Dantalian no Shoka – 05
「魔術師の娘」 (Majutsu-shi no Musume)
“The Magician’s Daughter”
It’s funny how I can watch long chunks of Dantalian no Shoka thinking not at all about its pedigree, when all of a sudden something will prompt an instantaneous GAINAX reaction from me. It so happens that this week’s episode featured by far the longest and most recognizably GAINAX moment of the series so far.
The format of these stories is changing slightly from week to week – we’ve had two-parters which take up the entire episodes and one-shots, darkly violent stories and whimsical ones with non-ending endings. But there seems to be a common thread in that all of them are morality plays of one sort or another, and there tends to be an element of the story that sheds some light on Dalian and Huey’s past and/or their relationship.
It’s easy to see that Dalian would have a special interest in this week’s events, a sort of modern take on the Tale of the Woodcutter (a much beloved source for anime storylines over the decades). Filling the role of Princess Kaguya is a mysterious courtesan named Viola Duplessis (Yumi Kakazu), and Dalian (whose English vocabulary we now know is at least two words) sees something of herself in the tale of an obviously non-human girl and the search for true love. Among the five saps Viola has duped into bringing her phantom books as a condition for marriage is Armand Jeremiah (Takahiro Sakurai, about as dorky as you’ll hear him), who apparently served under Lieutenant Huey in the war. Viola has an ulterior motive for wanting these books, of course – to fight off her father, alchemist/magician Count Melgar (Tesshô Genda, wonderful as always in his old-school way) who created her as a homunculus as an experiment in the experience of being human.
This is all interesting in an abstract way, and the drama of the episode is played up in a preposterously campy style. It’s as if the cast of “Jeeves and Wooster” has jumped off the pages of Wodehouse and into anime, and that somewhat takes the sense of threat out of the violence that follows Melgar’s return to claim his mercury-blooded “daughter”. But the real interest here is in watching Dalian’s reactions to all this, and reading meaning into her choice to allow Huey to open the gate and bring the power of the Dantalian Archive to bear in Viola’s defense. And it’s in watching the conflict between the powers of the five phantom books do battle with Melgar’s sorcery in a vintage GAINAX action sequence that looked as if it could easily have been in Gurren-Lagann. And that’s meant as praise, believe me.
I’m not sure whether this has always been as obvious as it was this week, but it appears that when Huey enters the gate, he’s not just interacting with the fair-haired yomihime from the episode one prologue, but doing it as a young boy. I’d thought of that as a flashback, but the impression I get from this episode is that Huey in fact having that experience every time the gate is opened – though I’m not sure just what the implications of that are. When Melgar gave up in the end, I wasn’t so much interested in Viola – though I did get a chuckle out of her decision to run off with a Baron who’d done nothing to help gather the books and leave her five suitors in the lurch – as I was in Dalian. Her “drop dead” to Melgar contained something much more than her usual tsuntsun snark – there was real venom and hatred in those words, as if Melgar and what he represented hit far too close to home for her tastes. We’ve had six separate mysteries unraveled so far, but in terms of the main characters this one felt by far the most personal.