Book Review – Phantom Dreams (vol. 1&2) by Natsuki Takaya

Title: Phantom Dreams (vol. 1&2)
Natsuki Takaya
Natsuki Takaya
1996 (Japan) / 2009 (U.S.)

Natsuki Takaya is the writer of Fruits Basket one of the best, most beloved, and critically acclaimed manga series to grace American soil, and Phantom Dreams is her first published comic series.  In 5 volumes total, it tells the story of Tamaki Otoya who has the power to summon guardian spirits to exorcise Jaki (demon like spirits made up of negative emotions).

It’s really important to emphasize Phantom Dreams is her first comic series.  Reading it after Fruits Basket is definitely taking a step back.  The pacing is rough, the story lacks a strong episodic quality, and the half tones and patterns get a bit excessive.   This is also much darker and bloodier than Fruits Basket.  At the same time, you can already see Takaya playing with themes like abuse, possession, forgiveness, and redemption.  There’s even a cat demon.  Her strong talent as an artist is certainly there.  The art isn’t as clean as her later work, but the people are beautifully and consistently drawn.

I regret not being able to review all five volumes.  Other reviewers online claim that while the story has a very slow start, vol. 5 wraps it up beautifully, but my library only carries up through vol. 3.  And the start is really a bit too slow and dark for my taste.  Tamaki is casually abusive to his mother and girlfriend.  He and his girlfriend are in middle school but are already “lovers” with partial nudity depicted.  I get the sense towards the end of vol. 2 that both will be addressed and have consequences, but it’s so casually brushed off at the beginning that I felt rather squicky about it.

The biggest weakness in the story is a lack of humor or true warmth.  What jokes there are either are mean spirited or show a bitter-sweet naiveté that fails to balance out the darkness depicted.  The art doesn’t always depict transitions well.  In a couple places, scenes change without any clear indication that the characters were elsewhere or that time had passed.

Overall, I wouldn’t bother with this one unless you can get your hands on all five volumes (for that pay off ending) or you’re a big Takaya fan who likes to see the progress of a writer/artist…and you’re over 18.  I’ll give it a 3/5 mainly for the skill level of the art and the attempt to tackle deeper themes.  However, it’s not something I’d recommend to everyone.

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