When I watch Dantalian no Shoka, there are always things aside from the story vying for my attention. First is the music, which is some of the most beautiful to grace any anime soundtrack in recent years, most especially the gorgeous OP. I’m also thinking about its place in history, and that’s especially the case with this OVA, possibly the last anime we’ll see of the franchise. I can’t help but wonder if Dantalian represents the true last creative gasp of GAINAX, the first anime studio I ever loved and one that will always hold a unique place in my heart. Medaka Box has the feel of a studio that’s given up, and GANIAX’ involvement in the Evangelion films has been reduced to nothing more than a licensing partner. While Dantalian isn’t necessarily a classic example of the old-school GAINAX template, it is wildly creative – with gorgeous backgrounds, stunning juxtapositions of surreal and classical imagery and occasional bursts of pure GAINAX style (though not in this episode). So the thought that this OVA could really be the last hurrah for GAINAX as a studio that matters is one that fills me with a great deal of sadness and makes watching it a bittersweet experience.
Dewey-eyed nostalgia aside, this is a very solid episode of Dantalian – but in no way does it distinguish itself from an episode that might have aired in the TV series’ continuity. For those of us who yearned for resolution to the many unanswered questions of the series finale that’s a bit of a disappointment, but it was awfully good to hear that music and gape at that stunning artwork, and to be back in the company of Huey and Dalian. They have a great chemistry together, though her tsuntsun can feel like a bit much at times – Huey generally dishes as well as he receives, and has a way of putting Dalian in her place without appearing to do so.
Mysteries were inconsistent during the TV series run, as is the case with most anime that rely on the mystery format, and I’d rank this story somewhere around the middle of the pack in terms of interest level and originality. We have a creepy old manor in the woods, with the old Lord of the manor who died mysteriously leaving a young daughter behind – both staples of the Dantalian catalogue. We also have a Phantom Book – it wouldn’t be Dantalian otherwise – in this case, the “Deep Green Book”. A fire has resulted in the death of Sergeant Cavallos, Lord of the Manor, and twenty servants – and his daughter Florence lives alone in the mansion the locals call “Briar Rose”. But something’s amiss here, and it runs deeper than creepy ghost stories to a tale of a possessive love gone wrong. We even get a guest shot from a Buddhist phantom book that wards off evil, complete with Huey chanting sutras.
Really though, as was the case with all but the best of the mysteries in the series, most of the pleasure comes from the art and music, listening to Dalian say things like “Only fools and smoke like high places” and watching she and Huey verbally tussle over who’s going to carry what – and who. Dantalian no Shoka is a very atmospheric show – it has a vibe to it that’s quite unique, and consistently pleases no matter how strong or weak the supporting storyline. I would have loved much more focus on the pink-haired incarnation of Dalian who lives inside the Dantalian, and on her relationship with the child Huey – but alas, that was not to be. We’ll have to settle for this one final episode, and if you were a fan of the series there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy it.