One of the more distinctive characteristics of Dantalian no Shoka has been the use of Phantom Books. The books themselves look to be nothing more than dusty, worn books that have stood the test of time and the content within, the text, pictures, and what not, appear to be normal lines that could be found in any book of a similar genre and style. But what separates these awesome books from the commonplace books that cover the walls of each mansion are the powers that reside in each book. Each book has a special power, such as creating an impenetrable barrier or summoning lightning, which makes each feel more like a specialized weapon rather than a book.
The battles involving the Phantom Books are a treat to watch due to their unique format. Rather than drawing a mystic sword or using superhuman fighting abilities, Dantalian no Shoka chooses to have magical passages from ancient texts to be the main armament of the series, as well as most effective one, too, considering the pistol only worked on minions and nothing more. And likewise, instead of featuring the lead character battle the monsters physically, we see Huey recite beautifully written lines from these books which come to life and do the fighting for him. The special effects, combined with the visualizations of the materials of each book as Huey reads them aloud, create brawls that are fun to watch. Moreover, these fights fit the personality of the show well, involving both books and fantasy elements, to produce scenes that feel extraordinary, yet proper for Dantalian no Shoka. These Phantom Books are able to create some fairly attractive fighting sequences.
In addition to being weapons used in battle, the effects they have in the real world are equally as mesmerizing. Seeing what one Phantom Book can do, such as the pop-up book that allowed its pictures to enter our world, really caught my attention in the first episode. After seeing this episode’s Phantom Book, a music box that instructed a living golem, I am excited to see even more of these enchanted materials. Not only do they bring their knowledge and stories to life but they also instill a sense of wonder, amazement, and chaos into their surroundings. You can see Huey still express these emotions in the anime when he (and we) learn more about the Phantom Books. I still am highly engaged in the concept, mechanics, and use of Phantom Books and can’t wait to see what future episodes have to offer. Perhaps we’ll see other forms of media, like in this episode where we heard a music box and saw an aged clay tablet.
Lastly, I am curious to the library of Phantom Books that Dalian oversees. Being stored entirely within her Earthly body, Dalian possesses hundreds of thousands of powerful, magical books at her seemingly immediate disposal (just needs Huey around). But what Phantom Books does she own and what are all their strange powers? Are there other books that she needs for her collection and, if she does, why does she need them? And who else controls these Phantom Books and what are they planning to do with them? I am quite interested in learning more about Dalian, the nature of the Phantom Books, and the secrets regarding the library within her, so I hope we learn about these issues soon. I figure these details might be held until later in the series when Dalian is the focal point of the episodes but any small scraps of information would help appease my curious and satisfy me even further.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this episode overall, the mystery/detective style in this episode felt like a bit of a disappointment when compared to the first one. Stories that revolve around mysteries that are started, developed and finished within one episode never really click with me, which is why I strongly prefer the first episode over this one. Episodes like these tend to focus solely on the mystery, which only survives this one episode, meaning that cutting out this episode would have minimal effect on character development and the whole story. Additionally, the first episode had an exploratory and fantasy feel to it, introducing new concepts throughout the entire episode as we begin to understand the world of Dantalian no Shoka. I loved that format and was hoping for something similar in this episode.
This episode placed Huey and Dalian within another mansion, home of the lovely, yet lonely Estella Lilburn, a young lady who’s seemingly cursed by bizarre murders. In standard mystery-episode format, we’re introduced to a few people, find various clues regarding the mystery at hand, have some action sequences, and then are given a conclusion where every detail is tied together in some way and the mystery is completely explained. The story in this episode was nothing more than decent; it never captured my imagination and interest like the first episode did so effortlessly. Both episodes had similar set-ups, Huey and Dalian searching for a Phantom Book to stop the turmoil and horror, so it’s not that. Perhaps it was the lack of fantasy elements in this episode. Or it could be that this episode focused on the story that is already concluded, rather than something that I find much more interesting and important, like Huey or Dalian. Whatever the reason, I felt that the story of this episode of Dantalian no Shoka was a step back after the brilliance of the first episode.
However, aside from the story, the second episode of Dantalian no Shoka did several things that impressed me. For one, I enjoyed the change of setting, getting away from Huey’s new manor and into the mansion of young and wealthy woman. The scenery, too, was different and beautiful, meaning we will probably see a diverse array of settings. My thoughts on that subject were only confirmed further upon seeing all the various scenes in the next episode’s preview, including an urban backdrop. The soundtrack continues to be exceptional and the opening sequence is instantly one of the bests of the season, if not the year. And the relationship between Huey and Dalian is charming, especially since Dalian has opened herself up to Huey more and is showing a broader range of emotions and reactions to what’s going on around her. In the end, I have enjoyed both episodes of Dantalian no Shoka but I’m hoping the next episode will have a more interesting story than this one. The other aspects, such as the setting, music, and character interactions, hopefully will remain excellent and continue elevate my expectations for this anime.