Yume Tsukai

While I've never read or watched Mysterious Girlfriend X (it is on my to do list), I have recently come to learn a bit about Riichi Ueshiba, the series creator. Mysterious Girlfriend X received a heavy amount of attention because of the bizarre premise of a relationship being born from the guy's bizarre attraction to the girl's spit (yes, really), but the truly bizarre thing that happened after is that people didn't stop talking about the series. Everyone I've seen talk about the series are genuinely impressed by different qualities of the story, and the whole drool thing becomes background noise. I wondered why this is, but after reading an earlier Ueshiba work, Yume Tsukai, I'm finally starting to understand why a man obsessed with so many bizarre sexual concepts can somehow create something far more inviting and enjoyable than should be possible with his subject matter.

The concept of Yume Tsukai is simple, at least on the surface. A family of dream masters (shamans with powers of dreams and non-reality) perform tasks for people haunted by strange supernatural phenomenon, usually related to a dark secret in their past and entities they can't quite comprehend. The reason I say "on the surface" is because those issues and creatures are usually very sexual in nature ...and most every client is in their pre-teens (around fourteen at the oldest). The first arc is especially risky (and downright Freudian), so much so that I was considering not writing a review at all, or maybe doing a Smut That Doesn't Suck. However, upon finishing, I decided that would be a disservice to this series. Yume Tsukai isn't smut, and it isn't trying to arouse. All those sexual taboos and themes that come up do have a greater purpose, and the series isn't afraid to shy away from any of them, which is respectable, and why this series deserves a proper critical look.

The series is divided into two major arcs, plus a short two-parter to close the series on. The first arc deals with odd disappearances at an all girl school, centered around a murder of a popular student from about two years ago. The second follows a young man and his childhood girlfriend, whom is a homunculus animated every morning and soon finds herself the target of an alchemist organization. The two-parter is a simple story about a relationship between two people that's complicated by their supposedly living shadows, requiring the dream masters to step in and deal with the situation. The two-parter is a cute little supernatural love story, while the other two stories are more ...complicated.

See, Riichi Ueshiba likes writing stories about young people entering their teen years and forming intimate relationships with others of their age. There's probably some unresolved issues behind this obsession (the okame bits suggest that Ueshiba is a pretty creepy guy), but they doesn't take the reigns from the story being told, minus parts of the massive first arc. The sexual elements aren't there to get some lonely otaku's rocks off, but examine elements of a meaningful relationship. This is handled best in the alchemy arc, as the main couple go through a series of major revelations that test their established relationship. The ending is touching and effective, as are the arc's musings on lost love and the importance of the unknown future. It's where the series really comes together, even developing two of the dream masters further and showing their origins.

Dream masters are people who have lost something important and have awakened to their abilities as a result, and their ultimate job is to help people discover what is most important to them. They're more like assistants who remove the supernatural interlopers in the way, giving people a chance to realize their own emotions and be honest about them, while giving advice when necessary. Touko and Satoka's attitudes and origins fit this best, and are especially developed in the second arc. Rinko and Hajime are more on the backburner after the first arc, though that's ultimately for the best; Hajime's whole lolicon comedic relief stitch is obnoxious and unwanted, while Rinko's status as a little girl doesn't really allow her to offer anything on the series major themes. She rarely contributes beyond plot developments, and Ueshiba seems to have run out of ideas using her pretty fast.

Now ...the elephant in the room. The first arc is a major attention getter, but it also goes into some very, VERY icky territory almost constantly. It's a bit much, even for me, and I am no stranger to perverse lunacy. The first arc starts off on a outright insane note by having the disappeared girls having been victim to hysterical pregnancies (where the body thinks it's pregnant and shows signs to compensate), some sort of seducing being in the dream world taking the form of the deceased student, constant gender shifting, people being seduced by alternate gender versions of themselves, a principal who REALLY liked that deceased student, and victims being turned into fantastical technological ...things whenever they have sexual thoughts. Oh, and all the girls with hysterical pregnancies gain them by somehow devouring the demon creature in the dream world while in "a complete mockery to god's design" mode. It only gets more and more maddening from there, including the dream creature wearing an outfit so revealing that it would make Kuja from Final Fantasy IX blush, and that guy walks around in a belly top, heels and a codpiece. And don't even get me started on the "mother," or we may end up being here forever. Oh, or the past of one of the arc's major characters, Kaori. It is not pretty. At all. It also opens that old can of worms of Japan's views on homosexuality.

The thing that kept me from dropping the series in this arc was that it was so bloody bizarre that I wanted to keep reading to understand just what the hell this series was. I'm glad I kept reading, because that first arc does pay off properly. It ends up dealing with love and relationships once more, but instead of the theme of time from the alchemist arc, it deals with people attracted to opposites for the reasons that they're opposite. The duality of genders and Kaori's presence helps add to this, as do all the taboos brought up and explored. It's a messy first attempt, but the series takes its time and creates a gripping story with high stakes and strong villains. Despite the big creep vibes I get from the writer, I enjoy reading his thoughts on relationships in this series. His lesser desires get kept in check after the initial chapters, and the series really benefits from it. It's definitely not an all ages series (it's seinen for a reason), but it's not smut either. It's an intelligent (if at times pretentious) series that explores interesting ideas and comes up with strong messages in the process.

Ueshiba is a very strong artist. His characters are filled with life, and his abstract illustrations are detailed and fascinating. He has a good amount of range as well, though his preference in drawing young characters gets ...creepy. It's the one thing about this series I can never get over entirely, up until the final few chapters. The second arc has a few moments where you can see the homunculus girl Ruru's exposed chest, while the first arc is borderline pornographic at times whenever the dream creature starts to influence another person. Nothing is ever shown, but the implications are more blunt than an angry politician's speech. The fact everyone involved is fourteen and usually switching genders just ...it's just EWWWW. No. Thankfully, the first arc reels itself in during the final few parts, while the second arc is generally reserved from start to finish (minus said shirtless scenes). Nudity and sexuality usually serves some sort of purpose towards the greater themes at work, but the first arc really balances on a line for a good chunk of it. My advice; if you can manage to stomach the weird perverse imagery and ideas at work for the first half of it, you'll manage to enjoy the rest of the series just fine.

That first arc really is troubling, and it lasts a very long time, with especially large chapters at start. It is time well spent, but it also results in the problematic elements of the series to wear out their welcome. Thankfully, the abstract weirdness during these segments help balance things. I also really like the powers of the dream masters, as they can turn their dreams into reality. The main three usually use toys, while Satoka has incredibly silly but awesome powers that create weaponized food and allow her to communicate with her deceased love. They also all share common powers based on rock, paper, scissors that make action bits really exciting (though we never get to see paper). The dream concept is never wasted, though so much abstract madness is assaulting you so often that you may forget a lot of this is dream related.

Yume Tsukai is downright bizarre and, at times, uncomfortable to read, but once you make it past that initial first few chapters, it comes together and its true brilliance starts shining through. In the end, I'm really glad I read it, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who can manage to make it through the unflinching sexual nature of a lot of it. Equal parts genius and mad, Yume Tsukai is a genuine work of art when it counts. If anything, it's certainly not forgettable.


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