Warning: The following contains spoilers for Odd Taxi Episode 1, “The Eccentric Driver,” now streaming on Crunchyroll.
Among the 50 or so new anime coming out this spring, Odd Taxi is one of the strangest. It's an original anime that takes place in a modern Japan with anthropomorphic animals. The protagonist is a middle-aged taxi driver, there are no superpowers involved or any special world-building elements other than the anthropomorphism. But Odd Taxi has some well-written dialogues and an intriguing premise. While it's a slow burn, there are many details lurking under the surface that add up to an interesting mystery.
According to the plot synopsis, Odd Taxi is about a walrus taxi driver named Odokawa who picks up various strange customers. Through his conversations with them, he starts to piece together a mystery about a missing girl. The mystery is developed through several radio and TV broadcasts that are casually woven in throughout the episode. What complicates matters is that we see Odokawa alone in his apartment, saying to a half-opened closet door, "You are not tied up... you're free to run away anytime." Is he talking to himself as a metaphor for being trapped in life? Or could it be that the missing girl has been with Odokawa this whole time?
What’s more, Odokawa seems strangely familiar with a cop who pulls him over for a traffic stop. Odokawa knows the officer is friends with a fugitive baboon named Dobu, something even the cop’s own brother doesn’t know. That same officer later confiscates the SD card from the taxi’s recording device, claiming it captured footage of the missing girl, but then hands it over to Dobu at the end of the episode -- hinting at potential corruption or even criminal collusion behind the scenes.
There are many subtle clues throughout the episode that may lead to something greater. Even though the visual style looks simple, many frames pack information that will become important for later. The same goes for the prosaic conversations that Odokawa has with various people, so viewers will need to pay attention to details as these events could all end up connected to a bigger mystery.
Even when the conversations are unrelated to the plot, they are still the best part of the episode. The dialogue is naturally written, and offer some sharp commentaries about contemporary societal issues, such as the idea of going viral, online deceptions, and the hypocrisy of generation gaps.
The conversations work particularly well at building Odokawa's character. They show that while he has a cynical view on almost everything, he’s not self-serving or cruel by nature. He’s just so blunt about his opinions that he often offends others, but he’s detached enough that he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. With just one episode, Odokawa is already one of the most grounded middle-aged characters in anime since Space Brothers.
The tone of Odd Taxi is akin to a film noir, which meshes well with the crime/mystery aspect of the story. The series is dark, slow-paced, conversationally driven, and has a sense of deep cynicism rare in anime. Odokawa especially embodies the film noir protagonist. He's a loner, has insomnia, is disillusioned and sarcastic, but he is also very perceptive and seems to know more than he lets on.
While Odd Taxi may be ignored by many due to its simplistic look and seemingly mundane story, its unique characters and intriguing plot deserve attention from viewers. It also has great mix of upbeat idol music and a slick hip-hop opening. This is an impressive directorial debut for Baku Kinoshita, who dares to put forth a strange, atmospheric and understated drama anime in such a competitive market.