Six months ago, Lord Hugh Anthony Disward, also known as Huey, lost his eccentric grandfather, Sir Wesley Disward, who was a renowned collector of rare books. His grandfather's will states that, in order to inherit his manor and everything inside it, he must take guardianship over the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian—an archive that contains forbidden knowledge—and also take care of a mysterious girl called Dalian.
As Huey settles into the manor, an old rival of his grandfather's arranges a meeting with him. Dalian, knowing the rival to be Wesley's killer, tags along and discovers that the murderer is in possession of a Phantom Book—a cursed tome that Wesley tried to seal away. When the book puts the two in danger, Huey discovers that the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian and Dalian are one and the same, and she entrusts Huey with the key to unlocking the knowledge stored within her. Together, Dalian and Huey seal the book away, and thus begins an unlikely partnership as they solve mysteries caused by other Phantom Books.
These days we take the written word for granted, but for the majority of human history this has not been the case. Over the millennia, those with the ability to communicate using these strange markings have been viewed with awe and suspicion in almost equal measure, and many believed that anything written was magical in some way. It's only logical then, that people would begin to think that certain works were holy writ handed down by a deity, held the secrets to immense power, or contained forbidden knowledge that would bring misfortune and death upon anyone who read them.
Eventually certain books were, for one
reason or another, deemed too dangerous for the general public ...
Originally a light novel series by Mikumo Gakuto, Dantalian no Shoka (The Mystic Archives of Dantalian), takes place in England after World War 1. Hugh Anthony Disward (or Huey to his friends), returns to his ancestral home six months after receiving a letter informing him that his grandfather, Earl Wesley Disward, had been murdered by a burglar. According to the will, Huey can inherit the title, the estate, and everything contained within the mansion, but in return he must take over responsibility for the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian, and look after Dalian as well.
Magical books have long been a staple of the fantasy genre, but unlike the majority of tales dealing with them, the main focus of Dantalian no Shoka is to seal away those works that were never meant to exist, or have fallen into the wrong hands. It's a reasonably simple idea that can work very well with an episodic plot (Mushishi, Natsume Yuujinchou and Mokke use a similar method), but sadly that isn't the case here. The straightforward premise doesn't seem to have been enough for the writers, who have very clearly tried to cram as much as possible into twelve episodes. The story can often get sidetracked or bogged down in semantics, and there is a tendency towards over-explanation and melodrama. In addition to this, there are several characters who appear to have been included just to show how "good" Huey and Dalian are, and because of these issues it can often seem as though the narrative has been cobbled together with hobnails and glue.
Now it may seem as though there's little of interest to be found in the story, but that's not actually the case. When the plot sticks to the point there's a surprisingly nice balance between the mystery and supernatural aspects, and there's a good deal of imagination in the way certain phantom books are used or affect people. The series also ventures into darker territory that suits the main theme of the show very well, but these occasions tend to be spoiled by some truly inane humour.
That said, while there are some major issues with the storyline, Gainax have done a decent job with the visuals. There are several different art styles on display that reflect the nature of certain episodes, especially in aspects like design and colouring. There are also some rather nice effects that work well with the detailed backgrounds to create some very atmospheric settings and scenery.
There are some issues that need to be raised though.
For some reason the animation tends to be rather simplistic, and while this seems to fit with one episode in particular, it does become a problem during action sequences. In addition to this, there's a certain "stiffness" to the character movements that may be an intentional dig at British reserve, but it's more likely due to carelessness or time/cost constraints. The character designs are unoriginal and uninspired, and while the clothing is somewhat reflective of the period, viewers will be forgiven for thinking that Dantalian no Shoka is nothing more than a copycat of Gosick.
The opening sequence is a decent montage that features the more prominent characters, some rather pleasant imagery, and a little action, all to the tune of "Cras Numquam Scire" (Tomorrow is Never to Know), by Yucca (featuring Ono Daisuke), a hauntingly choral track that is slightly reminiscent of "Lilium" - the opening song from Elfen Lied. The ending sequence is a short film about a little girl in a horned mask and white dress, walking barefoot through the forest while dragging a large trunk, and alongside the music box stylings of maRIONnetTe and their song "Yes, prisoner", the overall effect is decidedly ... unnerving.
Dantalian no Shoka is generally well served in the audio department, and there's a nice variety of classically themed tracks available, although it should be pointed out that the majority of the series is actually devoid of musical accompaniment. The effects are well choreographed, but rarely overbearing, and it seems that a conscious effort has been made to emphasize the quality of the script and the acting.
For the most part the dialogue is pretty decent, although there is a degree of immaturity about certain conversations, and the explanations can sometimes sound pompous and overbearing. Then again, the latter may be nothing more than a reflection of each role, especially as the actors deliver some good performance throughout the series.
There's something puzzling about the characters as there's very little in the way of actual development, but there's also not much definition given to them either. Aside from being unable to write off the supernatural as mere superstition, Huey doesn't actually grow in any way, and Dalian remains the stereotypical tsundere loli for much of the series. There's also very little attention given to the supporting roles, in particular to the people using or afflicted by the phantom books, and one has to wonder if this was due to the attempt to cram so many different elements into the plot.
There's also the issue of Dalian's connection to the pink haired girl living in the "gourd", but that raises a lot of other questions, especially about Raziel and Flamberge, so if you really want to know, just ask (or Google it).
Aside from the similarity in the character design and the fact both shows try to wade through various mysteries, Dantalian no Shoka has surprisingly little in common with Gosick, but that's both a good and bad thing. The general lack of detail about the characters means that there's very little justification for their actions, and aside from Huey, the lack of any real back story means that many of the roles lack the necessary depth needed to take the story seriously. There's also a surpisingly pro-censorship message built into the narrative, and this isn't helped by the fact that the male lead is a lord, while Hal Kamhout, the Libricide officer, looks like a priest.
The biggest problem with the series is that it tries to do far more than it should, and because of that viewer's may be left with a feeling of incompleteness come the end of the anime. While the story is interesting up to a point, the morass of people and events mean that there are no outstanding moments, and nothing to really capture the heart. There is entertainment to be had from Dantalian no Shoka, especially for those who like shows laden with symbolism, but this is nothing more than a veneer of "intelligence" that overlays the shallowness of the series as a whole.
It's a shame that more effort wasn't put into making this anime work as the concept is actually pretty good. The basic premise is sound, and if Gainax, the writers, and director Uemura Yutaka had taken the show more seriously, then Dantalian no Shoka could have been something truly interesting and entertaining.
And for those of you wondering how an entire library can fit inside a person, here's an explanation from Sir Terry Pratchett's "Discworld Companion":
"Even big collections of ordinary books distort space and time, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, one of those that has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves that end in little doors that are surely too small for a full sized human to enter.
The relevant equation is Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read. Mass distorts space into polyfractal L-space, in which Everywhere is also Everywhere Else.
All libraries are connected in L-space by the bookwormholes created by the strong space-time distortions found in any large collection of books."
I personally had this anime recommended to me by a friend, saying I might like it. (He had read the novels I believe.) So I came into this show knowing nothing at all since I had decided not to try to get any background on it to be unbiased about it.
I was reasonably surprised by how good I actually found it to be.
Personally I normally don't like dark atmosphere anime, yet this one does it in a way that I wanted to keep watching since it kept pulling me in to want to know more about the story and these Phantom
Ok, after episode two I find myself mildly lost. At first I thought that the Phantom Books were going to be a tool of destruction in the hands of people who could not control them. But if I understood correctly Huey used two in the episode as weapons. Guess they can be used as tools in the right hands.
With that said, the story feels a little rushed since there isn't continuity between the two episodes, so it looks like theres an overall theme, but different scenarios that don't continue on. Hopefully this doesn't persist and they take sometime to explain some more concepts or the anime is going to suffer with confusing concepts and butchered story telling.
Well, they never slowed down one bit the entire anime, they just kept on chugging by without taking the time to explain concepts. They decided to go on an episodic route, which I had hoped they wouldn't, since a good linear story would probably have made more sense for this series. But I still liked each episode for what it put out, each being interesting and unique in its own way. The finale was especially well done, making up for some of the confusion along the way.
Very neat realistic backgrounds. Pretty well designed cars and items from the time period the anime is set in. The backgrounds never cease to amaze me in this anime, they are extrordinarly well done, it looks very realistic for an anime that's for sure. The character designs go well with the backgrounds and settings. Huey has a nice design, and so does Dalian. Not much else to say about it.
The background music so far is very appropriate to the scenes it is used in. It doesn't seem out of place and just fits with the anime in general. With episode two I saw the opening, they did use it in episode one, but without the opening sequence. I think the opening is very appropriate for the anime, it goes with its theme of being a dark mysterious anime, which the opening reflects with its mellow somber tune. I stand by my perspective of episode one; the ending... IS strange, the music was creepy and the video is just really really creepy, I didn't particularly like it one bit. So for me the opening and background music is appealing, very appealing.
Huey's character seems likeable to me. Seems like the kind of person that has an interesting past to say the least. Also seems to be well rounded, such as his knowledge with books and firearms, and piloting experience as well. Dalian, was enigmatic to say the least. She seems to be the kind of character you will learn more about slowly as the plot progress, but from what I've seen so far she is somewhat reserved and was brought up in a somewhat pampered state. I mainly say this because of the manner she bosses Huey around and her posture she witholds the air of someone that had been pampered or sheltered.
I oddly enjoyed the first episode much to my surprise. At first I had thought that I might be a bit bored since this isn't typically a type of anime I would try. But I said what the heck and watched the first episode. This was a decision I do not regret since I am already hooked on the story, and want to know more about it. And I honestly enjoyed the comedy between Huey and Dalian in each episode since it is played out nicely and just works into character development well.
Overall, I am mighty pleased that I picked up this show since it looks quite promising, I'm hoping that it doesn't disappoint me somewhere along the way. If the story picks up and pieces together some loose plot holes I still think this anime will be a fantastic watch. Sadly it didn't fill up every plot hole along the way, with certain things remaining murky. This seemed like the kind of anime that needed another 12 episodes to round itself off into what it could be. Hopefully a season 2 comes out to explain the loose ends, and instead of being episode by episode they chain it together into something that flows better.
This is an anime about a loligoth tsundere and her generic male sidekick romping around a historically inaccurate yet picturesque England looking for magical books. It is a story perfectly exemplifying the phrase “golden mediocrity”. You can actually see how everything in this anime is just mediocre. Not bad, or at least, not all the time, but mediocre. You can almost feel how a talented touch would have raised this above the slush. Oh, well, better luck next time.
The story format is episodic. This means that while there is a lot of diversity in tone and feeling, inevitably episodes will be hit or miss depending
on their chosen subject. Some episodes really caught my interest while in others I was constantly hitting the pause button so I could go do some important stuff like watch cat videos on my Internetz.
Everything in this show has to do with books. Magical books that have some weird superpowers. This is a nice concept and I would have been very pleased to see it delivered with more gothic subtlety and psychological horror stuff. Instead, most of the time the writers are pulling shit out of their asses that looks like it was googled on the spot and then put in the blender. I have to give them credit, though, for presenting this random hodgepodge of ideas and names as though it was actually true.
I guess the worst thing about this show is that it is so ridiculously over the top and crams so much corny stuff when a more subtle approach would have worked wonders for it.
Dalian: is a tsundere loligoth who loves reading and being snotty to others. She also has a magical lock on her chest, which makes for a pedo-creepy, sexual sequence that I guess the creators thought looked really cool but is actually pretty dumb. Anyway, Dalian is the keeper (one of the keepers? I don't know, I'm confused) of a mystical library of magic books. I must say, the most that can be said for her is that she is not as annoying as she first appears to be. But she is pretty annoying. Weak, too. She can neither fight nor cast any spells. To reduce the annoyance factor I suggest putting the magical lock on her mouth. Nothing interesting comes out of it anyway.
Huey McDuck: (demons in hell, who had the brilliant idea of naming this guy? I’ll just call him McDuck) is the generic male lead who does all the legwork. Aside from getting beaten up, shot at and drinking tea—which are all activities I enjoy watching characters do—there is nothing interesting about him. He is such a basic, unshaped mould of a character that he feels as bland as raw flour.
Random episodic characters: to make up for the lameness of the main pair there are a bunch of interesting side characters making random appearances. I just realised that the episodes I liked the most focused on these other characters, like the guy burning the books and his sidekick in a straightjacket. Or the perky cosplaying heiress. Once again we have a show where the side characters are much more interesting than the leads. I suspect this is some kind of trolling trend in Japan. Along with frozen highschoolgirl panties or whatever.
This has the sort of glossy animation that's become popular recently. To save money, the studio used filtered photographs for backgrounds. It has a slightly jarring feel to it but nothing as eye-gouging as badly done CG.
The thing that bugged me most about the animation was the style used at “magic” moments. Often, the visuals are totally inappropriate to the mood and setting. Enough with the stupid energy bolts and Technicolor seizure graphics! This ain't Power Rangers, dammit! Instead of going for dark, gothic and discreet they ruin the atmosphere and buildup with that wacky stuff. Hey, should I be expecting Ichigo to pop up with his new Bankai?
The soundtrack is quite competently put together. It has a sort of melancholy choir vibe going for it and a kind of music box tune. The people working on this knew where to put it to good use, that's for sure.
OP: a quite pretty and atmospheric ballad that ties in nicely with the graphics. In fact, it makes you believe you're about to watch a much better show. Ha! Joke’s on you!
ED: some weird live-action sequence. I don't really like live-action in my anime so I never bothered to watch it to the end. I doubt it was something stellar though.
It was a semi-chore to sit through this easily forgettable show. The best time to view it is when you're home and you are so bored out of your skull you have nothing better to do. Maybe some lazy Sunday afternoon. Not even loligoth fetishists would vote for this.
In essence, Dantalian no Shoka, or "Dantalian" as i will refer to it from here on is an anime that made the best of an unfortunate situation. If anime production meant compacting carbon at high temperatures, then Dantalian is a diamond that refused itself the right to form...
A simple, yet vivid and interesting context of "Magical Tomes" makes up Dantalian, and allows it to attract an audience range primarily from both the mystery and fantasy realms. It's not revolutionary, though it's certainly a context that captures my attention much better than the majority of shows with similar paths.
Literature is an important theme for Dantalian (not only due to the tomes), and generally the mystery genre as a whole. It serves to add some weight to this otherwise malnourished anime; allowing its slightly eccentric and expressive presentation to shine through, and so non-dialogue words also contribute towards Dantalian's distict "richness".
The implied scale of Dantalian's expansive fantasy context is just phenomenal. It's one that not only makes me curious enough to desire more, but the show as a whole is bathed in an ecstasy of wonderment. Behind Dantalian is an open-ended, unrestricted context, that is simply too much for a mere 12 episode production. I describe it as malnourished for this reason, and that is because the actual anime in question is plagued with unexplained concepts and gaping holes in character and plot development that rightfully throws viewers off course.
There are 2 ways to go into/look back at Dantalian. The first is to see the anime as a linear, chronological and summarizing plot line to represent the original "Dantalian Story" - a normal, continued story progression that you could expect from the majority of things you watch. Due to the massive imbalance of wonderful contextual weight that Dantalian brings, versus its minuscule 12 episode duration, seeing it in this way alone makes the anime not even worth watching.
Alternately, you can choose to look at the anime, in the way that it actually (though unintentionally) turned out to be: a particularly episodic, and engaging production.
For this review i have considered both viewpoints (slightly biasing towards the latter), and frustratingly concluded, that Dantalian as an anime is just upper-mediocre.
There are definitely some pull factors to be credited where credit is due, but for the most part: "a potentially brilliant story that isn't given the proper amount of episode-time to develop" will be the overriding message behind this review.
This leads me swiftly on to compliment Dantalian's presentation, and not only in terms of art and sound... The foreground animation is of a high standard, but it's the extreme realism of the softly and yet vividly represented backdrops, that contrast between each other; as though the characters' silhouettes dance effortlessly like an overlay. This artistic method emulates a macro photograph due to the varying contrasts i believe, and so Dantalian is certainly a feast for the eyes. In terms of audio: we get a really beautiful and warming, appropriately latin opening track for the "old-style" feel, that does well in the way it represents the mystery and literary ties of the show. Throughout, it seems to me that Dantalian maintains this classic-styled score, and uses audio relatively well to compliment the atmosphere of scenes. I'm not a big fan of the outro sequence, which for some reason seems to tell the story of someone being raped, through metaphorical and expressive presentation. The song sounds especially cold both with and without the visuals, and so in my opinion it is highly unfitting.
There is a good cohesion between art and sound in Dantalian, and so they don't act like separate unrelated entities. The show is really good at presenting the content in an organic way that comes across to me as especially immersive. This is definitely helped by the inclusion of "small-talk" accompanying the story development, which allows for a good contrast between light-hearted, and more dire situations. This contrast makes more prominent the show's drama, and so it does know exactly how to build up the appropriate atmosphere, and relaxed or heavy moody feelings in scenes. The presentation is perhaps the department with the least flaws, as i really do feel immersed in "olden times" when i watch...
The heart of any episodic mystery show, as i now identify Dantalian as, is the story.
Story being a reasonably formidable department also, i can safely say that there is a lot of substance, in the intricacies, and nature of the mysteries. It's quite clever how Dantalian stays away from deliberately overwhelming the viewer as some mystery shows have been known to do. Instead, Dantalian takes up some relatively straightforward concepts, and turns them into rather beautiful and wholesome "episode-long" mysteries, that slowly reveal their secrets, only to show how much of a morally driven and inspired story, the one of Dantalian is...
These are far from one-dimesional plot lines or tangents, as they also open up opportunities for us viewers to see the main duo develop, and deal with a range of situations. There is a definite sense of personality and passion in these "arcs", and this can even be felt from side characters. Perhaps this is thanks to the emphasis of morals, motives, and Dantalian's very able audiovisual ability.
As for an overriding story, Dantalian seems as though it must be a summary of the original, as it comes to an abrupt conclusion, which ties all of the open-ends far too prematurely. Nevertheless, a conclusion is given to at least package the show into a neat bundle. It's a rather eccentrically presented one which goes back on the very first scene to establish some feeling of a "journey", as we are given a prequel or "events leading up to the first episode" related conclusion.
I find it impossible to not be charmed by the character design, particularly the main duo. The many characters of Dantalian have a certain sense of realism, and a reliability to their plights in spite of the show's fantasy ties. When expressive presentation comes together with expressive and realistic characters, the viewers can attach themselves more to the stories, thus giving the show more power. The real development of Hugh, during one of the later episodes to give us some background to our male protagonist was quite good. It furthered the story's time-setting, and allowed me to appreciate him more.
However, this was all still too little too late, as character development is always a department where it's easy to spot holes... For the most part, the character depth is limited just to their charm: the way they show unity as they go through this journey, and the way that their personalities shine through a little in the less eventful, atmosphere and character development committed scenes. It was certainly not enough to allow for the well-structured stories to pack pack much of a punch. There were many intense scenes for the duo, but asides from an internal gasp once or twice, i felt distanced from the characters. The anime was therefore unable to convey the extent of severity in situations, which you need to have, for viewers to be genuinely taken aback, and on the edge of their seats. The flaws are blatantly obvious, as i elaborated upon the show's restrictive time scale near the start. It means that all of the really good story design and effort into the presentation was quite wasted; as Dantalian wasn't given anywhere near enough funding for episodes that would be needed to provide some suitable coverage in relation to the wonderfully large-scale context. It also meant sacrificing character development, and therefore attachment, and therefore power and "umph" to the arcs.
Dantalian is a show that allows you "oooh" and "ahhh" at its context filled with wonderment, and really moody atmosphere. It brings you some well thought out story arcs which will have you questioning moral intention.
However, these 12 episodes only allow this anime with so much potential to stay knee-deep. There's no real power conveyed in this series of un-flowing arcs, that come to an abrupt end...
~ "There are things better left unknown", is this always true? ~
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