Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Teenager Yoneko finds her greatest joy in sleeping – at least until the day a cranky slumber spirit named Nerimu tells her to get her butt out of bed because her constant naps are making his job more difficult. Nerimu's surprised that Yoneko can see him, but the two soon form a friendship/working relationship where Yoneko helps him work so that he can take the odd rest. As she works with him – and grows closer to him – Yoneko begins to think that maybe she'd like to leave her human life behind and become a slumber spirit herself. Nerimu seems to agree on one level, so why does he keep telling her not to do it?
Even if you were burned by the second half of Bunny Drop, Yumi Unita's first series to see an English release, it's worth picking up Slumbering Beauty. For one thing, the two series are completely dissimilar, although both deal with protagonists who aren't pleased with the way their lives are going. This short duology, however, is about Yoneko, a high school girl whose greatest joy in life is sleeping. Yoneko claims it's just because she simply likes to be cozy and is tired a lot, but it becomes clear fairly early on that she's using sleep as a way to escape from an unhappy home life. Her parents aren't in the realm of some of manga's more overtly awful families – they're simply unhappy themselves and that's made them ignore Yoneko in favor of wallowing in their own problems. Yoneko's dad, at least, seems to want to be able to pull himself out of his self-destructive cycle, but he can't quite, and Yoneko is too young to really understand that or to help him.
What's interesting is that even when Yoneko realizes what's going on with her dad (she seems to have a much worse relationship with her mother), she's never presented as having an epiphany or realizing that maybe she should put in more effort towards making her family function. Unita never allows Yoneko to act like anything other than an unhappy teenager trying to get out of a situation that she feels emotionally unsafe in. It's her friends that Yoneko makes efforts with, and even if Nerimu's own regrets about his human life are behind his admonitions to her about choosing to become a slumber spirit, it's more his friendship that drives her ambitions than anything else.
The idea of age does factor into the story a fair amount, but not in terms of any sort of romantic or even friendly relationships. It's more that Yoneko can't quite understand that Nerimu has been alive for hundreds of years as a slumber spirit, while Nerimu has trouble realizing that even though she only looks a few years younger than him and talks a good game, Yoneko is only seventeen. They also originate in very different time periods – when Nerimu became a slumber spirit, it was in part to avoid conscription in a feudal army, thus actually saving his life. Yoneko's more looking for a way to run away from a life that's emotionally unfulfilling, something wrapped up in her family situation. Since Nerimu's biggest regret is leaving his mother alone, he worries that Yoneko will feel similarly, although she explicitly tells him in the second volume that she truly is unhappy and isn't just making that up. Since he can't quite see her situation as being as desperate as his was, he has a hard time reconciling his feelings with his judgement.
Despite how this may sound, Slumbering Beauty isn't a heavy story. Much of the action is Yoneko helping Nerimu to put fractious babies to sleep with her superior “patting” skills and exploring the sillier side of being a slumber spirit. Like in Rumiko Takahashi's Rinne, Nerimu has a variety of weird spirit-specific goods he can use to help put people to sleep, as well as strange tricks of the trade that may or may not work. There's also an interesting sub-theme about how it used to be easier for the god of sleep to recruit slumber spirits because people were willing to accept the idea of someone being “spirited away” and weren't likely to call the medieval equivalent of the cops if someone vanished; now if someone's recruited, there's a whole to-do about their disappearance from the human world. (This definitely feels like a factor in Yoneko's final decision.)
Although the story could have gone on for at least one more volume without feeling stretched, Unita keeping it at only two does work in its favor. We get to know the characters, get a full plot, and the ending feels natural rather than forced. It's also a little open-ended, with us able to make our own suppositions about what Yoneko will ultimately decide to do. Given Nerimu's conflict about the wisdom of her becoming a slumber spirit and Yoneko's own age and situation, that kind of ending really works for the story and keeps things from feeling forced one way or another. It also plays with the Sleeping Beauty themes that Unita's art uses (mostly the vines on Yoneko's curtains and blanket), asking us to consider the possibility that the fairy tale princess may be sleeping because her “curse” was less magic and more the situation she was living in – and that maybe sleep is simply an escape for her.
Slumbering Beauty is, in some ways, just that – a nice two-volume escape from whatever you're doing. By turns sweet, funny, and serious with nods to folklore and fairy tales, Unita's clear art and deft storytelling make this an easy read.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Story balances emotions nicely, good nods to folklore and fairy tales
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