Preseason expectations provide a reference point when judging an anime once the final episode has aired. It’s a basic way of evaluating an anime, seeing how well it performed over the course of the season compared to how you initially expected it to be. And from here, we can begin to formulate a grade or score for the anime. Besides developing an overall opinion, it’s also fun is to see what expectations were right, wrong, and what came as a surprise. And the purpose of this post will be to examine the latter. So let’s see what went right, wrong, and surprised for Dantalian no Shoka.
Here’s what I said about Dantalian no Shoka during my Summer 2011 Season Preview (which seems rather comical now with some of my predications) back in late June:
“Opinion: It’s been a while since I’ve gotten into a supernatural/fantasy anime like this but I am somewhat excited for this anime. The setting of a European-style, time-period anime seems like the perfect backdrop for something like this, as it lacks modern technology that can disrupt the supernatural atmosphere the story wants to create. Gainax delivers in the animation, art, and music, and the overall product shows stellar production qualities. Seems to be one of the top anime for the summer.”
Pretty optimistic but fair. Of course, most previews sound like that as they’re based off limited information. A simple synopsis, a few drawings of the characters, and a quick trailer were all I had and all I needed.
Seems I was enticed primarily by the fantasy aspect of the anime when writing that preview. I hardly have any complaints regarding the whole fantasy and supernatural characteristics of the show; they were the well-written, creative, and provided a unique experience for the anime. Probably the thing I liked most about this anime was how seamlessly the books were incorporated into each episode. While the whole “new book of the week” format grew tedious rather quickly and it was obvious they had defined limitations, the effects of the books and what they were able to do with their magic and potential were all interesting and solid enough to keep an episode together. The fantasy aspect in the ninth episode, the one that took place within a book, was both astounding and spectacular, but most other episodes were about what I estimated. I’d say the fantasy elements in this series met my expectations and was one of the better facets of this anime.
Set in post-WWI England, Dantalian no Shoka had one of the more impressive settings this summer. I’ve always had a weakness for European settings and for historical settings, so this was an obvious allurement for me. However, the series never used its setting as a strength. Most of the anime took place within mansions or other buildings which have a difficult time of showing the time period. Usually architecture and design are great ways of presenting a setting but the series was content with staying inside for most episodes. The clothing and technology, however, were fantastic and did what the environment could not. And while the technology was also borrowed from the fantasy-side of the anime, the anime did well in creating a realistic version of England following the Great War. There were some historical inaccuracies but nothing to cause you to bang your head against the desk for a minute. Again, another aspect that felt right and met expectations.
The last piece of the preview focused on the production values, with specific attention toward the art, animation, and music. And for the most part, Gainax did a fabulous job with creating Dantalian no Shoka. The landscaping was gorgeous, the artwork vivid, the animation spirited, and the soundtrack was divine. I wished there were more opportunities to show off the environment in Dantalian no Shoka but the cityscapes and countryside were always a pleasure to see. The artwork, especially the character designs, was vibrant and detailed throughout the series. The animation slipped at times but did a great job of keeping up with the action in the scenes for a fairly fluid finish. But the best of the production values may have been the music. Not only was the music for this anime very suitable, it also brought scenes and dialogue to a higher degree of liveliness or emotion. While the soundtrack was nowhere near perfect, it was one of the better and more underrated aspects of this anime. Considering this whole group as one, I’d say this exceeded my expectations and was something I got wrong. A welcome surprise in the end.
There was no real mention of the story or characters in my preview, something I assumed would be solid given the synopsis and trailer. You’d figure that the plot and characters in an anime like this, that’s focused on books no less, would have celebrated writing and character development and be one of the strong points when the series was over. And those two aspects did turn out to be a substantial area of discussion among the fans during its run. But for all the wrong reasons. Without a central plot connecting the episodes together, Dantalian no Shoka felt somewhat misused. The potential for a remarkable story was all there but it never began or was developed. During the finale, when all the libraries were together for one underwhelming battle, we had a glimpse of what could’ve been. Seeing the three parties in constant conflict over the Phantom Books would’ve made the series much more interesting. But no, the story remained confused of what it wanted to be and the series suffered as a result. The characters, particularly Huey and Dalian, had some pluses and minuses but everyone else was underdeveloped. The main duo did seem to have rather feeble characterization, neither being the focus of a story until the end, but their chemistry together covered this flaw and allowed for some amusing moments. And the other two pairs, Hal and Flam and Raziel and the Professor, both had good chemistry together but were never examined. It seems strange to have three libraries, each mysterious and majestic young ladies with awesome powers and questionable motives, but none of them were ever developed or explained properly. Another area of wasted potential. It was frustrating, no doubt, but not to the level of disappointment. And, unfortunately, these were the biggest surprises of the anime.
All in all, Dantalian no Shoka turned out to be better right around where I thought it would be. But this isn’t about judging the anime altogether; rather, this was seeing how my preseason predictions fared. This was more an exercise to see what went right, wrong, and was surprising rather than assigning a grade. You cannot really score an anime based on preseason expectations alone. I rarely go back and look at my preseason predications when finishing an anime but this exercise was rather entertaining and informative. It is fun to see how an anime performs compared to our simples thoughts and guesses and how our perception changes before and after watching that anime. Maybe I’ll do more of this, especially for shows that turned out to be major surprises, all-time favorites, and infuriating disappointments.
Is there a reason why Dalian and Raziel are so similar? Of course they are similar, especially their appearance and behavior, but what reason explains this. And then what about Flamberge, why is she so noticeably different? And are there girls within each of the libraries, too? If there is one regret hanging over this series like an unyielding shadow, it would not be the lack of a story but the lack of clarifications on the libraries and their systems. They were some of the more remarkable and interesting aspects of this anime and not getting to learn about them leaves a sort of emptiness behind. It was great to see them all in this final episode but it just reminds us that these ladies and their mysteries will not be answered. This might turn out to be a mini-research project later on, depending on how translations of the original materials go, but an anime should never leave you with hanging curiosities like these after a series finale. Although the offense becomes forgivable if they aren’t even explained in the light novel or mangas yet, which then it becomes a question of why adapt it now before the series has all its explanations out? These things make you wonder sometimes…