Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dream Eater Merry (Episodes 1 - 3)

The realm of dreams is a theater that fiction writers and aficionados have constantly attended. Whether they encourage inspiration in the artwork of a painter or cartoonist, serve as a medium for the story itself, or amplify fiction appreciation through silent lucidity, dreams are both revered for their ability to mystify humans and feared for their ability to expose the fears of the dreamer.

While there have been stories about dreams long before the comic-strip or manga media, there perhaps hasn't been any as surreal in its travails as the likes of Windsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, the one-page comic from a century ago involving Nemo and his attempt to find the princess in his dreams before he wakes up. While I'm unsure if there were any stories that explored this bridge between dreams and reality before it, Little Nemo certainly seems to be the prototype where a real-world hero clashed with the critters in his dreams.

So what happens when the dreams try to invade the real world?

Yumekui Merry ("Dream Eater Merry"), a manga written by Yoshitaka Ushiki, explores a possible scenario where the creatures in the dream world seek our side of the fence. Directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi (Crying Freeman, multiple Dragonball and Saint Seiya films) and animated by workaholic studio J.C. Staff, Yumekui Merry covers one particular "Nemo", Yumeji Fujiwara, a high-school kid with a cool trick—he can view a person and divine what their dreams will contain that night.

On a particular trip home, Yumeji ends up with a mysterious girl landing on him, only to watch her scamper off on a hunt to find her hat. The meeting is a foreboding one, as Yumeji somehow ends up stepping into the nightmare that has haunted his sleep. His escape from a horde of talking cats and their leader, a masked killer entity known only as "Chaser John Doe", looks fruitless until the girl he met before interferes in the fight. She introduces herself as "Merry", a "dream demon" looking to find her way back home.

This introduction between Yumeji and Merry opens up a whole new can of worms—John Doe's attack was just one of many going on between dream demons and humans. Apparently, to leave the dream world and enter reality, a dream demon needs a human vessel. Merry, however, is an exception, as she exists in the human world, but has no idea how to return home. Perhaps Yumeji may be her ticket home, but for now she can only use his help to encounter other dream demons and enjoy the, donuts of the real world.

There are some creative characters in Yumekui Merry, most of the main ones voiced by relative newcomers, and that seems to provide some refreshing changes of pace when coupled with a veteran like Jôji Nakata, the voice of John Doe. Merry's a rather tomboyish character, but unsure about her surroundings, making her explosive personality fiery but not tsundere. It's also good to see some of the plot revealed by characters unrelated to Yumeji—we see a horrific episode when a cheerful girl's dream demon is consumed by a hunter, leaving the girl wandering hopelessly in the real world.

The unfortunate thing Yumekui Merry may have going for it is timing. The jump from real world to dream world is relatively devoid of transition, and the general art surrounding the dream world is less imaginative than the show's character designs. Perhaps it is an aftereffect that comes from the stellar art we see in the transition and secondary worlds of Puella Magi Madoka Magica—the land of the surreal is produced so much better in Madoka Magica that it butts heads with Yumekui Merry's own attempt. It's a bit unfair to compare apples to oranges, but J.C. Staff's pales in comparison.

That being said, Yumekui Merry doesn't look like it will be boring at all. It's refreshing to see a show that isn't depending on antagonism between the main characters to sell itself, and there could be some good plot advancement coupled with some exciting choreography. The designs have potential to leak outside the box and explore creativity a bit more, and the dynamic between Yumeji and Merry could make a cohesive unit instead of an abusive one.

Perhaps one final detail is minor to some, but seeing the characters with expressions on their faces that show a tug-o'-war of emotions gets me interested in the characters themselves; some smiles are delivered with lines containing more than one curve. I like that attention to detail, and I hope such details also translate into attention to the entire work as a whole. Yumekui Merry could be a wild card this season if it can fight off further comparisons to its competition and be the fun action series it appears to be.

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