Today I examine Yumekui Kenbun: Nightmare Inspector volumes 1-4 by Shin Mashiba (published by Viz).
YK: Nightmare Inspector falls into the genre I think of as “supernatural case files,” titles where supernatural means are used to solve the problems of a different person in each episode / chapter. For example, manga that falls into this category would include Petshop of Horros, xxxholic, Ghost Hunt, Rasetsu no Hana (forthcoming fromViz), and god knows how many others. The “supernatural” means in this manga are carried out by the main character, who exists as a “baku,” or “nightmare eater.” People with nightmares come to his shop, managed by the sister of the previous baku, and ask him to “eat” their nightmares. The process of eating usually entails a kind of subconcious dream-therapy session in which the baku, named Hiruko, and the client go into the dream and attempt to resolve the conflict that created the nightmare in the first place. Payment becomes the nightmare itself, as the baku actually survives on eating nightmares and remains quite non-human since food makes him cough blood.
I was prejudiced against this title from the start — after all, once you’ve got two versions of Petshop and the truly great xxxholic is there really anything left to be done in this genre? But I found the title grew on me after the first two volumes, as I felt each case grew in intensity and complexity. Once I could no longer immediately conclude how the client’s nightmare would resolve I knew I was in new territory. No longer did “good” people with good intentions come to good ends, and “bad” people with bad intentions come to “bad” ends. Since the manga appears to be Shin Mashiba’s first professional work I was surprised that the writing, which began as fairly good, so quickly become quite excellent in such a short period of time.
In contrast to the writing, the art is nothing short of spectacular from the start. Set in the Taisho period in Japan (1912-1926) the artist clearly has a ball reinterpreting the patterns, textures and spaces of a traditional era, not to mention the psychadelic nature of various dream-scapes / nightmare-scapes. The art is very modern but also very shojo. My one complaint about the art is that the bodies and faces of the people are much too similar. Only the “baku,” Riku stands out but that is because his hair looks like he’s coming out of a sci-fi manga by Keiko Takemiya and his clothes look like a far less revealing version of something Shuichi Shindou from Gravitation would wear. In other words, his character design makes him stand out from everyone else even though it isn’t clear how he managed to become influenced by post-techno-modern style way back in the Taisho era. Everyone else is shojo-pretty in era appropriate clothing and style which also renders them all practically indistinguishable should anyone happen to be in a scene with someone of their approximate age and sex. In spite of these flaws, the art lovingly depicts both the pretty and the disgusting quite beautifully and remains an essential asset to the narrative.
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