by Carlo Santos,

Yumekui Kenbun: Nightmare Inspector

GN 1

Yumekui Kenbun: Nightmare Inspector GN 1
The Silver Star Tea House may look like any other corner café, but its owner, Hiruko, is a baku who has the power to eat people's nightmares. Hiruko's methods are simple: he enters your subconscious, removes the source of the trouble, and then keeps the nightmare to eat. These dreams can come in many forms: a boy who wishes to reunite with a girl he loved, a girl who fears what tomorrow may bring, a woman who dreams her body is falling apart, a girl who contemplates suicide, a son who must come to terms with his father's death, a young man obsessed with a film actress, and an aristocrat who wishes to meet his object of infatuation over the phone. But what happens after the nightmare is gone is entirely up to the client ...

It would be easy to take one look at Nightmare Inspector and run away screaming, "Oh no, not another supernatural investigation series!" And indeed, if you have grown tired of ultracool mysterious protagonists who solve the paranormal problems of others, then there's nothing wrong with giving this series a miss. However, there are still enough quirks to differentiate it from the copycats: the retro-stylish setting, the focus on nightmares rather than ghosts or spirits, and a couple of story twists that manage to avoid cliché territory. Clearly, there are some interesting ideas here about the realm of the subconscious—but if every case is solved in exactly 24 pages using the same formula each time, is the series worth it?

As it turns out, the worthiness of this volume varies from chapter to chapter, depending on how well each story is executed. The more creative the nightmare, the better it works: the woman with the falling body parts, for example, hits just the right mix of grotesqueness and mystery, with an unexpected finish. The tale of the boy overcoming his father's death also makes use of a clever dream device—a room where all the objects are displayed as kanji characters, which leads to some fascinating visual effects and symbolism. In fact, that chapter and the rest that follow it all show a gradual improvement compared to the earlier stories; clearly, practice makes perfect as Shin Mashiba tries to figure out which storytelling elements work best in the series. And this is what the formula for success boils down to: creative nightmares, an air of mystery, Hiruko's methodical problem-solving, and a well-planned twist ending.

After seeing that formula applied seven times in this volume, however, it quickly gets tiresome. The introductory scene keeps repeating itself ("They come to the Silver Star House ... seeking solace ..."), and Hiruko keeps using the same trite catchphrase to enter people's dreams ("Sleep now ... leave this world behind"). Here's an idea, Hiruko, why don't you try something different for once? And when this repetitive pattern is coupled with a poor story concept, that's when all the fun is sucked out—the girl who keeps writing "Tomorrow will be a repeat of today" in her dream is an idea that never reaches its full potential, and the chapter with the suicidal girl wanting to rejoin her dead lover is an uninspired rehash of so many doomed-romance storylines. In addition to these storytelling flops, the real problem with the episodic format is that the short, stand-alone chapters never get a chance to develop. It's always 24 pages and done—and that is no way to create a deep and involving story.

While the plotline hasn't gotten deep and involving just yet, the atmosphere and setting are already there. The very first sentence notes that it is "the end of the Taisho era" (i.e. 1926), and the artwork definitely reflects that: old-school architecture and design, vintage clothing patterns, and heavy use of black-and-white contrast for an elegant noir effect. This elegance is even more prevalent in the dream sequences, where fanciful landscapes and special effects come into play. By comparison, most of the character designs are on the ordinary side—most of the cast only lasts for one chapter anyway, and Hiruko only stands out because of his fancy headgear. Meanwhile, the page layouts tend to play it safe, going for well-partitioned rectangular panels; however, the dream sequences do break out of that mold every now and then, resulting in some truly eye-catching moments (the story of the boy and his favorite film actress is probably the winner in that respect).

Just as the setting radiates 1920's elegance, the written dialogue also takes on a sophisticated tone, sounding almost poetic at times. Hiruko talks like the ideal private eye—calm, collected, and witty when he needs to be. This eloquence also carries over to the text in general, and it would be perfect if not for the irritating repeated catchphrases. Sound effects are somewhat on the minimalist side—they only come up for very specific action scenes, and in this translation, the English equivalents completely replace the original Japanese characters. (Fortunately, this deletion-and-replacement does not happen to the kanji characters that are essential to the story in Chapter 5.) Cultural and historic details come up regularly in this volume, but sadly, there is no glossary to be found, and the artist goodies in the back don't really make up for it.

Although it walks down a familiar path of paranormal investigation, Nightmare Inspector has some promising (albeit unfulfilled) qualities to it. Exploring the world of nightmares, uncovering secret twist endings, and doing it all in old-school, pre-war Japan sounds like a wonderful time ... until you realize you're being fed the same story over and over, with hit-or-miss plotlines that rely a little too much on old genre gimmicks. What this series needs to do is to start stringing chapters together to tell longer story arcs, where Hiruko does something other than just solving people's dream problems and eating the results as payment. This collection of creepy, twisty tales is a start, but it has the potential to become so much more.

Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B

+ An elegant historic setting and some creative dream ideas give off a unique vibe compared to other supernatural series.
Uses the same story formula over and over, and the short stand-alone chapters make it hard to get an overall plotline going.

Story & Art: Shin Mashiba

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Nightmare Inspector: Yumekui Kenbun (manga)

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