The anime Dantalian no Shoka (a.k.a. Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian) is a 12 episode series produced by Gainax which aired earlier this year. The original story comes from a series of light novels under the same title written by Gakuto Mikumo.
Set in post-WWI England, Hugh Anthony Disward, who is more commonly known as Huey and is a former RAF pilot, receives a letter one day indicating that his grandfather had passed away. In his grandfather’s will, he leaves all of his belongings and “Dalian” to Huey. Thinking that Dalian is some kind of pet, he is surprised to find that she’s actually a young girl. What’s more, Dalian is actually the keeper of the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian, a mystical library containing phantom books with forbidden magical powers. The library is sealed in Dalian’s body and only Huey is able to open it using a special key and borrow the powers of the phantom books. Together, Huey and Dantalian seek out phantom books and seal them before they can cause any harm.
Most of the episodes in Dantalian no Shoka are self-contained stories which may be viewed in any order. The stories told in each episode were relatively solid considering the limited amount of time. Each story also focused on a different phantom book, introducing viewers to the types of magic present in the anime. However, this leads to the problem of spending too much time on introductions. The first 3/4 of the anime was so focused on introducing characters that there was no room to create a continuous story arc. Since the anime is only 12 episodes, it’s clear that there was no intention on covering more than the first 1 or 2 volumes of the light novel series. On the other hand, the producers could have spent an episode or two more leading up to the finale, which felt rushed.
In terms of character development, the producers made the right choice in focusing in on Huey. For a short series like Dantalian no Shoka, trying to develop more than a few characters often ends up wasting too much time on each of their pasts and less on story progression. By only developing the main character, the anime did not feel like it strayed too far off course. Other characters largely stayed in static archetypical roles. Dalian, for example, is a slightly spoiled girl that enjoys eating cookies and sweet buns, and she remains unchanged throughout the series.
The animation quality in Dantalian no Shoka was superb, as expected from a studio like Gainax. Everything from the scenery to the style of the buildings looked beautiful. The use of streams of light in many scenes was brilliant. Given the various types of magic that Huey and Dalian encounter while gathering phantom books, there were plenty of special effects that were added in, and they helped improve the visual appeal of the anime.
The plot in Dantalian no Shoka is about as average as you can get for a short series. Having been taken from the beginning of a series of light novels, it was destined for mediocrity. On the other hand, the anime is pleasant to watch if you are looking for something with good visuals and short stories that you can finish in single episodes.