Regular readers will know that I’m not a huge fan of fantasy anime. All those big battles don’t really impress me, however many people are flying around and however many bangs and flashes there are. One thing that will attract me to a fantasy series is an interesting concept, and Dream Eater Merry certainly has one of those. It posits the idea that our dreams are a glimpse into another world, which we share with other beings known as dream demons. Something in that balance of nature is going wrong here, with demons possessing sleepers in order to cross over into the real world. Conquering a possessing demon comes at a price: the loss of the sleeper’s dreams, and that means the metaphorical kind of dreams, as in their hopes and ambitions. It leaves a person feeling hollow, and an epidemic of that problem is happening in the town where Yumeji lives. He’s our main male character, and he has a special talent: the ability to see an aura around people that indicates what kind of a dream they will be having that night. As the series progresses, he keeps seeing more and more nightmare auras.
The other main character is Merry, who is a dream demon with a special power. She has somehow crossed over into the real world without having to take possession of somebody, and she is also a formidable fighter, capable of banishing most of the possessing demons with ease. In a series otherwise devoid of fanservice, her costume has clearly been designed to show off her midriff, and scenes often start with a closeup shot of her belly button and then a pan upwards from there. If you were in any doubt about the animators playing to that fetish, the closing title sequence will dispel those doubts, with petals fluttering away from Merry’s body to reveal her bare midriff. It’s an oddly specific kind of fanservice within a series that otherwise refrains admirably from going down the usual route of getting the female characters naked to please the fans.
That doesn’t mean this is a child-friendly series though, because it is extremely violent at times, particularly in some of the last few episodes. There is one character in particular, who is creepy throughout and then unsurprisingly turns out to be a horrible villain, and his violence is unpleasant to watch. In one scene he kicks his victim to death. The animators shy away from showing most of the gory details, but it’s clear what’s happening, so I would suggest the 12 certificate for the DVD set is a bit lenient in my view and I wouldn’t recommend this series for family viewing.
The early part of the series settles into a pattern of introducing a new character who is possessed, and then having Merry and Yumeji enter into their dream world and try to deal with the demon. It quickly becomes a bit formulaic and a lot of what is happening feels disposable. Some of the characters stick around for the grand finale, but at that point there are so many hangers-on that a couple of them spend nearly all the big boss battle standing around watching. The various dream worlds are surreal and impressive, although the animation occasionally over-reaches itself and ends up in the realms of jarringly cheap-looking CGI. There are also a couple of moments later in the series where sketched artwork appears on screen, and it happens so rarely that I can’t help suspecting it was a budgetary rather than stylistic choice.
The formula of repeatedly introducing new dreamers and their possessing demons is less tedious than it might have been, simply because the writers introduce different kinds of relationships. Some are clearly insidious and invasive, while others are more of an example of teamwork, with the dream demon providing strength and even friendship for the possessed, and some of those connections date back a long time. The series really springs to life for the last few episodes, which instead give us a continuous story with one of those near-omnipotent enemies who apparently can’t be defeated. Mistleteinn and the host she possesses make for a very twisted double act, and the crueller they are and the more people they kill, the more satisfying it is when the tables are turned. The only issue I had was the way Mistleteinn’s host was able to just walk away at the end, with his only consequence being that he moves on to pastures new. I don’t feel we ever quite understood the extent to which his actions were due to Mistelteinn or whether he was truly evil by himself. The latter would seem to make more sense, and I’m not keen on a series where the bad guy gets to walk away. The writer might have had a rematch in mind, but frankly this was never going to be good enough for a second season. What I think was really lacking was a strong relationship. It’s significant that I haven’t really had a reason yet to mention Isana, a childhood friend who lives with Yumeji, and that’s because the attempt at a love triangle between them and Merry never really goes anywhere interesting and feels like it’s included as nothing more than a box checking exercise. Impressive fight scenes are never going to be enough if the characterisations are hand-waved. A series like this needs light and shade, but the light has to be fun as well. In the end, everyone here is just like half-remembered people in dreams; they never quite come to life. RP