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3 Things Thursday: Out of my dreams

Though my commute to work is too short to allow the consumption of podcasts in a timely manner, over the past few days, I’ve been slowly working my way through the latest installment of Ed Sizemore’s Manga Out Loud, featuring Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son. I still have a ways to go, but one of the topics that has engaged me deeply so far has been discussion of Shuichi’s nightmares in the book, and what they reveal about his fears and his state of mind as he works through his discomfort and disconnection with his biologically assigned gender.

I rambled on a lot about this in comments to the entry, mainly because the harshness of his later nightmare in the volume resonated so strongly with me personally and the nature of my own worst nightmares.

The truth is, I’m pretty obsessed with dreams and dream worlds (pleasant or otherwise) and always have been, and while many works of fiction use dreams as a narrative device, it’s not all that often that they use them in a way that really rings true to me. Obviously, what “rings true” to me in a dream sequence is going to be largely informed by my own dream experiences and may not reflect the experiences of others, but this is an area in which Shimura’s vision of her character’s dreams really shines. I’ll probably have more to say about this as I discuss the series further, but in the meantime, let’s have ourselves a 3 Things Thursday!

3 manga series that heavily (and effectively) make use of dreams

1. After School Nightmare | Setona Mizushiro | Go! Comi – One of my greatest regrets will always be that I could not find the time to participate in the Manga Moveable Feast for this title, because I have a lot to say about it, not the least of which would be regarding its use of shared nightmares as its primary plot device. In these students’ nightmares, they each appear as manifestations of their darkest secrets, and while, as Erica Friedman points out in the Wandering Son podcast, these secrets tend to come from a place of self-loathing, the line between what we fear about ourselves and what we fear other people think of us is often a pretty difficult one to draw. It took me a long time to realize that the horrible things people say about me in my nightmares are less often what I fear they think of me and more what I secretly fear about myself. It’s me writing the script, after all. This is a distinction that After School Nightmare completely gets, and that has a lot to do with why I found it so effective as a dream-based manga. Furthermore, it uses its nightmare setting as a metaphor for the state of being a teenager, when emotional vulnerability to one’s peers is more terrifying than anything else the subconscious mind could possibly dream up.

2. Please Save My Earth | Saki Hiwatari | Viz Media – Probably I’ve already talked this one to death in my recent discussion with Michelle at The Hooded Utilitarian, but moving to the happier side of dream fantasy, nothing can possibly beat Saki Hiwatari’s Please Save My Earth, in which a group of teenagers discover through a series of shared dreams (is there a theme here?) that they are the collective reincarnation of a group of alien scientists sent to study Earth from the Moon. Unlike After School Nightmare, this series resonates more strongly with the best dreams of my youth and the sense that our dream worlds might be just as real as our waking lives. This was a recurring theme in my childhood, and Please Save My Earth is in many ways a perfect representation of my own deepest pre-teen fantasies. Interestingly, like After School Nightmare, this series also touches on questions of gender identity, though it fails to dig as deeply, and of course neither approach the subject with the same kind of maturity as Wandering Son.

3. xxxHolic | CLAMP | Del Rey Manga – Though this is a manga that hooked me long before its use of dreams as a major narrative device, there are few examples that I love more. From Watanuki’s frequent dream-based encounters with Doumeki’s grandfather to his complete inability to maintain his waking consciousness throughout some of the later volumes, CLAMP’s use of dreams in this series is emotionally and narratively spectacular. This series goes further than either of the others in questioning the concept of reality vs. dreams, as it plunges Watanuki from waking to dreaming and back again, leaving both he and us disoriented as to which is which much of the time. It’s revealing and immersive, which is what makes it so effective for me. Also? Kinda gorgeous.

Readers, do you have favorite dream-based manga?

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  1. I can’t say that Uzumaki makes use of dreams, but that’s what my nightmares would look like! NG Life also makes use of dreams, it’s how the main character sees his past life as well. ES: Eternal Sabbath involves the mind (not really dreams), but I often find things that involve the mind to be very similar in use to dreams. And Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song makes use of both dreams and reality to torture the main character.

    I’ve also experienced quite a few good games that involve dreams in some way, there’s Psychonauts (more involves the mind since the person is awake though), Klonoa series, Alundra (and its spiritual successor Dual Hearts), and maybe Link’s Awakening.

    For some anime, there’s Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, and that one episode/chapter of Mushi-shi “The Pillow Pathway”

    I like things that involve dreams too! They’re fun, imaginative, and fascinating to read when done correctly!

  2. about the only two I can think of off the top of my head are Fruits Basket (allthough those could be thought of as flashbacks though their was that dream sequnce in Volume 14) and Azumanga Daioh a bit of streach but the New YEar’s speical strips delt specficlly with dreams but it’s a gag Manga so it’s up in the air as to wether it’s effective or not.

  3. Pet Shop of Horrors makes interesting use of dreams. First off, shop owner Count D claims to sell “love, hope, and dreams” to his customers, and dreams play a major role in at least three of the stories. In Book 2’s “Destruction,” LAPD detective Leon stumbles into D’s dream of a prehistoric past. In Book 7’s “Doom,” Leon is distraught after seeing both his partner and an old friend die in a shootout, and D gives him a pet that allows him to dream of ways in which he could have changed that fate. And in Book 9’s “Dreams,” D meets a teenage girl who dreams of past lives in which she has suffered from unrequited love for previous Count Ds. And I recall that there are a few stories about dreams in the second series (Tokyo Pet Shop of Horrors) as well. Sadly, they are Tokyopop titles, and the first series was already out of print even before TP went under, but it’s worth checking out if you can find used copies or if you’re able to find it at a public library.


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