This week, a unique erotic historical fiction film that has completely slipped through the cracks.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 7th 2005
DVD 1: Into the Dreamscape
Tomokazu Mikuri is a perfectly normal teenage boy in most respects: average physical attributes and ability, below average academic ability, a bit of a pervert, and lamenting that he's gotten to his 16th birthday without having had a girlfriend. Only the fact that he's been raised by an older cousin since his parents died at a young age really distinguishes him. . . that is, until the night of his 16th birthday, when he crosses over into a weird realm named Moera in his dreams. Stranger still, the next morning the cute girl he encountered fighting monsters in the dream realm is in his bed in the flesh when he wakes up! Over the course of the next few days and nights Tomokazu encounters Silk, a warrior-woman in the dream world and discovers that he can bring others who are sleeping with him when he crosses over, including his childhood friend, a younger cousin, and a strange cat girl who takes to referring to Tomokazu as her husband. It seems that all is not well in the dream world, and Tomokazu has the highly-valued power to energize others sufficiently to make things right. Now if only something could be done about the teacher who really seems to have it out for him...
Yumeria represents an attempt to put a new spin on the staid and stagnant harem romantic comedy formula. Its creators deserve credit for the novelty of the approach, which involves mixing in elements of magical girl and sentai genres to create a series which plays out roughly like a cross between Sailor Moon and Tenchi Muyo!. The first volume goes to great pains to make it clear that this is what it's doing; one will find the transformation scenes common in magical girl titles, the poses and battle outfit color schemes (pink, yellow, blue, green, and orange) typical of sentai teams, and standard harem elements such as extensive fan service, the sexy childhood friend who's overlooked by the male lead as a love interest, and the way all the female characters seem to practically (in some cases literally) hang on the male lead despite the fact that he supposedly is such a loser. Characters even make references to emulating Sailor Moon for any viewer who isn't perfectly clear on what they're doing. Mix in some odd supporting characters and an ill-defined enemy in the dream world and the result is a wacky series which wastes some neat ideas due to decidedly mediocre execution.
The problems with Yumeria result from the original writing. It is mostly ineffective in scenes intended to show off what a good guy Tomokazu is despite his foibles, and its use of dialogue often struggles to hit the right tone. Some of the characterizations are also an issue. Over-the-top supporting characters are fine as long as they still have distinct comedic value, but Tomokazu's exceedingly dramatic homeroom teacher does not generate enough to justify his presence. Most other characters are also just retreads of stock anime personalities; even Mone's gimmick of expressively speaking only a single word (“mone,” hence her name) feels stale given that a nearly identical gimmick is already in use in the far superior Elfen Lied.
The writing also seems uncertain of what approach it wants to take with Tomokazu's personality. It clearly wants to play up his perverted nature, as evidenced by flashback scenes and his judgment that energizing his female companions in the dream world involves groping them, but accedes to the constraints that the hero of a harem series has to inherently be a “good guy” so he isn't allowed to go full-bore down this randy path. Had the writing actually let him be a flaming lecher (a la Ataru from Urusei Yatsura or Miroku from Inuyasha) then this would have been a much fresher and more entertaining take on the harem genre. Regretfully the English script stays close to the subtitles, except for its replacement of “reference book” with “textbook” (not the same thing) in one episode; this is a case where doing some alterations might have improved things. The subtitles are actually more of a problem here, as they are sprinkled with grammatical mistakes and questionable wording.
Oh, the writing isn't a complete loss. Some of the humor and parodies of other anime genre do work, and the way the series mocks itself and has its characters emulate the behavior of their favorite anime heroines might favorably remind veteran viewers of Martian Successor Nadesico. These four episodes also suggest that some of the characters are not as straightforward as they appear to be at first, which implies that there are mysteries here to be sorted out. Only time – and more volumes – will tell if the writing can salvage itself from such a weak start, but the potential is there.
Fortunately the artistic merits fare much better than the writing. While none of the character designs are terribly original, the designs for the girls are suitably cute or sexy, and except for Silk's mask the battle costumes are appealing. Characters are sleek, brightly colorful, and well-rendered, while the more muted backgrounds are also respectably drawn. The letdown here is the thoroughly unexciting and unoriginal renditions of the enemy Faydooms in the dream world and the backgrounds of the dream world itself, which don't distinguish the series from any of a number of other series in which characters explore fantastical realms. On the upside, the borrowing of artistic styling from certain other genres is effective. The animation fares well in the action scenes, which are suitably flashy but also have a generic look about them, and makes sure that the viewer doesn't miss the occasional “jiggle effect.” Fan service, while prominent, is not pervasive or graphic, with the only actual nudity being the undefined shots of the girls during the transformation scenes.
The lively, cutesy dance-styled opener does a good job of setting the tone for the series but is not otherwise especially remarkable, while the closer is a slightly more sedate J-pop number. The musical scoring in between does all right when highlighting the more light-hearted scenes but feels like it's trying too hard in scenes meant to be more sentimental or reflecting Tomokazu's gentler side. The English dub also sometimes feels like that, which illustrates how difficult it is for a dub to hit precisely the right note when rampant overacting is required. Casting, while not perfect, is also not a major issue, though Chris Patton isn't the best fit for a role like Tomokazu. Overall it's a passable dub, but not one of the better ones.
Extras on this volume are sparse, including only a clean opener and closer to go along with company previews. The case does include some nice interior artwork, however.
While Yumeria is not a total failure, neither is its first volume indicative of a quality production. It does enough things right to be mildly entertaining, and is sometimes clever, but future volumes will have to elevate the level of writing in order for the title to be worthy of a recommendation.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ good artistry and character designs, some jokes and parodies do work
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