Gainax’s summer offering is the last show to premiere this season. Dantalian no Shoka is the story of a man who inherits his grandfather’s book collection along with his mansion. There he meets Dalian, a girl connected to Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian: the library that holds all the knowledge of the demons.
This show displays Gainax’s ability to produce stunning visuals with photo realistic backdrops, rough textures, smooth character animation and the occasional CG. The combination itself sounds off putting but in Dantalian, everything blends well and the CG is used sparingly. The end result is something unique, a style I really have no proper way of describing. It still feels conventional enough, but at the same time it doesn’t quite look like all the other shows this summer.
The attention to detail and texture is also there, but not so much as to overwhelm you. The scene where the masked knife thrower appears is also noteworthy, the animators playing around with the shadow and light emphasized the sinister feel.
The problem is that the colors have a tendency to clash. Even Huey and Dalian’s color palettes don’t seem to fit. I don’t know if upping the contrast a bit could fix this but I don’t feel particularly bothered by it but still it’s a shame because of all the technique put in everything else. You’re not making all that money out of Evangelion for nothing, Gainax.
The premise itself is not uncommon, but what is it about Dantalian that makes it standout amongst similar titles? I’d have to say that it’s the two main characters themselves. Huey is not a clumsy, bumbling idiot and Dalian isn’t as abusive or condescending. The two function on a similar wavelength and balances things out. I do think Huey plays a bigger part in this though, it’s quite rare to find a main character that openly expresses himself, doesn’t complain about his situation and gets things done. Also, he’s a noble AND a pilot. It’s like he’s making up for all the high school male protagonists we have this season.
Another interesting aspect of this series happens to be the Phantom Books themselves. These books in the the hands of an unfit reader can cause a tremendous amount of damage, and yet in the right hands it can simply be read as an ordinary book. Books are bundles of knowledge which can be used for all sorts of purposes. Knowledge itself can destroy or strengthen a person depending on the individual. The Phantom Books take this on a higher level, physically destroying an unworthy reader. And yet, it functions just like every other book if in the hands of someone worthy. The idea that all forms of knowledge are just as valuable as the other (Phantom Book or not) is rather compelling.
A Keykeeper is a more elated position compared to a simple worthy reader, seeing as not only can one absorb the knowledge from a Phantom Book but utilize it’s magical powers as well. Huey is worthy because from the very beginning although he was a bit skeptical, he isn’t as trapped by conventional thinking as one might think. He has the imagination and the experience that allows him to wield a Phantom Book.
The segment in which he reads a passage from a Phantom Book features a montage of his memories, mixed with images of people and things he may or may not have seen before. Certain images hint that Huey was involved in World War I. (I could be wrong about this. I have no idea what the exact timeline of Dantalian is, but it’s safe to assume it’s in the 1900’s or so) Hence, the word Sheol itself brings up all these memories. In essence, Sheol is the underworld after all and chances are, Hugh himself has once saw death all around him. A book’s value lies in what is written and what is read. Paracelsus’ book would have no effect unless Hugh reads it out loud. Dantalian no Shoka seems to contemplate on how beautiful the relationship between the writer, the reader and the book truly is.
This show isn’t without it’s flaws though. The part that stood out to me is how Dalian pronounces ‘Yes’ in English and the ‘u’ in ‘desu’. I find this completely unnecessary and added in to make her look ‘cute’. Guys, she’s a pale lolita. How much ‘cute’ do you need to bring in here?
It’s like Gainax is scared the guys are going to go gay for Hugh and WHY WOULDN’T YOU? It’s not like that didn’t work out for Kaworu.
Also, that ED. It is creepy but not as well executed as I would’ve expected. The cut out animation was stellar though. I know SHAFT does something similar but Gainax does it better. The ominous feeling is there, a true sense of evil.
Dantalian no Shoka caught me off guard. I know it’s Gainax but I didn’t exactly enjoy last year’s Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. There’s also the old ‘genius girl and everyman duo’ that I’m not fond of. However, Dantalian did well in reassuring me that it can prove to be a great adaptation by Gainax, a name that is better known for it’s original titles. Dantalian has me hooked.