“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 Sequence

ED2: 「Cras numquam scire」 by Yucca


Final Impressions:

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.


  1. All that’s running through my head is, “???”

    Tbh, I’ve always felt like this series was more of GAINAX’s testing ground and a preview to the light novels. While I had tons of fun watching GAINAX throwing around different types of animation and experimenting with the source material, I think that overall, the series may have actually been stronger without all the GAINAX flair. I kept getting a sense of incompleteness whenever I finished one of the episodes. In the end, I think the series is… decent. Or well, it never gets bad and it never really climaxes, but… ARGH, I DON’T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE!!!

    Screw it, I had fun and that’s all that matters.

  2. From the impressions in the episode, I am inclined to believe that the silver bookkeeper inside the library is Pandora, or the equivalent thereof, especially with the scene where she was seen to be holding an open box. Perhaps we can then imagine that her “punishment” for opening the box (along with some other extraneous events surrounding large demonic figures) would be to serve as a keeper for this forbidden knowledge.
    It’s interesting to see that there is a constant dynamic at play here – there are three biblioprincesses, each with a different function for this forbidden knowledge. The black princess maintains this knowledge and keeps in stationary, the red princess seeks to create more of such knowledge, and the silver princess (with our inherently bad-ass Libricide Officer) has the role of destroying this forbidden knowledge.
    The concept of knowledge being forbidden in a manner really hearkens back to all forms of cultural anathema in history and current days to knowledge that is taboo in a way, which was interesting to think about while watching this anime.
    In short, kind of ended up wishing for something more, but that’s what GAINAX does – they always leave you hanging (Oh FLCL). Thanks for covering the show, and hope to see more of your interesting commentaries in the future.

    1. I agree the implication seems to be that the white haired girl was Pandora. What is disappointing is the lack of answers to what her relationship is with Dalian. Does anyone know if the novels give any clue?

    2. Yeah, that was the impression I got as well. Too bad we won’t ever see an exploration of this part of the story. I guess I have to read the novels to appreciate the rest. I really enjoyed this anime, will miss Dalian a lot.

    3. Or instead of letting out the worlds ills, Pandora in this case, freed knowledge which created the desire for more knowledge and the consequences of the interaction of human desires with this knowledge.

      Zaku Fan
  3. I thought The Professor’s comments regarding the winners of WW I and their seeming hypocricy over rebuilding while penalizing the losers of WW I shed some light on his motives. Especially when paired with his leaving in an airship filled with soldiers. This suggests it’s not just a personal lust for power/vendetta/etc, but that he may be part of a national movement grown out of WW I. I’m clueless when it comes to uniforms, but since Rasiel speaks German, I assume those soldiers were German, and that The Professor is supposed to be a part of a larger German conspiracy of some sorts.

    It is maddening having it end as what really comes off as an extended prologue for the “real story”. The fan translation of the light novels is just awful, and not very extensive, so I suppose my only hope is to magically learn to read Japanese, or Gainax makes so much money off their Evangelion movie reboots that they decide to re-visit the series down the road in a fit of we-don’t-care-about-dvd-sales. That said, for any grousing I may do, I’d much rather have this little morsel, than to never have had any morsels at all. 🙂

  4. This was quite the idiosyncratic show right up until the end. I wish it could have had two cour, to tell a more complete story, but what we got was still a very good, unique series.

  5. My personal take on the Professor’s aim is that he wants to incite conflicts so that more Phantom Books can be born. So we have three factions so far…Prof and Green as Book Creators, Hal and Flam as Book Destroyers and Huey and Dal as Book Sealers.

    I keep feeling like the ending was a too abrupt change from the “Monster Book of the Week” format, like certain expository chapters were skipped. Visually the background was great and the bookworm episode was brilliant but the character design was a bit generic and oversaturated with blondes and blonds of all description. However, the sound from the OP, EDs to the BGM to the seiyuus was excellent, probably my favourite of 2011.

  6. This was a very confusing episode and I’m still not exactly sure what happened in the finale, maybe this is just Gainax being Gainax.
    I’m surprised you didn’t capture a screen shot of Camille in her kimono ;D

    Seishun Otoko
  7. Yeah I was a bit confused when it turns out Dalian didn’t seem all that enthused about Huey rescuing her other self. Definitely doesn’t bode well, although they both do seem to love Huey.

    I was a bit disappointed with the ending, but after watching the whole show I didn’t expect it to come away the way I wanted it to either. I did really enjoy it and I think it was one of the best of the season for sure.

    Anyone know if there are any ova plans. Gainax could clearly do a second season at some point, but that seems unlikely.

      1. Say, this is a silly question but do you know if the anime covers most of the eight volumes? It would shock me if this was the end of not only the anime but the light novel series.

  8. Strong episode but confusing due to the fast slideshow of events. Was that Joan or Arc in one of the flashes?

    Though nothing is explained explicitly, the inference available is strong. What surprised me was the willingness of the professor to kill Dalian. What would have happened if she really got killed?

    It does seem all of them are not aspects of the same being but avatars/parts of different beings locked into a cycle or in differing philosphies. Interesting but from what i heard the LN series ended, so perhaps these will never be elaborated on

    Zaku Fan
  9. What is it with the open ended ending for animes this season? They should’ve extended the whole series into 24 episode… Now I have to wait for Panty & Stocking AND Dantalian no Shoka.

  10. What a disappointement … I ask myself: If Hueys goal was to rescue the white yomihime all along, why didn’t he do it the moment he became the key keeper? Why wait so long? Meh…

    1. Well he can’t just swoop in like a hero and save her. Even in this episode you saw how the warden of the library prevents him from doing so so it’s not easy. He will be able to someday but currently is not the right time.

  11. It really is a slightly disappointing show. After all I have to agree. This anime shows signs of greatness, but in the end falls short off the mark. Too episodic, too few significant characters and too much lost potential. Our two main characters can only carry the show so far on their own.

  12. Certainly the story has much more potential, so I hope they do a second season. And even the way it ended I’m not disappointed, but just like many here I want they show us the real story.

    P.D. The poem Huey read was just amazing, even if we heard it in the opening so many times.

  13. Decent open ending at least it follows the same way Natsume Yuujinchou ends per season, compared to the crappy Deadma… and can’t be help to end like DGr…n and Reb..n
    The quarrel is interesting, how about a different alternate anie where only those biblioprincess exist, that would be interesting and they where made by only one person….then one uttered “I’m not junk.”?

  14. The pink? biblioprincess is Pandora, who as a punishment for delivering pestilence to mankind is sentenced to guard forbidden knowledge that could damage society. In that sense, she is and becomes Dantalion (Dalian), a demon that guards knowledge. One fate is bound to the other, they are each others’ past and present.
    …At least that’s my understanding of how two very different philosophies collide into one storyline.

  15. Why would Pandora be punished? This makes no sense whatsoever.

    Having said that, I missed the connection between Huey’s mysterious girl and the mythological Pandora. Maybe I need to watch it again. In a few months, I may marathon it. Of course, I’ve missed her connection to anything.

    I think the episodic nature of this series hurts it because it leaves only a couple minutes per episode to drive the overarching story and with such a clumsy effort, it’s easy to miss important stuff. At least it was for me.

    On another note, most of the shows that try having an otherworldly character like this seem to fail in the same way — by having her be so mysterious that I neither know anything about her nor really care to. Scrapped Princess did a good job with it. Fractale was somewhat successful (but like this show, could have used more episodes). But the adult Huey was more interesting than the child Huey, and Dalian was occasionally interesting and more likeable than the girl in the other dimension. Too much cliched crap (lousy tsundere, over-reliance on sweets) for her to be a great character, but at least she had some character. And the bibliohime x keykeeper relationships felt forced. Contrast them with the pairings in Shana, which I think were well developed.

    While the show had its points of interest, it was beyond the skill of its creators to turn it into a great story. There’s no meaningful connection to the character who ostensibly drives the show. The bad folks come out of nowhere and vanish there as well as soon as the episode is over. The heroes get saved just as randomly. And it wasn’t just this episode. The tone was set in the first episode by the incompetent dragon (that forgets to breathe fire, and despite it tearing the ground up when it walks, it gets confused and is easily deterred by a pillar). Ultimately, I think the description of it being Monster Book of the Week is most apt.

  16. Raizel is so cute! I want more interaction between her and Dalian!
    Also, Why german girls in anime always have a eye patch of some sorts? (like Laura Bodewig from Infinite Stratos, Asuka Langley from EVA 3.0)
    The final poem of Huey was pretty powerful… and the images
    like this:
    with this:
    and, about all things, this:
    make me want to know more about this story…


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