The Dao of Dantalian (Dantalian no Shoka 01)

When I head the girl-entity in this show was called Dalian, I immediately associated it with the lovely Manchurian city of the same name (voted the best place to live in China, and believe me, I’ve been to the second place on the list and it was fantastic, so Dalian must absolutely rock).

The Japanese call Dalian Dairen, and this port city was actually under Japanese administration in the period where the anime takes place.  But never mind, Dalian is probably a shorthand for Dantalian, the demon whose name graces this mystical library.

And yet!!  Dalian compares herself to the World inside the Gourd, and this comes from a Chinese story.  After watching the episode I researched this gourd world and discovered that this is not a throwaway analogy on Dalian’s part: the episode itself played out very similarly to the tales of the gourd world.  In short, there was a man called Fei Changfang in the Later Han dynasty who met an immortal called the Gourd Lord, who would step inside a bottle gourd every night and have all sorts of adventures with various creatures such as dragons.  The immortal trained Fei by, for example, pitting him against “imaginary” monsters inside the gourd world.  There are about 10 good pages on the subject [here].

Fei Changfang became a great sage in the Daoist tradition and some say he even had an audience with the great Cao Cao of Wei.  This makes sense since Cao Cao was a patron of Daoism and had an understanding with the Celestial Masters.  I wouldn’t be writing all of this except that the next episode preview mentioned a Book of the Fetus, and the fetus happens to be an important concept in Daoist alchemy as well!  So surprisingly beneath the European setting there is a substantial Chinese component.

So how about the European side of things?  Well, I like this name Disward.  You can go forward, you can go backward, and if you’re really disturbed and don’t know what you’re doing, you go disward.

Dantalian seems to be a Goetic demon, a teacher of the arts and sciences.  He is very powerful and high-ranking (a great duke of Hell) and likes to carry books around.  The writer definitely scores points for accurate referencing 🙂  I bet you if you visit the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris right now you will see lots of Japanese mangaka poring over all the grimoires trying to find fresh names to put in their stories.  It’s getting pretty ridiculous, as Dantalian has already figured in the Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei worlds~

The main reason why I watched this show is because of my Iron Principle to always give Gainax shows a chance.  I was happy to see that the Rose Principle, which I only came up with last week with the first episode of Mawaru Penguindrum, is also valid here: scenes where someone thrusts their arm straight into the middle of someone’s chest are always awesome.  No points for guessing why I call it the “Rose” Principle.

This whole “supernatural Victorian girl makes a contract with dude to battle forces of evil” concept is not at all my cup of tea, but again, this is Gainax…plus I do like the period so if they somehow work that in, I’ll be much more interested (like for example, Hugh morphs into Hitler at some point).  Old books and bibliophiles can  make for a good story, for example, in The Ninth Gate.  Mind you, the greatness that is The Ninth Gate has a lot to do with the boldness of the ending, which I don’t expect to be matched here.  Anyway, I’ll watch the next episode before I decide whether to keep watching it or not.

~ by Haloed Bane on July 17, 2011.

10 Responses to “The Dao of Dantalian (Dantalian no Shoka 01)”

  1. Very awesome and enlightening post~ Knowing that a show is all researched and pedigree-backed like this gives me more hope for it. (I liked ep 1, but keeping hopes pretty level).

  2. I just finished the episode. The production quality is good, which is important given how the subject matter is rather outside my interests. I don’t have your Rose nor Iron principles, but I sympathize strongly with them.

    I like how Disward is shown to reload his revolver pistol. I appreciate the attention paid to this detail very much.

    • Granted I’m very dull when it comes to quality issues, but I found some scenes were very nicely done and others not so much. The whole dragon sequence looked kinda cheap. But the whole other world was fantastically done, and I enjoyed the nature scenery.

      I actually haven’t even tried watching half of Gainax’s shows, so I’m pretty delinquent on the Iron Principle myself. Oops!

  3. > Dantalian seems to be a Goetic demon, a teacher of the arts and sciences. He is very powerful and high-ranking (a great duke of Hell) and likes to carry books around.

    Well, to be honest, that’s pretty much what all Goetic demons do. They’re not Stands, you know. More Like Jojo’s Bizzare Thaumaturgy than Bizzare Adventure.

    I’m not sure about this, but If I remember correctly Dantalian was a master of disguise, a creature with a body embossed with thousands of faces of different races and creeds who taught language and rhetoric. Never said anything about a library, though.

    SMT designs I’ve always liked more than those of any other RPG because they they manage to adopt a modern aesthetic while remaining faithful to the original description and symbolism.

    > scenes where someone thrusts their arm straight into the middle of someone’s chest are always awesome.

    I particularly love how Dalian flinches just a little when he does that.

    > and the fetus happens to be an important concept in Daoist alchemy as well! So surprisingly beneath the European setting there is a substantial Chinese component.

    Well, that’s a bit confusing. Daoism was more of a philosophy than something occult, the “daoist alchemy” of which you speak are traditional practices that eventually became associated with the scripture through acculturation, much like Buddhism or Christianity.

    Also, ironic much to include a ROMAN POLANSKI film in a post about a European loli? Bibliophile seems to be the wrong word here.

    • I went through a list of Goetic demons with the intention of refuting you, but you know what? You’re right. They’re all damned bookworms, literally. Even King Stolas teaches astronomy and he doesn’t even have hands!!

      Re: Daoism, you’re making a very sharp distinction between Daoist philosophy and Daoist religion. This is a common stance in Western scholarship, but it’s starting to change recently. What’s most important to me is that Chinese Daoists in the last 1,800 years or so have invariably held to stuff like the Daodejing AND stuff like internal alchemy and cool glittering palaces in the heavens. Also, I believe if you look at the evidence you will find both Laozi and Zhuangzi were fetuses once, so this fetus thing IS appropriate anyway 🙂

      About the film, the real truth is that I’m a Deppophile, and that’s why I plugged it. But I do recognize the irony.

  4. Oh yeah, got so caught up in the specifics I forgot my impressions. Let’s see… The BGs are unique and I like the layered quality to the animation. Characters seemed to be handled with a light hand having a natural quality while not being uninteresting.

    Dalian’s outfit was damn ugly so let’s hope she has episodic wardrobe overhauls.

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