One of the best anime of the decade is still amazing in movie form.
Odd Taxi: In the Woods is now streaming on Crunchyroll.
Odd Taxi was one of the best anime of 2021, and maybe even the past decade. Now, a year later, Odd Taxi: In the Woods provides a surprisingly well-made film version of the award-winning anime. More than just a compilation, this is a reconstruction of the story, providing satisfying answers to the mystery thanks to a new prologue, while streamlining the story to make it more easily digestible for newcomers. Of course, bringing a 13-episode series down to a two-hour film means losing some of the best character interactions (you shall be missed, Bruce Springsteen joke). Still, there are plenty of great conversations, banter, and jokes that paint a picture of a lived-in world with countless stories, all while delivering a fascinating and thrilling mystery. The result is the best anime movie the Coen brothers didn’t direct.
Set in a world of anthropomorphic animals, we follow Odokawa, a taxi driver who happens to be a walrus. He was abandoned by his parents as a kid, and prefers to keep to himself, but still listens attentively to the many oddball passengers that enter his taxi every night, finding out about weird, mundane, dramatic, funny stories, all while getting inadvertently involved in a mystery concerning a missing girl.
The best way to describe Odd Taxi is that it’s as if Satoshi Kon and the Coen brothers watched Zootopia one night and decided to make their own anime version of it. The characters are all animals, but that doesn’t really play into the story (so there is no bizarre racism metaphor here) involving a series of small choices made by not-so-smart players that escalate out of proportion. More significantly, this is an adult drama featuring characters with day-to-day adult problems, something that’s becoming increasingly rare in an industry seemingly solely focused on action shows featuring superpowered high schoolers.
With no mentions of entrance exams or teenage crushes, what we get instead are nuanced conversations about the obsession with internet fame, parasocial relationships, the dangers of the gacha gaming industry, exploitations of the idol industry, and much, much more. Odd Taxi feels like a living world where at any point you know there are hundreds of stories happening; it’s just that we’re only seeing these ones. Like the best Coen brothers movies, the joy of the film is following side characters and seeing how their stories evolve and interconnect with others as the story goes on. There is a gangster who only talks in rhymes, a college student who becomes an overnight success as a vigilante, a nurse who practices capoeira (this, oddly enough, becomes relevant), a comedy duo trying to make it big, and plenty of other characters. That all these actually connect to our walrus taxi driver is a testament to the writing of both the show and the editing of the film, because it all feels cohesive.
As a movie, Odd Taxi: In the Woods does a commendable job unwinding a complex web of interconnected stories into an easy-to-follow two-hour narrative. Sure, fans of the original anime may mourn the loss of some great banter (again, go watch that Bruce Springsteen clip), but the movie still maintains enough of the smaller character moments that made the show so special. What is most different about In the Woods is its approach to the central mystery of the show. Where the original was more of a Fargo-like web of accidents and mistakes escalating until they implode, the movie is re-edited to be more of a true-crime documentary, with after-the-fact interviews with the major players recounting the events of the show, and providing commentary on them. The result is a movie that doesn’t spoil the surprises, but also doesn’t spend weeks teasing the eventual meeting of these seemingly disparate stories. We know everything will matter, we just don’t know how, and that is part of the fun.
Newcomers may enjoy the movie more than those who are already fans, as it tells the more straightforward version of the story and lets you enjoy the mystery while still getting a sense of the cool sidequests in the background, and if you want more of the character beats, you can always go back to see the original. As for established fans, the new interview scenes that accompany each piece of footage from the show provide a good coda on how every character feels about the events of the show and their involvement, while a brand new epilogue provides some answers and closure.
Where most compilation movies serve as a simple recap of events before the next chapter of the story, a few manage to grab the essence of the story and repackage it in a way that can stand alone. In that regard, Odd Taxi: In the Woods may stand with the likes of the Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy as a compilation movie that maintains what made the original great, while working wonderfully as a first exposure to this story.