「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 Sequence

ED: 「yes,prisoner」 by maRIONnetTe
Watch the ED!: Streaming ▼

Preview

65 Comments

    1. I know it looks that way, but I don’t think so. Kamisama no Memo-chou is more Durarara! to me, and this feels more like Kuroshitsuji in tone. Yes, they all have a similar premise in some respects – but I believe the resemblance is only skin deep.

    1. WOW! since you put it that way, it must BE AWESOME!!!!!
      heheh, but on another note, G.ENZO i totally gotta agree with the first paragraph but what gives? no love fo gunbuster? and panty&stocking was the grave digger for gainax?? at least the had da balls to put their neck out. it cant all be about high production values.

      BROOKLYN otaku
      1. LOL, I can’t list every awesome series Gainax did or I’d never get to the review of the actual series I’m supposed to talk about!

        As for P & S w/G-B, I didn’t mean that it buried the studio – merely that is pretty much put to rest any notion of a “GAINAX style”.

    2. I loved Read Or Die. Was a great series. If you are comparing this series to other series I would add Index to the list as well. Index has all these rare books in her head. Seems similar to the lead girl that has all the books physically inside of her.

      I liked the 1st episode alot. The last anime series to premiere this season looks like a good one.

      Karmafan
  1. During the dragon fight, I had a minute of -oh! Gainax! It’s Gainax!-. The framing and quality of the animation picked up for a second in an unexpected way. It’s kind of like a hidden pocket with a piece of candy or a dollar in it you didn’t expect … something I noticed gainax uses to pique interest. Think all the awesome parts of flcl. Well… flcl, then- of was consistently awesome.

    I just realized something about flcl… it had the impact of a full-series anime, but without all the useless pans, filler, and trimming. It’s about as lean as you can get… I think widduw rather have six amazing episodes than twelve lukewarm to mediocre ones.

    angelbolt
  2. I thought it was great. I really like the murky atmosphere and how creepy the ED was. Also, Huey seems to be a really interesting character. I’m just hoping that the fights don’t all end with a single spell book pulled from Dalian’s chest.

    Click
  3. Oh, I guess I don’t watch enough anime. My friend who runs the college anime club is more into things like Gosick and light-novels. The most unsettling similarity to Gosick in this show is that he first mistakes her for a doll in the first episode.

    True to the GAINAX way, they flavored the series with something that really adds to the character. While in FLCL it was the soundtrack and in P&S the American-esque cartoon design, this has the photo-realistic backgrounds that you pointed out.

    While I prefer ‘deep’ anime like Hourou Musuko, Serial Experiments Lain, or Blue Submarine No. 6, I have a special place for the work of GAINAX. In other words, I will probably watch this to the end even if it has some really bad episodes like P&S.

  4. Gainax never really did any good adaptations, they mostly excel at original projects, so I didn’t really expect much of this, and… I was right. Looks pretty mediocre, I’m probably not going to watch any more episodes.

    viral
  5. When you talk about “Gainax-style” do you mean Sadamoto’s art style or just direction in general? His designs have been in quite a few series with Gainax but I’d like to point out that Gainax has been producing a lot shows with quite a variety of designs and genres, though the ones that do tend to stick stand out more are on the edgy/sci-fi/weird end of the spectrum.

    Hanamaru Kindergarten isn’t exactly something you’d expect from Gainax either but it was still enjoyable in a mindless sort of way. Just throw out any sort of expectation in a ‘Gainax’ style and just enjoy it for what it is. Expecting TTGL/Eva/Gunbuster/FLCL levels of epic is good way to set up for disappointment for those who are expecting it. That said, it’s one of the more entertaining (if not entirely original) shows this season, and that’ll be way more than enough for me to finish this one.

    Don’t get me wrong, Gainax is the reason for my addiction to anime but I’m never going to expect a masterpiece from them every time even as a rabid fanboy of theirs.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on this series as it progresses Enzo ^__^

    PockyG
    1. Pocky, I don’t mean Sadomoto’s character designs specifically – though I love them. I mean an attitude as much as anything – but also edgy, risky choices when it comes to direction and content. Even Hanamaru had a look and an edge to it felt GAINAX to me, though I’m hard-pressed to say just how. But when I saw an ep of that show, I immediately thought “GAINAX”. It was an edgier treatment of that premise than you usually see, and you had some wonderful WTF moments – like the little dance number after the teacher finally confessed to his crush.

      Again, I’m not knocking Dantalian for that – I liked this premiere a lot. It’s more of a general statement about how GAINAX has changed. I don’t think you’ll find a single recognizable GAINAX name anywhere among the major staff.

    1. Index has everything stuffed into her head so she knows them all instantly. Dalian seems more a living-door to a library that can let someone in, and just happens to have read all the books there two or three times.

      …If that distinction makes any sense to anyone else >.<

      Aex
  6. Nothing that really excites me from what we’ve seen in this episode but will definitely tune in next week. I’m hoping the tone will get much darker than this, which would make Dantalian no Shoka stand out more as a fantasy series. The photo-realistic backdrop is pretty unique, I must say. Don’t think I’ve seen anything like that in animes.

    Sesihun Otoko
  7. I don’t really care about this “Gainax”
    I care for the Dantalian no Shoka(since I read the manga and some part of LN)

    So I have high hopes for this anime…..(Rather than fan service anime)

    ricz
  8. Well that was interesting. A bit bizarre, but still interesting. I’ll give my usual 4 episode trial run and see if it worth watching.

    Can’t say i see the Gosick part people keep saying about this. Other then the Victorian styling, i don’t see single thing they have in common. If i had to compare it to anything. It would be a cross between Pandora Hearts and Index, with a splash of ROD
    thrown in.

    -Anyone else notice the Scooby Doo sound effects in this?

    Snicket
  9. I loved it and I expected I would, this one episode so far is miles better than the entirety of Gosick; which got extremely messy half way through and I lost all interest in it. I’m really into this by the first episode though and just love the designs of the main characters; especially their eyes. 🙂

  10. Just for the record, GE, Dantalian is not a term for a girl-like-creature who is a gateway to a mystical archive, but rather the name of the demon associated with this specific archive. The term for Dalian and others like her is “yomihime,” which means “reading princess.” Obviously this hasn’t come up in the anime yet, so it’s not your fault for not knowing it, but I didn’t want you to get the wrong terminology too ingrained that you become confused if it does come up in the series.

    Wanderer
  11. Now this is a show with promise. Two good leads, some mystery, excitement, maybe a touch of romance. Only thing is both girls are probably ageless so that’ll be a little hiccup. Otherwise, I love where this is going.

    Aex
  12. Looks good.
    Thus far, i’m only giving penguindrum a try but I’m going to be given this a try as well thanks to your post because it looks quite promising as well 🙂

    Maichain
  13. It appears that this is really a mirror image as you pointed out of Gosick. Science vs the occult, Blond (Vicktorique) vs Brunette(Dalian), naive youth (Kujo) vs mature adult (Huey). Vicktorique uses the library, Dalia is the library, or at least the gateway to it.

    bear
  14. Was there something about the passage Huey read that was historically or literally relevant to the situation? Or was it just more or less a random deus ex machina that used books?

    WW
  15. When I heard that this was being animated, I looked at the novel art and thought, “I have to see this.” Then I saw the anime art and wondered why Dalian does not look like Dalian. Needless to say, I don’t like the changed style (too generic-looking). Too bad about it, though. At least they put a lot of love into the backgrounds.

    CarVac
  16. I’m a sucker for books, so yes I totally will watch this one. The nerd in me is acting again.
    and Huey is a pure WIN. instead of screaming and yelling around like generic male protagonists in the first episode, he handled everything in a very cool way. Yeay!! Finally a male character worth drooling over 😀

    KGFJ
  17. This first episode was a little slow to start for me, but when it picked up, it got really interesting. I loved how well the animation was done, especially the dragon. One thing I have to say though is that the ending sequence creeped me the hell out.

    Odeus
  18. WHy is everyone hating on the 1st ep?
    I absolutely loved the execution, the atmosphere, the animation and the pacing.
    I also find the characters to be very likable.

    olleol

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