Remember when Studio Gainax made almost nothing but ass-kicking anime series like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gunbuster, and FLCL? I do. Unfortunately their overall track record since the early 2000s has been like bobbing for apples in a full septic tank: even if you come up with a shiny new and juicy Delicious Red in your teeth, you still have the rancid taste of human excrement in your mouth and up your nose and in your eyes (due to them either revisiting older, classic shows for no reason [*Cough* Gunbuster 2... which never happened], or just turning everything they have into a FLCL wannabe with no humor, soul, or entertainment value at all [like the worst piece of shit I've ever seen in my miserable little life, Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt]. Fuck you, Studio Gainax...)
Anyway, my point is that this is what I was thinking when I started up one of Gainax's most recent shows, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian. I kept wondering what new low the once great "Giant X" would hit after the absolute abomination that was P&SwG, and so the first few eps of Dantalian actually pleasantly surprised me... But then things dragged on, and things got boring veeeeeery quickly. You've seen Dantalian before, trust me. You know its type — at least you would if you've been watching any anime for the past 10 years or more. The Dant is an adventure/mystery show with a paranormal twist that's set in the early 1900s Europe. From the very beginning I was hoping for another Black Butler, but had some bad vibes of Gosick filling me with worry, which in the end was pretty justified, seeing as Dantalian was even flimsier in its telling and less fun than that alternate history European-set show. The mysteries in Gainax's series aren't very engaging or well thought out, and they rarely spill past a single episode (some are even crammed two tales per ep.), so you know right of the bat that it's not deep at all. At least Gosick had some longer, actually interesting brain busters to keep me entertained, despite the fact that it fell face-first into a pile of dog crap halfway through its run.
So what was Dantalian about, you ponder like a three year-old questioning his parents after walking in on them trying out the fabled "Cleveland Steamer" on each other one night? It's basically about ex-World War I British flying ace
Rimmer Hugh Anthony Disward inheriting his recently deceased grandfather's large estate and his epic and legendary library. Oh, and he inherits a little girl too. No, this child is not a precocious Emmanuel Lewis or Gary Coleman-type of adorable and witty orphan (nor is she named Rin), instead Dalian (the girl in question) is a magical entity tasked with keeping order to the mystical Dantalian Library: a spectral place that stores its unholy archives in another realm that's filled with cursed books — books that cause nothing but death and destruction to the morons who decide to use them for personal gain.
These Phantom Books are very powerful, yes, and in the wrong hands they of course cause nothing but terror and dismay to those at ground zero when the dicktards who try to harness the novels' dark magiks let their spells rip. And so Dalian and Hughey team up to hunt down as many of these stolen and lent-out, otherworldly tomes as they can because something, something, bad stuff if they don't. Honestly, it's just an excuse to have the two of them travel around to a new place every episode and battle curses that enhance people's sense of smell, or allows readers to create thinking and feeling automatons, or control the minds of (stupid) fellow villagers, or give the Phantom Book's user the ability to trade anything for anything else... Yeah, scary.
That's pretty much it. Nothing in this show is so clever that the mysteries of what the spooky book-user is doing with the volume in question cannot be guessed within 2 minutes of being introduced to the episode's cast. None of the characters has a personality that you have not already seen in 50 shows in the past year. Seriously, nothing here is unique or truly interesting in the least: Dalian is the sassy tsundere princess who really has a heart of gold and a stomach for sweet cakes (Dalian being a copy of Taiga, Zero Louise, the Gosick girl, Nagi Sanzenin, and 50,000 other chibi female leads); Hughey is the noble protagonist who does his duty to finish what his grandfather started, who also puts up with Dalian despite her total bitchiness (a copy of 95% of every main male anime character ever drawn — especially all the counterparts to the female characters listed under Dalian's matches); then there's the always sunny, rich, blonde wannabe love interest for Hughey who's clueless to the mysticism centered all around her would-be boy-toy, and is only there for (very slight) comic relief (copied from that blonde chick from Black Butler, Hinagi-kun, the maid from The Familiar of Zero, etc. etc.); and then there's the competing magical entity girls teamed up with other pretty boys to either collect or destroy Phantom Books for their own nefarious reasons — one who's a psycho douche-nozzle, the other who's a high and mighty do-gooder (copied from every single shonen action-adventure show ever conceived)... You've seen every character before. Nothing new.
Oh, and the final kick to the crotch that this show provides is that it doesn't even have a proper ending... Like they're hoping for a sequel to be green-lighted in order to wrap up the dozen or so loose ends. That's the worst... If I waste this much goddamn time on a series this pedantic I at least want closure! I mean for godsake, the lameness that is Medaka Box got a follow up series; so that begs the question of "how shitty or lame does a show have to be in order to be passed over for a second season when Medaka Box gets the green light?"
Let me start by saying that the title of this thing is ridiculous. I call it the Mystical Library de Whateva, but the show's pretty good. The end.
I kid. Actually the only thing it was really missing was an ending. Not kidding. There was never a ramping up to the end feeling... and then there wasn't really a well played ending to this thing at all. I have come to terms with anime's lack of "finality" (is that a real word?), but you can tell that this is an "until the next time" end. But if there is no next time, next part, or sequel or if it just comes out ten years from now you aren't gonna be left irritated.
There were only two things that got me about this whole series. 1) When they "read" from a phantom book it generally seems like they are trying to be wayyy too philosophical ("I am the world inside the gouuuuurrd oooooOOOooo"), but I can let that go. 2) Dalian (the little girl who is from the mystical library) is gifted many variety of treats (her lack of weight gains the mystical bit) and yet she is obsessed with ...buns. Seemingly the same thing over and over. So she's very clever, timeless, and in possession of a vast wealth of knowledge the likes of which the world has never known... and she'll do anything for a Scooby Snack... except be polite. So the thing about it that gets me is, are they really the same buns or was some aspect of this lost in translation? Anyway, those bits are completely unimportant to the story which is interesting and could definitely have been a tad longer and given a little more back story on the other "library princesses" but I'm guessing that'll happen someday... maybe.
Arrrrrr. I preferred this television show the first time I saw it, when it was called "Every single goddamn show ever feckin' made before." Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. But to make a serious point now, people, it's been done before, and with more pirates I'll be betting. I'd not even pee on its ashes after I set it on fire and burned it to cinders.