What really completes Dantalian no Shoka is not the elegant artwork or the spectacular characters but the ever-unpredictable Phantom Books. Each book offers a slightly different style and emphasis for each episode, depending on the content of the book and who holds it in their hands. The Phantom Books add just enough mystery and enchantment to each episode to bring it above ordinary stories in originality and intelligence but are balanced enough to avoid being overpowering in the story and drowning out logic and reason.
Another example would be to think of the perfectly seasoned entrée. If the story were the meat on the plate, the core of the meal, then the Phantom Books are the spices that enrich the taste and bring new and delightful flavors for the customer to enjoy. It’s that additional element to the dish that completes it and makes it such an enjoyable experience. And that’s similar to how I feel about the Phantom Books in Dantalian no Shoka. Every book adds innovative elements to enhance each story. And the fourth episode is a terrific example.
The Phantom Book in this episode happened to be the Book of Soul Exchange, a manuscript that holds the power to reanimate a corpse in exchange for a living soul. The book, however, was not the main focus of the episode but it still played a vital role. In the story, the Phantom Book was used by Paula, a devoted fanatic of the beloved author Lenny Lents, to extend the writer’s life until he finished the extremely popular Crown of Dog Days books (related to the anime, I wonder). However, a soul was needed to fulfill the exchange and imprisoned in the barn basement resided Lenny’s love, Leticia. Paula used the Book of Soul Exchange to continuously revive Lenny’s corpse and forced him to work on his novel until it satisfied her every desire. While the Phantom Book only had a minor spot in the story of this episode, it added a unique and inventive flare to the episode that kept it interesting.
Without the Phantom Book, the story could have remained the same except have the author and lover be trapped and remove all scenes of death and revival. Of course, then it’d be eerily similar to Stephen King’s Misery (the snow, anyone?) and other stories that follow similar themes. With an almighty magical book, whose powers included boundless revival or even one soul exchange, then it would be the same as before but with death and revival scenes. Again, nothing original to differentiate it from the rest and to grab out attention. But the Phantom Book changed all that. By requiring another soul to fulfill the ritual and needing to redo the ceremony daily, we were able to witness a cycle of death necessary for Lenny to finish his masterpiece. It also added a bit of mystery, with the flux between Lenny appearing to be both alive and dead several times before the magic was explained. It drew our focus away from the story revolving around Lenny and Paula, trying to find a rational explanation for this bizarre behavior, rather than finding a way to save Lenny and Leticia. And the Phantom Book delivered a beautiful ending which was able to release Lenny and Leticia from that frightening torture, as well as deal with Paula. So while the story could have survived without the Book of Soul Exchange, the inclusion and use of the Phantom Book improved the story by providing new elements and shaping the story in a more engaging and original way. And that’s what we should expect from all the Phantom Books from now on, especially when the central storyline appears (any day now…)
The scene with the typewriter, during the middle of this episode, was impressive, both from the perspective of the story and how it was directed. Seeing Lenny alive and well, sitting at his desk in an empty study, was not shocking and I figured the scene would end quickly, especially with Paula in the corner spying on the trio. But the differences in the verbal and visual communication, what was being said and what was being written, I thought was outstanding, especially with how astute it was and how it advanced the plot. Coupled with the autograph, verifying the authenticity of the writer, was another bit I found both suspenseful and exciting. In regards to how well it was done, the scene perfectly showcased all the characters putting up a front to get what they wanted. Huey and Dalian came for information and learned more about the situation at the snowy mountain retreat. Lenny, pretending to be respective and obedient to Paula, wrote out a distress note to the two, unsure if they were even able to help him. And Paula, appearing to be a welcoming hostess, did her best to keep the whole operation hidden from outsiders by monitoring the conversation and actions of the three sane characters. With the use of the various shots and angles and the expressions and voices of each character, the scene was truly split in two, with one ending the phony interactions between the characters and one that set the real situation further into motion. Very well done for a scene of that magnitude. Perhaps we should come to expect this, too, in future episodes of Dantalian no Shoka.