“Poetry of unseen tomorrows”
Dantalian no Shoka ends with a very powerful, visually stunning and (finally) emotional episode. But in looking back, I can’t help but feel I’ve just watched a pretty, well-produced 12-episode teaser trailer for the light novels.
To stick with the episode itself, I can muster no complaints whatsoever. It might very well have been the strongest of the series – and how many shows can say their best ep was the finale? It gave me pretty much everything I’ve been asking for. We had some exposition regarding the pink-haired yomihime from the flashbacks, we had some real and powerful emotion from the central characters, and at long last we had a chapter which tied the various elements of the series together and gave them some context.
The relationship between the yomihime in Huey’s memories and Dalian isn’t clear, except that the former referred to Dalian as “my other self”. So it’s probable that they’re both aspects of the same being in some way. The brief visits with the young Huey and that yomihime – trapped inside the library with a lake formed of her own tears – have produced some of the rare moments of emotional warmth in this cool, distant story. It’s easy to say she represents innocence and Dalian cold reality and cynicism, and that parallel makes all the more sense in that the Huey associated with her is an innocent child with dreams of flight, and the one associated with Dalian is a kind but scarred man whose life has been full of sadness and death. Indeed it was the little boy’s desire to free that yomihime that led him to be a keykeeper at all, and that quest carried on right up to the series’ present (and future).
The final episode started off looking like another one-off from Huey and Dalian’s perspective – chasing down stories of zombies in London. But when the stories turned out to be true, and the work of fellow keykeeper The Professor (Shinomiya Go) and Raizel, using the phantom “Book of Atonement”, the stakes were raised quickly. That The Professor was willing to shoot Huey in cold blood certainly leads me to think that this pair represents something of an actual villain in the novels. We’ve already seen what they did to Huey’s friend Ilas last week and it’s clear they have no scruples about using and discarding humans to enact their plans, but it isn’t really clear just what their ultimate aims are (assuming it’s something more interesting than a simple lust for power).
Their plan to take over London with zombie-producing newspapers (foreshadowing Rupert Murdoch?) were thwarted this week with the help of Huey’s lost yomihime and our old friends Hal and Flamberge from episode 6, but the nasty pair live to fight another day – and Huey was thwarted again in his aim to free that biblioprincess. It’s not clear just what would happen if that yomihime were to join Dalian in the real world, but my instincts and Dalian’s reaction to his plan tell me that they couldn’t both exist in their current forms. This isn’t so much an ending a segue, really – nothing is so much resolved as deferred. Huey is recovering with the help of Camilla and Armand, and The Professor and Raizel cruise off to parts unknown in their Zeppelin.
ED2: 「Cras numquam scire」 by Yucca
I enjoyed many aspects of Dantalian no Shoka. On balance I’d call the series successful in that it gave us an interesting story, some extremely literate writing, and a memorable visual style. It still goes down as a lost opportunity for me, though, because it never grew beyond the impression that it was only letting you see the tip of the iceberg, and jealously guarding most of its secrets.
It’s tempting to chalk this up as another story that was simply too big to be told in one cour, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that. But it doesn’t all boil down to that. Because of the episodic nature of the chapters, several of these episodes were hardly indispensable – they could have been jettisoned for chapters that filled in the characters’ pasts and emotions and tied the series together more cohesively. The decision not to attempt to tell a “whole” story seems to have been an intentional one by GAINAX, and I think that probably kept this from being the great series it might have been instead of the pretty good one it ultimately was.
While the look of the show was pretty conventional by GAINAX standards, there were moments of stylish flair throughout the series. Starting with the gorgeous OP (best of 2011) and the creepy ED, they never let us totally forget who was animating this – and there were bursts of creative visuals in the episodes too, including the finale’s spectacular montage of visions of past, present and future. The bookworm chapter directed by Kobayashi Osamu might be my favorite example, but there were others. I also thought the cast was uniformly strong, especially Ono Dasikue as Huey. As mentioned the OP was my favorite of the year, and I loved the way it kept creeping into the BGM in various guises. The series was gloriously creative, painting both the historical world of 1920’s Britain and the mystical worlds of the phantom books vividly and memorably.
Ultimately, though, Dantalian can only be a partial success. If the 12th episode (or whatever ep it was in GAINAX’ insane chaptering system – the last one, dammit) had happened somewhere in the middle and the rest of the season had flowed from that source, we might have realized a little more of the great potential that was always present in this story. I want to see more of Huey trying to free the yomihime of his dreams, of his battles with The Professor and Raizel, and how their differing views of phantom books clash in the real world. If GAINAX had delivered some of that instead of just teasing it, my affection for this season would be greater. As is, I’ll remember it as a solid show, and for what it might have been as much as for what it was.