Dantalian no Shoka – 01
「仕掛け絵本」 (Shikake Ehon)
“Pop-Up Picture Book”
Whenever a new GAINAX series hits the airwaves, that’s still an event for me – though not as much as it used to be. And I suspect the number of us who feel that way is no longer as large as it was. Whatever it means now, this is still the studio that gave us Evangelion, FLCL and Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, and even if I’m chasing ghosts, I still get a little thrill of excitement at the prospect of something new from them.
As much as any studio, I think GAINAX once had a “look” – a sense of visual style and attitude that ran though it’s diverse catalog. I suppose whatever was left of that was finally put in the grave by Panty-Stocking, and Dantalian no Shoka is not a show I would have guessed was a Gainax series, had I not known. And that’s not surprising in that no well-known GAINAX names are involved in the production, including director Uemura Yutaka. But that’s not a bad thing, as this was a very solid premiere episode that did a lot more things right than wrong.
The basic premise of Dantalian no Shoka (adapted from the light novels by Mikumo Gakuto) is pretty straightforward. Hugh Anthony Disward (Ono Daisuke) – “Huey” – is a young British noble who inherits his odd Grandfather’s estate on the condition that he take responsibility for the “Dantalion no Shoka” – the Mystic Archives of Dantalian. The Grandfather was a family outcast, his library rumored to be demonic in nature. And when Huey arrives at the estate, he finds little beyond a thick layer of dust until he goes to the basement and finds all of the old man’s books – and an odd girl he initially mistakes for a doll. This is Dalian, and she’s not exactly a human being – she’s a
Dantalian yomihime, a gateway demon to the mystical library of Dantalian. Grandpa’s will also said that Huey had to take care of her, and after a pretty straightforward tsundere start to their relationship they end up tracking down one of the old man’s books, stolen by a rival who murdered him for it. This is no more a normal book than Dalian is a regular human, and Huey gets a quick lesson in the power of demonic tomes. They form a contract, and the rest is soon to be history…
That all sounds pretty traditional as an anime premise, and it is. I’m certain we’re going to get some sort of “demon book” story every week, solved by Huey and Dalian. She’ll be tsundere towards him, and there will be run-ins with mysterious characters after the power of the library – as Conrad, the Grandfather’s murderer, was. But I saw a lot of layers hidden in both the characters and premise which appealed to me. Huey has a pretty dark past, it seems (yes, that was Kana Hanazawa playing him as a child) – he was a WW I pilot and it’s clear he’s seen more than his share of death both in war and in peace. He’s also had an encounter with what looks like a different yomihime as a child. His “Noblesse oblige is bullshit” was the most interesting line of the premiere, and revealed a complicated, difficult man under the smiling exterior. And this is clearly a series that has a real reverence for books, their power and their connection with humans – and as a hard-core book otaku since I was 3 or 4 years old, that appeals to me. As for Dalian herself, well, we don’t see too much that’s distinctive yet – apart from a tendency to say “Yes” in English – but I do appreciate that she’s not a complete moe bomb as we have enough of those this season already. I think this heroine has very cold blood running through her veins – “alien” is the aura she gives off in the first ep.
It’s inevitable that people are going to compare this to Gosick (as they did with Kamisama no Memo-chou) but as with that show, I think the resemblance is superficial – I see as much Kuroshitsuji in the general feel of the piece (fitting, given the male lead). Mind you, it doesn’t help that the seiyuu who played Cordelia Gallo (Sawashiro Miyuki) plays the female lead. Or that the character designer and animation director both worked on Gosick (and it shows), or that the series is set in the Europe of the 1920′s and revolves around books. But where Gosick was ultimately a show about the triumph of reason and science over ignorance and superstition, Dantalian no Shoka is strictly a dark fantasy in the mold of Poe or Lovecraft. Where Gosick was ultimately an emotionally warm series, I suspect this one is going to be altogether more aloof and brittle. And again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
As for execution? While there’s (almost) nothing especially “GAINAX” about it which may disappoint some, it seems to be beyond reproach in general terms. The show looks good, if visually very dark. Animation is fluid and backgrounds detailed, and the character designs are attractive in a somewhat generic way. If I could find fault here it would be that there’s not as much distinctiveness here as I would like, in general – just a well-produced, good-looking dark fantasy. The exceptions would be the occasional photo-realistic backdrop and especially the ED, which features a very creepy blend of live actors and stop-motion animation and some Dali-esque surreal imagery. I hope it’s meant to be unsettling, because it is – and it’s probably the most GAINAX part of the episode.
ED: 「yes,prisoner」 by maRIONnetTe
Watch the ED!: Streaming ▼