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Monday, 12 December 2011 00:00

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

When The Mystic Archives of Dantalian first appeared, it seemed to be filling the same "gothic lolita and mysteries" niche that Gosick had filled the season before. There's a bit more to it than that, to be fair, but I know which one I would rather watch...

In the early part of the last century, there was a young man named Huey, whose grandfather was an avid collector of rare books - what you might call a bibliomaniac. Upon his grandfather's death, Huey inherited his grandfather's antiquated mansion and the collection of books within. On arriving at the mansion to investigate the meaning of his grandfather's last request, and take over responsibility for the 'Bibliotheca', down in the cellar he discovers a beautiful young girl in a black dress...

That girl is Dalian, a Biblioprincess - keeper of the mystic archives, with access to significant knowledge in the field of Phantom Books: books with great mystical powers that can be tapped by those who read them. Huey and Dalian soon strike up a relationship of sorts, Huey seeing her as a wayward daughter that he now has to look after, Dalian seeing him as a source of cream buns and other baked treats - and from time to time as her assistant in dealing with Phantom Books that are being used for the wrong reasons, as that's really what the series is about.

There's no real ongoing storyline here: each episode introduces a situation in which a Phantom Book is being used, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. Dalian, fulfilling her role as Biblioprincess who sees to it that the right books are with the right people, drags Huey along to analyse the situation and take whatever action is necessary to restore the balance that she wants to see. And that's pretty much it - simple, and for the most part quite enjoyable.

There are other Biblioprincesses around, though, with different aims to Dalian's - one that delights in putting Phantom Books in the wrong hands, for the fun of seeing what happens; one dedicated to destroying them; and so on. They make occasional appearances throughout the series, and with each having their own distinct and rather playful personality it's almost a shame that we don't see them more often. The episodes also have a good spread between those firmly based in the real world, and those based in more surreal surroundings.

All of which makes it sound like good stuff, but while there's a decent amount of enjoyment to be had out of it, there's something about the general atmosphere of the series that left me feeling cold and detached when watching it - which I think is mostly down to Dalian herself being mostly cold and detached from the world. She's in it, not of it, and that affects how easy it is to relate to her and the stories she's in to a surprising extent.

No Gosick, then, despite the early comparisons when it first began airing - Dantalian has different sorts of mysteries, and very different character dynamics, both of which in the end lead to it being not as enjoyable to watch. Does what it does very well, but ultimately it's hard to connect with it. And that's a bit of a disappointment.

Rating - ***