Dream Eater Merry Complete Series (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 320 minutes approx.
Yumeji Fujiwara is a high school boy with the remarkable ability to be able to determine the sort of dreams people will have, depicted by the colourful auras that surround them. However Yumeji himself has been plagued with bizarre nightmare in which he is being chased by a group of cats at the behest of a demon named Chaser John Doe. In an almost dream like scenario, a young girl literally falls from the sky and into his life.
After introducing herself as Merry Nightmare, a dream eater, the pair are suddenly whisked away into Yumeji’s nightmare which appears to have come true, with Chaser John Doe and his cat army appearing but Merry fends them off. Demanding the Chaser helps her return to home world, he laughs, informing Merry there is no way back.
An intriguing start to this fantasy series based on the manga by Ushiki Yoshitaka which will no doubt have many fans playing “spot the influence” as familiar anime plot devices and set ups begin to creep in to the story. Whether it be the subtle similarities to shows such as Shakugan no Shana and Soul Eater or the standard character tropes – the ditzy nice girl, the tomboy, the good hearted hero, the taciturn transfer student, etc – the old “comfortable slippers” analogy comes to mind when watching this show but it throws in enough new ideas to save it from being written off as completely derivative.
The key twist Yoshitaka has employed is that the dreams in question aren’t the surreal or fantastic mental escapades we have when asleep but our aspirations and yearnings. The Dream Demons that Merry quashes for a living are malevolent beings under the order of an evil demon named Pharos Heracles, who is trying to raise an army of demons to enter the Living World via human vessels.
Any demon who opposes Pharos is killed and their human vessel loses their aspirations. When this becomes an alarming trend – the promising sports player at school suddenly quits, a talented musician stops playing her instrument, even a top pop star puts his career on hold – Merry begins to have her suspicions as to why this is.
After the initial run of “demon of the week” episodes to introduce the cast and for Merry to acclimatise to the Living World, quickly falling in love with doughnuts, the story finally settles down to focus on the Pharos problem. Being such a nice guy, Yumeji agrees to help Merry seek out possessed people with his powers, along the way discovering that not all Dream Demons are necessarily bad with whom they, rather predictably, join forces to take down Pharos and the equally evil and dangerous demon Mystletainn, who has the power to turn other demons into human vessels (in which case why not just turn a bunch of demons into vessels and enter the world that way instead of faffing around finding humans to possess?). To add further threat to our heroes, Mystletanin has taken as her vessel someone close to them who unfortunately is just as unhinged as she is.
The first few chapters are often heavy with silly humour – incorporating the obligatory beach episode – that gives the false impression this is another whacky high school comedy, or perhaps it is to distract us from the fact that there is no given explanation as to how Merry got trapped in the Living World, or how the whole vessel possession works. We are also supposed to ignore the fact that vessels can be taken into their dream world with their demon at a whim while to the outside world they act like a schizophrenic, talking to themselves in two different voices. But since this is anime this is probably normal behaviour!
Once the main storyline begins to take shape this becomes an altogether different beast. The tone shifts to darker and more serious territory as Pharos’s plan is put into action at the death toll of both disobedient dream demons and the dreams of their vessels begins to rise. With Mystletanin’s aforementioned vessel playing a significant part in selecting prime targets for dream stealing, Merry and co. find the threat is much closer to home. There is some nifty action to be found in these later episodes as the demons battle it out, revealing their bespoke abilities and weapons, while some may find some of the physical attack meted out by Mystletanin’s vessel on a helpless schoolgirl rather upsetting.
The original manga may have predated it by a couple of years but visually, the dream/nightmare sequences are slightly reminiscent of the surreal portals the heroines of Puella Magi Madoka Magica found themselves in, albeit a slightly cut price looking version. Despite the obvious budgetary difference, the artwork is effective enough with suitably discordant and jaunty images, resplendent with eerie touches of claustrophobia and oppressive madness, no doubt influenced by German expressionist cinema.
The colour palette changes to mostly greys and dark reds to signify a change of reality for our cast and the host demons range from the disarmingly normal to the rather terrifying. Unfortunately the budget does seem to have been exclusive for these scenes as the overall animation and character designs is very changeable throughout.
Dream Eater Merry is show that would benefit from a tighter and more focused script rather than pander to anime clichés for wider audience appeal. Once it gets going it delivers perfectly acceptable enough entertainment but instead of maximising its potential to be a great show of its own, it seems happy to settle as a distant cousin of the aforementioned Madoka Magica. Worth a look at least.
Japanese Language with English Subtitles
Disc 2 only:
Clean Opening Credits
Clean Closing Credits
Rating – ***
Man In Black