The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
What's It About?Yaneko Ibaragi is a master of sleep. She can fall asleep almost instantaneously at will and she struggles to wake come morning. No one might have cared about this introverted high schooler's decision to while her free time away in slumber except that her sleep habits interfere with the work of sleep spirit Nerimu. As the last night sleeper to wake in his assigned district, Yaneko is keeping Nerimu from enjoying his own sleep break on almost a daily basis. When he discovers that she can see him, he decides to put her talents for sleep to work, cladding her in a hagoromo on a part-time basis so she can glide invisibly and help him guide insomniacs and fussy babies to sleep. Soon joined by Nerimu's slumber spirit co-worker, Utsura, Yaneko and Nerimu encounter a variety of situations keeping people up at night and have to strategize the right solution to these bleary-eyed sufferers' problems.
Slumbering Beauty volume 1 (11/21/2017) is an original manga by Yumi Unita that will be released by Seven Seas Entertainment in paperback for $12.99.
Is It Worth Reading?
Nothing Earth-shattering happens in this first volume of Slumbering Beauty, but true to the theme of the work, it entertains in a laidback, cozy way. Yaneko and Nerimu's rapport is instantaneous and thus far, there's not a hint of romance clouding what's otherwise developing to be a solid friendship and “boss”/”employee” relationship. Yaneko is more than just a sleepy, sullen teenager. As the volume goes on, the problems she experiences at home become more apparent, which helps explain her predilection for sleeping her days away. By the end of the first volume, she's evolved from withdrawn and friendless to making two friends at school in addition to her two spirit friends after helping the students with their sleep problems (unbeknownst to them). While it is enjoyable to see Yaneko expand her social circle, it's still jarring when Hanai reaches out to Yaneko out of the blue (perhaps because she instinctively feels Yaneko helped her), losing her other friends because she's talking to the “weirdo” at school, but their friendship feels real by volume's end.
The process of encouraging people who ought to be sleeping to crash into slumber is often hilarious, with Nerimu and Yaneko panicking as one strategy after another fails until they finally uncover the right solution. It's especially amusing to see Nerimu and Utsura having a work chat at the foot of a woman's bed and Yaneko shuddering at the idea of these guys having done that to her without her knowledge.
Unita's artwork is reminiscent of her better-known series, Bunny Drop. The characters are attractive yet a touch angular, distinctive but not distracting. Yaneko's and Nerimu's sleepy-eyed appearances in particular are perfect for the mood of the series. By necessity, backgrounds are largely limited to bedrooms and Yaneko's school, but they suffice, even if they're not striking to look at. Yaneko's bed comforter having a thorn design is an especially brilliant choice since it invokes images of Sleeping Beauty—and the comforter does make a frequent appearance in the story.
Slumbering Beauty volume 1 is the perfect read for anyone looking for a relaxing, healing break. Quirky enough to be memorable even if nothing of great importance occurs therein, Slumbering Beauty will appeal to fans of Unita's previous work and newcomers alike. Thus far, it's not setting up to have a shocking ending like Bunny Drop, either, so even for those turned off by that other series' conclusion, Slumbering Beauty volume 1 is well worth giving Unita another chance.
Don't be scared off by the fact that Slumbering Beauty is by the same author as Bunny Drop – this is a totally different story. For starters, heroine Yaneko is a high school student, and her male companion is a sleep spirit, a supernatural being that helps people fall asleep and wake up. Since Yaneko's main pastime is oversleeping (and sleeping in class), she's become the bane of sleep spirit Nerimu's existence – he can't get any rest until she's up and going about her day. Of course, Yaneko's spent most of her life unaware of this, but once she awakens the power to see Nerimu and his fellow sleep spirits, she's immediately enlisted to help him, because not only is she an awesome sleeper, she's also got the skill to help others sleep too.
This is a really neat take on the Sleeping Beauty tale type, because our Sleeping Beauty is also playing the role of the evil fairy, albeit not in a cursing sense. We don't know for sure where Yoneko's powers come from, but the fact that she's got a difficult family life might be part of the problem – although it's never explicitly stated, Yoneko's parents barely get along and she spent a large part of her childhood plotting her eventual escape out the window. Since Nerimu first arrives via the window, this seems very significant, as does the fact that Yoneko finds solace and escape through slumber. Her curtains and blanket are patterned with thorny vines, a visual nod to the best-known variant of “Sleeping Beauty,” the Grimm Brothers' “Little Briar Rose,” back up the idea that there's more to her sleep habits than mere exhaustion. Yoneko may have cursed herself to sleep more than usual, or, seen in another way, have been cursed by her unhappy family life to sleep away the pain. That Nerimu sleeps best under her thorny blanket may also be significant; in any event, her sleep-to-escape plan seems like the biggest indicator of where she acquired her unusual skills.
Yumi Unita's art is incredibly easy to read, although not always the most traditionally attractive. Her characters are all lanky and ordinary-looking in the sense that no one has crazy hair or fantastical facial features or over-ripe bodies. There's a cleanliness to her lines and page layouts that facilitates smooth progression of the story, although her penchant for small-text asides can be a struggle at times.
Slumbering Beauty doesn't have much in terms of cohesive plot right now, with the closest being Yoneko's slow entry into actually interacting with her peers and the possibility of becoming a sleep spirit herself. Hopefully Unita will get more into the hows and whys of the sleep spirits' powers and develop the relationship (friendly or otherwise) between Nerimu and Yoneko a bit more going forward. But even if this remains the same, I'm looking forward to reading more of this story.
The latest series from Bunny Drop's Yumi Unita seems intent on working not by dent of any grand ambition but via an approach so humdrum it's often difficult to tell if it's deadbeat or just dead. Which is perfectly appropriate for a story that spends chapter after chapter uniroincally extolling the virtues of sleep: it'd hardly do to go getting worked up about your subject when you need them eager to nod off after reading.
Oddly enough, it works. Slumbering Beauty isn't a masterpiece by any stretch – it's too clumsy, too shallow for that – but it's a diversion charming enough that it's difficult to imagine anybody walking away feeling slighted after witnessing sleepy Yoneko and slumber spirit Nerimu's refreshing chemistry. Or the good-natured cheesiness of a chapter about how good rest is the key to good grades. It's likewise refreshingly lowkey where comedy is concerned. While the register occasionally rises to something shrill, most of the time it sails on the casts' general ability to look unimpressed with near everything they encounter. Even when screaming their demeanor is more the grouching of the disturbed sleeper than the screeching of the hysteric.
Emotions are approached with a similar ease that's rare in so much manga, especially in comedies. Yaneko's isolation isn't something harped on in intrusive flashbacks or heavyhanded exposition but a fact of life we pick up as if it was just any other detail reading. Characters remark on it in passing, but Yaneko herself doesn't sit around lamenting this fact; one gathers it just from her general demeanor. So it makes sense as well that what spurs her to leave behind her life as a human to become Nerimu's apprentice isn't some grand strife, but the drudgery of a daily life made grinding by bickering parents and unfulfilling school. And that she's convinced to stay human by a mumbled origin story from Nerimu he can barely explain the significance of.
Even the art looks flat, a near-dimensionless backdrop inked so heavily and so often that the pages themselves seem heavy with sleep. Characters exist pressed right up against the front of each panel, separated from the background only by the barest, clumsiest illusion of depth. Perspective doesn't seem to exist here: it's as if there's only one plane everything and everyone is crowding up. If at first this sounds like an obvious detriment, though, consider that the world of Slumbering Beauty is flat all around, that it's major strength is the way this unity of elements produces a refreshing atmosphere rare even in other slice of life series. It's not a one-to-one comparison, but there are certain shades of Jim Jarmusch here that lend Beauty a distinct appeal.
It's questionable what kind of staying power it could have as a series, but as a one-shot or as a luxury sometimes indulged, Slumbering Beauty is a welcome escape from a sea of carbon-copies and grandiose series with a thousand things to prove.
Yumi Unita's latest manga to come stateside follows a solitary girl who loves to sleep and her interactions with a “Sandman” spirit of sorts whose job is to whisk people off to dreamland and wake them up in the morning. If you strapped into this volume thinking it'd be a cute take on the classic fairy tale, you'll be sorely disappointed. Other than some similarity in title, there are no witches, fairies, or princesses to be found here. There's also not much in the way of “plot.” Slumbering Beauty is purely a slice-of-life manga which is admittedly a bad fit for me.
I rarely find manga focusing on day-to-day interactions as anything other than tedious unless the characters are particularly compelling. But “girl likes to sleep” isn't a personality. It's barely a character trait. While undoubtedly most readers can appreciate lead character Yoneko's sentiment, I mean who doesn't enjoy a restful night's sleep? But it's not enough to base an entire character around.
The premise is simple to the point of banality and I began to doubt that the narrative would ever develop beyond its sleepy-eyed heroine roaming around with a spirit and patting babies and cats to sleep. It wasn't until the volume's last third that Yaneko began developing beyond “girl who likes to sleep.” Unita starts to slip in aspects of her dysfunctional home life and all those baby-patting adventures start to develop a larger cast. Yaneko makes friends for the first time and suddenly Slumbering Beauty starts to feel like it has a point and will take its characters somewhere. Yaneko's burgeoning friendships coupled with the growing animosity in her household will make her decision to leave behind her human life in favor of being a sleep spirit more difficult.
This leaves room for promise. Slumbering Beauty could manage to add some emotional weight to all its lighthearted dream adventures yet. I still find it hard to be invested in Yoneko's emotional journey while her more immediate one is so dull.
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