There is no mandate that requires Dantalian no Shoka to take place in the English countryside in the early part of the past century. A story such as this could survive easily in any setting, from modern, urban Japan, to medieval kingdoms, to a futuristic digital realm and anything else that lies within the limits of imagination. Dantalian no Shoka has quite a distinctive setting within the current anime community in that there are very few that share any similarities, and its removal from the norm has been a breath of fresh air for those who are exhausted of teenagers in high schools. So let’s just take a few and focus on the setting of Dantalian no Shoka.
Dantalian no Shoka takes place primarily in the grandiose manors around the English countryside following the Great War. If shots of Big Ben in the opening sequence and constant reminders to Huey’s rank as a pilot in that famous war weren’t enough, the technology, architecture, and clothing do more than enough to strengthen and augment the setting. These elements do a great job in ‘showing’ us the setting and will be the most useful examples available when discussing the setting of this anime.
Maybe the best indication of setting is the technology used in Dantalian no Shoka. Hand-cranked automobiles, horse-drawn carriages, biplanes, typewriters, handguns, and even a Gatling gun have all made appearances in the anime. These are all technologies that were still relevant in this time (might be a stretch for the Gatling gun but not for the biplanes). Electricity has shown up a few times, too, but is not among the common features and the complete absence of radio helps suggest it is soon after the First World War. Nothing felt out of place with the technologies present, meaning the characters interacted with them like they were ordinary items rather than gawking over these sleek, new machines or treating them like antiques or inadequate alternatives to the latest gadgets. The unremarkable use of these technologies, or even their mere presence, does more than just be a prop in the story, but reinforces the time in which this anime is situated in.
Additionally, the architecture in Dantalian no Shoka plays a strong role in supporting the setting. And not only is this visible in the structure and exterior of the buildings but also the design of the interiors as well and even non-structures such as the roads that are travelled upon. Most commonly shown are the various mansions that are home to the characters of the series. The external appearance of each manor seems to be that classical European style, where homes are usually made of brick or stone with massive glass windows everywhere, along with a full, luxurious courtyard and accompanying woodlands or forests. Inside are spacious rooms with lavish and detailed furniture, floor-to-ceiling bookcases on every wall packed full of books like an unused library, and enormous windows that allow for entire rooms to be lit without any need for candles or lamps. And these are just a few examples of details shown in the anime so far. Both of these characteristics, the exterior and interior, provide us some physical signs to emphasize the chosen setting and do a great job of helping pinpoint a specific time and location. It’d be strange to see this architecture and design so widespread in anywhere but Europe.
And perhaps most fitting of the details that help showcase the setting of Dantalian no Shoka are the clothes worn by the characters. We’ve seen a snippet of Dalian’s wardrobe, which usually consists of a bulky, black Victorian dresses with oversized, red ribbons that match her eyes and an accompanying headpiece. Huey’s attire, however, does not help as much in this argument, since wearing a tan trench coat on a white, collared shirt has been fashionable for men for the past hundred years. However, his fashion sense of wearing round hats, leather gloves, and goggles when piloting his motor coach are details that can be used here. And beyond the two main characters, it seems everyone else is content in mimicking them, with the women wearing dresses and the men dressed similar to Huey. These details help equally in strengthening the setting with being appropriate to the time period and whereabouts of the anime, even though these are less bold than the examples in the previous two paragraphs. Camilla, however, has a sense of originality in her sense of fashion and has worn the latest styles from France (blue blazer, skirt, and hat) and America (cowboy outfit that everyone in America wears regularly). Still, while those styles are certainly nonstandard, they do add a little bit to help with the setting. But the clothing does play an important role in regards to promoting the setting in this anime.
Those three examples, the technology, architecture, and clothing, all do a fantastic job in bringing the setting of Dantlain no Shoka to life. But without these, what would the setting of this anime be like? Imagine for a second that this anime were like most others in that it took place in the concrete jungle of urban Japan. Not only would the technology be completely different, with cell phones, computers, and bullet trains, but the books would have less of a presence in the anime, perhaps lowering the importance of Phantom Books on society. And with a more modern, or even futuristic setting, the forces of magic and fantasy begin to lose their potency, which is perhaps another reason for this anime to take place in the era it does. Most importantly, a distinctive and original element of the series would be lost if it were like many other current anime and by taking place in another time and in another country, Dantalian no Shoka is able to use a rich setting as its backdrop. And with it using many examples specific to the time and location, you can tell the anime is using its setting to the fullest.
Is this menacing magician, Melgar, going to be a recurring villain? Without any true sign of a central plot developing yet, we can only hope to see some consistency between episodes besides the characters and the focus on Phantom Books. Seeing Dalian’s reactions and attitude toward Melgar leads me to believe there is some history between the two. Either that or Dalian is aware of something regarding his knowledge and magic that makes her feel uneasy, thus leading to some stories about wanting to stop this evil enchanter. I’d love to see some form of story develop out of this episode with the Melgar and Dalian battling each other. However, it seems there is no pressing need for Dalian to chase that immortal illusionist, or for Melgar to defeat Dalian after she foiled his plans for Viola. Maybe they’ll meet again soon.