Yumekui Merry Episode 1 – Sleeping through It
I’ve said lots of positive things about J.C. Staff as an anime studio, but only in specific circumstances. When they take on romance shows—shows focused on relationships, character studies, and the various types of comedy that flow from that—the result varies from instant classic to the merely good. The stable of directors at the studio seems uniquely skilled in telling that type of story.
Far less successful is when they try to adapt some popular action series from manga or light novel form to the small screen. Well, they are successful in terms of making money: Shakugan no Shana and A Certain Magical Index are hot properties. But, although this might be blamable on original content rather than the animation studio, I can’t remember the last action series the studio has done which I unequivocally liked.
With Yumekui Merry as this season’s offering, I have little reason to change my opinion. This episode is a textbook example for how not to introduce a series.
Yumeji Fujiwara is an high school student with an ability to predict other people’s dreams (although it doesn’t work all the time). This apparently makes his mind vulnerable to infiltration by some form of nightmare creatures, who seek to kill him in the dream world to possess his body in the real one. After having a series of premonitory dreams on the subject, he enters a waking dream one day and finds himself trapped with what looks like a cat version of the grim reaper.
He is saved by the intervention of Merry Nightmare (whose name is most certainly not a pun), a little girl-like amnesiac whom he met by accident just moments before, who followed him in the dream world because he picked up her hat. She then proceeds to beat up the dream creature (who goes by the equally uninspired name of John Doe) in an attempt to get him to reveal what she is and how she can get home, but he just gets cryptic and then disappears.
And … that’s basically it. There’s a too-long school sequence where Yumeji’s friends are introduced to provide yet more girls to fall for our protagonist later on, establishing that his school life is even less interesting than the show’s attempt at a plot. I don’t feel like I’m seeing a story unfold so much as witnessing a bunch of disconnected scenes that happen to share characters.
Merry in particular feels more like a deus ex machina than someone with meaningful depth. There’s no particular reason why she should have met Yumeji, or why John Doe couldn’t have simply told her what she wanted to know and sent on her way before getting back to eviscerating Yumeji, etc. Having the male lead rescued by a tough female character who shows him the ropes of the supernatural world is a staple of these shows, but in addition to the meeting feeling forced here, she doesn’t know enough to explain things anyway.
Perhaps I could have managed more enthusiasm if I hadn’t seen Madoka just a day before. The two shows form a wonderful contrast, illustrating how to take a cold introduction to a mysterious mystical world and either make it seem deep and enthralling, or a confusing trainwreck. You should be able to figure out which category Merry falls into by this point.
On the surface, however, the two shows share many similarities. There is the dream-like introduction, the cadre of school friends with obvious narrative roles, the changes in art styles, the appeal-to-perverted-otaku-fetishes costumes on the youngish female protagonists, etc. In fact, Yumekui Merry would seem the more unique series on a surface level, in terms of content if not execution.
But while fighting in a world of dreams with whatever sort of creature Merry Nightmare is seems on paper far more innovative than your standard magical-girl-fights-supernatural-evil plotline, it’s not so in practice. The “creativity” of Yumekui Merry comes off more like the author tossed a bunch of unrelated elements into a blender, ran it until the mess was half-mixed, and called it done. (Merry’s nonsensical outfit provides an emblematic example.) There’s no unity in the story elements, no dramatic tension, no vision. There’s just stuff.
It doesn’t help that Merry fails on the secondary aspects as well. Madoka’s home life, school, and friends were all intriguing even before the show takes an excursion to wonderland. Here, I could probably write a paragraph on each of Yumeji’s school friends and why they vary from the utterly predictable to the outright annoying, but my brain refuses to go on past the “childhood friend with whom the protagonist is currently living, who obviously has a crush on him she won’t admit” part.
Most damning, the action isn’t all that good. The first couple episodes are typically when new shows, not strapped for time or money like they usually are for the entire rest of the series run, really lay down the great scenes to build enthusiasm for the series. Here, the action merits yawns, save for the points where it is unintentionally laughable. This is an action show; if it were going to succeed on anything, this would be priority one. And even here it falters.
Particularly in fantasy or sci-fi settings, where there’s all sorts of terminology and world building that has to be established, you need to sell the world immediately. That means either giving enough background for the world so that the audience is not completely lost, or making the mystery itself dramatic enough to keep the audience interested until you do impart that understanding. This premiere accomplishes neither of those goals. And right now, I don’t care enough to find out if the show ever will.