Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
I Had That Same Dream Again
Nanoka doesn't really have many friends in her fourth grade class and her parents work most of the time, but she's not sad, because she has special friends she goes to visit whenever she can. There's the black cat she saved, the young woman who helped with that, the old woman in the house in the forest, and the teenager she meets on the roof of an abandoned building. But even Nanoka's sunny view of life takes hits sometimes, and it turns out that each of her friends is someone she's met for a reason – and that reason may be more important than she knows.
I Had That Same Dream Again is the manga adaptation of the novel of the same name by Yoru Sumino, author of I Want to Eat Your Pancreas and At Night, I Become a Monster. That may give you a decent idea of what to expect from the story: a troubled young person who has an encounter with someone who changes their life. That's certainly true of I Had That Same Dream Again, but there are some very specific differences from Sumino's other works that make this a more powerful story, even as it's also the easiest one to predict.
Chief among those differences is the fact that this tale follows a heroine rather than a hero. Nanoka is also significantly younger than the boys who are the protagonists of Sumino's other works; she's only in the fourth grade, making her about nine years old. She's a very precocious child, but that isn't doing her many favors, largely because she knows she's ahead of her peers academically, which she assumes makes her different from them entirely. That's a dangerous thought pattern to fall into, and since her parents aren't around much due to their jobs, it becomes her teacher's task to try and gently teach her that being “special” doesn't mean that you're any better or worse than anyone else. Like many precocious children, Nanoka thinks that she still knows more than the adults around her, which is behind the importance of the three friends she makes outside of her home.
When the story begins, she's already met two of the women who will form the backbone of her development. Because her parents are out of the house all day, Nanoka has taken to rambling around town after school, and that's what leads to her making the acquaintance of her new friends. The first is a woman somewhere between twenty and thirty whom she calls “Skank-san,” mistakenly assuming that the unfamiliar word she sees scrawled on the apartment nameplate is the woman's actual name. (She has permission to use it, which tells us a lot about Skank-san right there.) Nanoka knocks on her apartment door after finding an injured black cat; Skank-san is the only person willing to help her. Afterwards Nanoka and the cat (who functions as a bit of a guide throughout the story) continue to visit the woman to talk, completely unaware of what the hints she drops about her work mean. To Nanoka, she's just a friend, and more than that, the nice woman who helped save her cat. She and kitty also go visit Obaachan, an old woman who lives in a large house in the middle of a small forest; Nanoka met her while exploring. As the name suggests, this woman functions as a grandmother for Nanoka, baking her treats and offering soft but solid advice whenever Nanoka needs it from her almost magical woodland home.
It's when neither of these women are home that Nanoka meets her third friend, a high school girl whom she calls Minami for the name of the school on her uniform. Nanoka finds Minami on the roof of an abandoned building in a different part of the forest, and to her horror, when she discovers her, Minami is engaged in cutting herself. Nanoka can't quite understand why she'd want to, but she's immediately thrilled that Minami is writing stories and demands to read them. Eventually the girl gives in, and it is the combination of Nanoka's complete and total belief in Minami's writing ability and a fight she has with her parents about missing visiting day at school that brings the truth of who Nanoka's friends really are to light.
It isn't all that difficult to figure out, but that doesn't take anything away from the beauty of the story. In many ways it thematically mimics Antoine Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, one of several classic novels Nanoka reads over the course of the story. While we could draw distinct parallels between some of the characters in both works (the cat as the fox, for example, or Skank-san as the rose), it's more about one of the things the fox tells the prince in the story: “On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux,” which can be translated as “We only see clearly with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Nanoka's friends teach her to see with her heart, and to recognize that what her eyes may see isn't always the best, or the fullest, truth about a person or a situation. That's what Nanoka truly lacks in the beginning of the story, and what she comes to find by its end, and Sumino's use of the theme is what makes the book shine, despite its basic predictability.
The use of the theme of dreams is another place where we can see the influence of The Little Prince, although that is perhaps a bit more obscure. As readers of the text may recall, the narrator (largely assumed to be Saint-Exupéry himself) meets the prince after his plane has crash-landed in the desert; he and the prince spend eight days together before the prince is bitten by a snake so that he can “return” home to his planet. While there are many interpretations of this, the one that best suits I Had That Same Dream Again is the idea that this is all the narrator's dream of hope as he wanders in the desert, searching for a way home. Nanoka is the prince to Minami, Skank-san, and Obaachan, giving them a dream of hope in their personal deserts just as the prince does for the narrator. They all learn from each other, and it's those lessons, that gift to see with the heart, that guides the story to its conclusion and what readers take away after putting the book down.
Like all of Sumino's works, there is a weight to this story. Idumi Kirihara's art supports that nicely with its basic simplicity – we always get a sense of what everyone looks like and where they are, but it works with the text so smoothly that you could almost forget that this is an adaptation. That allows the themes of the story to work unhindered, although it should be noted that there are scenes that may be more disturbing to some readers because of the visual nature of manga, such as flashbacks to Skank-san's past or Minami's cutting.
I Had That Same Dream Again is a tribute to second chances. It is also the only one of Sumino's translated works (as of this writing) not to involve a pseudo-manic pixie dream girl who changes the protagonist's life; in fact, Nanoka's interactions with Hikari, a boy in her class, almost seem to refute the trope. But most importantly, it's a well-written, well-adapted story about how being “special” or “different” doesn't mean that you have to set yourself apart from everyone else if you just learn to look with the heart.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Successfully uses themes from The Little Prince while still being its own story, lovely message. Simplicity of the art really works.
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