Dantalian no Shoka is set in post World War I England. Hugh Anthony Disward is the keykeeper of the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian, an otherworldly library which is embodied by the magical being Dalian, who takes the form of a young raven haired girl. Together, they investigate incidents related to phantom books, books containing knowledge and power beyond human reach, which if misused, may bring about disastrous effects. The series starts with Hugh driving through a scenic English countryside, with the series’ fantastical theme playing in the background. He is travelling to the mansion of his recently deceased grandfather to inherit his grandfather’s estate, and where he will take his first steps into the world of phantom books. The question is will you want to follow?
The premise and setup of the series show great promise. The early 20th century is a suitable period, when superstitions and belief in the supernatural was more common. The idea that historical books possessed of magical properties gives room to incorporate a wealth of lore into the plot. Adding to this mix Gainax’s polished rendering of the visuals, which communicate a vibe of mystery and a dark atmosphere, Dantalian no Shoka might have proved to be an exceptional series.
Unfortunately, the series doesn’t quite deliver. My main disappointment was with the lack of depth in the plot. The series is episodic, and while this is not categorically fatal to a strong story, the producers didn’t quite manage to handle this element in the best way. The individual stories might be taken to be tied together by a loose theme of human nature and desire, where the characters attempt to use the powers of the phantom books achieve their goals, but usually for one reason or another, bring about tragedy instead. However, this theme isn’t well developed. For a large part of each episode, the viewer is left guessing at what at all is going on, which is a good technique for mystery, but not the best way to quickly develop a compelling story. When the revelation is made, the explanations are rushed and usually clichéd, lacking a convincing background. The same can be said for the central characters of each story. They are not developed enough to get the viewer involved in their stories, which makes it difficult for us to be affected by their eventual fate.
There are hints at a larger plot, but this only happens in the background. We are introduced to two other keykeepers and their partner “libraries”, or yomi hime, as they are called in the story. There is the morally ambiguous pair, keykeeper Hal, and his partner Flamberge, who destroy phantom books, because Hal regards them as unneeded items in the world. And there is the more obviously evil pair, the Professor and his partner Rasiel, who have an as yet unknown agenda. They collectively appear only in a quarter of the total number of episodes, and their characters and stories are unexplored for the most part. We’ll have to rely on a second season – if we get one – to develop this angle of the story.
Gainax has done an admirable job with the visuals. The colours used effectively paint the story in an aura of mystery. The actions sequences are also well rendered, and flow smoothly. But sadly, after the first two episodes, the number of action scenes drops significantly. But viewers can still enjoy the backgrounds. While not exceptionally memorable, the setting of early 20th century England is quite charmingly reproduced with a good level of detail. Some of the backgrounds appeared to me to be recreated from real pictures, and I quite liked the effect, though you may or may not agree.
The opening theme is an enchanting piece, which is also used to rather good effect in creating the image of a fantasy setting in some scenes. It was one of the main factors that gave me high expectations for the series, which the series sadly, did not match. The overall soundtrack also did its work to set the mood for each scene.
The voice acting suitably carried the personalities of the characters, and I thought Dalian’s character was made nicely distinct by the delivery of her verbal quirks, though some might find it too cutesy for their taste.
One refreshing aspect of the series is the dynamics of the relationship between Hugh and Dalian. In most shonen series, where the female lead is bossy and overbearing, the male lead is usually dragged along at her pace all the time. But here, Hugh is portrayed as mature – fitting for a veteran pilot – and is well able to keep up with Dalian, even occasionally adding a few jibes of his own. It felt somewhat like the relationship between Lawrence and Holo in Spice and Wolf, without the sexual overtones. Hugh can also hold his own in a fight, which makes him a nice break from a stock character overall.
On the downside, besides what I mentioned about the characters in each story not being sufficiently developed, the main characters are also hardly developed, even over the entire course of twelve episodes. The viewer get close to no information on Dalian’s past, and only one episode of when Hugh was serving in the air services. The character’s impassive reactions in most of the stories also mean that we rarely get to understand their thoughts.
Dantalian no Shoka distinguishes itself from the usual fare in a number of ways. The time period it’s set in is not too common. The darker themes of the stories are also not something you get every day, and are more sombre in the sense that the main characters are not all powerful, and can be counted on to always save the day. In fact, the reverse is probably true for this series. There is also a nice change to the dynamics of the main characters’ relationship. But the flaws in the series mean that it doesn’t quite take itself completely out of the realm of the usual. It’s not something that I would call amazing, but I wouldn’t say it were mediocre either. I was probably more disappointed than I should have been because the first episode really got my hopes up. If you have time on your hands, go ahead and try this series without too high expectations, and you might find yourself pleasantly entertained.
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."
watched up to episode 4
So far so good. Can only really comment on the current story line which seems to be more episode based than a whole underlying ultimate story. Each episode is pretty much about an incident/event which is caused by a phantom book, and is usually resolved with the power of another magicl book.
The colouring and drawing makes the anime seems dark and mysterious but the characters are drawn well and still animation like.
I particularly like the songs and music in this anime, it is beautifully played.
So overall, so far as of episode 4 I would definately recommend.
Story: I'm disappointed because I really liked the premise of this series. I thought it had promise but fell short. It felt a little all over the place. The individual stories were nice but they didn't seem to mesh and give a overall plot. There were also too many ideas that were introduced and not paned out well. If there's a sequel that makes up for the what the series was lacking then that will be good but otherwise, it falls short. However, it definitely does have unique ideas and does cause you to think.
Animation: Really nice but can be a little scattered. I will remember Dantalian but not the others design-wise. The backgrounds and details were exquisite though.
Sound: I don't remember much. The seiyuus were ok. I liked the opening and ending though.
Characters: Same as the plot. The character relationships feel like they could have had more depth.
Overall: Interesting premise that falls short. It's not a complete waste of time but without an adequate ending, you'll end up being disappointed.
I’ve gotten ambitious. Two reviews in a single weekend. This is unheard of! Especially when I can’t even keep to the schedule and review things on Saturday like I promise. I set my own deadlines, and even then I don’t succeed to meet them. Think how well I do in school…
Anyhow, Dantalian No Shoka is a Gainax anime. That’s all I really know about it’s background other than the fact it is based off of a light novel series, which seems readily apparent when watching any anime. It’s either based off of a manga, light novel, or visual novel. So either a book, a comic book, or a book with pictures that is a mixture of a manga and a book.
Is this anime worth your time? Well, let me tell you.
She knows I’m about to say something bad…
Dantalian No Shoka is twelve episodes long and when I think of twelve episodes, I think of a cohesive plot that has a satisfying climax. Dantalian No Shoka is like the polar opposite of that. While the series does have a small amount of cohesive plot (a lot more during the final episode), most of the series is episodic in nature. The plot revolves around Hugh Anthony Disward, a Keykeeper for a mystical library inside of Dalian, who I think is some sort of doll come to life or something. This all takes place in Post World War I England which does give us a really nice, fresh setting. Each episode Dalian and Hugh go after books that can be used for a myriad of bad things. And that’s about it. The plot never expressly explains who Dalian really is, why she has a library inside of her, where Phantom Books really came from. I get the feeling that the biblioprincess’s (as Dalian and another girl later on are called) are the libraries of the archangel’s, but this only comes up once and is never stated as a fact. The last episode seems to explain a bit about how Dalian became a Biblioprincess (something about Pandora’s box and we see the minotaur of Crete as well), but once again we are never told anything and I guess we are meant to make assumptions ourselves.
There are two episodes that I need to talk about. One features a guy who burns Phantom Books but has a biblioprincess like companion with him. Whether she is or not, I don’t know. There is another episode where we meet the red biblioprincess. Both of these episodes seemed like filler until the very end when they showed up for the final faceoff.
The last episode should have resolved something but instead leaves more questions, doesn’t resolve anything, and makes me want a second season.
I also want to state that the vast majority of the episodes, maybe two are exceptions, focus on girls or women as the bad guys or as people taken advantage of. There are only two or three male bad guys in the whole show and the rest are crazy women. I don’t know why that bothered me, maybe it was the fact it made the show more predictable.
So it has a loose plot, but a good idea for episodic adventure. It’s just too short to be episodic.
Typical of how English people think American’s dress.
If there is one thing this show has going for it it is the spectacular animation. While characters look average at best, the backgrounds and setting are amazing looking. The colors are bright and vivid and the I heard that this was the only place that Gainax had anything to do with. The characters don’t look like Gainax characters particularly, but then again, Gainax tends to change things up every anime they do. There is one episode where the animation changes into something out of an older edition of a Lewis Carrol novel and it looks amazing.
She’s cool. I’d like to know more about her…and about all the other characters too.
The opening theme is fantastic. The ending theme is also great. The music during the show is good as well. Voice work is good and sound effects are good. This sound section is hard to write a really long, compelling paragraph about most of the time…
Hugh and Dalian are fun characters to follow around, although they are both fairly generic and their personalities can be seen in dozens of anime, especially Dalian’s. There are very few recurring characters. There is a girl that I guess is the love interest, but a complete idiot. There is Hugh’s friend, a womanizing guy who at one point is turned into a tree and set on fire. There is the book burning guy and his white haired companion chick. The companion chick is pretty awesome, but doesn’t get enough screen time. The red biblioprincess is kind of there, as is the main bad guy. The characters are all pretty static.
The series is good. But it’s bogged down by the fact there are only twelve episodes, there is not really a cohesive plot, and the ending begs a second season that I don’t know if we’ll ever see. It’s a solid anime, it’s got a lot of redeeming factors and has a lot of cool ideas, but I just don’t feel like it really accomplishes anything. As a weekly adventure, it was a fun watch. If you were to watch the episodes one after another though, you’d probably be bored. There is never a To Be Continued moment that leaves you on the edge and makes you keep watching.
So it’s good as a weekly show, not quite as much as something to watch over an afternoon. On top of that, quite a few episodes are rather dull, boring, or feel like an episode from before.
As much as I did like it, it is ultimately a 7.5/10. We can hope for a second season.
Next Review: Baccano!