So……why make this the Halloween review? Well, I ran out of stuff that’s scary/horror that I wish to cover. Plus, the holiday isn’t just about the scares but also the surreal nature of the holiday. That and the subject of this year’s Halloween review certainly has some nightmare fuel elements to it which are part of this festive holiday. I know, a bit of a stretch but eh what am I going to do. Anyway, here’s my Halloween feature….
“Is This Sky Real?”
Dream Eater Merry (Winter 2011 TV Series)
Director: Shigeyasu Yamauchi
Studio: JC Staff
Writer: Hideki Shirane
Yumeji Fujiwara is a young high school student who, for some time, has a special ability. He can sense the supernatural in the real world and venture into some strange dreamscapes. Aside from that, a somewhat normal life with his childhood friend Isana Tachibana and her old man (no seriously that’s his name, as credited in the anime). But one day, a mysterious girl ends up falling (quite literally) into Yumeji’s life and in the process, his life got more complicated. Her name is Merry Nightmare, a being from the world of dreams, who has become stranded in our reality and is seeking a way to return. Of course, there exist other beings from the dream world, some with malevolent intentions, desire to move over to our reality.
Dream Eater Merry works mainly as a piece of mood and atmosphere which bring about some interesting ideas. From the very surreal OP song, this is quite evident. The show exhibits a very dreamlike feel which is fitting considering the subject matter Dream Eater Merry deals with, that being the power of dreams and imagination and how they shape and influence our reality. Seeing all the various dream demons and their ‘daydreams’ , be Engi Threepiece’s haunting wheat field or the Chaser John Doe’s surreal and trippy townscape, the variety is quite a treat for the eyes. If Dream Eater Merry wished to be just a surreal visual experience, that would be fine.
Of course, this is done at the expense of character and story development, at least in the conventional sense. Once again I encounter the bed bug I have with modern anime and that is a lack of ‘narrative commitment’, that is to say telling a story and sticking to it. Granted, it starts off promising with Merry teaming up with Yumeji to both deal with bad dream demons (and allying with good ones like Engi) while looking into a way for Merry to return home. But the show is on a fast-forward approach where it deals with story material in a fashion akin to abridged telling. This leads to story lines being brought up only to be dropped with little to no connection to tie back to the series later. For instance, in episode 4 Mei Hoshino the president of the Literature Club, which Yumeji is part of, is given some screen time. Because well, it turns out her supposed distant pen pal is Chris Evergreen, another dream demon and he has taken over Mei’s body as a method to get into our world. This issue is dealt with in one episode, which I don’t mind too much as dragging story out unnecessarily is something I don’t care for. But then Mei is pushed back into minor character status and it’s never brought up again. Another example is Pharos Heracles, an interesting dream demon that mentioned as one who operates in shadows and you think ‘oh he’ll be the main villain’ of the story’ and he shows up briefly only to skip out and have some other dream demon take that role. There are some interesting characters and story ideas which are either glossed over or underdeveloped, leaving a lot of unanswered questions. Oh, and the series doesn’t really end, just peters out because yeah go out and buy the manga; well the last recent volume came out in May 2015 and to this day still no Western release. What a pity, but then again most studios seem interested in only doing one-and-done adaptations of light novels and manga as opposed to doing much original, but oh well.
Now, Yamauchi-san clearly has a distinct vision that’s readily apparent, considering he storyboarded/directed most of the show himself, which is not a mean feat in itself. Dream Eater Merry is a masterwork of mood and atmosphere that never ceases to amaze me. The show is visually striking I will give that in ways not most anime can pull off, despite the visible budget issues: Sometimes the backgrounds are literally faded pencil drawings, an over-reliance on nice looking stills, some obvious low rent CG work in general terms. Specifically, Episode 5 ends with what is clearly a rough storyboard sketch though granted it is a visual punch in the gut. Episode 13 preview clearly consist of clips from past episodes. Scenes would often have washed-out white/colors as background and some really distorted character art and animation pops up in some long/wide shots. The show looks best with close up shots and visual background shots.
That being said, Dream Eater Merry has a quite great soundtrack often doing a lot more heavy lifting with regard to the mood and atmosphere, thanks to the work of Keiichi Oku. I adore full orchestral soundtracks in just about everything, anime included. My favorite part is the fiddle like theme played when Merry is engaged in combat. The OP Daydream Syndrome by one-off performer Marina Fujiwara is very good at conveying the mood and atmosphere that the show strived to contain.
The English Dub is not bad, but not really great either. It’s adequate for what it does but fails to really excel much with regard to the material. Janice Williams served as the director, with Chris Ayres and Clint Bickham serving as dub script writers. Janice Williams, as I have discussed before in my GaruPan and Mardock Scramble 2-3, is the middle of the road director for Sentai Filmworks when it comes to quality. That’s mostly down to her being mainly the Media Coordinator for basically all Sentai Filmworks since their inception in 2009 only occasionally doing dub directing/scriptwriting so this isn’t exactly her day job and that shows. Dream Eater Merry has a standard 2012 Sentai Filmworks dub cast, which feels at points like a Clannad dub reunion, featuring the voice talents of Blake Shepard, Hillary Haag, Britney Karbowski, Shelley Calene Black and Chris Patton among others. Aside from Emily Neves and Corey Hartzog in minor parts, this dub feels like something that could have been done in 2007-09 in the late ADV era. Actors like Melissa Davis and Vic Mignogna, known for being ADV mainstays just a few years prior, exit from Houston dubbing here, although well Vic did come back this year for a few shows. The show does feature some interesting villainous performances by Monica Rial, Chris and Greg Ayres, David Matranga and Vic Mignogna which does buoy the dub a bit, but more often it’s reliable but not much beyond that.
In the end, Dream Eater Merry is a good surreal visual experience that unfortunately is hampered by story commitment issues which end crimping on any sort of fulfilling or meaningful character development. To me, that narrative commitment is something that seems to elude a lot of modern anime, not including exceptions. Yet, it’s key to actually enjoying and engaging with the media (anime included of course) we consume. I do appreciate this show as neat surreal and trippy experience which thankfully they got a director who was down for that. Dream Eater Merry shows that while yeah it’s nice to be visually striking but if your story is crippled in places, it’s not going to matter much in the long run. It’s an interesting experiment, but a bit of a failed one.
So, yeah November I will be doing another review due out before Thanksgiving. And as Thanksgiving is about food and the hearty consumption of it, the anime that I am reviewing is related to that…. Of sorts
Til next time, dear readers