Dantalian no Shoka — +1 GAINAX mindscrew
Dantalian no Shoka, also known by its English release title The Mystic Archives of Dantalian, was originally a light novel series that, according to wikipedia, ended publication this year in Japan. Given that, I’m assuming that the anime really is only a single season of 12 episodes. Taking all of this information into consideration, I can conclude that this probably another Gainax mindscrew at work, and it’s executed very well.
It’s no Neon Genesis Evangelion or FLCL, but there are a lot of extremely thought-evoking elements and little backstory to the characters, which leaves a lot open to interpretation. I kind of like it.
As the Great War comes to a close, Hugh Anthony Disward leaves his fighter pilot days behind him to settle into an estate that he inherits from his recently deceased grandfather. In the estate, he meets a strange girl named Dalian who, he soon discovers, is a custodian of the Mystic Archives of Dantalian, which is a library of Phantom Books containing forbidden magic. Through a set of circumstances, Hugh forms a pact with the girl and becomes able to read and use the magic contained in the books so long as Dalian approves of the usage. The pair works to find other Phantom Books that are in the possession of people throughout Europe and destroy them.
There are a few series that I could compare this one to, but considering the era and its emphasis on mystery and the supernatural, I’ll hand it off to Gosick, all the way down to the gothic loli-girl female lead dressed in a frilly black Victorian dress. What is different, however, is that the male protagonist is supremely capable of not only handling himself, but protecting his charge, Dalian. It’s a refreshing change of pace, since many of the recent series that I’ve watched have a male lead with some amount of bumbling idiocy lodged in his brainstem. This is definitely not the case with Hugh, though he is often treated in a condescending manner by Dalian. It’s great, though, to actually have a male lead that isn’t overly reliant on the unusual powers of his magical partner.
Though there doesn’t seem to be much of a greater plot that is seen throughout the anime, each episode provides several thought-evoking questions about humanity and the characteristics of humans in turmoil. When a person is in possession of a Phantom Book, they typically obtain the powers of that book and it’s interesting to see the different ways that they use it for personal gain or otherwise. Plus, some of the books are just really cool — there’s one book that allows a person to be resurrected from the dead if another is killed. It linked two characters together and they would trade off in phases of being alive and dead in order to interact with Hugh and Dalian at different times. So all in all, the ‘powers’ in this series are pretty neat and creative.
The animation is fluent and vibrant as well. It brims with style — Hugh literally reaches into Dalian’s chest to access the Mystic Archives and although I could say a few crass things about the location of the special ‘locks’ on the custodians (Dalian’s is on her chest, another actually has it on an eyepatch, which is awesome), the series maintains an overall serious tone. No fanservice here, guys.
I was also very pleased with Ono Daisuke‘s performance as Hugh. I’m not a huge fan of him, despite his popularity (I’ll admit, my dislike of Koizumi Itsuki from the Haruhi series has a lot to do with that) but he does a wonderful job portraying the laid-back, level-headed protagonist. I’ll also note that Noto Mamiko does the voice of a supporting character (but an energetic one!), so that’s always a plus in my book.
I’m really hoping that this series isn’t over. I haven’t read the novels or anything so I don’t know exactly how many volumes were covered throughout this season, but there are enough unanswered questions and brewing conflict to last for a while. Did I mention that the Phantom Book powers are really cool?
Dantalian no Shoka – Character Ranking
- Hugh Anthony Disward
- Shoujo no Shoka
- Camilla Sauer Keynes