Systematically checking off every Victorian/Steampunk-esque plot device under the sun, Dantalian no Shoka has now landed on homunculi. The homunculus has had a small role in anime, but is trotted out for all to see in this episode, in the guise of an attractive blonde with men begging to betroth her right and left. While the idea of a creation imbued with everything but free will, and the components thereof, eventually grasping the finer points of being human isn’t anything new in anime (See Chobits and Baccano for two prominent examples), it isn’t brought up enough to usually warrant talking about.
The idea of human-like creations gaining sentience and rebelling against their creator isn’t a terribly new idea in fiction, and the opening scene of the episode is heavily reminiscent of the piece of fiction that most people associate with it: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The original film, not the book, though shades of the latter do show a little bit inconspicuously once Viola’s existence is revealed to be artificial.
The common theme running through this episode is that some human experiences, and the knowledge derived from them, don’t have to be experienced firsthand to be understood. In the flashback of the peisode that always occurs whenever Huey reaches into Dalian’s chest, Dantalian told Huey’s young grandfather that she was content living alone, only gleaning experiences from the pages of books held in the library. She wholeheartedly believes that knowledge can substitute for experience and leave one feeling just the same, and is thoroughly debunked when she admits to loneliness when Huey’s grandfather isn’t around.
Viola is much the same. Due to only being three years old, she has very little experience with the world, yet enough knowledge to let her get by and seduce her way up the ranks of society. Without experience to give her a conscience, she can only feign worry for the men that protect her when her mad, rather dapper creator comes to take her back with magic and QUALITY animated fairies made out of mercury.
And when her creator officially lets her live free without repercussions, she tosses the men aside and runs off with a count introduced at the last minute from seemingly nowhere. She’s not above using her feminine wiles to enlist men for assistance and protection, yet doesn’t have the battle scars to tell her to exercise restraint. She can fully replicate emotion of her own, but in no way can she have sympathy for those who go out of their way to defend her from harm. Despite breaking free from the yoke of ownership by a flamboyant magician, she’s not fully human, as if her bleeding silver weren’t indicative of that already.
So the question that’s answered by the end is whether an understanding of humanity can be gleaned through indirect means by one who has never had experience with it before for whatever reason. And the answer that the episode seems to have come to is it can be to an extent, but nothing can substitute proper human interaction as a potent learning tool. Except a campy magician with a monocle.
We’re approaching the middle stretch of the series, and it’s proven to be entirely episodic with nothing overarching beyond “Go here, deal with Phantom Book related problem, come home, eat cake.” And rather than being an entity of its own and coming up with its own universe, it’s showing appreciation of antiquated storytelling devices and giving homage to various classics, both modern and… not so modern, using the Phantom Books and forbidden knowledge as framing devices.
In every episode but the first so far, Dalian and Huey are characters that serve as active bystanders in the story, if that makes sense, rather than characters that drive the plot. They’re nothing but likable chunks of standard anime character flesh that observe the goings on related to the Phantom Books, only stepping in when things get dire or when Huey has to further prove himself a badass.
While I don’t think this episode will leave much of a lasting impression, the fact that Huey’s annoying underling, who had the uncanny ability to make everything overly dramatic in the most groan-worthy of ways, didn’t end up with what he wanted made me think that there’s still hope for Dantalian no Shoka becoming remembered for something other than a slightly creepy ED.