This Week: Dream Users (Yume Tsukai)
Riichi Ueshiba: Even when one needs to radically rewrite his material, it still ends up full of fetish fuel.
Yasuko Kobayashi may be a name that might not immediately come to mind for various folks. But, if you are reading this, you very likely have at least a passing familiarity with her work. She did the series composition for Attack on Titan and the recent revivals of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Regardless of how one may feel about those particular shows, be it positive or negative, I think either side you fall on would be able to admit watching an episode of those productions is much like consuming a manga chapter or two. There was also a nice chunk of original material out to work with and try to massage for television.
This series, one of their earliest composition credits, is in some ways a lot trickier to adapt.
Far fewer total volumes, and almost half of them concern a single mission. For what amounts to a paranormal investigation series mixed with shrine maiden / spiritual warrior tones, this leaves two options when seeking to adapt the work. The first would be to play it as a straighter direct adaptation, and to be more faithful at the risk of lopsidedness. The second would be to condense the existing material down, and chart out new stories and investigations that fit within the same tone and intent of the original. The tradeoff there being potentially better television pacing and planning at the expense of what was in the source.
It is a tricky task to figure out that I think does not usually get the respect it often deserves.
In this case, Kobayashi and the folks at Madhouse opted for the rewrite route. And given that I came to watch the entire series over a Saturday afternoon, I feel that was the right choice.
The series is actually riddled with little problems here and there. I found the characters to be largely forgettable archetype roles, and most of them do not build much of a crunchy interpersonal bond to hang on to. They are more like dolls swung around in a playset. Ueshiba’s manga style is rather particular, and while the faces came out fine in the animation the other visual elements have this tendency where bodies often end up looking like wild noodle people from the off-model parts of a CLAMP adaptation.
And yet the show did have a sort of snappiness to it, where I still wanted to see what they would do next. And I chalk this up to how important series composition is. I could easily tell that someone sat down, and planned out that each of these monster of the week stories should have a new quirk or process to explore every time. I never felt I was watching the same episodes play out in the same way to the same conclusions.
I like the series scenario quite a bit, actually, and it helps a lot in this process. The idea that dreams can go out of control and begin manifesting themselves in reality in completely unintended and warped ways, causing a select group of folks to look into the cause and beat the nightmare back before it does too much damage. It allows for a number of approaches and types of desires to explore, from love and crushes to family issues.
And crucially, the defeat of a nightmare by our lead characters does not itself make a situation better. The person who had the dream still has to make the steps to either give it up, act upon it, or what have you. That is key, I feel, as it allows these episodes and cases to transpire in different ways each time. Some of them end well, others go to less optimal places, it will introduce a new way the dream mechanics operate, and so on. As a result the series never felt as flimsy as it could have. It’s like a bare house with unpainted walls and minimal furniture, where it lacks the sense anyone is really living in there but the structure itself is nice.
Because this is originally a Riichi Ueshiba work, there is the attempt to work in fetish fuel. Either from the source material, or new ones that would fit. So there is a blood relative brother-sister incest story, an Electra complex tale, an idol the size of a warehouse with breasts larger than most forklifts and used as a bed, and so on. It is one of those things that comes with the territory, given the proclivities of the author.
But, as the mechanics of Yume Tsukai involve the exploration of dreams and their corresponding nightmare forms when warped, it is at least not totally out of place. To an extent, it probably gives the series more punchy ammo to work with in between the more traditional kinds of drama dreams gone rouge (the arguing parents who are only together because of their kid, lost love due to death, and the like). The show is at least able to give the more suggestive moments illusory cover of pulling double duty as narrative devices and fetish fascination, as opposed to just splurging all over with whatever kinky ideas Ueshiba may have been into at the moment. This is a guy who has placed girls dressed like cats while eating raw bacon into positions to be allured and fantasized over, so he certainly would never say any television crew went too far with his material.
While Yume Tsukai is enough degrees of separation away to not be classified as a magical girl series, I do wonder what it would have turned into had the series concept been handled by one. The characters here do fight the nightmare abominations with children’s toys sacrificed to become supernaturally charged versions of themselves. Like a Godzilla knockoff action figure turned into a fist mounted fire breathing lizard face, or even a box of Pocky turned into a multi-missile battery launcher. Those aspects are not really explored as much as I wanted to see come to life. But there is a hint of a youthful and imaginative joy to that as our characters look to lock down various dreams gone so terribly wrong.
Heh, maybe Ueshiba can get handed the conceptual stage of the inevitable forth Madoka Magica film. Then take it the hell away from him after that because holy tap dancing space ferret banana crackers would that get weird.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.