Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Shimana's life hasn't been quite right since her mother died. Her father remarried and had a second child with a wife Shimana can't accept, and her depression and anger have reached the point where she feels like she doesn't belong anywhere anymore. After a particularly bad morning, Shimana decides to run away, at least for a little while. In a park she runs into a strange man in a kimono and tells him her story. He tells her that if she fulfills his three conditions, she can rent a room in his house. Revitalized at the thought of having a real place to belong, Shimana begins her new life – even if it means that she'll have to find a dream for a future she isn't sure she wants.
Originally published in Margaret magazine in 2007, a transfer of rights to a new publisher has resulted in a re-release of Ichigo Takano's Dreamin' Sun and its translation into English. (Takano mentions that the art's been touched up for republication.) The story has some of the same themes as Takano's bestselling series Orange, although thus far it's much lighter, more in the vein of romantic comedy than anything else. But it still has a story and a heroine rooted in depression, making this first (of ten) volumes a combination of reliable shoujo romance themes and something a little heavier.
Heroine Shimana, who hates her unusual name, is a high school student trying to find a reason for a life she's increasingly unhappy with. When she was thirteen, her mother died in a car accident, and Shimana's never managed to move beyond that loss. Her father, however, after spending nights crying himself to sleep, has – a short while ago he married a second wife and they now have a six-month-old son. While a later conversation with him reveals that he was, in fact, thinking that this would also improve life for Shimana, seeing her new stepmother and half-brother, as well as her father's renewed happiness, has just made Shimana angry. Although she never says it, it's clear that she feels that her father has been disloyal to her mother, and perhaps is even trying to replace Shimana herself with a new family. Even as she wants to embrace her stepmother and new brother, Shimana can't – in her mind, that would be tantamount to forgetting her own mother ever existed, erasing her presence. Because her father can't see this and Shimana doesn't fully express it to him, the situation is only getting worse. Things come to a head when her stepmother yells at her for picking up the baby the wrong way, spurring Shimana to run away.
What's interesting here is that even before Shimana admits that she might not hate her stepmother and brother, we can see that something is off in the way her narration interacts with the story. Yes, the stepmother yelled at her, but as Shimana leaves, she also calls out that she's made her a lunch for school, indicating that she may not detest her stepdaughter as much as Shimana seems to indicate. The woman largely stays silent in scenes where Shimana and her family are interacting, so it isn't clear whether she really doesn't like the girl or if she wants her husband, Shimana's biological parent, to handle things, but either way, it's easy to see that we're only getting one side of the story. That actually works for the book, because Shimana's issues are internal; her anger and depression are things she's kept inside of her own head until they're forced out, and she comments at one point that while she's really wanted and needed to talk to someone about them, she hasn't had anyone she could.
This is where the residents of her new home stand to make a major impact. The man she runs into in the park, a young man in a kimono who apparently was (deliberately) locked out the night before, offers to allow her to rent a room in his house for only $100 - if she'll tell him why she ran away. At first Shimana offers him the version of the story she's built up in her head, but he can tell she's, if not precisely lying, at least not telling the complete truth. When he does get her to admit to her emotions aloud, it's a major turning point for Shimana – an admission that she's not okay and that she won't be as long as she's living at home where the memories and emotions are too strong. The man, Fujiwara, offers her a sanctuary where she can work things through.
That he has an ulterior motive for doing so seems like a given. When we do find out precisely who he is at the end of the book, it implies that the other two high schoolers living at his house, Zen and Asahi, also have something that they need to work through, probably related to their home lives. Fujiwara seems to want to give these kids a chance that they might not otherwise have.
It's easy to see this as Orange's predecessor in that sense – Takano may not be dealing with quite as dire a subject (at least not yet), but she's still taking a serious look at a mental health issue, even if she's hiding it in a story that has many shoujo romance elements, such as the choice between the Nice Boy and the Wild Boy, the older sister figure who shows up to help her get a boy, and the cohabitation angle. Right now Zen and Taichi are still firmly in their specific shoujo hero categories; presumably that will start to change with volume two. (And maybe we'll find out what the deal is with Zen and the pandas.) Part of Fujiwara's conditions for Shimana's move into his house are that she have a dream and fall in love, and while it's clear that she's on her way with the second part, she has yet to deal with the idea of having a dream for the future. Given that she at one point really thinks about going to be with her mom, the idea of having a future that she wants to participate in is going to have to be dealt with first.
Dreamin' Sun's first volume is a mix of heavy and light, making it an interesting read. Takano's combination of mental health issues with shoujo romance themes sets this up to be worth reading to see how things work out for Shimana, and to find out what secrets the other characters have tucked away.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Treats depression seriously, Fujiwara's an interesting character, story has potential
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