shows and movies have complicated webs of allegiances and motivations driving their actions forward. When people still cared about it, that was one of the main appeals of Game of Thrones, just seeing how the various factions and leading characters go about their own unique plots as they feed into the larger whole. So what makes Odd Taxi so different from other stories like it? It’s hard to really identify, but I think the best way to describe Odd Taxi would be to call it a Quentin Tarantino anime.
That’s a weird statement to be sure, but when you consider Tarantino’s library, the man has a certain style to him that’s entirely unique to him. He loves non-linear storytelling, he has a penchant for pop culture and integrates it into his worlds to flesh them out, the majority of his films are neo-noir pictures focused on large ensemble casts, and there are plentiful scenes just dedicated to watching the characters talk with little to no action or change in cinematography.
Odd Taxi checks all of these boxes. The series features extended conversations filled with random pop culture references, like a minute plus discussion between Odokawa and Goriki about who had the best verse in “We Are The World“. It’s reminiscent of the diner scene from Pulp Fiction where Jules and Vincent are just talking about pigs and miracles. It doesn’t add anything of note to the plot, but it informs the relationship between these characters and how they interact with each other. The pace of their conversation is especially noteworthy as it actually feels like two people talking with one another as the dialogue was actually recorded first then animated afterwards, a rarity for the industry.
But like a lot of Tarantino’s best films, there’s a lot of understated menace to the proceedings. Reservoir Dogs makes us acutely aware that the heist is going to go wrong and that there’s a rat in the group. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood leads us to believe that the film will end with the gruesome Sharon Tate murders, slowly building up the tension as we get closer to the day of the Manson Family murders. Jackie Brown is a crime thriller where Jackie tries to double-cross both the police and the mob to save herself. Odd Taxi pulls from all of these and presents it in a package that feels accessible.
The decision by the director Baku Kinoshita to make the characters anthropomorphic animals was something that he claims was to make the proceedings more inviting to newcomers. Odd Taxi can, and is, go into unpleasant territory. No one wants to see a janitor in his mid-40’s bawling his eyes out to his mom over the phone while being held captive by the mob after being scammed by a young singer. If the characters were humans, this wouldn’t be easy to watch, but by using bright and colorful animals it makes is strangely welcoming. I know I should be afraid of the gangster Yano, who is merciless about trying to extort his victims, but there’s a certain charm to him that’s entirely due to him being a tiny little porcupine. That and he raps his dialogue. Respect, man.
But even then, Odd Taxi is a series that always feels like it’s not showing its full hand. From the very beginning of the show, we have a scene where Odokawa appears to be talking to himself in his apartment, but is he really alone? The things he’s saying imply that someone else is there, but they’re not being held against his will. Even up until episode 12, we never got any hard evidence that Odokawa had done anything wrong, but the show still frames that something is amiss in that room. Odokawa also has some kind of undisclosed medical condition, which wouldn’t be anything of note, yet no one else acknowledges the fact that everyone is an animal. Could it be a delusion of Odokawa’s and everyone is actually human? There’s just so much that’s unclear about the show but it’s presented in a way that we want to find out what the truth of the matter is.
The series also serves as an interesting examination of cross-generational discontent. We should all be familiar with the various ways to create conflict within a story, whether it be man vs. man, man vs. society man vs. nature, or man vs. self. In Odd Taxi, nearly all of the older characters engage in conflicts against each other with clearly defined protagonists and antagonists. Dobu the gangster is trying to one-up his rival Yano. Stand-up comedians Shibagaki and Baba are trying to win a competition yet are growing more distant due to Baba’s success. Man vs. man. That all leads to some excellent drama, but it’s the younger characters who stand out as their conflicts are man vs. self.
Tanaka, Kawabasa, and Nikaido are all far younger than the other cast members and all of their problems deal with internal struggles, struggles brought upon by the burdens of technology and societal pressure. Tanaka deals with social isolation and how microtransaction laced video games robbed him not only of his funds but his mental well-being (James Stephanie Sterling would approve of all of episode 4 which rips the gacha industry to shreds). Kawabasa ties in his self-worth to social media and feels his life is incomplete with the approval of others. Meanwhile, Nikaido faces extreme paranoia over the rise of her idol group Mystery Kiss and the connections she has with her manager and the mob.
It’s fitting that whenever a single episode is dedicated to a character, it’s usually to one of these three as Odd Taxi seems extra intent on examining the psyches of its younger cast members and how they seem more mentally unstable than the man who may or may not see other people as animals. And the show doesn’t hold back in how we’re supposed to pity them. Yes, Tanaka wants to brutally murder Odokawa and goes so far as to shoot up a club to do so, but I never detest him. I actually pity him because he just comes across to me as the natural conclusion to people with mental instability being manipulated by predatory corporate monetization tactics.
There’s so much more that can be examined and explained about Odd Taxi, but I need to make the perennial qualifier that as of this writing, the show is incomplete. 12 out of the 13 episodes have aired and while I highly doubt the series will collapse in on itself in one episode, there is still the possibility that it could happen. Unlikely, but not impossible. We’ve seen disasters sprout here before (*glares at The Promised Neverland*).
So of course no one is watching this show. Shocking, I know? It’s hard to truly gauge active viewership of shows that stream on platforms like Crunchyroll. They’ll let you know that new shows like Tokyo Revengers have thousands of positive reviews and advertising up the wazoo, but shows that aren’t capturing the zeitgeist are often left unforgotten. For as much of a modern masterpiece Odd Taxi is, the total amount of reviews, which is the only way I can accurately assess viewership at this time, put it alongside generic sports anime, ugly CG animated action shows, and 10-minute shorts. Odd Taxi deserves better than that.
The picture only gets bleaker when you look at sites like My Anime List, which states that a little over 70,000 members are currently watching the show. To put that into perspective, it is the 26th most-streamed show of the season by viewership, with titles like My Hero Academia ranking in over 500,000 viewers and original projects like Vivy: Flourite Eye’s Song, another excellent series, hover at around 225,000 active viewers.
You need to watch Odd Taxi. It’s by no means a conventional anime but it is, without a doubt, the most engrossing show I’ve seen in what feels like an eternity. The writing, directing, style, and tone all scream masterpiece, taking inspiration from excellent neo-noir directors and storytellers. Its complicated web of characters led me to staying up until 3:00 a.m. just watching catching up on the series in anticipation of the finale. And no one wants to watch it. If you can only watch one anime this season, hell this year, make it a point to watch Odd Taxi. It’s strange, but you won’t be able to look away from it.