- Genre: Supernatural, Magical Girl, Mystery, Action, Gothicness
- Episodes: 12
- Studio: Gainax
A good book is a thing of wonder. It can allow you to meet extraordinary people and travel to unknown realms. A great book, is pure magic! But have you ever heard of Phantom Books? These mystic tomes have been created with such mastery, that in the hands of the right readers, they can bestow amazing powers. However, should they be misused, they can also bring about tragic destruction. This is why such books must be carefully preserved in mystic libraries, each guarded by a gate in the form of a young girl. These mystic archives roam the world, unbeknownst to the common of mortal. After his grandfather passes away, Hugh Anthony Disward finds that he has inherited the late bibliophile’s entire estate, complete with a mysterious tenant. A young lady named Dalian who happens to be the gate of the Mystic Archives of Dantalian. Did Huey leave behind the horrors of World War I just to get wrapped up in a conflict more ancient and powerful than he could ever have imagined?
This year for my countdown to Halloween I brought you Shin Sekai Yori and Parasyte. I was happy to find such undeniable works of horror for the occasion. The downside was that both are 24 episode series (rather than 12), and fairly heavy. I wanted to at least find one more show to recommend for the season. Something shorter and lighter. I figured I would give Dantalian a try. The cover art looked like Gosick (a good thing) and I liked the title. I wasn,t sure at all it would fir the bill. I was basically hanging all my hopes of the word “Mystic”, figuring it would have at least some supernatural element. When I realized that the entire series starts with a brutal murder and features at least one more every episode, I found I had a winner!
Gainax is a pretty well established animation studio that knows how to create a show. And this is what Dantalian is. A professionally and efficiently made show. Every element is done right and works together exactly as it should. The character designs are by no means remarkable but happen to use an art style I like. There were however a few aspects of the production that stuck out to me.
The backgrounds in open areas often looked like photographs with a artistic filter over them. A bit like old 90s video games. The types that had real actors in them… Do any of you know what I’m talking about?
I didn’t mind it at all but it did smack of budget restrictions. On the other hand, the architecture of interiors was beautiful. I actually paused just to admire Huey’s kitchen at one point. The details and just practical layout were wonderful.
The visuals also feature a really nice sense of “light”. The entire series is relatively dark in palette. A lot of scenes happen at night or in gloomy dim rooms. As such, most of the time, the images are bathed in shadows. Yet, there’s always something that simply, often inexplicably shines. For instance, the characters eyes all seem to spill out light. Not in a freaky, demonic way, just in a luminous way… You have to see it to understand I think. If you’re a fan of Yuumei’s art (like I am) you may have an idea what I’m talking about. Her images also always have this glorious light in them.
I almost forgot….shame on me. The score is actually very nice. Mostly classical music that works well with the setting and is unusual to hear in anime. I quite liked to opening sequence while the weird live action ED has to be one of the strangest closings I’ve ever seen.
Thematically, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian is a cross between Gosick and Pandora Hearts, structured like a season of The Twilight Zone. Like Gosick it features a Mysterious tsundere gothic lolita with a deep love of books and sweets paired with an incredibly patient and efficient action man. It also takes place in what seems to be victorian England. Dantalian however features a lot more actual supernatural elements. The forgotten girl trapped in another dimension where she seems to be both prisoner and god, might as well have been the Intention of the Abyss. Pandora Hearts has weird character names… All this gothicky, supernatural atmosphere is something I just lap up. It was a pretty easy fit for me.
Narratively though, it really is basically an anime Twilight Zone. Episodes are basically Monster (Book) of the week, where Dalian and Huey have to solve another mystery to figure out if it’s related to a phantom book that should be returned to the library of not. A lot of these episodes took the form of classic and modern horror stories. I recognized The turn of the Screw, Misery, Little Shops of Horror, a hilarious update of The Tale of Princess Kaguya and an absolutely brilliant take of the Village of the Damned. Just like the classic Twilight Zone episodes, some are better than others and there is a somewhat cheesy fun atmosphere throughout but some remain rather chilling and I wouldn’t recommend this title for young children.
On occasion, the show even took a few rewarding risks. Episode 8 seems to be modelled after classic Grimm’s fairytales and uses a completely different and very interesting art style. There’s no explanation for any of it and I was mesmerized. On other occasions, episodes only last 12 minutes and are concluded with little to no conflict. These were some of my favourites as well.
The show has some pretty obvious flaws. The dialogue can be clumsy and it often resorts to crude exposition in order to explain the mysteries and fantastic elements to the audience. Because the focus is on the mysteries and the action, not much time is devoted to character development and these can feel a bit superficial (if very pleasant). I found some of the book reading scenes to go on a touch too long, especially in earlier episodes. With all that said however, I quite enjoyed it. Each little mystery adventure was self contained and created a nice little bloody diversion for an evening.
Oddly, I couldn’t qualify this show as either a comedy or a drama. There are funny and sad moments but the overall tone never fits with either really. It’s neutral in presentation which is rather rare and probably only possible due to the episodic nature of the narrative. As far as finding a short, light anime I can suggest, with some spooky elements just in time for Halloween, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian fit the bill perfectly. Did I somehow fail to mention that it’s a collection of blonde bishies. Not that it matters at al….
Favorite character: Camilla
What this anime taught me: Deep down I have always aspired to be “a residential woman in hysterical clothing”
I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. My only small problem is that I lie.
Suggested drink: The Black Key
- Every time Dalian says “yes” (in English) – take a sip
- Every time we see a book – get some water
- if it’s a phantom book – spit take!
- Every time Dalian is reading – stare intently
- Every time Huey opens the gate – take a sip
- Every time Dalian is tempted by food – get a snack
- Every time we hear about Wes (Huey’s grandfather) – pour some out
- Every time Huey’s bleeding – take a sip
- Every time there’s a new blonde bishie – cheers!
- Every time Camilla is in costume – clap
- Every time Huey is driving – drink responsibly
- Every time Huey breaks a sweat – take a sip
- Every time Dalian hides behind Huey – awww