Oh Gainax, what will you do next?
Recently I had the chance to watch the first episode of “Dantalian no Shoka,” prolific studio Gainax’s entry into the 2011 summer anime season. I initially chose it because I tend to enjoy what Gainax has done (you might have heard of one of their titles, Neon Genesis something-or-other, got a little fanfare back in ’96), and the teaser behind the show appealed to me. So I tracked down the first episode to give it a shot.
First off, I want to preface this by saying a few things: this isn’t Evangelion’s Gainax. It isn’t Gurren Lagann’s Gainax. It isn’t even Panty and Stocking’s Gainax (but really what is?). Dantalian no Shoka is something entirely different, and whether it will pan out is best left up to time and viewers. An intriguing premise set up to be a mix of supernatural study, possible romantic tensions (purely inference on that chord) and a lot of flashy, colorful magical explosions.
The story set up in the premiere follows the story of Hugh Anthony Disward, who inherits his grandfather’s vast library of rare books, when the elder Disward is killed in a robbery. When he goes to check on it, he finds two things he didn’t expect. First, one of the books is missing, apparently stolen in the same robbery. Second, there is a strange girl, named Dalian, who is reading all the books in a storage room deep beneath the main estate. Some exposition regarding the nature of the library, references to something called “Dantalian,” a powerful demon who guards knowledge, and then the two are off in search of the man who stole the book, and killed the grandfather.
What they find at the rival’s estate is nothing less than a massacre: dead people, dark halls…and is that a lion? And a demonic, murderous clown? A DRAGON? Seriously? Huey (as Disward prefers to be called) must draw on the power of both Dalian and the strange key he was given to destroy the dragon and seal the book (apparently a pop-up book full of circus stories) away, thus preserving the world, or something along those lines.
The premise behind the show, which was adapted from a series of light novels, is intriguing, which is what drew me in. I liked the idea of books harboring evil spirits. I like the idea that knowledge can lead to destruction. I even liked the idea behind “Dantalian,” apparently an actual demon in Japanese mythology (and who reminds me of a demon I created almost a decade ago for a book I was writing). All of these were enough to grab my attention. Unfortunately, there were times during the opening episode where I felt I had to force myself to pay attention.
I’m not exactly sure why. The art style is very pleasant, and colorful at times (with a lot of purple). The voice work suits the imagery and the animation. The character of Dalian, herself a cross between lolicon and clockwork girl, was an interesting part of the story, especially when taking into account the cryptic nature of what exactly she is, and how she relates to these monsters Huey now finds himself fighting. But for some reason, I found my mind wandering during the first part of the episode. It wasn’t until the action started that I really paid attention, and even then I wasn’t exactly raptly entranced. It’s not that the story seemed forced or implausible (speaking from the point of it being an anime story). It just felt like something was lacking.
But this was only the first episode, the introduction of what is to come. There are going to be another 12 or so episodes this season, so anything can happen. And the story in the premiere was interesting enough to warrant following the series, at least for now (and especially given what I’ve read about the story online). Gainax has done a lot of great shows in the past, so I will stick with this one for the time being.