Dantalian no Shoka – 09
「黄昏の書」 (Tasogare no Sho)
“Book of Twilight”
I hope no one gave up on Dantalian no Shoka, because if you’ve stuck around through a somewhat uneven run you were rewarded with by the series’ best episode – a glorious burst of GAINAX ingenuity and a treat for the eyes.
While I’m sure this chapter was adapted from one in the novels, I’m still thrilled with the style and flair GAINAX brought to adapting the story of a medieval village under attack by giant man-eating insects called Baziumu. The sudden post-OP switch from the standard “pretty but conventional” animation to a pencil-sketch, storybook style was jarring at first – and there were a few moments of puzzlement before the reality of the situation set in. Huey and Dalian were in fact inside a book, interacting with the characters – a young shaman’s apprentice named Ira (dubbed “Lady Eyebrows” by Dalian), her Grandmother, her sweetheart Tito and the rest of the townsfolk.
Ira (Kobayashi Yumiko, as always more convincing at playing young girls and boys than any other adult seiyuu) is a freckled young girl who gathers herbs for her shaman Grandmother (Kyouda Hisako) and sells her medicines in the village. Word comes that a nearby fort was destroyed by Bazaimu, and the village head Gianni (Ugaki Hidenari) begs for “Elegans” the magical potion they hope can stop the insects, giant winged mantis-like beasties that descend from the sky and consume all. It can’t stop them – in fact the only ones who can are the two strangers who’ve arrived in the village. They’re from another world, and in fact so are the Bazaimu – they’re actually bookworms, brought on by a spell of rain in the English countryside. They’re attracted by the books in bookseller Tito’s (Terashima Takuma) cart, and Huey and Dalian call on the power of a phantom book to destroy the bugs. And like in any good storybook, they lived happily ever after.
It’s a rather simple fairy tale, really, but it’s really brought off with spectacular imagination by the team at GAINAX. For the first time in a while this gives the impression of an episode that no other studio could have pulled off in the same fashion. They wisely choose a simple visual look to fit the story, and the effect really does make it seem as if a storybook has come alive on screen. I can easily see this not being to everyone’s tastes, but one of the things I’ve always loved about GAINAX is their fearlessness. No other studio has been as willing to take risks, mess with winning formulas and throw curve balls at their fans. Dantalian isn’t going to join the rolls of their hugely popular and legendary shows, so this is a safer environment for experimentation and won’t cause a major controversy. But this studio has never shied away from controversy, and even welcomed it – so I doubt it would have mattered to them either way.
It’s slowly becoming clear why this property appealed to GAINAX – it’s odder and more idiosyncratic than it appears at first. I get the sense that we’re just barely scratching the surface of the novels in these thirteen episodes, and the quality has certainly been somewhat inconsistent. For my part I would have liked to have seen a little more effort at telling a larger story and tying the episodes together. But in spite of that there’s a quality to this series that I really enjoy – a keen and fierce intellectual streak and a disregard for sticking to the tropes too closely. In hindsight I really wish this would have been two cours, because I could have seen this material taking on real power if that larger story had taken shape.