There certainly is action and adventure in Dantalian no Shoka and, with those elements skillfully interweaved with this fantasy background in post-WWI England, the story comes together as a solid and original anime. But after the events of the first episode, there’s still some mystery behind what the whole series will be about. Will this anime have a strong central story that progresses over the course of the season or will we end up starting a different book each episode and experiencing new treasures and adventures each time? Or will there be something else?
What appeared to be the central story in the anime was introduced in the first half of this episode when Hugh Anthony Disward (Huey) met Dalian in the basement of the mansion. In order to inherit the mansion from his deceased grandfather, Wesley, Huey needed to take responsibility over the Bibliotheca. Sounds like a decent story to center an anime around but it appears that step had already been finished before the episode ended (and this is me assuming that the Bibliotheca in the letter referred to Dalian). During what seemed to be the final moments in a battle against a mythical dragon, Dalian accepted Huey to become her Keykeeper, complete with contract and ceremony. By using the key left behind by his grandfather, Huey opened the gorgeous lock on Dalian’s chest to open up an unseen word of protected masterpieces, just what was needed to dispel the dragon from this material world. And just like that, Huey has taken over responsibility of Dalian. So unless there’s more responsibility required for Huey, what I thought would be the main story in the anime had already concluded before I realized it. So then what story remains for Dantalian no Shoka?
The other story point in the first episode of Dantalian no Shoka seems to be one that will survive deep into the season. The mysterious Phantom Books that Wesley partially amassed over his life hold outlandish and dangerous powers between their covers. We witnessed the true power of one book, unleashing frightening beasts, murderous performers, and the mystical dragon. And there should be numerous other books of similar peril, too, both within Wesley’s collection and outside his mansion. Perhaps other demonic books are causing problems elsewhere in the English countryside that require extermination by Huey and Dalian, which would certainly provide a plot for several episodes, if not an entire season. And I could see the responsibility of the Bibliotheca in the letter referring to Huey to become some sort of ‘book police’ to manage and return any stolen tomes from Wesley’s collection. The action and adventure provided by this first book could certainly be replicated each episode by each novel’s powers, too. And there will be more books, too, that’s guaranteed given the details provided in this first episode. This style could be the storyline for Dantalian no Shoka but it is based on many early assumptions and we would need to wait to see what happens in the next few episodes before accepting this story as the main one for this anime.
Another possibility could be that Dantalian no Shoka wants the main storyline to be about the life and interactions between the two main characters, Huey and Dalian. Dalian is a beautiful and mysterious lass who seems to have extensive knowledge over the Phantom Books, the Bibliotecha Mystica de Dantalian (or Mystic Archives of Dantalian for those who enjoy only switching between two languages here). And the nature of her existence was brought into question when Huey became her Keykeeper and she was able to summon a powerful book from her body. Exploring her character will take several episodes and probably be developed over the entire season. But not to be out done is Huey, who has a rather rich history himself. We learned he was a pilot in the Great War and has an interest in inheriting his hermit grandfather’s mansion in the serene English countryside. In addition to that, we had that flashback scene to start the episode where Huey, as a child, was in the Bibliotecha Mystica de Dantalian (also known as the Labyrinth Library) talking to a mysterious girl, whom we later saw within Dalian during the Keykeeper ceremony. Both individuals have dazzling backstories to explore and their interactions together in the present could be used to create a meaningful story for this anime. But I doubt the anime could survive on these stories alone and the cast of the anime would begin to feel lonely, cooped up reading books in the basement of this isolated mansion.
Or perhaps the story will be a combination of these plot pieces and come together to form a coherent and enjoyable story. And, of course, there is always the possibility the central story has yet to appear, meaning this episode was used to set up the relationship between Huey and Dalian and introduce the concepts of the Bibliotecha, the Phantom Books, and the mechanics the magic obeys. Whatever the story is, there are already signs it will be spectacular, especially with how this episode was executed from its dexterous storytelling to enthralling action. I’m already curious to see what fantasy and adventure await us next week.
Aside from the story, which still remains a mystery to me, I do have several praises for Dantalian no Shoka, followed by a few concerns. Given that this is another historical European anime, a setting which I adore, one figures that the artwork must be excellent to help bring out the importance and magnificence of the setting. This first episode certainly did that but I am a little worried we might be spending most of our time in the library where the charm and beauty of the setting might be lost by mountains of unorganized books and dim, but appropriate, lighting. At least the artwork is beautiful throughout. The music strengthens the setting, too, feeling appropriate for the era and complimenting the scenes at hand, be it peaceful or dire. The animation during the action sequences was nothing too spectacular but it was never dull, either. And I was enthusiastically pleased with the amount of action, adventure, and fantasy in this first episode. The cast seems very minimal right now, so I hope it expands soon to introduce other characters to add some variety. They just need to be careful with whom they add as characters since Huey and Dalian seem to have some chemistry between them.
Also, it’s interesting to see that both anime I decided to blog this season have a very similar theme to initiate their stories. Grandfather dies, leaving behind a strange, unknown girl that is eventually taken care of by a kind-hearted grandson. Don’t know how often that happens but it seems to be just as likely in modern Japan as it is in post-WWI England. And what’s nice is both seem to start off interesting and beautiful animes, at least in my opinion. But what will be most interesting is to see where each anime goes from here and what their stories focus on. Should be fun to see where and how both these anime finish given their similar starting points.