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Dantalian no Shoka Review — B-

Huey’s grandfather, an avid book collector, has passed away, and Huey returns to his grandfather’s home to inherit the library. He finds a young girl, Dalian, who is a mystical library holding 900,666 phantom books. Huey becomes her keykeeper, and they travel together finding and dealing with phantom books in a sequence of short stories.

Dantalian takes an interesting approach to the traveling detectives setup— our heroes are completely impotent. Everything they do is futile. In an absurd twist, the conflict resolves itself without their intervention. This twist is new and fresh at first, but after eight episodes of the same thing it begins to get stale.

The other problem this approach entails is that our protagonists are not central to the story. So the show must rely on episodic bit-characters to carry it. Since these characters are underdeveloped, the viewers feel little attachment to the unfolding stories. This may be the intention: our protagonists also feel little involvement with what’s happening on screen. They watch as their friends are tortured and murdered without so much as batting an eye. This is unique, to say the least, but hard to believe and somewhat unsettling.

Fortunately, the show manages to have an ending which ties everything together. But they should have done this earlier, and spent less time on the highly similar episodic stories. Dantalian was enjoyable but not great. I did have fun blogging this though, becoming a bibliomaniac myself and tracking down all the phantom books, becoming an art connoisseur, and even writing poetry.

  • Plot / Script – B – The short stories are interesting and surprising (until they become repetitive).
  • Characters – C – Dalian is a sweet eating moeblob.
  • Production – B – It looked nice.
  • Overall – B-

RecommendationsGosick, Rozen Maiden, Book of Bantorra

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Dantalian no Shoka 12 — Huey Does Something!

What a pleasant surprise! This actually turned into a nice ending, although it was rushed. They could have easily used up an extra episode or two on this or the last episode, especially given how repetitive the later arcs became.

Huey is Awesome

At least when he does something besides sipping tea and standing by helplessly. Even I’ll admit it: he was pretty cool in this episode, what with getting shot, shooting the gun out of the Professor’s hand from a puddle of his own blood, and jumping out the window with Dalian. He even attempted to save the girl from the library and stop the plot to zombify London. But then Dantalian goes back to its own tricks, and…

Someone Else Saves the Day

I liked this plot device at first. It was something new, unexpected, and cynical. Huey and Dalian get caught up in all these adventures, but no matter what they do it’s all more or less useless. Things happen, and they have no control over it. But it did start to grate on my nerves after ten episodes of our heroes being useless.

In this episode the twist was really well done though. Since Huey was actually trying to stop the phantom book owner for once, it was actually a tense scene. The Professor is showing off his trucks full of zombification newspapers, and mentioning how his plan is now unstoppable. Then out of nowhere, Hal’s flamethrower bursts all the trucks into flames. I had the same face as Rasiel and the Professor when it happened:

So this anticlimax was effective, because:

  1. Our lead characters actually cared about what was happening, and were still powerless to stop it.
  2. The viewers actually (sort of) cared about the people who saved the day.

The lesson is that indifferent characters tend to make for indifferent viewers.

The conclusion didn’t resolve much of anything, which fits in perfectly with the show’s themes, but still managed to tie everything together and come to a good stopping point. They even managed to bring in the other biblio-princesses.

The Girl in the Library

Honestly, this whole subplot didn’t appeal to me. We have a childhood friend who’s trapped in a library, who Huey makes a promise too. This is what motivates Huey to this day, twenty years later. Boring.

Still, I did like the scene where Huey and Dalian were running away, and the two worlds merged. It was nicely done. Same with the scenes of Dalian and her alter ego’s past / present / future. I’m not going to speculate much, since endless Penguindrum speculation has reduced my enthusiasm. But I did notice what looks like Dalian with Joan d’ Arc, and a toga-clad Dalian opening Pandora’s box. So she’s pretty darn old.

I especially liked the scene where Huey and the Dalian in the library hold hands. Usually Huey is wearing his gloves, but here his hand is bare and stained with blood. The girl reaches out to Huey, then pulls back, but Huey grabs it.

Phantom Books

  • Book of Atonement — This is a nickname for the book of Leviticus. And I guess it’s fitting this episode should air a week before the Day of Atonement.
  • The Professor’s book — A note written by a fugitive who assassinated a president of the new world. Most likely the diary of John Wilkes Booth. It doesn’t seem like the whole thing is available online, unfortunately. I’m kind of puzzled as to why the Professor claimed Dalian would never have heard of it— it would have been pretty famous. Perhaps this is just because it’s more recent? It’s power was lame anyway— he could have used an actual gun just as easily.
  • Crastinus Dies Nunquam Sciat — This is the title on the spine of the book Huey takes from Dalian. This translates (very roughly, I don’t even know Latin) to “tomorrow is never known.” Given what Huey is saying at the time, the meaning seems clear. As far as I can tell this book is fictional— perhaps it is the story of Dalian herself.

Further Thoughts

  • Could this guardian be Dantalian? He has “all Men’s and Women’s faces”, and this face seems to fit that description.
  • I cracked up when they showed the Germans riding the zeppelin.
  • I love how everyone says the middle name but only for Huey. Still, a marked improvement over calling someone “Setsuna F. Seiei” out loud. *facepalm*

Oh, and I said I’d be late with this post. Sorry, I lied. Boring trip. Have some angry Rasiel and Dalian pictures as an apology. Their fight was pretty cute.

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Dantalian no Shoka 11 — A Flying Machine that Flies. Nein.

A flying machine that flies. “It was a tiny article, devoid of pictures of any kind, about the Wright brothers,” begins Ias, speaking of the article he found on the ground while doing hard labor in the mine, as he dunks the ball into the hoop. “Though I couldn’t read yet, I instinctively knew what it was about.” He catches the ball as it falls through the net, and passes it to Huey.

“I remember that newspaper too.” Huey twists past Ias and takes a shot. “My dad made such a fuss about it he fell down the stairs.” The ball swishes through the net, and the two best friends join in uproariously laughter at Huey’s father’s misfortune. Now, what better time to recite a 14 year old newspaper article by memory, than over a friendly game of basketball?

Dantalian no Shoka’s brilliant writing has truly soared to new heights, like the wings of a German triplane sailing into the setting sun. We are reading mystical newspaper articles not with the eyes, but with the heart!

This exchange was but one of many gems hidden in this episode.

Heil Goth Loli!

On the second to last episode, a new character is introduced, Rasiel, the library of Raziel (this was the only reference of interest this week). Rasiel is the most compelling character Dantalian has yet seen. Rasiel, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

I love thy dance beneath the silver moon,
the flutter of thy dress which makes me swoon,
thy lengthy socks which seem to never end,
thy broken eye that no doctor can mend.
Thy youth is no concern to you or me,
with breasts voluptuous and round to see.
Rasiel! Hand me the key to thine eye!
Yet alas, I am dead, and say goodbye.
The Bride of War, Daughter of Germany
Honor and laud to thee! Heil, goth loli!

Truly, Rasiel is “the supreme mystery that no man can approach”.

Eternal Friendship

Huey and Ias’ deep friendship will surely last until the end of time. When they first meet, Huey’s first words are that he will kill more people than Ias. But Ias’ gaze penetrates Huey’s soul, just as it penetrated the words of the newspaper in his youth, and he can see that Huey is not a warrior. Ias reads a passage from a book, and Huey is deeply moved. They become bestest best friends forever.

We can tell this because of their deep bonding while playing basketball, and their discussion about how much they love the Wright brothers. They make a solemn promise that they will meet Orville Wright, ask him if he is happy, and get his autograph.

Unfortunately, before they can keep their promise, Ias goes and joins the Germans for personal reasons which go unexplained. We could speculate, but we don’t want to intrude on his privacy, now do we?

A Compelling Plot

This episode had one of the most complex, interleaved plots we have yet seen from Dantalian. We begin with Huey and Ias’ first meeting, and the budding of their lasting friendship.

After the opening, Huey and Ias are trying to kill each other. Ias has joined the Germans. Huey almost loses Dalian’s key, but luckily catches it. This is all so exciting!

Next, we jump to a bar, where Ias tells the bartender how he wants the war to continue forever so that he can finish writing his book. You can feel the depth and intensity of his character here.

Then in a shocking twist, Ias falls unconscious at the bar. He opens his eyes to find himself surrounded by a sea of flames, and we see Rasiel laughing maniacally in front of him. What could have happened?

Ias wakes up from the nightmare to find himself alone in a mansion with Rasiel. She seduces him (we’ve already covered how). He kisses her hand and decides to finish the book he is writing. Then comes the deep bonding over the basketball game.

Now we jump to a giant monster striking down airplanes with its hand. This episode has such smooth, logical transitions. So this is the power of Ias’ phantom book?! Huey is in trouble.

Oh, wait! Huey wasn’t there! That was some other people it swatted down! Now it’s sunny out, and here’s Huey. He reads part of Ias’ book too, and tells Ias that he already died in Paris, with the one he loved. Oh, so that’s why Ias joined the Germans! His lover died and he was broken. I was wondering about that. I’m also wondering about how they can talk to each other while flying airplanes on opposing sides. I bet that’s the power of the phantom book too!

Huey, crying, shoots down Ias. I was a bit teary-eyed here too. The power of friendship!

Ias’ plane crashes and bursts into flames. Ias makes it out unscathed. But wait! Rasiel is waiting for him. She gives him a gentle flick, and he falls over backwards, dead. What a shocker! No, wait! He was already dead, and a phantom book brought him back to life so he could write another phantom book. What Huey said wasn’t a metaphor after all! And the person who brought him back to life was… the BARTENDER from earlier! Who is actually a PROFESSOR!

We end with Huey lighting a fire in front of a “no smoking” sign. What will the final episode have in store? Will Huey and Dalian fight the evil professor? Will Dalian eat more sweets?! Tune in next week to find out!

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Dantalian no Shoka 10 — More of the Same

I want to throw a plate at this show too.

The Usual Pattern

Huey and Dalian randomly meet someone in the park who has a phantom book. They follow her to the concert, but get tied up by criminals. No one seems all that concerned. The two of them sit on the sidelines as someone gets killed by a randomly introduced gangster who’s the real bad guy. Huey and Dalian don’t bother with the resurrection book this time, he’s not worth the effort. The problem resolves itself without their interference, and Huey and Dalian run away.

The first half dozen or so times, this setup was relatively fresh and clever, but by now it has long outlived its welcome.

More Complaints

  • We have the usual jokes where Dalian acts cute, such as when she is held up by the policeman, and when she throws a plate at Huey. He deserved that one, it did sound awful. But this is getting old…
  • At the end of the episode, why did they feel the need to have Huey state the obvious and repeat himself? “Why did she play Twilight?” Um… maybe because her maker just died? Does this really take that much imagination?
  • We get a new scene inside the library again. But did anything new actually happen? I don’t think so.


Usually I distract myself from the actual episode by thinking about all the tie-ins, but this week’s episode was even lacking on that front.

There was a fictitious 16th century composer named Guillermo Baldini, so it seems reasonable to conclude the 18th century version is also fictitious.

And… that’s it. I’m honestly thinking this show should have been given less time than a single season (perhaps an OVA).

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Dantalian no Shoka 09 — Story within a Story

Er, wait. Dantalian doesn’t really have a story to put another story inside. I guess it’s just the usual episodic story.

Why Should I Care?

One risk for a show with an episodic structure such as Dantalian’s is that the viewer will probably not be interested in all of the stories. This is compounded by the fact that Dantalian has no consistently strong characters: Huey and Dalian are impotent for most of the show. So much of Dantalian’s ability to maintain viewer interest depends on the characters in each of the short stories.

This week’s characters were decidedly lacking. We have the girl who will grow up to be a sage, the wise woman, some random soldiers, and the boyfriend. They do little to distinguish themselves beyond their basic descriptions. But it doesn’t matter, anyway: none of them have any influence on the plot. Does this mean we get an episode where Huey and Dalian do something? Of course not! (unless you count getting lost in a forest and reading a book as doing something)

Things just happen in Dantalian without rhyme or reason. Dalian and Huey wander around just because, and Ira gets dragged around by events and other people. The only “characters” we can claim are in control of the narrative are the book bugs. The story is not character driven, and the characters come across as mostly an afterthought. Is it plot driven? I don’t think so. We do get good characters and stories from time to time, but it almost seems like a coincidence. I would say that Dantalian simply isn’t driven at all.

The creators love anti-climaxes, and these have resulted in some interesting endings. But if the viewers don’t particularly care about the story in the first place (and if every other story has an anticlimactic ending too), an anti-climax will only make the story fail even harder than a traditional climax would have.


  • Dalian mentions at the beginning of the episode that they are approaching the Michaux fortress. This is probably referring to Henri Michaux, a Belgian / French writer and artist. In case you thought Dantalian’s artwork became a masterpiece in this episode, it didn’t: all the pictures in this post are pieces by Michaux. I didn’t want to deface this site with screenshots from the episode: I can see what they were going for, but it sure was ugly. Also, note the bug-like objects in Michaux’s art.
  • The book Huey read mentions Abdul Alhazad, who is probably Abdul Alhazred, the Mad Arab, author of the Necronomicon in the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Continuing the Arabic theme, we have Suleiman, the Arabic name of King Solomon, who hosts a court of…
  • Djinn. In particular we have three types: Marid, associated with the sea, Ifrit, particularly strong Djinn, and the Shaitan, unbelieving and hideous Djinn similar to the devil. It also mentions the Cabicaj, but I couldn’t find anything about them.

I figured I should include a poem by Michaux as well, since we seem to be on a theme. This one reminded me of Dalian.


A mad being,
a beacon being,
a being erased a thousand times,
a being exiled from the far end of the horizon
a being sulking at the far end of the horizon
a being crying from the far end of the horizon
a thin being
an honest being
a proud being
a being who wanted to be
a being in the churning of two epochs which collide
a being in the deleterious gas of consciousness which succumbs,
a being like the first day
a being…

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