The Mystic Archives of Dantalian–Anime Early Impressions

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Fans of Gosick who are wondering where to get their weekly fix of moe gothic horror would do well to check out this new show from Gainax.

It seems fashionable now for a series to have more than one title. The original title is displayed in Japanese characters as Dantalian no Shoka (“Dantalian’s Bookshelf”) but also in Roman characters as Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian. Crunchyroll and niconico are taking their lead from the quasi-French title and streaming it as The Mystic Archives of Dantalian.

There are a number of similarities to Gosick. Both are set in Europe in the 1920s and both feature imperious gothloli heroines. However Gosick‘s naive and floundering hero can hardly be compared to the dashing and confident hero of Dantalian.

Hugh Anthony “Huey” Disward (Daisuke Ono) is a young English nobleman who learns that his grandfather has died and left him his entire estate. The grandfather was an anti-social recluse known for his huge collection of rare books. In a final letter his grandfather enclosed a strange-looking key and urged Huey to “look after Dalian.”

Huey assumes that “Dalian” is a pet and rushes to his grandfather’s secluded mansion hoping to save a starving animal. However Dalian (Miyuki Sawashiro) turns out to be a strangely-dressed young girl happily ensconced in the basement surrounded by books. She has an arrogant attitude and she loves books and sweets.

Or maybe she isn’t as young as she looks. “When the printing press was invented and I could bury myself in books, I was positively giddy.”

Actually Dalian is the gateway to the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian, a library in another world where thousands of “Phantom Books,” books too dangerous for ordinary humans to read, are kept sealed away. By inheriting his grandfather’s key, Huey has become her “Keykeeeper,” with the implicit duty to track down and seal away any Phantom Books that have fallen into the wrong hands.

Humans who read a Phantom Book commonly suffer a quick, gruesome death, but the process typically leaves dangerous and unwholesome things loose in the world. Huey is no pushover; he carries a handgun and apparently used up his supply of fear during World War I, but these monsters cannot be overcome by conventional means.

Fortunately by using the key on Dalian, Huey can trigger a rather grotesque henshin sequence which gives him access to the contents of Dantalian’s library, including powerful spells.

Like most anime the show has little concern for scientific plausibility or historical accuracy. (For example, Ba’alzebub was not the ancient Canaanite god of thunder. That would probably be Hadad. And it’s not that easy to burn a book with just a cigaret lighter.) However in a gothic story such considerations have little weight. Style and atmosphere are far more important.

A show from Gainax usually means high-quality artwork and quirky unconventional writing. Sometimes it also means a dreaded “Gainax ending.” But they’ve been behaving themselves pretty well recently. This is probably worth taking a chance on.