Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Yume Nikki - I Am Not in Your Dream
An unnamed narrator follows a mysterious girl through a tormented landscape of dreams. Is her journey Freudian? Jungian? How many strange layers of this dreamland exist, and will she ever learn whose dream she's truly in?
Dreams are among the most difficult stories to relate. To the dreamer, they seem utterly fascinating and replete with important symbols and information. To their unfortunate audience, they often feel like boring nonsense tales, to be suffered through with the occasional “uh huh,” until the dreamer can be guided to another subject. That hasn't stopped numerous authors from tackling the subject with varying degrees of success – from Lewis Carroll to Jorge Luis Borges, dreams have played a thematic role in many works of literature. The novelization of the PC game Yume Nikki, Yume Nikki: I Am Not in Your Dream, is well aware of this, making frequent mention of Carroll and founding psychologists Freud and Jung as it tells its scattered tale.
Obviously this sets the book apart from most of the Japanese novels published here as light novels. Although it is still relatively faithful to the format – illustrated and without a daunting vocabulary – it's also very clearly aimed at an older audience who may or may not have played the original game. (As a point of interest, as of this writing the game is available for free on Steam.) This doesn't necessarily mean that you need to have a working knowledge of dream theory or of Jung's work with the idea of conscious and subconscious, because the novel does a credible job of explaining both of those things for a casual audience, but you probably will want to have read Through the Looking-Glass or at least be up on who the Red Queen is. (Hint: she's not the Queen of Hearts.) Author Akira uses Carroll's second Alice novel as a sort of guidepost for their story, using Alice's time on the other side of the mirror as a metaphor for what dreaming is like: a sort of reverse of the waking world filled with vaguely familiar and yet unsettlingly odd things and people. It works for the most part, especially if you consider the unnamed narrator of Yume Nikki to be equivalent to the White Knight in Carroll's book, particularly as the story goes on. Interestingly enough, Carroll isn't the only Victorian children's author to be referenced in the text, although the second goes uncredited: George MacDonald's 1874 fantasy The Princess and the Goblin (recently republished by Seven Seas) features a scene where the hero repeatedly tries awaking from his dream only to find that he's woken into yet another dream, a recurring issue for the protagonist of Akira's work.
The book itself is not a particularly easy read, which feels as if it may be intentional. It is divided into three nearly equal sections, all told by the same narrator but using different narrative styles. The entire book is written in the present tense, which adds to the basic immediacy of the dream world, and the first part is told in second person – “you.” This is not an easy style to write in, although perhaps more so in Japanese than in English, but it's an excellent way to open the book. It immediately places us within an otherwise difficult story, giving the reader the impression that it is their dream being explored, which does away with some of the difficulties inherent in the dream narrative. It also makes the shift to the immediate first person narration of the second part feel strangely distant – instead of reading about ourselves, we're suddenly reading about someone following us, which helps to make the story much creepier. The third part is more or less identical to the second in its style, but it becomes more immediate to the narrator, so that we're essentially retreating further and further from ourselves as subject as the book goes on. Given that the novel is very much interested in exploring the anxieties and fears that our minds give voice to through dreams, this both makes sense and is effective as we finally find out, if not the full identity of the dreamer, then at least what is behind the series of dreams we see through her eyes.
At times the novel does get far too involved in its own psychoanalysis, which can be grating, and some of the symbolism feels far too fabricated to really work with the themes Akira is trying to use. That may be due to the fact that it is an adaptation, and therefore beholden to some of the game's imagery; it could also be overambition on the part of the author. More interesting is the way the author (and translator/adapter) manage to mimic the flow of Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges' writing, most specifically of his short story “August 25, 1983.” It isn't particularly surprising to see in a dream novel, given the fact that Borges was a noted writer of both dream stories and journals, and Akira seems to work from the idea that he stated in a 1977 talk on dreams: “We do not know exactly what happens during dreams: it is not impossible that during dreams we are in heaven, we are in hell.”
Whether or not you've played the original game, Yume Nikki: I Am Not in Your Dream is a strange, fascinating novel. At times a bit too pretentious, it mostly manages to capture the strangeness of dreaming and the anxieties that can cause dreams and nightmares to be indistinguishable. It's not the kind of light reading you'd normally expect from a J-Novel Club release, but it's an interesting journey beyond the looking-glass nonetheless.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Interesting use of references and writing style. Strange and fascinating.
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